The Government will invest 170 billion VND (8.25 million USD) in developing key plant breeds, according to VietGAP (Vietnamese Good Agriculture Practices) standards.

The funds will be devoted to 29 projects that will run until 2015, according to Tong Khiem, Director of the National Agricultural Extension Centre under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Khiem said the work will help local produce meetingVietGap standards, which is based on the ASEAN GAP and GlobalGAP standards on food safety, environmental management, social welfare and produce quality.

Pham Dong Quang, Deputy Head of the Cultivation Department, said 11 cities and provinces had made plans and policies to follow VietGap standards to ensure safe production of vegetables, fruits and tea plants.

The country so far has 343 models which applied the VietGAP standards across a total area of more than 9,500ha. Among these models, 199 (nearly 60 percent) have been certified as meeting the VietGAP or GlobalGAP standards with a total area of 2.643ha.

Vu Dinh Phuong, Deputy Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of northeastern Bac Giang province, said the total area for litchi cultivation applying VietGAP in the province's Luc Ngan district is at more than 6,000ha and was continuing to increase. There still exist, however, many challenges hampering the application of VietGap, according to Quang.

One of the biggest challenges was the small scale and unorganised nature of agricultural production in Vietnam .

"Producers' skills and awareness on ensuring food safety and protecting the environment is still low," he said.

Quang said the link between production and consumption wasn't good enough, while the domestic market for these products was still limited.

He added that it was expensive and required complicated procedures to get a VietGAP certificate, which was beyond many producers' capacity.

The economic benefit of standard production, however, has not been shown clearly.

Additionally, there are some strict and impractical requirements regarding the quality of land, water or pesticide storage.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is revising the Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices to simplify the system to better suit the capacity of Vietnamese producers, especially those involved in small-scale vegetable cultivation.

The ministry will also issue documents to amend the VietGAP Certification Regulation with the aim to make the certification fairer, more transparent and objective while at the same time ensuring the quality of produce. /.