HA NOI — Viet Nam could lead the world in rice exports by 2030 if the country managed to secure farm land amidst growing urbanisation, according to agricultural experts at a conference in Ha Noi yesterday.
Out of four scenarios put forth by the Centre for Agricultural Policy Consulting (CAP) under the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), this was the most positive. CAP said the prediction was feasible if 3.8 million ha of land was sustained for growing rice and annual exports hit close to 9 million tonnes. Food security would also be ensured in this scenario. A member of CAP’s research team, Nguyen Ngoc Que said yesterday at the Viet Nam Agricultural Outlook Conference 2011 that the forecast was based on consultations with domestic and foreign rice experts. He attributed the bright outlook to measures the country was adopting to increase output, including epidemic prevention, planting commercial hybrid varieties and investing in post-harvest mechanisms. Que also affirmed that even in the worst case scenario, in which the country maintained only 3 million ha of rice land, Viet Nam would still have 2 million tonnes of excess rice to export. “The excess would be higher if the agriculture ministry’s anticipation that post-harvest rice loss is to be cut down from 10 per cent to 7 per cent is correct,” Que said. CAP also believes that the rice supply would be sufficient for residents in areas that are the most vulnerable to food scarcity in the northern region. “There would be no fear of food shortage in some southeastern areas of the country thanks to the fertile land and dependence on supply from the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta,” Que said. Dr Holger Matthey from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Viet Nam agreed. He told the conference that Viet Nam was likely to surpass Thailand as top rice exporter because Thailand planned to focus on quality instead of quantity. Viet Nam also had a lot of advantages in rice farming, such as the ability to grow from two to three crops per year by applying advances in science and technology and using short-term, high-yield and high-quality seeds, Matthey said. However, some other specialists cast doubts on the CAP’s forecast, saying it was “too optimistic”. Deputy head of the Cultivation Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Pham Huy Thong asked if the scenarios had taken risks to the rice sector into account, such as water shortages, natural disasters and epidemics. “Water scarcity is imminent in Mekong River – the main water supplier for all of the rice growers in the Cuu Long Delta as it has been seriously threatened by the construction of too many hydro-power plants,” Thong said. “Salt intrusion will also affect rice output in the nation’s biggest rice granary,” he added. Thong was also concerned about the possibility of securing rice land in the next 10-20 years. He forecast a mere half of the 3 million ha suggested would be retained due to urbanisation and other factors. “The Government’s scheme to keep 3.8 million ha of land for rice was meant to last for hundreds of years or more, not just 10 or 20 years,” Thong said. “Once rice land had been used for other purposes it would be impossible to recover the quality soil that is best for growing rice.” Leading institutes With a view to advance the application of science and technology (S&T) in agriculture and rural development, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan worked with some leading research institutes of the agriculture ministry over the past two days. Nhan told leaders of the agriculture ministry yesterday that promoting scientific study was key to helping the agriculture sector grow stronger and sustainably. After meetings with the Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Viet Nam Academy for Water Resources on Thursday, Nhan said the results of the talks would serve as a vital basis for the Government and authorised bodies to have a “proper and subjective” view towards the agriculture sector while it was applying S&T. “Then, appropriate recommendations would be made to the Party and Government to develop timely policies to speed up the application of S&T in farming production and rural lives,” he said. Nhan also requested ministries and sectors to map out new financial measures to support scientists conducting research in agriculture and asked the water resources academy to seek measures to cope with climate change, salt intrusion and water shortage, as well dyke embankment. Leaders from the agricultural sciences academy suggested the Government to develop preferential policies for authors of practical and innovative ideas or applicable studies. The academy also proposed an additional allocation of 0.5-1 per cent deducted from farm produce export turnover into an agricultural research fund. — VNS