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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The right path for agriculture matters

By Trung Chanh

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The prime minister has approved a sustainable agriculture development strategy until 2030, with a vision toward 2050. The agriculture sector’s first long-term strategy is expected to effectively eliminate existing obstacles and bring about sustainability for the agriculture sector, rural areas and farmers. The Saigon Times spoke to Le Minh Hoan, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, about sustainability in the agriculture sector. Excerpts:

The Saigon Times: The sustainable agriculture development strategy until 2030, with a vision toward 2050, is the industry’s first long-term strategy. Could you please share something about the strategy?

Minister Le Minh Hoan: It is necessary to work out the strategy as the issues and aspects related to agriculture are broad. We have held numerous forums and conferences to pinpoint the pros and cons and presented multiple solutions to address bottlenecks as soon as possible.

The agriculture sector is associated with several aspects, including 10 million small-scale farming households, the weather, market trends and Vietnam’s commitment to turning out safe and healthy farm produce.

As such, to obtain sustainability in agriculture, a long-term strategy is needed to remove obstacles step by step, make positive changes and review the results of each piece of work in each period.

Finding the right way is more important than controlling the way, as the right way will surely create the right solutions. For example, agricultural production thinking and agricultural economic thinking are two very different targets. If we insist on agricultural production thinking, meaning that output is the target, all solutions will be applied for this target.

Meanwhile, agricultural economic thinking needs solutions for infrastructure and manpower training. Production thinking moves toward achievements in export, while economic thinking targets value-added chains.

In a field, rice monoculture brings about higher output than integrated rice-shrimp farming, but the latter creates higher value. So, should we select monoculture or polyculture?

Looking back on the history of the country, the way to increase output was right. However, natural resources are running out, while we have yet to calculate cost overruns and impacts on the environment, farmers’ health and biodiversity during farming.

It is impossible to make multiple changes in agriculture in only one or two days. As such, it is high time to pursue a long-term strategy.

You mentioned existing bottlenecks facing agriculture in terms of high fees, low quality, a lack of attachment of production to the market and the impact on the environment. How will these problems be dealt with in the strategy that has been approved?

The strategy has two major missions.

The first is addressing the existing obstacles. To do that, we will start from the bottom to the top, including the basic level, the residential community level, the district level, the provincial level and the regional level. Depending on the levels, suitable methods will be adopted to create connectivity with the market, reduce costs or improve quality.

The second mission is employing new values of modern and smart agriculture and organic and ecological agriculture.

The two missions will be conducted simultaneously so that the strategy can work well.

For instance, instead of using too much chemical fertilizer in farming, farmers should switch to organic farming to reduce costs and increase the quality of products. It is necessary to apply digital transformation to the agriculture sector to create transparency in supply and consumption.

The global consumption trend is gradually changing. Customers not only consume good and high-quality products but also pay heed to the processes of turning out products that do not affect the environment. How will this problem be resolved?

We will build multiple models and train farmers and show them how fast global consumption changes.

In reality, when I worked with the sponsors of the Vietnamese agriculture sector and representatives of foreign missions, they said that ecolabels would soon be attached to all agricultural products. Last year, the Government issued the national green growth strategy that encourages ecolabeling. This is Vietnam’s message and commitment to the world.

Of course, it is inevitable that farmers will experience difficulties resulting from changes in the initial stage but will enjoy the fruits of their success with a new farming model and new markets for trendy products.

In the past, farming and the countryside ran in two different ways, but in the sustainable strategy, they have an organic and inseparable relationship. Could you please clarify this?

It is about time to consider the countryside as the foundation and agriculture as the motivation. The foundation is aimed at creating a rural social structure based on the new rural model building program, fostering rural economic growth or forming a sustainable structure for farmers through the welfare promotion program. These will generate the necessary motivation to restructure agriculture.

Restructuring does not mean scaling up the proportion of this sector and reducing that of other industries. Instead, restructuring will focus on positive changes, including cooperation. Ten million farming households cannot work solo in their own fields, so they must cooperate to produce higher value and eliminate the fragmentary, spontaneous and small-scale business model, which is the biggest bottleneck of the Vietnamese agriculture sector.

What do you expect from the sustainable agriculture development strategy until 2030, with a vision toward 2050?

The strategy is expected to help us determine the exact role, position and mission of agriculture, the countryside and farmers, while the country is on the way toward development, industrialization, modernization and global integration.

Aside from bringing about achievements in agricultural innovation, the strategy is aimed at highlighting limited room for development, meaning that if there is no new access, models and a mindset, the agriculture sector will stand behind the times, and tens of millions of farmers will be affected. It is necessary to look at agriculture from the economic and social angles.

In conclusion, I expect all people to realize that agriculture is not an independent economic sector suffering from the impacts of other sectors. If the right strategy is applied to the agriculture sector, there will be a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and other industries. Once the role and position of agriculture are determined, the sector is expected to receive more investment and interest.

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