|A rice field belonging to a farmer with the Tân Tiến Agriculture Co-operative. The cooperative has enjoyed encouraging results since it switched to an organic rice farming method. — VNS Photo Xuân Hương|
HCM CITY — Rice productivity and profits have increased year after year since Tân Tiến Agricultural Co-operative in Mỹ Lộc Commune in the Mekong Delta province of Vĩnh Long switched to follow an organic farming system three years ago.
Dương Văn Thành, director of the co-operative, said productivity had increased from 3.8 tonnes per hectare on average in the 2016 summer-autumn rice crop to 6.1 tonnes per hectare in the 2017-18 winter-spring crop.
“Productivity has gradually gone up and so has the profit surged. Last year, we earned a profit of VNĐ40.9 million (US$1,755) per hectare per year from two rice crops, an increase of VNĐ23.4 million per hectare. This year, the profit reached VNĐ50.8 million per hectare.”
In 2016, the co-operative was established as part of a pilot project that aims to bring consumers safe-quality products and enable sustainable production, with 33 members and 31ha of rice fields.
After three years, the number of members has increased to 82 with 45ha of land.
The project is implemented by the Saigon Union of Trading Co-operatives (Saigon Co.op), the local administration, the Tân Tiến co-operative, scientists, and several companies.
Thành said farmers initially faced difficulties in shifting to organic farming because of small-scale farms and the lack of a habit to record information in farming diaries.
In addition, productivity was down. “But these difficulties have been overcome gradually and with Saigon Co.op pledging to buy all the rice at higher than normal prices, farmers feel more secure about their production,” he said.
Thành said in addition to gaining higher productivity and profit, compliance with organic farming methods has also brought benefits to the environment, helping soil and water sources and seafood species to gradually recover.
“Farmers’ health is protected too, as they do not have to come in contact with harmful plant protection chemicals,” he said.
Assoc. Prof Nguyễn Văn Huỳnh at Cần Thơ University said farmers in the past were often worried about finding outlets for their products.
But under this model, Saigon Co.op has worked with scientists and companies on the production process and has supervised farmers to ensure strict compliance with farming methods.
It has also provided input materials and has pledged to buy all products under the model, which has ended up with good results, he said.
Phạm Trung Kiên, deputy general director of Saigon Co.op, said since 2016 Tân Tiến Co-operative has supplied to Saigon Co.op more than 100 tonnes of rice that follows criteria such as 100 per cent organic fertiliser; no pesticides, preservatives or bleach; 100 per cent unmixed rice; and easy traceability.
The co-operative produces two kinds of rice: Jasmine and Hương Xuân (OM501) and the retailer buys all rice produced by the co-operative, he said.
Saigon Co.op’s retail chains consume about nine tonnes of jasmine rice and 10 tonnes of Hương Xuân rice a month.
Saigon Co.op’s participation in the safe rice production chain using an organic farming method contributes to sustainable agriculture and eliminates intermediaries, which improves profits for farmers and brings consumers safe quality products at best prices, he said.
Kiên said: “Previously, farmers cultivated whatever they wanted or what was familiar, without following market demand, resulting in low efficiency.”
Farmers need to change to produce what the market demands, he said.
Through the co-operation, Saigon Co.op provides specific information on market demand, quality standards, and prices as well as requirements on production processes.
"Farmers need to gradually increase their production level in the direction of modernisation, and enhance the application of agricultural equipment because the old production method has caused problems and low efficiency," Kiên said.
Phan Hữu Minh, chairman of Tân Tiến Agricultural Co-operative, said despite some difficulties, the benefits of organic farming methods will ensure stable outlets and better environmental protection in the long term.
Đoàn Văn Tài, chairman of Tấn Đạt Agricultural Production and Service Co-operative in Vũng Liêm District, which switched to organic rice farming 10 years ago, said rice cultivation in the delta, which also produces more than half of the country’s rice, is largely done in small fields with excessive chemicals and fertilisers.
“To succeed in organic rice farming, farmers must persevere. The productivity level in the first crop after switching to organic farming will fall, resulting in lower earnings.
“But after a certain period of time, productivity will be stable and exceed productivity from common farming methods. That is the practical experience of my co-operative,” he said. “Organic rice farming can ensure a profit that is 1.5 times higher than common farming methods.”
Trương Văn Sáu, permanent deputy secretary of the provincial Party Committee, said: “Based on the initial results of the project, the province will continue to expand its scale.”
It will also instruct Mỹ Lộc Commune authorities and Tân Tiến Agricultural Co-operative to bring in more farmers and disseminate information to ensure that farmers comply with the agreed farming techniques. — VNS