Rice farmers in the Mekong Delta came in for much praise for increasing output by more than a million tonnes this year as targeted by the Government at a recent review conference.

Speaking at the conference on Oct. 28 in Hau Giang province which also discussed plans for the next rice crop, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Ba Bong admitted: "Early this year, the target seemed hard to reach due to challenges like erratic climate."

However, output in the southern region was 25.2 million tonnes, with the delta accounting for more than 23 million tonnes, 1.52 million tonnes higher than last year.

The achievement had been due to the recent implementation of the large-scale rice field model in the delta, he said.

Under the model, land was pooled and hundreds of farming households and businesses co-operate to grow crops. In the delta, more than 6,400 households farmed a total of around 8,000ha to grow the winter-spring and summer-autumn rice crops this year.

The advantage of this model was that businesses help the farmers by providing them with seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, advanced technologies, and modern farming techniques, thus helping reduce production costs and improve productivity and quality, and by selling their products.

The businesses benefit by having long-term suppliers.

"Without large-scale paddy fields, the Mekong Delta farmers would continue to be poor," Bong said.

The model should be expanded to other regions while the delta needed to implement the model on an area of 50,000ha in 2012 and 100,000ha in 2013, he said, adding it would greatly enhance the Government's new rural development plan.

Pham Van Du, deputy director of the Cultivation Department, said the new model, which met VietGAP Good Agricultural Practices standards, attracted businesses and farmers.

Rice output and exports had been good, helping farmers earn profits. New high-quality rice varieties had been developed and used, increasing yields, he added.

Vietnam 's rice exports are likely to top 7 million tonnes this year.

But Pham Van Bay, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Food Association, said while Vietnam has the opportunity to overtake Thailand in rice exports next year, it is more important to make exports sustainable.

"The target is to develop a national trademark for Vietnamese rice and achieve GlobalGAP standards."

VFA estimates rice exports next year to be 6.5 – 7 million tonnes. But it worries that too many businesses have been licensed to export, making the domestic rice market chaotic.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade needs to carefully review the list of businesses registered for rice trading and export, Bay said.

Nguyen Van Dong, director of the Hau Giang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said many challenges still needs resolving, including poor preservation after harvest and lack of close ties between the Government, scientists, farmers, and businesses./.