Agriculture’s strong transformation during natural disasters and epidemics

Thursday, 2020-12-24 11:31:47
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Packing rice for export at the Song Hau Food Company under Vietnam Southern Food Corporation. (Photo: Vu Sinh)
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NDO – The year 2020 has witnessed many changes in the agricultural sector in terms of development opportunities, integration, and challenges of adaptation to change. In which, a series of natural disasters such as hail, flood, the drought and saline intrusion greatly affected production while the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the agricultural trade connection between most countries in the world. However, the Vietnam’s agricultural sector still achieved remarkable results in both the manufacturing and export sectors, giving rise to new development expectations for 2021.

Production thrives during challenging times

Right from the beginning of 2020, hail and thunderstorms have occurred in some Northern mountainous provinces. The unusual weather phenomenon has caused severe damages to both humans and property. In which, agricultural production is seriously affected. Shortly thereafter, new strain of coronavirus began to create complicated developments, affecting the trade of agriculture, forestry and fisheries of Vietnam with markets, especially the Chinese market.

From then until now, the COVID-19 epidemic has spread around the world. The pandemic has broken the trade connections of agricultural products of most countries in the world. Meanwhile, the agricultural sector also struggled to cope with epidemics, in the provinces of the Mekong River Delta, saline intrusion in the dry season in 2019-2020 occurred at the highest level in history. According to the Department of Crop Production under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), the saline intrusion has directly affected ten out of 13 provinces and cities in the Mekong River Delta, causing many rice areas to be lost, while fruit trees, vegetables, and aquatic products also suffered heavy losses.

Following the period of efforts to combat drought in the Mekong River Delta came a time when the central region struggled with floods, storms and landslides. From the beginning of October 2020, floods and storms started to hit the central region. Heavy rainfall poured into the area, causing many localities to be flooded on a large scale in many places, with the rising flood waters separating many areas. The flood in the Central region in 2020 is considered a new historic flood, set at alarming level IV, belonging to the most dangerous natural disaster level in Vietnam. The agricultural sector was heavily damaged, especially in localities such as Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam and Quang Ngai - localities that were previously hot spots of "second wave" of COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam.

The accumulated difficulties put our country's agricultural sector in danger of a serious decline in both production output and export turnover; Peasant's life became more precarious than ever. However, it is worth noting that in every difficult time, the agricultural sector finds a direction to adapt and develop effectively. Facing the double challenge of natural disasters and epidemics, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong emphasised that in order to overcome the dual challenge, the whole industry must have a dual solution, which is to continue growing and to ensure export targets and social security.

It is forecasted that, after the epidemic, the demand for food will certainly be very large, so the agricultural sector must promote production to have enough goods to supply the market. Accordingly, the MARD has continuously directed localities to stabilise production through adjusting the rice crop structure and cultivated area in order to minimise the impact of climate change. The localities should continue to review the construction and development of production areas for key export products such as rice, dragon fruit, durian, and passion fruit. In which, it is necessary to focus on market factors, especially big markets; to build concentrated production areas, and invest in the development of the commodity industry according to the value chain. For the southern provinces, it is necessary to focus on five crops: dragon fruit, mango, rambutan, durian and longan. The northern provinces should focus on trees such as litchi, longan, banana, orange, pomelo, mango and avocado. For some fruit trees, which have risks regarding price and consumption, such as oranges and grapefruit, the acreage will not be increased without consumption contracts and positive signals from the market.

In breeding, the re-herding of pigs in localities after the outbreak of African swine fever is highly appreciated, making an important contribution to ensuring the supply and bringing the pork prices to reasonable levels. However, it can be said that the results from the right solutions are most evident in rice production. Despite unfavourable weather conditions, rice production is still in good season, rice yields in winter-spring crops and autumn-winter crops in 2020 all increase compared to 2019. The winter-spring crop in 2019-2020 saw a successful rice crop with a yield of 66.4 quintals per hectare, an increase of 0.9 quintal per hectare compared to that of 2018-2019, the total output of the whole crop reached 19.9 million tonnes. In particular, the yield of winter-spring rice in the Mekong River Delta reached the highest rate in the country with 69.7 quintals per hectare, an increase of 1.9 quintals per hectare. Not only productivity, output increased, but the price of fresh rice in 2020 also witnessed a record increase over many recent years, bringing joy and significant profit to farmers. Moreover, it also has important significance and value in ensuring national food security in the condition that countries around the world increase their demand for food storage in the face of the complicated development of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Export breakthrough success

According to the MARD, the export turnover of agriculture, forestry and fishery in November 2020 reached US$3.72 billion, bringing the total 11-month export value of Vietnam to US$37.42 billion, up 2.4% compared to the corresponding period in 2019. In the opposite direction, the import of agriculture, forestry and fishery was about US$28.05 billion, down by 0.2%. Thus, the export value of agricultural, forestry and fishery products reached nearly US$9.37 billion, up 10.9% over the same period in 2019. Rice export in 11 months reached 5.74 million tonnes with US$2.85 billion, down 2.2% in volume but up 10.4% in value over the same period in 2019. According to statistics, there are eight groups of agricultural products to have exported over US$1 billion; including seven groups, commodities with an export value of more than US$2 billion (coffee, US$2.5 billion; rice, US$2.85 billion; cashew nuts, US$2.9 billion; vegetables and fruits, US$3 billion; shrimp, US$3.4 billion; and wood and wood products, US$8.4 billion). It is expected that by 2020, the agricultural sector will reach export turnover of US$ 41.5 to US$42 billion, and will be one of the leading countries in Southeast Asia in terms of agricultural product exports. In the context of successive natural disasters and epidemics, these achievements become the hallmarks of the entire agricultural sector in the socio-economic picture, making an important contribution to the overall economy of the country in maintaining the positive growth rate. The growth also clearly showed the adaptability and coping capacity of our country's agricultural products in the difficult conditions of agricultural exports. That is the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development actively deployed missions to promote and develop markets in key regions of China, right after the Chinese side controlled COVID-19 and announced the opening of normal trade. Therefore, despite the decline, the Chinese market still ranks first in importing many agricultural products of Vietnam. In addition, the Ministry also organises trade promotion forums, to promote domestic consumption; reorganise the distribution system linked with producers to bring the consumption of agriculture, forestry and fishery to the highest possible level.

However, the highlight of the agricultural, forestry and fishery export activities in 2020 is the initial effective access to the European market as a result of the advantages from the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which took effect from August 1, 2020. Since then, many of Vietnam's agricultural products have been continuously exported to Europe with a preferential tax rate of 0%, including rice, fruit, and seafood. Compared to July 2020, Vietnam's export value to the EU in August and September 2020 increased by 11.5% and 32.4%, respectively, contributing to asserting the quality of Vietnamese agricultural products when meeting the stringent European standards on design and quality. With EVFTA, Vietnam’s agricultural sector also has the opportunity to attract more foreign investment capital, improve production technology and product quality to meet EU standards. On the other hand, the business environment is also more stable and transparent because the legal system is adjusted and supplemented to be consistent with signed free trade agreements (FTAs). That are a lever for Vietnam's growth in exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products not only in the European market but in all countries in the world. Most recently, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been signed, opening great export opportunities for strong commodities, especially tropical agricultural products and processed foods of Vietnam in the next time. Therefore, the requirement for the agricultural industry is to best prepare the conditions of production, to meet the requirements of quality, traceability, food safety as well as a series of other commitments on labour, environment, and sustainable development, to bring agricultural, forestry and fishery exports to become areas of high added value to the economy.

Accordingly, the agricultural sector should to re-organise production according to the value chain; adhering to the regulations of FTAs to develop key products for export to quality markets, bringing high turnover and reducing dependence on traditional and low value markets. However, along with the efforts of the agricultural sector, in the coming time, the State should increase investment in this field more effectively so that agriculture can best promote its role as a pillar of the economy in many times.