Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Economic Crisis Vietnamese farmers

A research institute’s report on the impacts of the global economic crisis on Vietnamese farmers says that over 60 percent are strongly affected. The institute’s director argues that farmers need protection against land conversions and help in innovating.


The Institute of Policy and Strategy (IPSARD) is a research arm of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Its Agricultural Development Centre director, Dr. Vu Trong Binh, told Tuoi Tre Daily that the state must protect farmers better against the market’s ‘attacking arrows.’

“When we did our research,” Binh said, “we saw that almost all export items in the rural area, especially luxury products like cashews, handicrafts, even seafood products have strongly recessed. A lot of cultivated land is left fallow. There has been a more than 20 percent reduction of investment in agriculture.”

Tuoi Tre: According to the institute’s research, how many immigrant workers have had to return home because of economic recession?

Dr. Binh: We surveyed four provinces. We found that 22 percent of the people who had left to work elsewhere [principally in urban areas – ed.] have returned home because there was no more work. The economic crisis has also hit Vietnam’s labour exports. In the first four months of 2009, 17 percent of guest workers had to return to Vietnam before their labor contracts expired.

In the four provinces we surveyed, 37 percent of the workers who lost jobs and returned home had been factory workers. At home, only 6 percent of returned laborers found new jobs in the service and industrial sectors, 5.3 percent found farming jobs and the rest were unemployed.

TT: What are the direct impacts of the crisis on farmers?

Binh: The number of villages that have food-short households is up by 9 percent, particularly in the mountain regions.

The economic recession has forced down the prices of agricultural products. Some 72 percent of the villages said that they had to sell agricultural products for less, an average reduction of 14 percent from 2008. Fourteen percent of villages reported that they had unmarketable agricultural products. In the winter-spring crop of 2009, 4.9 percent of farmland was left unexploited. However, the total area used for aquaculture in 2009 is around 0.7 percent higher than 2008.

Economic crisis has forced farm households to cut down their spending, especially outlays for construction or for items like meat and fish. We saw this especially in Ninh Binh and Binh Thuan.

TT: What kind of assistance do farmers need?

Binh: Farmers are still very vulnerable. They need to be protected better. Many people applaud agricultural development but they don’t point out clearly that who is benefitting from that development. It is a very dangerous situation when projects that help farmers escape from agricultural production are encouraged.

Industrial parks and infrastructure are being built on prime land. In some provinces, the local governments are all too ready to move hundreds of families to make space for an industrial project. Farmers are in effect discarded and they have to face land-related difficulties. The construction of golf courses is a typical example.

TT: Do you think that this crisis offers opportunity to modernize the countryside and agriculture?

Binh: Crisis is the time for structural innovations. That’s something to hope for because it paves the way to the future. I think that government assistance policy for farmers should include structural adjustments. For example, the government can give priority to farmer families that seriously apply the rules on product quality, those who are capable of meeting technical requirements for exports, those who use modern technology to produce highly competitive agricultural products. At the least, we should support farms that employ a lot of workers, businesses that don’t break contracts with farmers and concientiously pay social insurance for their workers.

In this way, the crisis will help eliminate businesses that don’t catch up with the trend of development. At this moment, we are implementing the assistance policy on a level ground, rather than tilt toward restructuring that forms new paths and promotes new values.

TT: Research has shown that losing land is a traumatic event in a farmers’ life. What can be done to help farmers cope with the current wave of taking agricultural land for industrial production?

Hardly any farmer who loses land can afford to buy more farmland. Many countries have plans which show clearly which areas are for agriculture and which for urban development. Such land-use plans are designed for 10-20 years and it is difficult to change them. To change these plans, it must be proven that a new plan is better than the old ones.

We need to figure out where society’s interest lies. It should include a policy to ensure farms belong to the people who really want to develop agriculture.

VietNamNet/TT

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