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Transformation of Rice System in Mekong Sub-region countries on the 26th August 2022

What should be done to boost rice value in the Mekong sub-region?

According to Vietnam Agriculture Newspaper, on the afternoon of August 26, the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development held the regional workshop on Transformation of Rice System in Mekong Sub-region countries.

Dr. Tran Cong Thang, Director General of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), said that the workshop is an activity within the framework of the regional project "Network for Agriculture and Rural Development Think-tanks for Countries in Mekong sub-region” (NARDT) funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The workshop is an opportunity for NARDT members, international organizations, partners with similar interests, etc. to exchange and share knowledge and experiences, and to propose appropriate recommendations and policy advice which are in line with the development priorities of the regional rice sector.

According to Mr. Thang, the regional project "Network for Agriculture and Rural Development Think-tanks for Countries in Mekong sub-region” has been implemented since 2019, with a very flexible collaboration mechanism.

Dr. Francisco Pichon, Head of the Mekong Hub and Country Director for Viet Nam and Thailand at IFAD, indicated that NARDT network was a very flexible instrument supporting to regional grand provided by IFAD. The project has been conducted under the impact of Covid19 on rural vulnerable groups which was done together with Asian Development Bank. Currently, IFAD is discussing with FAO and UN agencies to conduct a rapid assessment on the impact of Ukraine conflict on agriculture sector and rural vulnerable group. Besides, IFAD has gone with IPSARD to moblize the capacity in national capacity to undertake a rapid assessment. Again, he considered NARDT to be a very effective instrument mechanism to facilitate the cooperation among the countries in the Sub region but also among public and non public actors.

For the rice sector transformation story, unfortunately due to polictical situation, Myanmar was unable to participate in the project. According to Mr. Pichon, Myanmar has been a part of other topics and acitivities undertaken by the network.

In particular, all countries in the Mekong sub-region will coorperate to improve the quality of policies on agriculture and rural development. The project will create all favorable conditions to replicate and institutionalize good practices, lessons learned, and innovation from each country.

At the workshop, the delegates discussed issues about research results on the transformation of the rice system in 3 countries including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

According to the representative of the Laos, National Agro-Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), the agricultural sector employs 75% of the total labor force and contributes 25.5% to the gross domestic product. Rice is the most essential crop in Laos with a total area accounting for more than 63% of the country's total cultivated area.

Laos is one of the countries with the highest per capita rice consumption in the world (206 kg/year). Studies show that per capita rice consumption is declining in Laos, especially in urban areas, where people have higher incomes and more diverse food choices.

Traditional farming is the predominant method of agriculture production in Laos. Therefore, in the context of increasing costs of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, Laos has a comparative advantage in producing clean and safe food at a relatively low cost.

The Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI) recommended that the irrigation system should be evaluated and improved to ensure the ability to supply water for irrigation during dry season and to combat drought. A review of agricultural policy, especially for rice, should be conducted regularly in order to make timely decisions for program improvement.

Besides, it is necessary to improve the rice value chain through vertical integration, such as contract farming. Agricultural extension services need to be strengthened to provide knowledge and techniques on farming and support rice marketing and market access strategies. In addition, it is required to regularly evaluate the fragrant rice and organic rice markets in order to promptly take policy actions in the future, etc.

Mr. Rémi Nono Womdim, FAO Representative in Vietnam, said that current food prices have increased unprecedentedly. The prices of animal feed, fuel, etc. have risen, while the financial situation has been worsen affecting the lives of millions of people around the globe.

Meanwhile, the agricultural sector still has to address the challenges of poverty, malnutrition, and sustainable development goals. This calls for Mekong sub-region countries to tackle the root causes of poverty and malnutrition through the process of transforming production and consumption methods.

Rice is a crucial food crop to ensure food security in the Mekong sub-region. Therefore, the transformation of the rice system will create a roadmap to improve food and nutrition security for millions of poor people in rural areas.

According to Rémi Nono Womdim, FAO will strive to support the 2030 agenda for sustainable development through the transition to an inclusive food production system that is effective, highly resistant to environmental damage, sustainable, and ensures no one is left behind.

In order to realize the transformation of the food systems, including the rice production system, it is important to build effective and dynamic partners with actors and scales, promote public-private partnership participating in policy, production, economic and environmental research.

Dr. Dang Kim Son, Senior Regional Advisor of the NARDT Project, indicated that a common point of farmers in the three countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is a small and scattered production scale. Their presence in the value chain and global market is not strong enough. Therefore, production reorganization is extremely important.

For Vietnamese farmers, due to the limited scale of arable land, the economic efficiency is insignificant even though many measures have been applied such as increasing crops, using science and technology, etc. Therefore, the expansion of production scale is the first thing to do, followed by the application of mechanization, science and technology, etc.

In addition, Vietnamese farmers need to develop along the value chain, focusing on building large specialized farming areas, creating conditions for rice processing and allowing enterprises to build stable raw material areas, apply traceability standards and raise brand awareness.

For farmers in Laos and Cambodia, improving the irrigation system is crucial in the future. Due to the two countries' low capacity for rice milling and trading, it will be required to work with neighboring countries to export rice in the near future. However, this is a short-term solution, in the long term, both countries have to build their own business systems to compete on the world market.

Source: Vietnam Agriculture Newspaper