Viet Nam is one of the original centres of rice cultivation, but surplus rice production was achieved only after the taming of the vast Mekong River Delta about 300 years ago. A popular Vietnamese proverb says "In normal times, the scholars rank first, the farmers second. But during a famine, farmers are first, scholars second."
The Mua rice season lasts from May-August to September-December, He-Thu is from April-June to August-September; and Dong-Xuan takes place from December-February to April-June. Improved varieties of indica rice have been released for cultivation in Viet Nam, but special varieties such as Nep Mot, Tam Thom and Nang Huong are still popular. Commercial hybrid rice cultivation takes place mostly under irrigated conditions in the northern and central areas.
Viet Nam has been the world's second largest rice exporter since the mid-1990s, but rice farmers are still poor due to low rice prices. Diversification of the intensive rice system has been promoted to improve farmers' livelihoods.
The Vietnamese are among the world's top five rice consumers. Banh Chung - or glutinous rice cake - is a popular dish during the celebration of the Lunar New Year (Tet). According to legend, 3 000 years ago the sixth King of the Hung dynasty nominated as his heir the person who offered Banh Chung to him during Tet. Over the years, Banh Chung has evolved into many forms and shapes. Since cooking one Banh Chung takes as much time as 10 Banh Chung, people usually prepare them in abundance.