Sustainable agricultural development brings opportunities to farmers: Agriculture Minister

Tuesday, 2017-01-31 16:27:07
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Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong
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NDO – 2016, a difficult year for Vietnam’s agriculture sector, has gone by. In an interview with reporters for the monthly publication of Nhan Dan newspaper, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong shared his concerns about obstacles and challenges and outlined a new path and hopes for the future of the country’s agriculture sector.

Q: 2016 can be considered a difficult year for Vietnam’s economy as a whole and the agriculture sector in particular. How has the agricultural sector overcome difficulties and prepared for the new period?

A: First of all, I have to say that 2016 was the toughest year for the agriculture sector, with natural disasters hitting across all parts of the country, from the historic cold spell at the beginning of the year in 14 northern mountainous provinces to severe droughts in the South Central and Central Highlands regions, serious saline intrusion in the Mekong Delta, prolonged flooding in the Central and Central Highlands regions, and particularly the recent sea environmental pollution incident in four central provinces that seriously damaged the maritime economy. Those calamities, together with the impacts of the world market and the greater aggregate supply than aggregate demand, posed a lot of difficulties to the agriculture sector’s direction and regulation work.

However, under instructions from the NA, the Government and the Prime Minister; close coordination between ministries, agencies, local governments and economic components; and particularly the efforts of farmers, we still achieved a number of significant results as a premise for the forthcoming stage.

Despite recording a growth rate below 0.18% (the first time in ten years) in the first half of 2016, the agriculture sector gradually resumed its growth momentum from the third quarter onwards, reaching 1.36% at the ending stage of the year. Vietnam’s agricultural export revenue amounted to US$32.1 billion last year, a great effort for the sector in the current context. An encouraging point was that many big companies showed interest in the field of agriculture with a focus on high-tech agriculture. This is not only a premise for this year but also for the entire period ahead, contributing to accelerating restructuring towards an agriculture of integration, high economic efficiency and sustainability.

Q: In previous years, Vietnam was always proud to be one of the world’s largest rice exporters. But until the present, Vietnamese rice has lost its competitive position on the world market. What are the reasons for this fact, and in your opinion, should we put too much expectation on rice exports in the time ahead?

A: That’s right. This is a matter of concern. As Vietnam has integrated deeply into the world economic life, the motivation for production is the market and we have to manufacture what the market needs. Secondly, we need to base this on specific circumstances. Thirdly, it must be taken into account that the ultimate goal is the profit for farmers. We must not race to achieve the rice output and rice export targets. Also, we are not competing for the top position in rice exports, which was proved through the year of 2016 as Vietnam’s rice export revenue was brought down to US$2.2 billion from US$2.8 billion in 2015. Instead, we exported a lot of other farming products which generated a much higher value than the lost value caused by the decreased rice exports. This is the path which should be built on by the agriculture sector in the future. On that basis, the rice industry will also have to be reorganised and orientated towards reducing the cultivation area and output in disadvantaged regions and proactively strengthening adaptability to climate change. It can be said that the gradual shrinking of the rice farming area to create room for aquaculture and the cultivation of other plants is a righteous line and direction that the agriculture sector is approaching.

Q: Redirecting exports and moving towards intensive integration are also among the driving forces for sustainable agricultural development. What difficulties is Vietnam’s agriculture sector faced by and what directions to remove those obstacles?

A: Removing bottlenecks to accelerate sustainable agricultural development is the line agreed on recently by the National Assembly, the Government, the Prime Minister, local governments and businesses. Land is the first knot that needs to be addressed. Without the removal of the bottleneck on land for cultivation, it will be impossible to organise agricultural production in an effective fashion or to have a deep value chain and to develop the sector in a sustainable manner.

Pineapples are being processed for exports at the Dong Giao Foodstuff Export JSC in Ninh Binh province.

The PM has instructed ministries, departments and agencies to focus on removing shortcomings concerning circulars, decrees and a number of points in the Law on Land, aiming to gather land on a large scale conforming to forms of industries and production objects, thereby leading to large-scale goods production. I think that in the current context of integration, farmers should not act alone but must foster links with other elements in society, including businesses and cooperatives, two important and decisive elements in organising production. There need to be more specific, preferential and encouraging policies in order to attract more businesses into the agriculture sector.

At the same time, support policies must be developed for the cooperative economy as a whole, with a focus on boosting the development of cooperatives so that 13.8 million farming households are not only the individual ones. Farms should unite in the form of cooperatives and foster close links with enterprises to establish centralised goods areas and value chains, contributing to lowering input costs. In this way, we will not only have good and uniform material areas for the processing industry but will also mobilise the power of businesses for successful integration. Another important point is to invest in high technology.

Q: Over the past twelve months, Vietnam has taken a number of drastic measures to ensure food safety. Can we be assured on this issue?

A: 2016 was identified as the Food Safety Year, so the ministry’s programmes featured drastic measures, from completing the institution to closely supervising inputs and working with localities to build food control systems. Thanks to the combined efforts of the entire sector, the political system, localities, businesses and farmers, we have achieved positive initial results.

A total of 50 localities nationwide have successfully built 444 exemplary models of agro-forestry and fishery product supply chains, 146 of which have already been supervised and confirmed with products under food safety control in chains. The ministry also strengthened inspection, supervision and management over banned substances. Accordingly, no cases of using Salbutamol, a banned substance, were detected across the country during the latter half of 2016, which represented a great effort in collaboration among sectors and localities. In a number of localities, such as Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, the issue of food safety management received adequate attention and was drastically directed, with steering committees collecting representatives from local departments set up to deal with the issue, bringing about positive results.

Q: Improving food safety work is seen as an opportunity and a direction for clean agriculture. What are the needed requirements to effectively implement this task?

A: Clean agriculture is no longer a direction but a principle and a credo for development as well as an urgent need of both the 92 million domestic people and the international integration market.

There are a lot of things to do to successfully realise clean agriculture. First of all, good governance is a must to control the inputs in production, ranging from agricultural materials to pesticides, fertilisers and livestock feed. We should manage the single manufacturing of 13.8 million rural households as well as large production areas with cooperatives and key businesses. Secondly, it is essential to form a big production chain. Besides, propaganda work needs to be accelerated to raise public awareness of promoting clean agricultural production as well as to drive the entire society towards the goal of having clean agriculture.

Thank you very much. We wish you a new year with a lot of new achievements!

MINH NHAT - HAI PHUONG