Agriculture experts advise Vietnam to appreciate rice farmers

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Foreign experts told a recent food security conference in Vietnam that the country should appreciate the potential "political" value of its rice surplus and its surplus of rice farmers.

One example discussed at the Hanoi conference on June 28 was that farmers in Thailand, the world's top rice exporter, had voted for Prime Minister Yingluck because they were promised good prices for their rice, which proves that once a country develops to some extent, farmers have more power and can put pressure on the government.

Vietnam has around 10 million rice farming families and the country has yet to guarantee them a good life, said experts at the conference organized by Vietnam's Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development and the World Bank, according to a Vietnam Television report.

They said experiences in many countries showed that a high yield is not a basic solution for food security and does not solve the problem of low farmer incomes. They argued that a fair and transparent plan to reward farmers for their work would bring better results.

It's time for the country to shift its focus from high yields to quality rice, and the most important aspect of any plan should be to give farmers fairer and more transparent policies, experts said.

Professor Peter Timmer of Stanford University, a leading authority on agricultural development and structural transformation, said the world is facing a food surplus crisis that in ten years' time will have big impacts on leading rice exporters like Vietnam.

High yield productions have significantly helped poverty alleviation here, but this has not yet reduced malnutrition in children nor has it really enriched farmers, experts said.

They said Vietnam has implemented few renovations in production, and quality management systems are also weak.

Vietnam is the second largest rice exporter in the world, with around one third of the national output and 70 percent of the Mekong Delta's rice sold abroad every year, according to figures discussed at the conference.

But that has not meant big benefits for farmers.

Research from the World Bank showed that almost no farmers in Vietnam's Mekong Delta are able to make a living solely on rice farming.

Only three percent of Vietnamese farmers own a paddy field of more than two hectares, and even those earn less than one dollar per person per day as the government's policies only guarantee a minimum profit of 30 percent for farmers.

Doctor Steve Jaffee, the World Bank's agriculture coordinator, said Vietnam can now shift from its food security mission to making a better life for rice farmers.

Jaffee said Vietnam should learn from other countries that have created transparent systems to reduce food price fluctuations, which only do harm to farmers.

Doctor Dang Kim Son, head of the institute, said it was unfair that farmers never receive loan support directly from banks as the money has to go through some businesses first.

"I believe that we will have to change that," he said. "The first thing is the number of farmers will reduce, the quality of rice will rise, and the role of farmers will become more important...The farmers should have some voice in the making of policies that affect them."

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