|Thousands of farmers in Cuu Long Mekong Delta are growing sweet potatoes, switching from low-yield rice to higher-value cash crops. -- Photo Danviet.vn
DONG THAP (VNS) — Tran Quang Thuan, 57, earned nearly VND200 million (US$9,500) per hectare for growing sweet potatoes this year.
Some farmers in his home district of Chau Thanh in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Dong Thap took in even more, up to VND225 million ($10,690).
Rotating sweet potatoes on rice fields has turned out to be a godsend for farmers like Thuan.
"With rice only, I had a profit of only VND15-19 million ($710-900) per hectare," Thuan said.
Thousands of other farmers in the area are doing the same, switching from low-yield rice to higher-value cash crops, a move recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
"Farmers discuss this with farmers in other communes, who then follow suit," Thuan said.
In Tan Phu and Phu Long communes in particular, farmers decided to stop planting rice altogether.
Nguyen Van Te, a farmer in Duc Hue District in Long An Province, said: "Since 2003, I have planted corn in the winter-spring crop and rice in the next two crops. My profits from corn were 1.5 times higher than from rice."
"So I feel confident now about planting two rice crops and one corn crop. My profit is VND25.5 million per hectare of corn, double that from rice," he added.
Another farmer, Nguyen Thanh Nen of Chau Phu District in An Giang Province, praised the benefits of crop rotation. "It replenishes the soil and reduces disease outbreaks much better than rice."
Despite the growth in farmers' income, the biggest problem is that they are not guaranteed outlets for their new crops, Thuan said.
"I sell sweet potatoes to Chinese dealers, but they never sign long-term contracts with me. It's not stable," he said. "Many farmers don't dare switch because of this problem."
According to Dr Nguyen Van Luat, former head of the Mekong Delta Rice Institute, switching from low-yield rice to higher-value cash crops on the same field is essential to ensure sustainable agriculture development.
Rice farmers are encountering falling sales and prices, and the switch could help them diversify crop cultivation and increase their incomes, he said at a conference held recently in Dong Thap Province.
He said the most important factor was to ensure outlets for cash crops. If there are none, then farmers will encounter even more challenges than they have now.
To ensure higher productivity, mechanisation of farming was also necessary, Luat said, adding that farmers need to be well-trained. Thus, technology transfer would be beneficial.
Le Quoc Doanh, head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Plant Cultivation Department, said the country faced more challenges in the rice export market.
Last year, the country saw total rice output of 43.7 million tonnes, with 8.1 million tonnes worth $3.7 billion exported, according to a report from the Plant Cultivation Department.
But export markets have been scaled down and prices have been falling, Doanh said.
In addition, former importers of Vietnamese rice, Indonesia and the Philippines, now produce rice themselves. And exporters like Thailand, India and Myanmar are tough competitors on the global market.
Experts said that more farmers should switch to growing corn, soybeans and sesame. If yields were higher, the country could reduce its imports of these crops.
Viet Nam imports 1.5 million tonnes of corn, 600,000 tonnes soybeans and other agricultural produce valued at $3 billion annually.
Phan Huy Thong, director of the National Agriculture Extension Centre, said each locality in the Mekong Delta should develop detailed plans on applying crop rotation under the ministry's guidance.
Thong said that planting should be tailored to each province's advantages and potential, including soil type and other factors.
Advanced farming techniques should also be used, he added.
Also essential is the development of linkages between farmers and companies to ensure outlets for cash crops.
Thong said that farmers and businesses should try to understand each other better and discuss their needs and limitations.
Agricultural extension agencies in localities also play important roles in keeping farmers up to date on information and technology in agricultural production.
Farmers and businesses should both understand market demand more clearly and promote their products accordingly, Thong said. — VNS