Rice farmers unable to reap what they sowed without diesel

By Ngoc Tai, Cuu Long, An Minh   September 5, 2022 | 05:00 am PT
Rice farmers unable to reap what they sowed without diesel
Nguyen Thi Nhao, a farmer in the Mekong Delta's Dong Thap Province, picks ripe rice on her field, September 3, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/An Minh
Mekong Delta rice farmers are facing the prospect of their crop getting spoiled and inflicting heavy losses as reapers remain idle without enough diesel to operate them.

It has been more than ten days since the rice crop that Nguyen Thi Nhao’s family cultivates on 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres) in Phuoc Long District, Bac Lieu Province has ripened.

However, she has not been able to hire any reaper to harvest the crop. The reaper operator said the service has stalled for almost a week now due to a lack of diesel.

Other farmers in Phuoc Long, which has the largest rice area in Bac Lieu, are facing the same problem.

For this year’s summer-autumn crop, farmers in the district have planted rice on more than 13,700 hectares. So far, around 5,000 hectares of rice are yet to be harvested.

"If this situation lasts longer, the rice will get spoiled and traders will force us to sell it at a very low price," said a worried Nhao.

Nguyen Van Thanh brought 40 combine-reapers and 200 workers from Can Tho to Bac Lieu when the harvest season had just begun. The lack of diesel has upset his plans, too.

On average, a reaper consumes 90 liters of diesel per day as it harvests 18-20 hectares of rice, but over the past five days, gas stations have only provided half the diesel they need because they have no more stock of the fuel.

"This affects the harvesting process, raises the total cost for reaper operators and causes losses for farmers," Thanh said.

The diesel shortage has disrupted rice harvest in the delta's Dong Thap Province as well.

Nguyen Van Hau, a reaper operator in Dong Thap's Hong Ngu District, said a few days ago he had to travel 20 km and visit five stations to buy 120 liters of diesel and this was only enough for one day.

In Thap Muoi District, an operator named Nguyen Huu Son said he "is in the hot seat" as he had already struck deals to harvest rice on hundreds of hectares, but cannot deliver the service because getting diesel has become a challenge.

"Even if you have lots of money, you cannot buy because there is just not enough diesel for you to buy," said Son.

He has been able to get just 30 liters a day and has to visit two stations to get that much.

Each station can only sell 200 liters of diesel per day, so the volume each customer can buy is very limited, he said.

The fuel crisis has affected even rice processing factories.

Tran Van Tam, owner of a factory in Can Tho, said during the Sept 1-4 National Day holiday, he had sent five vessels with a loading capacity of 1,000 tons each to farms in Bac Lieu to buy rice, but it had taken longer than needed to buy enough diesel for the vessels to get back to Can Tho. He had to spend an extra VND10 million to cover accommodation and daily meals for workers.

Nguyen Thi Hue, deputy head of the Market Management Department in Dong Thap, said gas stations in the province have been reporting a shortage in fuel supply and their inability to buy a large volume at one time.

For a week now, gas stations in several southern localities have been running out of supplies of petrol, diesel and other fuels. Many have stopped doing business. In most cases, they said distributors do not import enough and in some cases, the stations said they have stopped selling for fear of making losses.

The owner of a gas station in the delta’s An Giang Province told VnExpress last Tuesday that the station is given a commission of VND210 for each liter of gasoline and is allowed to buy a maximum of 3,000 liters at a time, which means a margin of VND630,000 ($27) on that purchase.

Meanwhile, the cost of renting a tank truck is VND900,000, which means the station has lost VND270,000 even before it started selling the fuel. Then there is the cost of electricity and staff salaries. Every day the gas station loses VND1.5-2 million, he said.

Last weekend, many petrol stations in Hanoi and the northern provinces of Thai Nguyen and Vinh Phuc also ran out of stock.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has set up three teams led by three deputy ministers to inspect the petroleum supply situation across cities and provinces. It has stressed the need for coordination to clarify the cause of fuel scarcity, including supplies of E5 RON 92 and RON 95-III gasoline.

Since the beginning of the year, domestic gasoline prices have undergone 23 adjustments – 13 increases, eight decreases, and one without any change. On Monday, gasoline prices dropped while that of diesel rose.

The Mekong Delta is popularly known as Vietnam's "rice bowl" as it produces around 24 million tons of the grain on a total farm area of around four million hectares per year, accounting for half of the country's total area for cultivation and half of total rice production.

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