Agricultural restructuring must be permanent and persistent

17:03 | 01/02/2017 Society

(VEN) - 2016 has been a successful year for the agricultural sector. Farm produce, forest products and seafood exports brought in US$31 billion, while agricultural restructuring achieved significant initial results. Vietnam Economic News reporter Thanh Ha spoke with Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nguyen Xuan Cuong, about the sector’s restructuring achievements and needs.

agricultural restructuring must be permanent and persistent

Could you tell us about the achievements of the agricultural restructuring project?

After more than three years of implementation, the agricultural restructuring project has achieved initial significant results. Firstly, some sectors have upgraded their operations so that they are approaching the latest global production methods. The livestock breeding sector, including pig and poultry farming, for example, has been updated on development trends in other countries.

Secondly, the fisheries sector, especially brackish water shrimp and Tra fish aquaculture, is drawing closer to international technology and production processes.

Our fruit and vegetable industry has made progress. This is a record year for fruit and vegetable export revenues - US$2.5 billion, higher than the country’s rice export value for 2016. Many localities focused on agricultural restructuring. Dong Thap Province in the Mekong Delta, Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands, and Ha Giang Province in the northern mountainous region all focused on developing innovative, competitive products. As a result, farmers’ incomes have increased. These are important initial achievements.

One thing that’s important to know is that agricultural restructuring is a permanent, long-term process that requires persistence and patience to obtain real results. For now, small-scale, spontaneous production with modest labor productivity, modest economic efficiency and safety, and low value chains is still the norm. Meanwhile, market risks and changes caused by natural disasters are still major threats. These are basic problems that need to be solved to promote and expand large-scale production and reduce small-scale, spontaneous production in order to make agricultural restructuring successful.

What should farmers do to improve their income?

Previously, Vietnam exported seven to eight million tonnes of rice annually. In recent years, market demand has changed. The world has a population of seven billion, only half of which eats rice. The global trade in rice has hit only 35 million tonnes worth about US$12 billion in value. That means the world rice market has shrunk, while there are many giant rivals - leading rice producing countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, China and India.

Considering market factors and the trend of developing a sustainable agriculture based on proper use of natural resources, the Party, the National Assembly and the government have a policy on replacing part of the country’s rice cultivation with other crops that promise higher economic and natural resource efficiency. This is absolutely the right policy. The goal is for about 700,000ha of rice cultivation areas to be transformed into fields for other crops from now to 2025.

agricultural restructuring must be permanent and persistent

What policies will the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development adopt to assist farmers and businesses in exploiting market potential?

I want to emphasize that Vietnam’s market development policy is a good one. Vietnam officially became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007. Since then, it has been integrating well into international economic communities. Vietnam signed 10 free trade agreements (FTAs) and is negotiating to sign an additional major one - the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

In fact, 2016 has been a difficult year for the agricultural sector, with natural disasters in the seven socioeconomic regions throughout the year. Despite that, farm exports are expected to hit a record of more than US$31 billion this year and related trade surplus expected to exceed US$7 billion. This shows that Vietnam has been doing quite well in market exploitation. However, Vietnam needs to continue its efforts. As for import markets, it is necessary to design technical solutions in compliance with integration and WTO commitments. It is also important to promote domestic production and develop the domestic market.

Vietnam has been doing a good job integrating into FTA markets but hasn’t fully exploited the markets’ potential. Vietnam can increase pork, milk, fruit and vegetable exports to China if it has state-level contracts with that market. Vietnamese farm produce exporters even have the potential to export products to such hard-to-please markets as the US, Europe, Japan and others.

Following government guidelines, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is working closely with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, localities and sectors to develop markets for agricultural products.

Recently, the two ministries worked with relevant Australian authorities to obtain a license for raw frozen shrimp exports to Australia. If Vietnam gets the license, its shrimp exports to Australia will increase, and Vietnamese farm produce will have an open door to many hard-to-please markets worldwide.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is working with the Vietnam Tra Fish Association to continue legal measures, in accordance with FTAs, vis-à-vis markets that regularly put obstacles in the way of Vietnamese businesses, such as the US - a giant importer of seafood.

Vietnam has been doing well in finding markets. It should better exploit specific market segments with potential products.

Thanh Ha