Supporting farmers sell watermelons is only a temporary solution

11:00 | 18/05/2018 Society

Farmers in the central provinces of Quảng Nam and Quảng Ngãi have been struggling to sell enough watermelons to turn a profit, as the price of the farm produce sharply dropped from VND7,000 (US$0.3) per kilo last month to VND1,000 (US$0.04) or VND1,200 ($0.05) per kilo in recent days.

A farmer walks through a pile of harvested watermelon on a farm in Bình Sơn District of Quảng Ngãi Province - VNS Photo

The decreased price has left nearly 5,000 tonnes of watermelon on farms in Phú Ninh District of Quảng Nam and Bình Sơn District of Quảng Ngãi – the two major localities with the largest watermelon farms in the central region.

Some farmers in Quảng Nam Province had to sell water melons at VND500 (US$0.02), just to make a few cents and avoid cleaning up rotting water melon.

Dương Văn Hòa, a farmer in Tam Phước Commune of Quảng Nam Province’s Phú Ninh District, said traders rushed to buy watermelon but only paid VND1,300 or VND1,000 for a kilo, or left if the farmer asked for a higher price.

“This year’s crop was a bumper harvest of watermelon. We expected a good income for the crop, but it’s really a heavy loss for me,” Hòa said.

“Our nine tonnes of watermelon would earn VND50 million, but we could only hope for around VND10 million,” he said, adding his family had to offer VND500 per kilo at wholesale markets.

Nguyễn Ngọc Anh, in Phú Ninh District, said he spent VND12 million (US$530) on labour costs and fertilizer for his own 3,000sq.m farm, but he could face a heavy loss at too-cheap prices.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade warned about lower prices last month, when the watermelon crop in the central region was ready at the same time as the watermelon harvest in China – one of the major markets for Vietnam’s farm produce.

Võ Thanh Anh, from Phú Ninh District’s agriculture office, said the district has a total of 490ha water melon with productivity of 12,700 tonnes.

Anh said two thirds of water melon on farms had been harvested and sold at VND6,000 (0.26 cent) per kilo, but 3,000 tonnes have yet to be sold due to decreased price in recent weeks.

He said the district had planned 400ha for watermelon, but farmers had planed much more, expecting the higher output would correlate with higher profits.

“They (farmers) thought they would earn the best price as last year’s crop, and that’s the reason they expanded the crop area,” Anh explained.

In Bình Sơn District of Quảng Ngãi Province, with an area of 730ha, there remained 1,200 tonnes of watermelon unsold on farm, as the price went down to merely VND1,100 per kilo.

Nguyễn Thị Phương in Bình Chương Commune of Bình Sơn District said she invested VND15 million for her 2,500sq.m melon crop farm, but she would earn only VND8 million – nearly 50 per cent of the crop input investment – at the current low price of VND1,100 per kilo.

She said she would recoup her investment if she could sell watermelon at VND3,000 (US$0.13) per kilo.

Almost farmers in four major communes – Bình Thanh Tây, Bình Chương, Bình Hòa and Bình Trị – of Bình Sơn District in the province have suffered heavy losses because of the bumper crop this year.

Vice chairman of Bình Sơn District’s People’s Committee Nguyễn Quang Trung said poor marketing and post-harvest technology as well as inadequate preservation were seen as the main causes of the surplus.

Trung said the district has launched a pilot project with organic seedless watermelon variety for sale at super markets.

He said the organic watermelon is offered at VND8,000 per kilo at Co-op mart in Quảng Ngãi City, but only one tonne is available.

He said the district would promote organic farming with a higher price and stable market for farm produce in the coming years.

Not only watermelon, chili and pumpkin were unsold thanks to a sharp decline in prices.

In 2014, the same situation had happened in the central region with dragon fruit, watermelon and purple onion due to poor master planning and marketing.

The local market needs watermelon the whole year round, while China, with its high demand for watermelon only in the Lunar New Year, could import watermelon from Laos and Cambodia. Volunteers were called to supporting local farmers with watermelon sales in big cities, but this is only a temporary solution.

Theo VNS