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 Simple dreams -The stories of rice farmers

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Bài gửiTiêu đề: Simple dreams -The stories of rice farmers   Tue May 18, 2010 10:06 pm

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Most farmers are concerned when the harvest approaches. The weather, insects, diseases, and other factors all affect their expenditure. Photo: Viet Tuan.

▪️  NGUYEN HUYEN
10:06 (GMT+7) - Friday, April 23, 2010

 

Rice farmers continue to find it difficult to offload all of their harvest at a good price

Rice farmers continue to find it difficult to offload all of their harvest at a good price. 

Twenty years ago Vietnam needed to import a lot of its food, but these days it stands as the second-largest rice exporter in the world. While such success is admirable, farmers still face a range of difficulties and their living standards are not high. The dream for most is simply to sell their rice at a high price after a good harvest. 

After the summer-autumn crop of 2008 it was hard to sell all of the harvest, but life goes on and farmers had to survive and pay their bills. “At times I had no money but had a large stockpile of rice,” said farmer Nguyen Van Hien from the Mekong Delta’s An Giang province. “I needed money but no one wanted to buy my rice. It was the first time I’d experienced such a situation.” Almost all farmers in the Mekong Delta faced similar problems. 

Ms Dung from Phu Tan district in Ho Chi Minh City recalled that her daughter was ill and the local hospital advised her to go to the Children’s Hospital I. “I had no savings so tried to sell my rice for three days but couldn’t,” she said sadly. “Some said that I should dry the rice in the sun again, and then they would buy.

Others were willing to buy but only at VND3,900 per kilogram, whereas I knew the fair price was VND4,100-4,200. I decided not to sell, instead borrowing money at 6 per cent interest per month to raise the VND5 million I needed to take my daughter to the hospital.” 

Nguyen Van Hong, a farmer in Hong Ngu district, Dong Thap province, looked at his hundreds of bags of rice still unsold and said: “The government should find a way to help, otherwise farmers like me will suffer major losses because of loans from banks, money for materials, school tuition fees and daily spending. I have so much rice in stock but no money to buy clothes and books for my children or pay their tuition fees. The biggest dream of farmers like us is to have enough money to survive, bring up our children and give them a good education. If this situation lasts much longer, farmers will never escape from poverty.” 

Those are stories from the summer-autumn harvest of 2008 and the bad news continued into the autumn-winter harvest, with rice prices standing at only VND2,800 per kilogram. Fortunately, though, thanks to government intervention, the price for the winter-spring harvest of 2008-2009 was higher, at VND3,800 per kilogram and then VND4,200. Farmers are now harvesting the winter-spring crop and rice productivity could reach 6.4-6.5 tonnes per hectare. After enterprises bought 1 million tonnes of paddy rice to keep in storage, which is equivalent to two million tonnes of rice, the price increased slightly and is now VND4,100-4,200 per kilogram for elongated grain and VND4,000 per kilogram for normal rice. But farmers still have rice in stockpile and need money for harvesting costs and production expenses for the next crop, paying off bank loans, and much other spending. 

According to Lam Long Bao, a farmer producing well in Tan Chau town in An Giang province: “The short-term difficulties have not been solved yet and we are struggling due to the effects of the ‘El Nino’ climate pattern, which makes the weather change constantly. Sultry weather brings insects and diseases, especially ‘ray nau’ and ‘sau cuon la’, and it is difficult to kill them so we have to use specific, expensive chemicals.

That is also a factor pushing up the price of rice and affecting productivity.” He added that the price of materials and fertiliser is higher than for the 2009 autumn-winter crop. “For example, urea fertiliser cost VND280,000 per bag [50 kilograms per bag] at the beginning of the winter-spring harvest but by the middle of the harvest has risen to VND360,000 per bag. Chemical prices also soared. For instance, Tilt super cost VND123,000/250ml but then rose to VND150,000/250ml. Total production costs for the 2009-2010 winter-spring harvest increased to VND17 million per hectare.” 

Mr Truong Thanh Phong, Chairman of the Vietnam Food Association (VFA), said that the most pressing issue now is the price of rice. The Prime Minister has asked the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, provincial people’s committees and the VFA to resolve the matter. The government asked VFA to announce the rice price at the beginning of the harvest, but it is yet to do so. 

Before buying 1 million ton of paddy rice, the board of administration at VFA decided on a provisional insurance price of VND4,000 per kilogram, based on the highest production price of VND2,800 per kilogram and the lowest of VND2,500. If traders buy from farmers directly, the price would be about VND3,800 per kilogram, ensuring farmer profits of 30 per cent. But many farmers have different opinions about the VFA price. One in An Giang said: “I don’t know what criteria VFA used to decide the production price is VND2,800 per kilogram, but according to our calculations it’s VND3,950 per kilogram.” 

According to Mr Bao, a lot of production expenses were ignored by VFA when they determined the rice price. “Expenditure for producing one hectare of rice comprises pumping water during the entire harvest, buying seeds and herbicides, clearing chaff and so on,” he said. “The most expensive are fertilisers and pesticides. When the field is lush with ripening rice, we must engage workers to harvest, transport the rice to points of sale, pay fees for leased land, and pay interest on bank loans, among other expenses. A full and exact calculation puts the production price at VND3,928 per kilogram, not VND2,800. So if the price is only VND4,000 per kilogram farmers will not make any money.” 

Most farmers are concerned when the harvest approaches. The weather, insects, diseases, and other factors all affect their expenditure. When asked: “What do you dream of when each harvest season comes?”, Mr Bao answered that “The dream of farmers is very simple and easy to understand. I think that everyone, from rice-millers, enterprises and the agricultural industry to the State knows what it is: ‘a good harvest and a high price’. Farmers have good harvests but we need the intervention of the management team for exporting rice at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and also VFA to secure a high price. We hope that they will fully consider the price so that farmers can earn the profits we deserve.”



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