Monday, September 08, 2008

Vietnam's Mekong Delta gets scientific on agricultural development

09:34' 07/09/2008 (GMT+7)

A durian grower and his orchard in Ngu Hiep, Tien Giang Province.

VietNamNet Bridge - Since 2005, Mekong River Delta provinces have carried out 700 scientific and technological projects to serve agricultural production. However, technology hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be when it comes to furthering greater regional development.

Shrimp, rice and fruit

In 1990, and for the first time, Bui Tri Thuc, and other other rice farmers in Hau Giang Province, banded together to use an automatic seeder in their fields. The results were immediate, bringing him his biggest crop in 50 years.

It was also the first time that the farmers used new varieties of rice, marking the beginning of a new era and a bump in yields to 10-13 tons per hectare per year.

This was a mark of success in the study of how to grow rice within just 90 days in the Mekong River Delta, contributing to an increase in area under cultivation to 4 million hectares.

The biggest success of the Mekong River Delta over the past 20 years has been the creation of the super fast growing rice seeds. The expansion of rice areas with these seeds have helped create bumper crops. These rice seeds have won praise as the most successful seeds put out by the Mekong River Rice Research Institute.

Previously, every 2 million hectares of cultivated land planted with just one crop, and a productivity of 2 tons per hectare, brought only million tons of rice. By 2008 however, that figure had soared to an estimated at 21 million tons.

These results have been achieved thanks to the region’s remarkable progress in creating high-quality scientific seed technologies.

Five years ago, good seeds being used by farmers accounted for 10% of the total crop; the figure increased by 20% in 2004 and now sits at around 40%. The average rice productivity in the
Mekong River delta is now at 5.1 tons per hectare, the highest in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

It’s not all rice, rice rice. In fisheries, Luu Thong Nhut in Long Phu District,
Soc Trang Province started industrial Sugpo prawn farming in 2003. Previously, he had seen studies on model projects in the North and Centre of the country. In the projects he saw a way to raise vast amounts of Sugpo prawn, and met with Vietnam’s leading microorganism expert for advice on how he could exploit the technology.

In 2005, and his very first season using microorganism technology, he brought home 15 tons per hectare.

Since then, his farm has been inundated with scientists and farmers from keen to learn from his experiences in raising Sugpo prawn. So far several thousand families have followed his model.

Over the past several years, there has also been a “revolution” in fruit seeds in the Mekong River Delta as well. Dr. Nguyen Minh Chau from the Southern Fruit Research Institute said that every locality has their own special fruits, and that competition should be encouraged between them to help find the best overall seeds.

Apart from the provision of seeds by institutes and schools, farmers have implemented creative solutions to find the best quality seeds.

Good Agricultural Practices became known to Mekong River Delta farmers in March, 2005 when an Association of Safe Fruit Production and Consumption along Tien River was established.

Dr. Vo Mai, Chairman of Vinafruit (the Vietnam Fruit Association), said that the model project links together farmers, businesses, scientists and the State to establish a concentrated, large-scale, safe and high-quality fruit production of international standards.

These practices have re-organised the fruit consumption system to satisfy both the domestic and export markets.

Putting machines into use, reducing fees, and raising quality

The Mekong River Delta is currently harvesting the summer-autumn rice crop. Many harvesting-machines have been gathered together near fields in An Giang, Kien Giang and Dong Thap provinces.

According to farmers in Tri Ton District, An Giang Province, the machines can help farmers harvest 3-5 hectares per day. By shortening the harvesting time, farmers have more time to sanitize the fields, plough and dry land to increase the fertility of the soil, reduce diseases and sow new crops.

The machines have helped reduce harvesting fees and the amount of rice lost to just 1%. According to Dr. Mai Thanh Phung from the National Agricultural Promotion Center, handicraft harvesting can lead to a loss of 5% in 4 million hectares of rice each year.

Based on an average rice productivity of 20 million tons each year, the lost amount of rice is calculated to be over 1 million tons each year, or VND 4.3 trillion in lost profits. “Harvesting by machines can increase farmer’s profits by VND 3.5 trillion,” he said.

In the Mekong River Delta, thousands of agricultural machines have been put into operation. Kien Giang Province alone has 620 harvesting-machines, while An Giang Province has 5,000 pulling machines. An Giang Province has given preferential loans to farmers to enable them to be able to buy the machines.

Engineer Truong Ngoc Trung, Director of the Hau Giang Provincial Agricultural Seed Bank said that it took ten years for Long My District to increase the area of rice using sowing machines from 100 hectares to 1,000 hectares.

One of the most important solutions to transfer advanced production techniques is for farmers to tour and hold conferences with other farmers. Each year a competition of harvesting-machines is organized, which reveals the creativity of the people who work the land.

Sci-tech indispensable for farmers

Although the “revolution” of seeds for agricultural production has not yet reached its peak, farmers in the Mekong River Delta feel secure enough to raise and plant seeds with high productivity. However, the mechanizing of fields has revealed some weaknesses.

At present, the number of machines in the Mekong River Delta accounts for 15% of capacity demand. There are only a handful of machines in Soc Trang and Bac Lieu Provinces. Although An Giang, Dong Thap and Kien Giang Provinces have invested in machines for farmers, they have only been able to satisfy 20-30% of their demand.

Dr. Nguyen Van Banh, Head of the Mekong Delta Rice Research Institute, said that machines only harvest some 200,000 hectares of rice among the 1.5 million hectares under cultivation in the area.