The process of agricultural mechanisation in Vietnam needs to "leapfrog" and apply the latest advances instead of outdated technologies, experts say.

Agricultural machinery manufacturing has failed to meet targets set 10 years ago by a prime ministerial decision to develop the country's engineering sector, they said at a conference held last week on promoting mechanisation to facilitate restructuring of the agriculture sector.

Vu Anh Tuan of the Agriculture Ministry's Department for Agro-Forestry-Fisheries and Salt Processing said the sector met just 32.6 percent of the market demand for agricultural machinery, far below the 40-50 percent target set.

While mechanisation happened at various stages of agricultural production, the machinery used was outdated, Tuan said.

For instance, the tillers used were of low capacity and mainly suitable for household production, not larger farms. Most of the mechanization happened in rice cultivation.

"Mechanised energy used in agricultural production in Vietnam is around 1.6 horsepower (HP) per hectare and 2.2HP/ha for rice production, much lower than that in Thailand, the Republic of Korea and China at 4HP/ha, 10HP/ha and 8HP/ha respectively," he added.

At the workshop organised by the ministry on promoting mechanisation to facilitate agriculture restructuring, participants said there were many shortcomings in the study of science and technology in general and agricultural engineering in particular.

Slow application of science and technology in production was also a feature of Vietnamese agriculture, they said, adding that many projects in this area were "impractical, inadequate and uncreative."

Renovation in State-owned enterprises had been very slow, while the private sector was focusing on the production of small-sized tractors and other agricultural machinery, participants agreed.

Doan Xuan Hoa, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Agricultural Engineering Soceity (VSAE), said there were about 100 machinery makers in the country, most of them small-sized, producing low quality, unprofessional products.

A lack of cooperation in the manufacturing sector was also hurting the sector, he said.

"The level of agricultural mechanisation is one of the measures to gauge modernisation of production as well as competitiveness in the sector," Hoa said. "Experience from other countries show that the mechanisation of agricultural production must be carried out step by step to gradually replace manual labour. However, the process also needs to leapfrog and apply the latest advances in agricultural production."

Hoa said that the situation could be blamed on policy shortcomings. The policies were adequate, but their enforcement left much to be desired, he said, explaining that farmers and enterprises still found it difficult to access financial assistance for modernising their operations.

Building on this argument, Tran DucVien, Principal of the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, said specific mechanisms had to be put in place for easier enforcement of policies.

"If we do not invest properly in promoting domestic scientific studies, machines will continue to be imported from China and installed at home," he said.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vu Van Tam, informed the workshop that in order to double the level of agricultural mechanisation from the current 1.6HP/ha to 3.2HP/ha, the ministry would ask relevant agencies to establish working groups that would review, supplement and complete mechanisms as well as redress shortcomings.-VNA