3 Vietnamese farmers bring back precious knowledge from Malaysia

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Nguyen Phu Quoc in his garden in Lam Dong Province, where he grows tomatoes using modern techniques he learned in Malaysia last September. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Three farmers from the Central Highlands took the initiative to study the use of technology in tomato farming in Malaysia, and experts say what they have brought back could be the genesis of quality agriculture in Vietnam.

Nguyen Anh Dung, Nguyen Phu Quoc, and Nguyen Minh Cuong own large fields in Lam Dong Province in which they grow coffee, eggplant, bell pepper, chili, and tomato.

The tomato is planted in baskets with coir and rice husk, with almost no water or fertilizer.

Nutrition and water are fed to the roots through an automatic system.

They were planted after the trio's Malaysia trip.

“They are really worth the investment,” Quoc, who has another garden that has almost withered after being planted using techniques he designed himself, said in a Tuoi Tre newspaper report.

His Dutch seed supplier told him about the Southeast Asian conference last September, which gathered experts from around the region.

“I heard about high-tech agriculture of Malaysia a long time ago, but never thought about going there and seeing it for myself, not until my farming became unsatisfactory,” he said.

He asked Dung and Cuong to fly with him to the conference. They did not know English, but were assisted by agricultural experts, and support from their seed suppliers reduced their expenses for the five-day trip to around VND10 million (US$475) each.

Dung said by putting what they learned into practice they have gained much more than that.

The first crop they planted after returning was not so good but later ones turned out to be “amazingly beautiful.”

They said the method allows farmers to control the amount of water and nutrition provided to the plants and adjust them according to their age.

“Planting in soil does not allow us to know what nutrition the plant derives from the soil, and the plant will either die or end up poor,” Dung said.

The baskets will be aired to dry and reused for three crops, while planting in soil reduces its fertility after one or two crops, and the soil has to be left for a different plant for at least a year.

Nets protect the fields from the direct impact of the weather and insects, which helps reduce the use of pesticides.

Quoc said the five-day visit showed them how agriculture in Malaysia has evolved compared to Vietnam and that modern techniques could be very simple.

They visited the Cameron Highlands, where more than 80 percent of farmers use modern techniques even if their fields are as small as 100 square meters.

“Now I know how they can export their products and we cannot. They have been mastering industrial technologies to deliver products that are consistent in size, color, and quality.”

The crops last six to nine months and the yield is expected to be five to six kilograms per plant, three times the output obtained by using normal methods. But the trio hope to raise the productivity to 10 kg.

Their produce will be fully bought by Phong Thuy Company in the province’s Duc Trong District.

Quoc also pointed out that in Malaysia the agriculture chain does not have too many middlemen unlike in Vietnam, with retailers going straight to the farms to buy.

Dung said that most farms in Malaysia are tourism destinations, and that Vietnam should aspire to develop similar agriculture tourism.

Tourists going from Da Lat to Lien Khuong airport or Ho Chi Minh City can stop by farms and buy some vegetables to make gifts or for themselves.

Prof. Nguyen Quoc Vong, a senior lecturer in agriculture in Japan and Australia, said what the three are doing needs to be emulated across Vietnam.

“They can be considered the pioneers of high-tech agriculture. Their model has caught up with methods in the region and is in the process of reaching those in developed countries like Australia,” he said.

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