Vietnam's agriculture hungry for change

Time is ripe for Vietnam to adopt a different approach to food security, Nguyen Van Bo, director general of the Vietnam Agriculture Science Institute, told Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam newspaper.
Time is ripe for Vietnam to adopt a different approach to food security, Nguyen Van Bo, director general of the Vietnam Agriculture Science Institute, told Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam newspaper.

* It is time for us to review what we have learned in more than 25 years of economic development. As the head of the Vietnam Agriculture Science Institute, what do you think about the development of agriculture in the past 25 years?

In the last quarter of a century, Vietnam has achieved remarkable progress, particularly in the agriculture sector. Once crippled by poverty and food shortage, our country has risen into the 15th largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. Since 1986, our annual rice yield has been around 1 million tonnes.

Once an importing nation, Vietnam has joined the world's top exporters of rice and other agricultural products. This is a key factor helping us to alleviate poverty and increase the income of many farming households.

* In recent years, though our economy has faced a lot of challenges and difficulties, our agriculture sector has seen more successes than losses. What is the reason for these successes?

In my opinion, there are four main factors. First, the renewal policy of the Party and Government. Second, the decision to invest in irrigation. Third, the application of advanced science and technology, particularly to creating new rice varieties with a high yield. And finally, farmers' hard work and intelligence.

Let's recall the period from 1986-90, the first five years of our renewal policy. That was when we first replaced traditional methods with advanced science and technology.

From 1991-2000, the government invested heavily in agriculture, particularly in irrigation in the Mekong Delta, to bring fresh water to the rice fields there. As a result, cultivated land areas expanded, so farmers saw increased yields.

In recent years, science and technology have begun to play a pivotal role in increasing the yield of rice and other crops. Though we don't have official statistics, I can say with confidence that thanks to investment from the government, productivity and yield of the main agriculture products have increased at least 40 percent.

* What role did farmers play in each period of development?

Farmers were a very important factor in our agricultural success in the past 25-plus years. They are experts in tilling their land and creatively applying advanced science and technology to their fields. Many of them have conducted research and developed successful new technology.

* People often say that what was needed in the past may not be needed today or tomorrow. Do you think that's true when it comes to agriculture?

Food security was the primary objective of the agriculture industry in the past. Today, I don't think it is.

However, all our investment policies still focus on quantity, not quality. They emphasise the need to produce more food for both domestic consumption and export. Our investment in irrigation also aims to increase cultivated land and irrigate crops. When it comes to research, we focus on producing high-yield rice, not on rice quality.

* Rice export has always been a priority in the agriculture sector. Do you think food security should be put on the same level as rice exports?

Our rice exporters have gradually become self-sufficient. In addition, quite a few countries have started competing with us in rice exporting, particularly India and Pakistan. That's why, in my opinion, Vietnam should balance rice production to both feed its people and have some in reserve.

Meanwhile, we should shift investment to other agricultural products like vegetables, fruit and flowers. The total rice export turnover in the world is about 20 billion USD, while that of vegetables, fruit and other agricultural products is 122 billion USD.

Regarding the issue of food security, in my opinion, it is important to restructure our daily diet by increasing the amount of meat, milk, vegetables and fruit. That means we should invest more in livestock, fishery and crop production.-VNA

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