Vietnam’s newly-appointed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Minh Hoan is determined to boost sustainable development in the Mekong Delta, improve the lives of the region’s farmers, and market its products under an internationally recognized global brand.
In a recent discussion with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Minister Hoan, who was ratified by the National Assembly on April 8, shared that his goal is to create “responsible agriculture” in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
According to Hoan, the expansion of the country’s agriculture sector may not be a strong indicator of income growth and quality-of-life improvements for Vietnamese farmers.
“Can we truly understand the lives of famers and their financial situations simply by looking at what the agriculture industry has achieved?” Hoan questioned.
During his tenure, Hoan hopes to create a balance between agricultural growth and the quality of life for famers while simultaneously managing the social and environmental impacts of development on farming.
In order to do this, his ministry plans to take a holistic approach to improving the agriculture sector, including considering the role of healthcare and environmental protection costs in developing sustainable farming.
“The agricultural industry should not be forced to ignore the environment, ecosystem, and public health in order to meet its growth targets,” he said, adding that the industry’s chase for high crop yields forces it to abuse chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents, which endangers public health and hurts the image of local brands.
Other problems noted by Hoan include the lack of updated market information and a loose connection between supply and demand which has led to wasted products or forced authorities to launch “rescue the famers” campaigns.
Such campaigns call on individuals and enterprises to purchase overproduced crops, such as the watermelons, purple onions, and oranges grown in Quang Ngai, Soc Trang, and Tuyen Quang Provinces, respectively.
Do not just exhort but give support
“In the past few years, we’ve managed to create a link between farm producers and investors in order to bring agriculture products to a wide variety of markets,” Minister Hoan said.
“Now it’s time to shift such a link to a value chain that ensures sustainable development.”
In a value chain, farm produce is classified and preliminarily processed before being supplied to markets.
This generates more jobs for workers and more income for farmers by creating preliminary treatment, preservation, and processing activities.
The uptick in revenue puts more money in farmers’ pockets, meaning fewer feel being forced to move to urban areas in search of more lucrative employment.
Regarding the role his ministry hopes to play in his vision for the industry, Hoan explained that government agencies at all levels should focus less on encouragement and more on educating farmers on agricultural economics in order for them to better understand the changing market.
Hoan also plans to focus his ministry on creating more outlets for both fresh and processed farming products.
“If the outlets are stagnant, production will come to a standstill,” he said.
The agriculture sector has long believed that the creation of outlets for farm produce falls under the responsibility of other industries and specialized agencies.
Such thinking must change and market solutions must be included from the beginning of any agricultural product development plan.
A global ‘Mekong Delta’ brand
Regarding the challenges that climate change and limited infrastructure pose to agriculture, Hoan declared the first step in overcoming these obstacles is to push the sector toward a nature-based production model.
Such a switch will be based on Government Resolution 120, which is centered on the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta in response to climate change, Minister Hoan explained.
After famers have been educated on agricultural economics, they will begin to understand higher produce quality, as opposed to higher yields, can provide hefty long-term benefits and pave the way for strong brands, reputations, and profits.
At the same time, the industry must adopt an ecosystem-based development strategy which satisfactorily resolves the issue of promoting agricultural production on the basis of adaptation to climate change, the minister said.
Such adaptation includes not only boosting infrastructural development but also adjusting agricultural thinking and operation systems on both provincial and district levels throughout the delta.
Doing so, Hoan further explained,will help the Mekong Delta transform into a global brand capable of surviving climate change and other likely challenges.
Minister Hoan’s primary focuses for his tenure rely on the idea of “responsible agriculture” – agricultural development that does not abuse chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents.
He shared that he once asked farmers in Dong Thap Province whether or not they overused chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents in farming production and they just chuckled in response.
The practices of “two-bed vegetables” – one bed of clean vegetables for growers to eat and the other, fed with chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents, for sale – and “two-cage pigs,” one cage of clean swine for breeders and the other, bred with weight gain or leanness-enhancing agents, for sale, are still common in certain areas across the country.
He also blamed excessively intensive farming of up to three paddy crops per year for gradual farmland deterioration because the practice requires farmers to use more chemical fertilizers and plant protection agents.
As such, the practice has harmful long-term impacts on both human health and the land, water, and air.
The Mekong Delta, which has 13 administrative units, including a centrally-run city (Can Tho) and 12 provinces, covers 40,547.2km² and has a total population of over 17.2 million people, accounting for 13 percent of Vietnam’s area and nearly 18 percent of the country’s population, the General Statistics Office of Vietnam reported in 2019.
According to the Planning Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the delta accounts for about 40 percent of Vietnam’s total value of agricultural production. The corresponding proportions of rice, fisheries, and fruit output are 50, 65 and 70 percent.
The region also makes up 90 percent of the country’s total rice exports.