Local residents and soldiers living in the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago are expected to be mostly self-sufficient in food when a project launched by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is completed next year.

The 30-month project run by the Institute of Agricultural Science for southern Vietnam, which carries a budget of about 3.5 billion VND (170,000 USD), is piloted on eight islands, said Ngo Quang Vinh, deputy director of the institute.

Under the project, 2,000-square metres of vegetable gardens will be planted and 500 green houses erected. Three to four kinds of fruit trees will also be planted on the islands, Vinh said.

The institute has also suggested that 300 agriculture ministry officials be trained to transfer livestock breeding and cultivation techniques.

Le Viet Binh, deputy head of the agriculture ministry's southern office said: "The project is valuable for soldiers and residents on the islands."

A shortage of fresh water and cultivated land, combined with severe weather conditions means the islanders find it difficult to be self-sufficient, Binh said.

He added that little research has been conducted on agricultural conditions in the archipelago.

Vinh said local residents at the moment use jute bags and sheets of bamboo and metal to protect their vegetable gardens from the weather.

To enrich the soil on the islands, the institute plans to use coconut fibre as a natural fertiliser.

One of the strong points of coconut fibre is that it is light, and can easily be transported to the islands, according to Vinh.

In addition, the institute plans to breed cows, pigs, chickens and ducks on the island. At the moment there are just 10 cows in the archipelago. The institute plans to increase that number to 20.

If the project is successful, local residents will be able to provide 80 percent of their daily food needs, he said.

Until now, islanders have been dependent on food imported from mainland," Vinh added./.