Vietnam’s soaring rice exports fail to benefit farmers

(VNS) Notwithstanding the good news that Viet Nam may become the world's No 1 rice exporter, shipping some 7.7 million tonnes this year, farmers remain unhappy because the profits from the grain are much lower this year compared to last.

According to the Viet Nam Food Association (VFA), as of October 30 Viet Nam was the year's top rice exporter with contracts of over 7.6 million tonnes.

Truong Thanh Phong, the VFA chairman, said the country would surpass India to export 7.7 million tonnes.

The average export price this year has been US$433.7 per tonne, $50 less than in 2011. This has led to a decrease in the prices of paddy in the domestic market.

Nguyen Van Giau, a farmer in the Mekong province of An Giang's Phu Tan District, said after the 2011-12 winter-spring crop, hearing about the Government's campaign to buy for the national reserve, he kept his paddy instead of selling it.

But prices did not rise much, and Giau had to sell his dried paddy for VND5,200 per kilogramme as he needed money to plant the 2012 summer-autumn crop.

"We could only earn a profit of VND25 million (US$1,190) from the two crops on 1.7ha of land this year, 20 per cent less than in 2011."

Such a meagre income would not help him put his children through university.

Obviously, farmers who have less than 1ha face even greater difficulties.

Vo Thi Tiem, a farmer in Kien Giang Province's Giang Thanh District, said in the past, in addition to cultivating rice, her family also used to catch fish during the flood season in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.

But the rapid exhaustion of aquatic resources in the past few years forced farmers with less than 1ha to look for odd jobs such as at construction sites.

Nguyen Minh Nhi, a former chairman of the An Giang People's Committee, said to be prosperous a farmer needs to grow more than 3ha of rice. With smaller areas, a farmer's family can be trapped in poverty especially if a member falls sick.

Dr Nguyen Van Sanh, head of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta Research and Development Institute, said the top rice exporter title will help Viet Nam gain prestige in the world market.

But Nhi said the No 1 position would be "insignificant" if the majority of rice growers remain poor.

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