Huge comparative advantages
Vietnam is a country rich in agricultural resources with about ten million hectares of arable land, of which seven million hectares lie in two vast river deltas. The favourable conditions have made Vietnam a world-leading rice producer and exporter.
In addition, Vietnam has 16 million hectares of forests, home to a wealth of wildlife. Over one million hectares of saline water and 300,000 hectares of freshwater are a considerable resource for the country to develop its fishing industry.
Vietnam is located entirely in the tropical zone of the northern hemisphere with a wide range of weather conditions on a large geographic scale, extending across 15 degrees in latitude. The North has a tropical climate with cold winter while the South is sunny and the Central Highlands has cool weather all year. The diversity of climatic patterns is a favourable condition for growing a wide variety of agricultural produce.
The country has a long coastline of over 3,260 kilometres and is the gateway to the sea of neighbouring Laos and Southwest China. The country shares a 1,400-kilometre borderline with giant neighbour China, whose demand of its 1.3 billion people for agricultural produce is growing.
Vietnam is also a centre of an emerging East Asia with a population of 2 billion people and one of the most successful regional economies in the world. With such a strategic position, Vietnam possesses a great potential to boost the export of its agricultural produce.
The most valuable resource is the large number of farmers, which makes up 60% of the population. They are smart and hard-working and rank among the best in developing countries in the world. Over the past 25 years of economic reforms, the agricultural sector has reported the highest rate of return and largest trade surplus. In 2010, Vietnam earned US$19.6 billion from agricultural and forestry exports while the country only imported 5 billion worth of agricultural produce.
Vietnam’s agriculture, however, is facing new challenges in the near future.
In the next few decades, Vietnam’s area of arable land will gradually decrease due to urbanisation, industrialisation and impacts of climate change. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of industrial perennial plants including rubber, coffee and cashew grown in previous decades will need to be re-cultivated. This will lead to a significant output reduction and require a large sum of reinvestment.
Vietnam is among the countries most seriously affected by global climate change and the impacts of sea level rise on the local agriculture are imminent. There is no way to stop the surge of seawater in coastal areas but to live with it by mitigating its impacts.
Towards a sustainable agricultural production model
Vietnam’s agricultural development should be based on eco-friendly technologies so that it can grow safe agricultural produce along with protecting the environment and combating climate change at the same time. Organic farming will also increase economic benefits and meet the growing demand for organic foods.
Agriculture will continue to play an important role in ensuring food security for a growing population which will soon exceed 100 million people in the near future. The sector is also expected to tap into its potential to enhance the productivity and competitiveness in producing some commodities and industrial materials in large quantities.
The country is poised to become a power in agricultural production with the annual export value totalling over US$50 billion and each of the eight key exports earning around US$5-10 billion annually. Vietnam will rank among the world’s largest exporters of agricultural produce.
Vietnam will increase investment in rice production and boost its productivity on a stable area of 3.8 million hectares. In addition, the country will focus on growing a number of high-yielding plants which have a large export market, notably coffee, cacao and rubber. The area of arabica coffee in the country’s Northwest will be expanded while rubber production will be expanded both domestically and in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam will also focus on expanding the area of macadamia in the Northwest and Central Highlands, as well as growing some kinds of biofuel trees.
In animal husbandry, the raising of livestock and poultry will be strongly promoted to provide meat, eggs and diary products for local consumers and for exports. In aquaculture, Vietnam will focus on the farming of speciality fishes in addition to common freshwater and saltwater aquatic creatures.
The country’s 16 hectares of forests are also a vast resource of timber products and medicinal materials, which will bring enormous benefits when they are properly exploited.
In short, the development of Vietnam’s agricultural sector is underpinned by three pillars, namely national food security, large quantity exports and environmental protection.
In order to achieve such ambitious goals, Vietnam needs to restructure its agriculture. Family economy still plays a primary role in agricultural production but it will be gradually replaced by large farms through the consolidation of land.
Strong measures are needed to promote new forms of agricultural co-operatives, functioning as a link between individual households and an instrument to protect the interests of farmers, who are the most vulnerable to market mechanism. The Government should also grant long-term leases of land owned State-run farms to local peasants so that they can expand their agricultural production. Private businesses are encouraged to invest more in agricultural technology and rural development.
Following that direction, Vietnamese farmers will be the masters of the commodity-based agriculture and can enjoy the fruits of their labours, as well as be strong enough to take on tough challenges of the market economy.
In that way, the agricultural sector will be an integral part of the national economy, significantly contributing to the country’s socio-economic development, and millions of farmers can get rich from agriculture, the country’s traditional means of living for centuries.