HCM CITY (VNS) — Cultivation of Japanese rice varieties has expanded rapidly in the northern provinces of Thai Binh and Nam Dinh due to the high profits they fetch, but farmers are still learning how to grow what is an alien crop.
By the end of last year Thai Binh had 1,286 hectares under Japanese rice, four times the area in 2010.
"There are 10 companies co-operating with farmers to grow the rice and they are buying back all of it," Le Van Thang, deputy director of the province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, was quoted as saying by Thoi Bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times) newspaper.
The rice varieties include Hana Akita Komach, Koshihirari, J01, J02, all of which are highly nutritious and are considered very good for children and women after delivery.
"All Japanese rice is grown for export," Thang said.
For this year's spring crop, Dong Phong commune in Thai Binh's Dong Hung District identified 35 hectares for growing Japanese rice by 200 farming households.
"This crop I cultivated 1.5 hectares," Phan Thi Nguyen, one of the farmers taking part in the programme, said.
"When signing the contract with the company, I got the seeds and fertilisers. After harvest, the produce was bought at a price of VND22,000 per kilogram.
"I feel safe and do not need to worry anything like production expenses or falling prices; only focus on farming."
According to Thang, Japanese rice strains are totally different from traditional local strains because they are meant to grow in cold weather.
The export price for a tonne is US$800–1,500, two to four times the prices Vietnamese rice varieties fetch, he said.
While it is true that the area under Japanese rice varieties and farmers' cultivation capabilities are expanding, things have yet to stabilise.
One obvious reason is that only during spring is it possible to grow these cold-weather varieties in Viet Nam and thus only one crop a year is possible.
Then there are limitations in technology and farmers' knowledge of growing them — many grow these varieties but continue to use traditional techniques.
As a result, often after harvest the companies and farmers squabble over the quality of the grains.
The companies claimed that only 50 per cent of the rice grown in Thai Binh in 2013 and 2014 was good enough to be exported.
Considering the fall in the prices of traditional rice varieties, Japanese varieties could become key grains for export. But for that, relevant authorities have to give them priority by identifying sustainable production areas and ensure companies co-operate closely with farmers.
"Local farmers' skills must be improved and cultivation must be done in huge areas," Thang added. — VNS