'Rescue' prices for produce will not save farmers in Covid-19 fight

By Tran Ban Hung   March 3, 2021 | 08:08 am GMT+7
A colleague recently sent us a list of farm produce that need to be "rescued" from Hai Duong Province, the current Covid-19 epicenter.
Tran Ban Hung

Tran Ban Hung

This is not a new development for us. We have been rescuing agricultural products almost every year. Market glut is a normal situation in the country as farmers nationwide do not have a long-term production plan.

However, I felt a little heartbroken when driving along the streets of Hanoi last week and seeing stalls selling farm produce at very low prices, like VND5,000 ($0.22) per kilo of carrot and VND3,500 per cauliflower, with notices asking people to "rescue" Hai Duong products.

The director of the Hai Duong Department of Industry and Trade, Pham Thanh Hai, said there were thousands of hectares of onion, carrot, different types of vegetables, fish, chicken and eggs still in stock whose consumption "depended completely on neighboring localities."

"All we can do now is to call the directors of industry-trade departments (in the neighboring localities) and ask them to send a message to their higher authorities for accepting products from Hai Duong," Hai said.

Hai Duong is where one of the first cases of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak was detected in late January. Since then, infections have risen to 681 in the northern province. A social distancing campaign began throughout the province on February 16. It was decided Monday that it would end on March 3.

Amidst the Lunar New Year atmosphere, the most important festival in the country, many families in Hai Duong had to be placed under a lockdown, which meant their farm produce getting stuck because of "difficulties" in transportation.

The thought strikes me: We have been fighting against the pandemic, yes, but in a way that we have also fought against the livelihoods of our people.

People in central city of Da Nang rescue farm products of Hai Duong in February 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

People in central city of Da Nang "rescue" farm produce of Hai Duong in February 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Instead of letting each locality have its own policies to prevent and fight the pandemic, why don’t ministries and related agencies come up with an overall plan to synchronize all isolation and trading measures? This way, businesses and farmers will not be confused and people in the affected areas will not have the feeling that they are being discriminated against.

With the experience of living and doing business under the impact of Covid-19 throughout 2020, 2021 might not be too difficult for everyone. However, it will be very challenging for many, especially farmers, because the pandemic had already eroded the reserve funds of many low and middle-income families in 2020.

"Trade ban," a term that has been used by some during this pandemic era, reminds me of the suffocating atmosphere of the subsidy period before Vietnam opened its economy to the world in 1986.

If that kind of thinking continues to exist in this fight against the pandemic, it would undermine economic recovery and human resilience.

Authorities in each locality as also related ministries and agencies have remained passive in coming up with a specific plan on fighting the pandemic once there is an outbreak of community transmissions. They have not considered plans to prevent the spread of the virus while maintaining the livelihoods of local people in the affected areas to ensure rapid economic recovery.

I think having officials of each province/city to individually decide the response to a pandemic should be reconsidered.

Hai of Hai Duong's industry-trade department said it was difficult to "rescue" the province's farm produce because of "the policies of other provinces' departments, such as the transport department," which has prevented them from opening their borders and taking in goods from Hai Duong.

Is there a better way to handle this?

First, the situation in Hai Duong is an opportunity for other localities and the central government to build an overall master plan should another outbreak occur. Quick regional responses and tight links between cities, provinces under the coordination of the central government will be a crucial response for many years to come.

Farmers that I have met and talked to have said that they need solutions to promote their business/produce online instead of having to stockpile them and requesting help in retailing them at very cheap prices. Such a platform will not be difficult to build and manage, and it would help farmers to sell their products not just in Vietnam, but also abroad.

*Tran Ban Hung is an expert with Fair Trade Asia-Pacific in Vietnam. The opinions expressed are his own.

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