Authorities in the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta are planning to switch from low-yield rice to higher-value crops like maize, sesame, peanut, soybean, and others on 112,000ha by 2015, the Crop Production Department has said.

As part of a master plan on restructuring agriculture to ensure sustainable development, they would also seek to use 3.8 million hectares of arable land in the most effective manner, diversify crops, and mitigate the pressure to consume rice amid export hurdles, Pham Van Du, deputy director of the department, told a meeting in Tien Giang province on May 6.

With the spring-summer and summer-autumn crops usually plagued by low productivity, local authorities should encourage farmers to plant other, more lucrative crops instead, he said.

Based on local factors, they should advice farmers on what crops to grow, he said.

Last year other crops were grown on 87,314ha of low-yield rice fields in the region, with Dong Thap province leading the way with 30,725ha, followed by Soc Trang and Tra Vinh, he said.

The switch has fetched farmers higher profits in recent times, he said.

Growing sesame on rice fields has enabled farmers in Dong Thap to earn profits of 25.3 million VND (1,199 USD) per hectare, much higher than from rice cultivation, which yields only around 2.45 million VND (116.2 USD), he added.

Growing soybean, maize, and lotus in rotation on rice fields has also fetched higher profits than rice, according to the Dong Thap Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Farmers in Can Tho, Kien Giang, Long An, and Bac Lieu earn more since they plant sesame, soybean, maize, peanut, and other crops in their paddies, the meeting heard.

But delegates warned that the biggest problem is to ensure steady outlets for the new crops failing which farmers would return to rice.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat urged local authorities to instruct farmers to grow crops whose demand is known.

He also told them to focus on switching from low-yield rice to maize since there is a big demand for the crop.

"Now we produce 5.2 million tonnes of maize. Last year, the country imported 2.3 million tonnes...and the demand is increasing to meet the needs of the livestock and seafood industries."

But as for switching to sesame, chili, dragon fruit, or watermelon, farmers should be careful since their prices would no longer be high if there is an increase in supply, he said.

He called on relevant agencies and research institutes to come out with a "technical package" on instructing farmers in planting new crops.

His ministry would work to accelerate implementation of the Government's policies for supporting farmers switching from low-yield rice to other crops and provide funding to train them, he said.

Local authorities should strive to establish links between farmers and companies to ensure outlets for crops, he added.-VNA