Australia plays major role in northwestern agriculture

09:01 | 05/01/2018 Society

(VEN) - Over the past 15 years, through the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Australian government has been working with Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and localities in intensifying scientific and technological research to reduce poverty and improve incomes for farmers in northwestern Vietnam.

australia plays major role in northwestern agriculture

Livelihood improvement

A North-west Vietnam research symposium themed Mountains of Opportunity was sponsored by MARD in coordination with the Australian Embassy in Vietnam on 23 November in Hanoi. Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Le Quoc Doanh, said at the symposium that although it is endowed with rich natural resources, fertile soil, diverse climate, and other good conditions for agro-forestry and tourism development, and creation of central production areas for fruit tree, tea, coffee, paper material forest, and medicinal herbs, the northwestern region has not made full use of it advantages in agricultural development due to infrastructure and terrain difficulties.

The Deputy Minister said through the ACIAR, the Australian government has been working with MARD and Vietnamese localities to address issues of food safety, climate-smart agriculture, proper use of natural resources, market connectivity, and improvement of agricultural products’ added value. Over the past 15 years, many environmentally friendly agricultural production models, applied research, and supply and production chains have been efficiently implemented. Many agricultural value chains have been formed and are being expanded, notable examples of which include the Moc Chau Safe Vegetables, Moc Chau Plum, Bac Ha Plum, and Dien Bien Beef, among many others.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Lao Cai Province – a locality implementing ACIAR models – said Lao Cai is participating in tourism-oriented fruit tree development and livelihood development projects, which have enriched the province’s experience in production organization and farmer capability improvement.

In Son La Province, with ACIAR project assistance, a sustainable vegetable production and supply chain has been developed. The province is providing the Hanoi market, including such major supermarket systems as Metro and Fivimart, with an increasing amount of safe vegetables. The number of farmer households joining safe vegetable development models has increased from 32 in 2012 to 170 in 2017. Farmers have earned growing net incomes per hectare from vegetable production, 5-10 times that of rice and maize cultivation.

Prof. Andrew Campbell, ACIAR Executive Director, said that in the northwestern region, project developers have worked with many members of the H’mong ethnic group to improve the quality of local vegetables, making them viable in high-end markets in Hanoi and other provinces. Over the past 10 years, ACIAR has developed many forestry projects totaling about one million hectares of forest. These planted forests have helped reduce the widespread and uncontrolled exploitation of timber.

Sustainable development policies

The 5.64 million hectare northwestern region includes Lao Cai, Son La, Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Yen Bai and Hoa Binh provinces, most of them have extremely low socioeconomic rankings. Ethnic minority people account for a high percentage of the region’s population. Their living standards need to be improved. The rate of poor households in the region is 31.2 percent, higher than that in many other regions. Eighty percent of residents in the northwestern region make their living in agriculture.

Lo Van Hung, Deputy Chairman of the Son La Province People’s Committee, said policies are needed to encourage farmers to develop production, and enable them to access markets and advanced science and technology so they can improve production value and their livelihood on a sustainable basis.

Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Craig Chittick, said that over the past 20-30 years, Vietnam has achieved strong progress and has become a leader in hunger eradication and poverty reduction. However, the rate of poor households remains high and difficult problems need to be solved in the northwestern region. The Australian government is designing an AU$34-million gender equality program for Lao Cai and Son La provinces. The program will help women improve their livelihood development capability in both agriculture and tourism. The four-year program will be expanded to other regions nationwide.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Le Quoc Doanh, said the following is important to promote the northwestern region’s broader and more effective agricultural development:

1) To add value to commodities through development of strong farm produce and forest product value chains;

2) to develop production in accordance with domestic and foreign market specifications;

3) to prioritize formulation of policies on development of the forest economy (including forests, timber, non-timber forest products, medicinal herbs, and tourism);

4) to adopt policies promoting timber value chains with sustainable forest management certification aimed at developing processing and export of wood products to major markets such as the US, Japan and Europe.

Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Craig Chittick noted that over the past 15 years, ACIAR has invested more than AU$22.5 million in supporting agribusiness, agroforestry and husbandry research and development.

Nguyen Hanh