Farmers work on a farm of a cooperative producing vegetables (Photo: VNA)

HCM City (VNA) - A memorandum of understanding was signed on November 6 to form the Network of Agricultural Cooperative Development Partners (NETCOOP) to promote the development of agricultural cooperatives, sustainable economic growth and the prosperity of the agricultural sector in Vietnam.

The main partners in NETCOOP are the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Vietnam Cooperative Alliance (VCA), the School of Management for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Co-operative Economics and Rural Development, the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the German Agency for Development Co-operation (GIZ) and Canadian Cooperation Society for International Development (Socodevi), together with many other Vietnamese and international organsiations.

The MoU was signed at a seminar on agricultural cooperative development in Ho Chi Minh City on November 6.

Dang Van Thanh, vice director of the Cooperative Development Department under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, said Vietnam’s legal framework for cooperative development had helped increase the number of cooperatives and their improvement in scale, technology and markets.

As of the end of last year, the country had 19,569 cooperatives with more than 6.25 million members. Of these, 10,726 were agricultural cooperatives.

But agricultural cooperatives are facing difficulties, including a shortage of capital, lack of consultancy from staff and post-harvest preservation systems, and weak linkages among farmers, cooperatives and enterprises.

There was also limited management capacity among cooperatives’ leaders, according to Thanh.

Most of the cooperatives supply inputs to household farmers’ production, and only 12 percent of cooperatives were active in processing and consumption of farm produce. Meanwhile, many operate moderately, which has not brought about practical benefits for members. Some are on the verge of dissolution.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Tran Thanh Nam said agricultural cooperatives needed to learn from local and international experience to enable them to improve their performance and build new cooperative models to serve their members better and help them face challenges in the market.

Vietnamese and international organisations have had good cooperation in developing agricultural cooperatives, he said.

Jong-Ha Bae, representative of the FAO in Vietnam, said: “Vietnam’s agriculture has demonstrated remarkable growth in terms of production in the last three decades, but farmers’ income is still low. So right now, we should focus more on how to improve farmers’ livelihood.”

Cooperatives provide an opportunity for small-scale farmers to improve their productivity, add value to their produce, and increase their access to national and international markets, Bae said.

Vietnam targets having 20,000 agricultural cooperatives by 2020, of which 15,000 operate efficiently. About 50-60 percent of farmer households are members of agricultural co-operatives, with at least 1,000 safe agricultural product chains by then.-VNA