More than 600 scientists, managers, company representatives and farmers from 32 provinces in the south met in Vung Tau this week to discuss ways to expand the cultivation of vegetables and herbs grown under safe, hygienic conditions.
Speaking at the conference, Dr. Tong Khiem, director of the National Agriculture Promotion Centre, said that food safety must be a top priority and called for reduced use of pesticides on all farms nationwide.
“In recent years, contaminated vegetables have been assumed to be the cause of outbreaks of disease or illness,” Khiem said. “Early this year the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued strict regulations on production and certification of clean vegetables, but progress has been slow.” Other speakers at the conference offered several suggestions to improve the industry, including setting up zones for cultivation areas, using Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards on all farms, and simplifying procedures needed to test the quality of vegetables.
The forum was jointly organised by the National Agriculture Promotion Centre, the Nong Nghiep Viet Nam Newspaper and the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Agriculture and Rural Development Service. Dr. Ngo Quang Vinh, a CEO of the Southern Agriculture Science and Technique Institute, said only 10% of the domestically grown vegetables consumed in the country were considered “clean”, that is, farmed with few pesticides and clean water. “In Ha Noi, one hundred and eight out of 478 vegetable farms were found to have insufficient conditions for clean vegetables,” he added.
Dr. Tran Khac Thi, deputy director of the Vegetables and Fruits Research Institute, said the country’s total number of vegetable farms covered 643,970 ha in 2006, with an estimated 9.65 million tonnes of output. “Over the last five years, the quality of vegetables improved significantly, with annual vegetable export value averaging between US$235 and $300 million. The main markets are mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan”, Thi said. “However, the current area used for planting clean vegetables is still very modest. In the six northern provinces, it’s only 15,739 ha.”
Nguyen Huu Huan, deputy director of the Plant Protection Department, said: “Our farmers are able to produce clean vegetables, but the Government has not issued nationwide standards.” Thi said consumers had not been provided with information on the importance of using hygienically grown vegetables and were reluctant to buy them. Overlapping responsibilities of government agencies had also contributed to the problem, he said.
Farmers attending the conference in Vung Tau said that consumers did not buy vegetables grown under these conditions because they were often 5-10 per cent more expensive than other vegetables and there was no government certification.
Mai Thanh Phung, an expert with the National Agriculture Promotion Centre in HCM City, said scientists, managers, farmers and companies must work together more closely to set up a more effective system