Posted July 1996
by Nguyen Huu Nghia and Ngo The Dan
Deputy Director, Vietnam Agricultural Science institute
Vice Minister, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry
1. Technology assessment for varying agro-ecological zones, production systems and resource endowments
The major agro-ecological zones and production systems
The country is divided into eight zones: northern mountainous zone, northern midlands, Hong River delta, fourth zone, coastal midland, highland Taynguyen, east of southland, and Cuulong River delta, with the most fertile zones being the Hong delta (17,432 km2) and the Cuulong delta (39,000 Km2).
At present, research centres and institutes carry out studies on agricultural production systems in these zones to identify their constraints and to find solutions in order to reach the objectives of these systems: yield increases, higher incomes and employment.
In the rainfed mountainous areas, farmers practice mainly the slash-and-burn system. The most widespread cropping systems are upland rice, upland rice and maize intercropped, or cassava. Buffaloes, pigs and goats mostly roam about freely. In many places, agroforestry systems, reforestation, raw material trees or high value trees are well developed. In the valleys and terraced fields, farmers plant one or two crops per year depending on the availability of irrigation water. Some farmers stock fish in paddy fields at the start of the culture period and harvest at the end of the growth cycle.
In the hill land or midlands, agroforestry systems are prevalent, where agricultural crops and trees are intercropped during the first 3-4 years and then cattle are grazed. Fruit-tree garden systems exist in the Cuulong delta and in some places of the Hong delta. Home gardens, however, are most widespread in the north. Agroforestry-cattle-fish farming systems are prevalent in coastal and highland areas. There are some typical cropping systems in deepwater rice areas in the Hong delta and floating rice areas in the Cuulong delta. In irrigated areas, cropping systems are almost exclusively rice-based with 3-4 crops per year.
The diversity of the cropping systems currently supports substantial increases in agriculture production. The area planted to rice, however, constitutes 74-85 percent of the total arable land area, indicating the importance of rice in the country. Animals mainly provide draft power and manure. Animals generally utilize by-products and natural vegetation.
Vietnam's climatic conditions are favourable for year-long cropping. It is estimated that about 2.8 million ha of potential cultivated land can be used in agricultural production, with 1 million ha having potential for irrigation. Vietnam has a coastline of 3,200 km and 2,860 km of rivers. The hydroelectric potential is estimated to be 17 times higher than the presently available hydroelectric energy. The forest area is estimated at 7 million ha. Vietnam's labour force are skilful and have a high level of education in comparison with other countries in the region with the same level of income: more than 80 percent of its population is literate.
Farm-household objectives and constraints
Vietnamese farmers have the same objectives as the other farmers in Asia: provision of food, contributions to the community, increased household incomes, and raised moral values. At present, with the mechanism of a market-oriented economy, Vietnamese farmers face some difficulties in production and delivery of their products. Return to labour, livestock and crop yields, and product quality are still low. Investment policies, credit for agriculture, and rural infrastructure still are limited.
Critical areas and determinants for sustainability
Climatic conditions in Vietnam sometimes adversely affect agricultural production. cold winters in the north decrease the spring rice yield. IN summer, storms, floods and sometimes droughts influence rice production. The humid weather supports the spread of pests and diseases. High rainfall and deforestation contribute to soil erosion and degradation. About 3 million ha of cultivated land in the deltas are influenced by salinity or acidity. The Fourth central coast zone faces difficulties in increasing the cropping intensity because of storms, sand invasion and slat water intrusion, in some places, farmers grow only one rice crop per year. In the Cuulong delta, there are 1-1.2 million ha of land inundated during 2-4 months per year, 0.1-0.15 million ha of arable land are inundated in the Hong delta when rainfall is over 300 mm per day.
Because of unequal population pressure (50 persons/km2 in mountainous areas, 300-500 km2 in the Hong and Cuulong deltas) the government had resettled about 3.5 million people.
To increase cropping intensity and crop yields, agricultural inputs need to be supplied on time and adequately. Irrigation and drainage systems in the Hong delta are old and degraded. The pumping station systems have to be restored.
Objectives and technological requirements for sustainable agriculture
In 1995, food production will reach an estimated 25 million tonnes, out of which rice should account for 20.5 million tonnes. Besides rice, the Vietnamese government also supports increased production of other food crops such as maize and potatoes as well as livestock. A more all-round food strategy, which takes into account the interactions among ecologically sound agricultural and industrial development is projected. Export products such as coffee, tea and rubber also should be on the increase. In order to fulfil these objectives, policy options concentrate on improved technologies, i.e., new crop varieties, good quality livestock, quality feeds for livestock, increased supply of production inputs, improved irrigation and drainage systems and better production implements are envisaged. Furthermore, a rural banking system is being developed to support farmers in the purchase of required production inputs. Technical personnel need to master the organization and development of small-sized farms.
In Vietnam, technological choices are mainly made the farmers. After the agrarian reform in 1988, farmers have signed land use contracts with cooperative leaders (for 10-15 years) and exchange their products for production inputs and other services such as research and technology transfer, and receive 40-50 percent of the total production. The government programmes such as agro-product processing, rural development, credit, irrigation, etc., promote farmers' adoption of new technology, with productivity and total production depending on farmers' decisions.
The agricultural research institutes in Vietnam continuously develop and evaluate new technologies for transfer into production, for example:
- Rice and other crop variety systems for different agro-ecological zones. In some areas, hybrid rice varieties are evaluated. Maize varieties suitable for the winter crop are determined, and hybrid maize varieties are tested. Potato varieties which are high-yielding, resistant to major pests, and have high tuber quality are selected and recommended for production. Technology packages for groundnut and legumes have been developed successfully and are widely applied in farmers' fields.
- Systems of tuber crop processing, oil plant pressing and fodder production at farm level are installed in rural areas.
- Methods of tissue culture, rapid propagation of potato varieties by sprout cutting and production of small potato tubers are applied in potato production.
- The F1 hybrid pigs are widely kept in the country. Addition of micro-elements to the ration, use of hormones to increase reproductive performance in buffaloes contributed significantly to improved animal production.
2. Technology transfer
Technologies in operation in farmers' fields
With the development of irrigation systems, the use of modern crop varieties, mineral fertilizers, pesticides and efficient crop management techniques, farmers have changed their traditional cropping patterns of one or two crops per year to practice multiple cropping with two or four crops per year. However, in some areas indigenous cropping patterns are still practised such as upland rice varieties in agroforestry and hill areas, floating rice in the Cuulong delta and local rice varieties frown in saline and acid sulphate soil. In animal production, F1 hybrid prigs and hybrid ducks are raised by most of the farmers. Some farmers raise dairy cows and produce chicken commercially.
Gaps in technology transfer
In Vietnam, crop yields in farmers' fields are 30-40 percent lower than those in research stations, in animal production this gap is around 25-45 percent. In the deltas, crop and animal yields are always higher than in the midland and mountainous areas and in the villages yields differ between farms. Reasons for yield gaps can be divided into two groups: environmental and socio-economic. Differences in ecological conditions account for sub-optimum crop yields and incidence of insect posts. On the other hand, most farmers cannot apply high input levels as much as is the case in research stations, and farmers' technical knowledge is limited. In order to overcome these yield gaps, the Vietnamese government conducts extension programmes, farming systems research and development in the whole country with the participation of local management organizations, cooperative leaders, researchers and other farmers' organizations.
Accompanying measurers for technology transfer
Farmers' organizations play an important role in the process of technology transfer. Together with researchers they organize on-farm trials and spread the trial results. District rural banks offer credit for farmers to invest into production, district agricultural departments give information on new technologies to farmers and organize market of input service and market of agro-products.
The NGOs also participate in rural development through their rural development projects. The NGOs organize the extension programmes in mountainous areas and support some irrigation construction in the midlands and highlands. The private sector actively participates in the circulation of agricultural inputs and agro-products, but the government still plays a main role in the provision of production inputs and consumption of agro-products.
Agricultural research institutes in Vietnam continuously cooperate with local extension organizations to conduct on-farm trials, to get feedback from farmers, and to train local extension technicians and farmers. Mass information media (television, radio, leaflets) are used to inform farmers about new technology and successful trials. Many on-farm trials are conducted in typical agro-ecological zones. The result of these trials are then diffused for suitable areas through mass media and the local market.