The Government needs to make amends for its rather dismal performance to date in facilitating investment in agriculture despite the sector's key importance in the nation's growth, experts said at a conference on November 9.

The conference brought leading economists and policy think-tanks together to discuss the role of the State in agriculture restructuring, ways to involve enterprises in the restructuring process and how to make investment structure or the sector more effective.

Tran Dinh Thien, Director of the Vietnam Institute of Economics, said that agriculture restructuring needed to follow three main orientations.

The first was development of products utilizing technology, economies of scale and production zones. The second focus must be on establishing a production chain that would render the agriculture sector "safe," he said explaining that currently, the input chain was dominated by foreign enterprises and domestic processing enterprises were still limited in their scope of action.

The third orientation, Thin said, was to ensure that enterprises are in the vanguard of rural development and market development, ahead of other stakeholders including the State, scientists and farmers.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Tien Phong, a programme officer in poverty reduction and social development with the United Nations Development Programme, said that investment in agriculture had been decreasing of late, and it was important that more resources are mobilised for agriculture and farmers.

"Agricultural productivity in Vietnam is still low so we need to invest more in research, science and technology transfer and encourage domestic enterprises to invest in agriculture," Phong said.

He added that it was necessary to enhance farmers' capacity so that they can organise production to boost productivity and product quality.

He stressed the role of the State in making this happen, noting that it was the State that sets standards and regulations, and in a position to instruct farmers on which products had good export potential.

"The State has not well performed its role in managing the imbalance in investments into agriculture," he said, "It has not played its role well in setting standards, quality or food safety."

Phong said the State should also support enterprises to invest in agriculture.

"The role of the State in agriculture restructuring needs to be researched more carefully and in more detail," he said.

Nguyen Thi Lan Huong from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that to define the role of the State in agriculture restructuring, relevant authorities should review all policies and documents related to quality management.

"In the context of international integration, it is necessary to link small agricultural households to the global supply chain and promote all advantages of Vietnamese agriculture," she said.

"From that, we can define the role of the State and the State's management to find out which State services need to be extended, which can be prioritised, and which can be conducted under public-private partnership (PPP)," she said.

Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat stressed that the aim of agriculture restructuring was not merely to develop a strong sector and produce more products. Its bigger target was to raise the income and living standards of farmers.

So the first task is to change the awareness of and attitude towards the market, boost the market to work effectively in all agricultural areas and to ensure better State performance, he said.

The conference was held by the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development.-VNA