|Men stack bags of rice at Cai Be Town in Tien Giang Province. The restructuring of rice farming in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta should focus on improving farmers' incomes and sustainable development, experts have said. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vu
HCM CITY (VNS)— The restructuring of rice farming in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta should focus on improving farmers' incomes and sustainable development, experts told a seminar in Can Tho on Tuesday.
Le Van Banh, head of the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute, said though the rice cultivation area and output increase every year farmers remain poor.
The main goal of restructuring the rice sector should be to improve farmers' incomes so that they continue to farm, he said.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Quoc Doanh said besides yields it was also time to focus on improving the commercial value of the rice varieties grown.
The country exports the grain at around US$400 a tonne, but needs varieties that can fetch $600 and even $1,000, according to Doanh.
The delta is the country's important rice producer, but the rate of certified rice seeds used is only 35 per cent.
Since the rest are uncertified, the quality of exported rice and output are adversely affected.
The ministry had begun a research and agricultural extension programme focusing on creating high-quality rice varieties that would improve export value and farmers' incomes, he said.
Participants in the seminar said the production and trade of rice faced many limitations like low quality of exports, low competitiveness, and small scale of cultivation and trade.
The delta's provinces were not closely linked and there was little application of modern technologies in rice processing, they said.
Le Duc Thinh, deputy head of the ministry's Department of Cooperative Economy and Rural Development, said the average land holding per household in the delta was 0.87ha.
Of the delta's total rice area, low-quality varieties accounted for 45 per cent and medium-quality ones for 35 per cent.
Traders bought around 90 per cent of the rice grown in the delta, he said, meaning farmers did not make much profit.
Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, deputy head of the ministry's Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, said the proposed restructure of the rice sector envisaged strengthening the links between exporters and farmers and focus on rice cultivation areas specialising in exports.
It also sought to usher in advanced farming techniques and technologies to increase yields and values, attracting foreign investment in agriculture, developing new export markets, and increasing the output of high quality rice for exports, he said.
Nguyen Quoc Viet, deputy head of the Southwest Region Steering Committee, said the delta planned to stabilise paddy output at 24-25 million tonnes a year from now through 2010.
The region has 1.6-1.8 million hectares under the grain, but plans to grow higher value crops like corn and soybean on 112,000ha of low-yield rice fields in 2014-15.
As of the end of last month 87,000ha had been switched to corn, dragon fruit, and lime, according to the Plant Cultivation Department. — VNS