Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Vietnam's rice field loss threatens food security: minister

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam's rapid industrialisation is threatening the country's food security as rice fields are being lost to development, the agriculture minister has warned, state media reported Monday.

The growth of cities and new industrial parks could mean Vietnam stops exporting rice in coming years, Cao Duc Phat, the minister of agriculture and rural development, said according to the Vietnam News daily.

"The increasing allocation of farmlands for other purposes is a major threat to food security with many plots of fertile lands being turned into urban areas and industrial parks," Phat was quoted as saying.

More than 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of farmland had been converted between 2001 and 2007, and last year alone 125,000 hectares of rice fields had been lost, he reportedly said.

At the current trend of arable land loss, rice production in Vietnam -- one of the world's largest exporters of the food staple -- was expected to fall by about 1 million tonnes of rice per year, he said.

"In five years, the loss is expected to equal current rice exports," he reportedly said. "It means that we will no longer have extra rice for export and, in the long term, the country's food security will be threatened."

Phat said Vietnam's urbanisation and industrialisation were necessary but that agriculture remained the country's "strong point," adding that new industrial zones should be built in hilly areas and on exhausted farmlands.