Many of the nation's craft villages are in a vicious bind as pollution, limited access to loan capital, and a lack of planning are holding development back.

This was revealed in an on-line conference held by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) last week.

The conference was reviewing the implementation of the Government's Decree 66 on developing rural jobs introduced in 2006.

Statistics given to the National Assembly Standing Committee reveal the country now has nearly 4,600 craft (or trade) villages served by more than 11 million workers.

The annual growth rate of the villages has increased by 6 to 15 percent a year and their average income is from 450,000 VND to 4 million VND (21-190 USD) a month, 1.5 to 4 times higher than farm work.

Although this is encouraging, agricultural officials said the lack of planning by craft villages in most localities hasresulted in a shortage of production space.

Vu Quoc Tuan, chairman of the Vietnam Trade Villages Association, said there is little development in the villages. "It's time to introduce breakthrough measures in building a policy and implementing it, particularly in village planning," he said.

The deputy director of MARD's Department of Processing and Trade for Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Products and Salt Production, An Van Khanh, said the lack of planning is the biggest obstacle to more effective promotion of rural careers.

He added that difficulties in getting loans created barriers to long-term planning.

According to the State Bank, overdue debts to develop rural industries reached 53.2 trillion VND (2.5 billion USD) in March, from 20.5 trillion VND (977 million USD) at the end of 2006.

But a representative of the southern province of An Giang 's Industry and Trade Department said craft villages are discriminated against in loan access, saying that it is much easier for big enterprises. Deputy Agriculture Minister Ho Xuan Hung admitted that many localities are facing a shortage of capital.

In addition, vocational training for village managers, enterprises and crafts men is yet to meet demand, the application of advanced science and technology to production is sluggish and environmental pollution is becoming serious.

According to a survey by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at Hanoi University of Science and Technology, 100 percent of samples of wastewater from trade villages is polluted.

It claimed that most villages have not satisfied the requirements of environmental protection under the law.

Pham Van Khanh, Deputy Director of the Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment said that serious craft village pollution is a fact, but pleaded for more time to find solutions.

Deputy Minister Ho Xuan Hung urged localities to start mapping out their planning schemes according to their own advantages./.