The best quality among existing rice seeds in the country should be chosen and developed to create a Vietnamese brand that is recognised in international markets.

The development of a national rice brand should go alongside research into developing new, high quality varieties of the grain, said Duong Van Chin, deputy director of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta Rice Research Institute.

He was speaking at a forum on rice seed production and supply in southern provinces held last week in An Giang province.

The forum was jointly organised by the National Agricultural Extension Center, the An Giang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the An Giang Agricultural Extension Center.

Although rice cultivation area in the Mekong Delta region has reduced over the past 10 years, new varieties have helped raise output from about 16.7 million tonnes in 2000 to 21.5 million tonnes in 2010, according to Pham Van Du, deputy head of the Cultivation Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Vietnam now ranks number one in rice productivity in Southeast Asia and the quality of rice is not much different compared to other countries.

Du said the increase in rice yield enabled the country to ensure food security and increase exports.

The country exported 3.5 million tonnes of rice in 2000. It reached 6.75 million last year and is expected to top 7 million tonnes this year.

About 200 rice varieties have been created and recognised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development so far, Chin said.

However, the country has not selected any special seed to plant on a large area in order to build a brand for it as Thailand and India have done, he said.

He suggested choosing the best rice variety and selecting some prestigious companies to develop concentrated material sources (to produce homogeneous grains) and a national brand.

Pham Van Tinh, deputy director of the National Agricultural Extension Centre, said most of the rice seeds under cultivation fail to produce grains of uniform quality and size, reducing the competitiveness of Vietnamese rice, especially when compared to Thai rice.

To make Vietnamese rice more competitive, provincial agricultural sectors should gradually reduce cultivation of many rice varieties, he said.

Du said that seed supply in the market remains "complicated" at present. With many varieties of rice seeds available in the market, farmers are sometimes confused about choosing the right one to cultivate, he said.

Huynh Van Nghiep, head of the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute's Division of Seed Technology, said localities should increase investment in seed production and supply to satisfy farmers' demands.

Currently, many farmers in remote areas cannot access seeds because of high prices. So they produce seeds for their own use, exchange seeds with others, or buy them from their neighbours, he said.

The seed is supplied through both formal and informal systems. The former consists of research institutions, seed companies and agriculture breeding centres, while farmers and farming communities form the latter, according to Nghiep.

The contribution of the informal system is very important because it enables many provinces to meet their seed demand. However, it needs a better inspection regime to ensure seed quality, Nghiep said.

Some experts at the forum called for the development of rice varieties that can withstand the impacts of climate change.

The forum also suggested the Government devise support policies for rice seed producers.

Forum participants also called for an improved information dissemination system that would enable farmers to select rice seeds that are suitable for their region and sow them at the right time to achieve high efficiency. The system should also strengthen links between production, consumption and exports, they said.

Vietnam has 33 million ha of land, of which 7.5 million ha are under rice cultivation.

With 3.9 million ha of rice fields, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region is the country's largest rice granary, accounting for more than 90 percent of the country's total rice export volume./.