For Whom We Grow Rice
In Vietnam’s rice cultivation policies, priority should be assigned to food security while rice farmers’ income must be the momentum of growth
In early 2011, commodity prices surged again to the record high in 2008. Wheat price rose by 50%, corn 35% and cotton 40%. The price hike repeated the same scenario in 2010 when rice price soared by 30% over 2009. That was a time when hundreds of millions of people faced starvation and the food crisis menace spread across developing countries. Food-exporting nations banned grain sales to foreign markets while some poor agricultural economies lost their farmland and had to import food. The dilemma raised a tough question: “How to help poor people?”
n 2009, food security was high on the agenda of G-8 members in the backdrop a global financial crisis. The world’s richest countries pledged to invest US$20 billion in agricultural projects within three years.
This year, French President
Nicolas Sarkozy, G-20 incumbent chairman, stated that food security is the first priority. Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity, has shifted its focus from health and community health care to grain and food research. The World Economic Forum has made public new decisions on a new agricultural outlook, promising to promote small-scale producers, a distinct sign in the private sector.
Food demand is on the rise in India and China, the two most populous countries. Corn is in wider use as biofuel and non-agricultural fast-tracks. All these factors have driven the low-cost food era to a corner. Meanwhile, this year the global population reaches seven billion. Millions of people must spend half their income on food due to rising prices. How can the world feed itself when the global population is projected to amount to nine billion by 2050?
The answer is not only related to biological or techincal issues but also to social welfare.
Rice shoulders the burden
In such a context, agriculture manifests its importance in the economy. During the toughest times, Vietnam’s agriculture worked wonders for the country to overcome the financial crises in 1997, 2008, 2009 and 2010. However, climate change has posed ever-greater challenges for food safety and poverty alleviation. In 2009, over one billion people worldwide, especially in Southern Asia and Africa’s Sahara Desert faced hunger due to droughts and floods. Some 10 tropical storms landing on Vietnam’s northern and central regions every year cause devastating damages to people and properties. Under such circumstances, the Mekong Delta once again proves its stability in rice production nationwide.
The paradox is that Vietnam pours inadequate investment in agricultural development with an annual pledge of US$30 million. Agricutural development, based on capital investment, accounts for 53%, and human resources investment 19%. Scientific investment makes up only 28%, compared with the 40% level as seen in other countries.
Exports for farmers’ sake
Based on these analyses, Vietnam’s rice production should center around food security and rice farmers’ income must be the momentum for rice yield increases. Here, a problem must be tackled: while scientists highlight sustainable development, farmers desperately want high income. Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) application aimed at output for high export value farm produce may be a feasible solution.
Export is one of the tools for ensuring sustainable development and food security for a populous country like Vietnam whose population is projected to rise to over 100 million. Vietnam should adopt favorable export strategies as follows:
- Abundant natural resources and cheap labor costs are the two competitive advantages but the application of knowledge-based solutions in management and production must be continuously improved.
- More private investment should be injected into agriculture. The country encourages agriculture-related enterprises to develop large-scale paddy farming in line with the Ministry of Agricuture and Rural Development’s view on industrialization.
- Growing population requires 2050 food ouput to be double from that of 2000 while arable land shrinks. Food nutrition is a new orientation. Low rations with high energy and nutrient-intensive food will be an answer for the future.