Vietnamese farmers happy with first GMO corn crops, but concerns remain

Thanh Nien News

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Farmers said GMO corn gives them higher yields. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Farmers said GMO corn gives them higher yields. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development


Genetically-modified corn varieties are likely to make a full scale invasion of the Vietnamese market soon as both farmers and traders are happy with high yields and potentially bigger profits, according to a news report.
A representative of DeKalb, a US company that sells genetically modified seeds in Vietnam, was quoted by news website VnExpress as saying his firm in November started to sell seeds imported from South Africa to 800,000 corn farmers.
DeKalb and Switzerland’s Syngenta will provide technical support for farmers planting GM seeds on 12-15 percent of their corn fields next year, he said, adding that they aim to raise the rate to 50 percent in the next five years.
They have promised farmers that the robust strains can save them VND2-3 million (US$90-134) in pesticide costs per hectare per year and their crops would sell for VND190,000 a kilogram, more than twice the current VND80,000.
Farmers receiving free seeds for trial cultivation have expressed confidence.
Corn fields using Syngenta GM seeds in the northern province of Son La and the southern provinces of Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Dong Nai near Ho Chi Minh City have seen yields rise by 10-30 percent and profits by VND5-10 million per hectare, according to VnExpress.
Farmers in the Mekong Delta have harvested around 6 percent more corn with DeKalb’s seeds, the site claimed.
Nguyen Hong Lam, a farmer who owns three hectares of arable land in Dong Nai, said GM corn fetched him 1.5 times more profit.
“So I will buy more seeds and plant them in half my land,” he told VnExpress.
Lam said his dealers had showed no hesitation when he told them he was switching to GMO corn.
DeKalb said it is working with dealers and animal feed producers to find farmers a bigger market.
Leading poultry firm CP Vietnam, which now imports most of the corn for its animal feed from the US and Brazil, said it is on board with local farmers as long as the new corn varieties are stable and of good quality.
Should we, shouldn't we?
Le Ba Lich, chairman of the Vietnam Animal Feed Association, told VnExpress that Vietnam has imported four million tons of corn so far this year, 80 percent of them GMO, and so growing GMO crops in the country would save money spent on imports.
“The corn cultivation area in Vietnam is still small and the output only meets half of animal feed businesses’ demand of eight to ten million tons a year.
“The expansion of GMO corn fields with high yields and pesticide resistance should be supported,” he told VnExpress. 
But he warned that GMO seeds could only be bought from foreign companies, which can cause a “monopoly.”
So government should support research to produce competitive varieties in Vietnam to reduce the dependence on foreign supplies, he said.
More importantly, he also warned that Vietnam could lose several export markets since animals fed entirely with GMO products are not accepted in Japan and European countries.
Vietnam imported $939 million worth of corn in the first eight months, up 24.9 percent from the same period last year, according to official statistics. Most of the imports came from Brazil and Argentina, where GMO crops are allowed.

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