Authorities seize illegal Chinese rice field

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Two Vietnamese residents apparently hired expert from China to cultivate hybrid rice variety seeds to sell at lucrative prices in northern Vietnam 

Residents of Hoa Phu Commune in Long An Province work on a farm that was first reported as leased by a Chinese man at twice the normal rent to grow a hybrid rice variety originating in China. Local authorities have said that it was actually rented by two Vietnamese men who hired the Chinese man for technical consultation.

Agricultural authorities in Long An Province have questioned two men and seized the land they hired at unusually high rents to cultivate a Chinese-origin rice variety for which they also hired a Chinese "technical expert" without obtaining permission.

Le Minh Duc, director of the Long An Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, told Vietweek on Tuesday (February 19) that Truong Quoc Anh, a senior official with the Institute of Agricultural Science for Southern Vietnam, and Tran Minh Nhu, an employee of the Southern Seed JSC rented land from two local farmers at Hamlet 1 in Hoa Phu Commune.

They paid the farmers, Nguyen Van Ben and Tran Thi Nhat, VND30 million (US$1,440) per hectare per crop for a total 1.4 hectares, which is twice the normal rent in the area, investigators found.

Anh told the provincial agriculture department he and Nhu also hired a Chinese expert for technical consultation. 

They rented the land to experiment with cultivating a hybrid rice variety that has commonly been grown in northern Vietnam for some time now. However, the rice variety's seeds cannot be produced in the north, he said, without explaining why.

Dr. Nguyen Minh Chau, director of the Southern Fruit Research Institute (SOFRI), told Vietweek that it is "highly unlikely" that the rice variety could be using what is known widely as the "terminator technology."

The controversial technology, initially introduced by Monsanto, the company that produced Agent Orange and is now advocating another contentious product, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), forces farmers to buy a fresh supply of seeds every new crop instead of the traditional method of saving them from the previous crop. The terminology genetically switches off a plant's ability to germinate a second time.

Chau said many rice fields in the Central Highlands region cultivate hybrid rice varieties for selling their seeds in northern Vietnam and that the field in Long An could have planned to do the same.  He said the extreme hot and cold conditions in the north are not ideal to grow rice seeds.

Vietnam has so far not allowed the cultivation of any rice variety that uses the "terminator technology," Chau said.

Anh said the plan was to cultivate the rice and sell its seeds in northern Vietnam because the conditions in the south were more suitable. They were willing to pay the high land rent because this rice variety is highly favored in the north and its seeds could be sold at high prices ranging from VND90,000-120,000 per kilogram.

Both Anh and Nhu admitted they were at fault for not informing authorities about their experiment as also bringing a foreigner into the country.

Anh was quoted by the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying this variety, called F1 of II You (F1 Nhi Uu in Vietnamese), was among those allowed to be produced in Vietnam by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Until now, the ministry has allowed several II You varieties to be produced and traded in the country including II You 63, II You 838, II You 86B, II You 7 and II You 986.

It is not clear what II You variety the rice grown in Hamlet 1 is.

Duc told Vietweek on Wednesday (February 20) that once the rice plants on the farm leased by Anh and Nhu ripen, samples would be taken for testing to determine if the variety is among those that have received the agriculture ministry's approval for production and trading in Vietnam.

Local authorities have taken control over the rice field pending the test results, he said.

Anh and Nhu have yet to produce the labor contract they signed with the Chinese expert or proof of the latter's identity, he added.

If they cannot present the required documents, local authorities will take control of the produce after harvest and punish those involved in accordance with the law, Duc said, without giving further details. 

For the violations that they have already committed, Anh and Nhu are set to be punished this week, he said, without elaborating.

It had been reported in local media earlier that the Chinese man, who Tuoi Tre identified as Liu Wen Jiang an expert from Sichuan University had rented the rice field using some agricultural officials in the district as his front men.

In the latest news, a Tuoi Tre report yesterday quoted Duc as saying Anh had showed the provincial agriculture department documents backing his claim that cultivation and trading of the II You rice variety grown on his farm was permitted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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