[hepr-vn] Rice prices - Viewed from Vietnamese fields
vern.weitzel at gmail.com
Tue Apr 29 01:02:12 EST 2008
Subject: Rice prices - Viewed from Vietnamese fields
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2008 21:51:29 +0700
From: nguyen mai <henmoc at gmail.com>
Rice prices - Viewed from Vietnamese fields
By Theodore McKay
I just returned from the Mekong Delta – Vietnam's "rice basket" – to
look at the results of development projects partly financed by the World
Bank. With rice prices going through the roof, I expected to see farmers
enjoying a financial boom. But, reality was more nuanced and underscored
how difficult it is to grow more rice at the drop of a bamboo hat.
One of the projects I looked at improved water management in the delta
by upgrading canals and building more gates (known as sluice gates). The
idea is to prevent water from the sea from intruding and ruining crops
in the dry season; and stop floods from washing away the harvest during
the rainy season. The results have been dramatic.
Better irrigation and more security have allowed farmers like Ngo Kim
Tan, 64 years old, in Can Tho province, to plan ahead and plant more
crops. Keeping salt water out has translated into tastier fruit and
higher rice yields. Her rice yield has gone from about 700 kilos of rice
per "cong" (1,000 m2) to about a 1 ton per cong. Meanwhile the price of
paddy has been multiplied by 1.5 in one year (from 3,000 VND per kilo to
4,500 VND – about 28 cents ofa US$ - this year). Her income has doubled,
she says. Feeling flush, she has decided to extend her house. The
addition will go to whichever child gets married first. Inflation,
though, is denting her happy bubble. The price of bottled gas has gone
up drastically (from $12 to $20 per month) and so has the price of food
she buys at the market.
The price of fertilizer, pesticide, fuel – and the uncertainties linked
to climate, the environment and plain old luck, kept most farmers I
talked to cautiously optimistic.
Doan Van Den, a 48 year old farmer whose land borders a secondary canal
protected by a new sluice gate in Kien Giang province, spoke about his
switch from harvesting rice once a year, to two crops of rice and one
vegetable crop. Like his neighbors, he has seen his yield increase since
the network of canals and gates has been completed. "Our income has
increased. But when we grow rice more intensively, it costs more in
fertilizer. We've benefited from prices going up but we're still very
poor." The father of eight children sat in a simple thatched-roof house
with a mud floor. He served us tea made with water from the murky Mekong
River – there was no running water. "We can't afford to fix the house yet."
One farmer who tried growing three rice crops, suffered losses last
season because of pests. "If you plant rice continuously it tires the
land, so the yield is reduced," said Trinh Van On, 53 years old, in Soc
Trang province. "You need double the amount of pesticides and fertilizer
for the third crop because the land is exhausted."
As I traveled on the small roads and waterways that connect farmers to
markets in the delta, I kept wondering how the environment would
with-stand the pressure to grow more rice. If better irrigation allows
rice intensification but intensification pollutes the very water that
sustains the delta's life and fields, how do you maintain a sound
balance between food production and water quality?
The Ministry of Agriculture's advice to farmers has been to stay away
from rice intensification to keep pests and disease in check. Two rice
crops and one cash crop allow the land to rest more than three rice
crops with no break. The advice has been to reduce three inputs: the
amounts of seeds, pesticide and fertilizer – by applying new seedling
techniques, fertilizing land more accurately, and using water and other
techniques to get rid of pests.
Since I'm no agricultural expert (more of an in-house journalist
reporting on development impact), I wonder what safeguards are really in
place to avert the kind of rush to solutions that have perverse effects
so often. Will sustainable farming practices survive the pressure to
produce more and more food? It would be nice to feed the planet without
Q: Please consider the environment before you print this email.
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