SEATTLE — With one of the biggest rice industries in the world, Vietnam’s economy has displayed continuous improvement. However, lying in the shadows of this great success are issues that threaten sustainable agriculture in Vietnam. A few of these issues include pests, overfishing, rampant deforestation and, like many coastal nations, the threat of natural disasters.
According to New Agriculturalist, Vietnam’s agriculture industry employs about 70 percent of the more than 92 million people who live there and accounts for about 20 percent of the country’s GDP. With such a high demand for exporting rice, farmers rarely diversify their crops, which would decrease the chance of receiving a higher profit. In turn, rice accounts for almost half of the industry, followed by other exported crops like coffee, cashews, soybeans, tea and rubber.
A huge influence on Vietnam’s economic success can be attributed to the Doi Moi policies adopted in 1986, according to the World Bank. These policies allocated plots of land to farmers and encouraged agricultural growth by relaxing trade regulations.
With rice accounting for so much of Vietnam’s exports and farmers’ main source of income, it is essential to create sustainable agriculture in Vietnam. Currently, one dilemma rice farmers face is pests. According to CropLife, without educated pest control methods, farmers suffer about a 37 percent crop loss. To combat this, Crop Life International partnered with the German International Development Organization and the Vietnamese government to train and educate farmers on pest control. Farmers are taught integrated pest management techniques by one of 300 pesticide retailers that received training from Crop Life International.
Phan Anh Tu, a trainer in the program, emphasized what he calls the four rights. First, he teaches farmers to identify what pest they are dealing with, along with what pesticide to use accordingly. Next, he educates farmers on the best time to spray pesticides in accordance with when the pests are most vulnerable. He also teaches where on the crops to spray along with what the most efficient dosage of pesticide is for each farmer.
By teaching farmers how to reduce pest-related crop damage, Crop Life International is taking steps to create a more sustainable rice industry for Vietnam.
Another issue that roadblocks sustainable agriculture in Vietnam is overfishing. Bordering the South China Sea and supplied with a large network of rivers, Vietnam once had abundant fishing opportunities. However, due to overfishing, the industry is slowly collapsing, according to Vietnam’s Vice Chief of General Staff of Vietnam’s People’s army, Pham Ngoc Minh. Populations of fish in the Mekong River are starting to disappear because of overfishing and using illegal methods such as electro-shocking fish and poisoning fish populations.
This severe lack of fish has led to Vietnamese fishermen sailing foreign seas and the use of illegal methods to maintain a profit. In response to this, 16 Vietnamese fishing vessels were detained by nearby countries such as Australia and Cambodia in 2017 for illegal fishing. Minh also voiced support for stricter fishing regulations. In Vietnam, there are no fishing restrictions during the fish breeding season, contributing to decreasing populations.
Another issue Vietnam faces is deforestation. Because of the growth of the agricultural industry, massive amounts of forests are destroyed to create arable plots of land. Damaged during the Vietnam War, the forests in Vietnam are further strained by illegal lumber trades and a large lumber exporting industry.
The key to reforestation in Vietnam is creating solutions that are business-smart as well as sustainable. Without creating a business-smart plan for the 1.5 million small-holders who own plantations, sustainability will never be attainable.
Despite its economic success stories, implementing plans for sustainable agriculture in Vietnam is a must for the country to have a healthy, long-term economy.
– Austin Stoltzfus