Food security inquiry visits Vietnam

July 9, 2015

Commission meeting with Dr Dang Kim Son and members of Vietnames Ministry of Agriculture's Institute of Policy and Strategy for Ag and Rural Development smallImproving the nutritional quality of rice and reforming farming practices so they are more efficient are among the food security issues facing Vietnam, the Second Murdoch Commission has found.

Members of the independent inquiry, entitled Food Security, Trade and Partnerships: Western Australia in regional food systems, met with government officials, export companies, charitable organisations and scientific researchers during their visit to the country in June.

They found that while Vietnam is food secure from a production perspective, generating 45 million tonnes of rice per year and exporting a 5 to 6 million tonne surplus, the Vietnamese people remain nutritionally insecure, due to low dietary diversity and the production of low quality rice for domestic consumption.

“They are now looking at ways to improve the quality of their rice, both to improve nutritional outcomes and to increase the value of their exports,” said Murdoch Commission Co-Chair Professor Mely Caballero Anthony.

“There is also an urgent need for structural reform of the Vietnamese farming system away from small-holder farming and towards larger farms that can realise efficiencies and enhance production capacity.

“At present, more than 70 per cent of farmers in Vietnam are small-holder farmers. The average farm size is 0.5 hectares. Only 5 to 10 per cent of farmers own farms larger than two hectares.

By comparison, in Australia, anything up to 50 hectares is considered to be a small farm.

“Vietnamese agricultural policy makers are also encouraging a shift towards higher value staple crops and commodities such as fruit, vegetables and coffee.”

Commission Research Coordinator Cat Bevan-Jones said climate change is also an increasingly urgent issue for Vietnam and its impact on the nation’s food security could be significant.

“The country is already experiencing seasonal changes in coastal areas that are affecting production patterns and Vietnam could potentially lose up to 33 per cent of the Mekong Delta area due to flooding from sea level rise,” said Ms Bevan-Jones.

“Salinity levels are already increasing in the Mekong Delta and research organisations are working to develop new breeds of rice that have shorter growing seasons and can tolerate higher salinity.”

In meetings with organisations including Oxfam, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, the Commission discovered that there are many opportunities for collaboration in education and research in Vietnam.

“Vietnam is looking for ideas, knowledge and exchange,” explained Dr Chris Vas, the Commission’s Executive Director.

“They want to be different, and are actively seeking to put themselves on a sustainable development trajectory but need to determine what that will be.

“The academics and researchers we spoke to there are good with fieldwork. Countries like Australia could develop fruitful partnerships with them by providing technologies in seed production and inspection, know-how and infrastructure.”

“Regional frameworks should be action-oriented and address the challenges associated with the supply chain of activities – from field to table, from farmers to consumers."

Professor Anthony led the delegation to Vietnam. Commission members Professor Tahlim Sudaryanto, Dr Yamashita Kazuhito and Dr Dang Kim Son also joined the mission.

The group travelled to Hanoi for research consultations, Can Tho in the Mekong Delta for field trips to the Cuulong Rice Research Institute and rice production areas and Ho Chi Minh City for meetings with rice exporting companies and Nong Lam University’s Research Institute for Biotechnology and the Environment.

The Second Murdoch Commission was launched in Perth last October at the first of five regional Asian meeting rounds. Commission members have already visited India and China and are due to travel to Indonesia in July.

Second Murdoch Commission Background:

  • The Commission will run until October 2015 and will produce, by the end of the year, an independent, evidence-based analysis report of key food security challenges in the region, with policy recommendations to address these challenges.
  • Key Commission themes include regional and global food security systems, farm production and food supply chains, trade and investment, agricultural research and development, and WA’s role in regional food systems.
  • Membership of the Commission comprises 12 leading figures in the food security space with expertise in agriculture, economics, policy, government and business from Singapore, China, Vietnam, Japan, India and Australia.

The Commission combines Murdoch University’s research strengths with the international expertise of its Commissioners and is a practical demonstration of the University’s commitment to apply scholarly research to significant real-world problems.

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