The country of Vietnam is a land of hills and tropical forests, with highlands to the north and coastal lowlands in the south. It is home to over 90 million people, making it the third most populous country in Southeast Asia. The dominant crops are dry and glutinous rice, which account for almost half of all agricultural production. Of the 35 million metric tons produced annually, about 4 million is exported. As well as being a major producer of rice, both for local and global consumption, Vietnam is also the world’s second largest exporter of coffee. Vietnam grows other food crops (i.e. potatoes and sweet potatoes, cassava, maize and sugarcane) and cash crops (i.e. tea, tobacco, rubber, pepper, cashews, soya beans and coconut). The country is developing rapidly and is becoming one of Asia’s fastest growing emerging economies. In 2016, agriculture contributed about 18 percent to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and employed more than 42 percent of the working population (World Bank).
The country’s agricultural sector is chiefly defined by wetland rice farming. In many parts of the country there is a year-round growing season, and two or even three rice crops can be produced annually. The farming sector is dominated by small-scale production, with farmers often growing crops on an area of land of less than a hectare. Much of the labor is done by women and by hand. Despite efforts to introduce mechanization, the land is often worked by water buffalo and rice is planted manually. The country’s agricultural value chains are defined by traditional or informal markets. Because it aims to achieve recognition as a producer and exporter of high-standard food products, issues of food safety management are of increasing concern to the Vietnamese government.
Challenges for agriculture in Vietnam
Smallholder farmers must cope with a range of risks, including those associated with natural hazards (i.e. floods, droughts and typhoons) and also those which are a result of human impact. Finite, and often fragmented, areas of land are increasingly being exploited for urban expansion or industrial processes. These competing forces put pressure on the agricultural sector, not only in terms of the amount of land available for farming, but also on the resulting quality and quantity of production. Deforestation leads to a degradation of soil fertility in the highlands, which in turn gives rise to a build-up of sediment in rivers; rice-growing areas are affected by increased soil salinity and a scarcity of water.
With fluctuating yields and food safety issues of growing concern in the country, the formation of high-value chains and larger production areas is imperative to the improvement in productivity of agricultural production systems, the quality and safety of foods and as a driver of growth. With around 13 million households farming parcels of land averaging only 0.3 hectares, smallholder families are the backbone of an agricultural industry which recognizes it must change and modernize in order for production processes to improve and intensify. The focus for policy-makers is on supporting farmers to enhance production through the adaption of existing agricultural practices and adoption of new technologies and mechanization.
Work of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Vietnam
In Vietnam, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture focuses on poverty reduction and food security in the Provinces of Hoa Binh and Ha Noi. Activities concentrate on vegetables, with additional work proposed in rice, bananas, and corn, depending on the site. The aim is to support smallholders in producing safe, high-quality vegetables for sale to supermarkets, thus increasing their income.