$50 billion surplus: Vietnamese agriculture reaps hi-tech dividends

By Nguyen Hoai   October 26, 2018 | 09:54 pm PT
$50 billion surplus: Vietnamese agriculture reaps hi-tech dividends
A farmer works on a rice paddy field in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters
Vietnam's agriculture sector has been reaping significant hi-tech returns of late, Minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong has informed the parliament. 

Cuong, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, highlighted the sector’s achievements at a National Assembly (NA) discussion on socioeconomic development Friday. 

He said Vietnam's agricultural growth this year had reached 3.65 percent year-on-year as of the end of September, the highest in many years. 

"This is a significant achievement considering that the world has been greatly affected by natural disasters," Cuong said.

He said the ongoing restructuring of the sector has been proceeding in the right direction over the past five years, as evidenced by strong growth in production during this time.

"Currently Vietnam's agricultural products are being exported to 180 countries, earning $200 billion in the past five years and achieving a surplus value of $50 billion," the minister noted.

He said that hi-tech advances in line with their scale have been made in the three main categories of agricultural products: national products with export values of at least $1 billion; provincial products; and local specialties.

As a result, the price of Vietnamese rice, which used to be very low five years ago, is now higher than those of Thailand and India, Cuong said, without elaborating.

Vietnam's rice exports this year have also achieved its highest ever volume and value, he added.

Rice exports from Vietnam in January-September were estimated to rise 7.6 percent from a year ago to 4.93 million tons. Revenue from rice exports in the period was estimated to grow 22.1 percent year-on-year to $2.48 billion.

Highlighting rural development achievements, the minister also reported that over 40 percent of communes have met the criteria for recognition as “new rural areas,” exceeding the target set by the parliament. 

By next year 50 percent of communes are expected to achieve this, meaning the scheme's target would be "basically reached" a year ahead of its deadline, he said.

National profile needs boost

Minister Cuong also acknowledged that the development of new rural areas needed more focus in some core areas including production promotion and environmental protection. 

Several NA deputies also expressed concern that the focus on increasing the sector’s value was happening without resolving the issue of creating brand value for Vietnam's agriculture sector as a whole.

While Vietnam exports many agricultural products, most of those are raw produce exported under companies' brand names, not really adding value to the "made in Vietnam" brand, they said.

Truong Anh Tuan, an NA member from the northern province of Nam Dinh, said Vietnam needs to build a strong brand for its agricultural products.

Using rice as an example, he said Vietnam currently has over 200 types of rice, with each locality claiming its rice as a delicious specialty, but such claims have never been verified. There has never been a "delicious rice competition," he noted.

On the other hand, Vietnamese rice has received recognition in the global market with the ST 24 variety making into the top 3 most delicious rice varieties in the world at an event in Macau last November, behind Thailand and Cambodia.

"The reality is that there are beauty contests for dairy cows, but for rice, which has been part of the Vietnamese people for thousands of years, there is still no contest to decide which variety is most delicious," Tuan said.

He expressed hope that the agriculture sector would soon bring greater recognition to Vietnamese rice, and thereby build a strong brand, helping farmers grow high value, sustainable produce.

NA deputies were in general agreement that strengthening  Vietnamese agricultural sector’s brand would help increase the export value of its products.

With a strong brand, the value of Vietnam's agricultural product exports would not stop at the current $30 billion, but go on to reach $50 billion or even $60 billion, they said.

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