nCoV epidemic pinches Vietnamese farmers hard

By Hong Chau   February 4, 2020 | 07:14 pm PT
nCoV epidemic pinches Vietnamese farmers hard
Watermelons for sales in Kon Tum Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hong Chau.
Many fruit-laden trucks are stuck at border gates because Chinese traders have stopped buying fruit following the novel coronavirus outbreak, hurting Vietnamese farmers.

In the northern border province of Lang Son, there were over 330 containers of unsold fruit Monday, 190 of them containing 3,500 tonnes of dragon fruits.

Nguyen Cong Truong, Deputy Chairman of the province, said at a meeting Monday that prices of dragon fruit have dropped 88 percent from VND35,000 ($1.5) per kilogram before the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday to VND4,000 (17 cents) now.

Watermelon prices have also sharply fallen to VND2,000 (8.6 cents), and banana to VND5,000 (21 cents) per kilogram, he said.

Hoang, a farmer in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum, estimated that he will lose almost VND200 million ($8,600) on his two-hectare farm of watermelons with Chinese traders not buying them.

Thanh Mai, a watermelon trader in the same region, said that she has not been able to export a single container truck to China so far this year, even though by the same time last year she exported seven.

Lang Son Deputy Chairman Truong explained that as China, the largest buyer of Vietnamese agriculture produce, has banned the gathering of big crowds to contain the spread of the highly transmissible nCoV, many markets, restaurants and retail chains have downed shutters, leading to lower consumption of agriculture produce from Vietnam.

"Containers with fruits keep arriving at the border gate even though China has stopped importing them. We have advised business and agriculture associations to distribute their produce locally."

Pham Van Canh, Deputy Chairman of the southern province of Long An, said that 75 percent of the province’s dragon fruits are usually exported to China, but with at least two major buyers canceling orders for 500 containers, at least 20,000 tonnes are left in stock.

The nCoV damage could be a prolonged one for Vietnamese agriculture. Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Quoc Khanh has said that all trading of agriculture produce and seafood between Vietnam and China could be negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus outbreak for the next six to eight months.

As China will not resume border trading until February 9, Khanh proposed that the government allows a reduction in transport tariff during this time to minimize losses suffered by agriculture businesses.

Other officials have proposed diversifying export markets. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong said that although China was a major buyer of Vietnamese produce, it would be risky to remain dependent on this market.

"The ministry will send teams to promote trade in the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Japan and Russia in the upcoming months to expand markets for Vietnamese agriculture produce," he said.

Vietnam’s exports value of agriculture, forestry and seafood last year rose 3.2 percent from 2018 to $41.3 billion, of which China accounted for 27.8 percent, according to the agriculture ministry.

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