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Vietnam’s agriculture requires professionalism for higher growth

By Trung Chanh

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HCMC – The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with the Saigon Times Group and Can Tho University, organized a conference in Can Tho City on September 23 to discuss ways to turn Vietnamese farmers into professional rural workers. Many issues were tabled, with policymakers and experts providing suggestions on how to improve farmers’ skills and thus their incomes. Excerpts follow.

What are the benefits of having a professional farming workforce?

In his pre-recorded speech sent to the conference, Le Minh Hoan, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development asked: What will happen if farmers are professionals or, in other words, why is it necessary to have a workforce of professional farmers?”

In general, Vietnam’s agriculture and the Mekong Delta’s farming practices in particular have been characterized by fragmentation, spontaneity, and ambiguity, as well as trade-offs, with the environment, farmers’ and consumers’ health, and biological diversity being compromised for the purpose of increasing yields.

The minister said that such trade-offs had not been taken into account, since only materials, labor, and land rent have been calculated.

Practiced farming leads to higher yields; however, experiences can only pay off in a narrow space with gradual changes. In an area or space with a faster pace of change, experiences will lose effectiveness.

The minister said Vietnam’s agriculture faced three major obstacles. Of them, climate change, extreme weather conditions, and unpredictable epidemics constitute the first obstacle. Market fluctuations make the second obstacle, followed by changes in consumption patterns, of which green consumption is on the rise as consumers get pickier with what they eat.

As the market becomes increasingly stringent, it is crucial to commercialize products or to switch the mindset from agricultural production to agricultural economics, which means producing less but gaining more.

Hoan said that farmers needed more training to gain knowledge to become professionals, which is not a process that could be solved by experience. When they become professionals, they will be more organized, from production to processing, preserving, and doing business.

As a result, farmers will be able to sell agricultural products at a higher price, which means income is not based merely on output, but also on market knowledge, business skills, and cooperation between farmers in a larger area compared to the family farms.

He said that the world had reached a higher level of professionalism and specialization, while Vietnam had not caught up with that trend in the production process, which eroded its competitiveness. Therefore, one of the nine solutions of the Party Central Committee’s Resolution 19 on agriculture, farmers and rural areas was to improve farmers’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes towards more serious and knowledgeable farming.

Obviously, rural workers in Vietnam, and specifically in the Mekong Delta, will be able to solve their problems when they become professionals. In the future, farmers’ incomes will be boosted due to the formation of professional agriculture.

What are the steps to forming a workforce of professional farmers?

In order to form a workforce of professional farmers, Prof. Dr. Ha Thanh Toan, president of Can Tho University, said it was necessary to clarify three key issues, including defining what kinds of “knowledge” farmers needed in the current market context, where information and knowledge could be found, and what policies were in place to make knowledge available to farmers.

Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan, an expert in agronomics, put emphasis on on-the-job training. When enterprises find markets for agricultural products, they can ask the locality for support in building material areas, and setting up cooperatives. Then, the cooperative members will be trained to follow the correct process of creating products that meet market demands, he suggested and said that farmers can complete the training in one to two weeks.

According to Pham Thai Binh, director of Trung An Hi-tech Agriculture Joint Stock Company, Vietnam’s tropical vegetables are “dream” products for many countries around the world, but the annual export turnover is still low compared with some regional countries. This is largely due to the fact that the products do not meet the requirements of the importing country,” Binh said. This limitation is due to a lack of professionalism among farmers, according to him.

Therefore, according to Binh, his company has initiated a large-scale farming model following the encouragement of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in the 2010s. It is the beginning of developing Vietnamese agriculture in a more professional way, he explained, adding that farmers would be equipped with knowledge to turn out products meeting the market demand.

Vu Kim Hanh, chairwoman of the Vietnam High-quality Goods Enterprises Association, said that the professionalism of Thai farmers was reflected in ensuring the production of quality goods. To do so, Thai farmers must know the production process and comply with standards.

In order for Vietnamese farmers to be professional, Hanh emphasized the importance of building an ecosystem that supports farmers, including policymakers, schools, agricultural officials, and businesses.

Nam Mien Trung Group’s Vice Chairman Dang Quoc Tuan said that in order to develop professional agriculture, people had to have the knowledge to understand and apply it to farming. He explained that the decisions must not be all made by one man, but were assigned to each professional group.

The shrimp production could serve as a good example. As part of the process of acquiring shrimp products, many factors must be taken into consideration, including the environment, nutrition, and disease control. Only a knowledgeable person should handle a small stage in the process. “Let break down the work and standardize each small stage,” he suggested.

Agricultural Management – Rural Development 2’s Vice President, Dr. Tran Minh Hai,  explained that local governments needed to be active in order to have professional farmers; there need to be activities to change farmers’ mindsets, and support professional farmers within the capacity of the authorities.

In addition, in rural areas, especially remote areas, farmers have the need to use modern technology terminals, but internet infrastructure and wifi speed are still inadequate, so they need to be improved. In contrast, it is necessary to promote successful models more vigorously.

Vice Prof. Dr. Nguyen Duy Can, dean of the Faculty of Rural Development at Can Tho University, suggested that there be a priority policy to provide scholarships for training in the important farming sectors at key and regional training institutions, vocational guidance and agricultural education for high school students to attract young people into farming. It is necessary to have a strategy and orientation for agricultural vocational training for rural workers.

Farmers need to be professionally trained, but do not expect to have more than 10 million of them at a time. “In order to improve our professionalism, we need to share knowledge with farmers every day, starting from selling, seeding, and harvesting, and then taking digital technology, e-commerce, and knowledge more seriously to the farmers,” Hoan added.

Instead of forcing 10 million rural workers to spend years studying for a degree, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development called for encouragement to help farmers “absorb” new information by integrating it into existing programs. “Depending on the type of farmer, you need to be flexible,” he said.

Developing professional farmers is not just the responsibility of the State alone, but of everyone and of those who are “suffering” because of the slow development of professional farming to help farmers improve and gain higher incomes per unit of land. As a result, all stakeholders cannot sit and complain about farmers leaving the countryside, but instead, businesses, experts, institutes, and schools need to join hands together.

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