Academician campaigns for new ways of agricultural land management

Published: 10/07/2009 05:00



Professor Dao The Tuan, retired director of the Vietnam Institute for Agricultural Science and Technology, talks with Tien Phong Daily about problems of rice-growing land management in Vietnam.

Farmers in Chuong My, Ha Tay are worrying of losing rice land.

Q: In your opinion, which ministry should manage rice-growing land?

A: The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) presently has no power. Land is managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) and the workforce by the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). MARD organizes agricultural production but it has no authority.

When I worked at the MARD, the ministry still had the Land Management and the Labour Agencies. Now it is like a chef who is not allowed to go to the market. He has to use materials supplied by others but he is asked to make delicious meals. How can he do that?

Q: MARD has put forward a draft decree for comment. Is it feasible?

A: Rice-related issues are very complicated. Thai Binh province is known as the ‘land of rice’ but all the men have gone away [to work as migrant laborers]. Only women and the elderly do the farm work. The women tell me that the cost of hiring agricultural labor is more than they can earn when they sell the rice harvest.

In Japan, most people have given up agriculture but rice growing still thrives because the government purchases rice at five times the world price. They protect production, not land, but thanks to that policy, rice-growing land is protected.

Q: You’ve said often that though Vietnam is becoming an industrialized country, most of its workforce are still agricultural workers. What will happen to them?

Labour redundancy is a common phenomenon in developing countries. In developed countries, agriculture accounts for 2-5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about that percentage of the labour force.

In a model I developed, by 2020, agriculture will account for 10 percent of Vietnam’s GDP but agricultural workers will still make up 41 percent of the workforce and 57 percent of all workers will still live in rural areas. The problem of agricultural underemployment cannot be solved immediately as the country progresses to industrialization and modernization.

Q: The government plans to train one million rural workers every year to work in city jobs. Why we do that when cities already have many unemployed workers?

A: All of those unemployed are going to end up in the rural areas, though they are the result of Vietnam’s economic-social development process. Redundant labourers fill up the countryside. Thus labour productivity is low and so is income.

Q: So we need a comprehensive plan?

A: France bans the sales of agricultural land to private firms. Agricultural land must be sold to a semi-public agency with farmer participation called the Land and Rural Infrastructure Management Corporation. This company improves land, divides it into plots, and returns the land back free of charge or at ‘soft’ prices to the people who need fields. However, the buyers must have at least an intermediate degree in agriculture and agree to use the land for proper purposes.

Vietnam can absolutely do the same! I have talked about it many times but nobody heard me.

France is one of the seven leading industrialized countries in the world but their agriculture ranks second worldwide. Thanks to measures like that, they can protect agricultural land. By contrast, our current management is problematic.

Q: What powers does MARD need to protect rice-growing land?

A: MARD’s responsibilities and MoNRE’s overlap. MoNRE determines land use policy. The MARD is not assigned to manage land, the foundation of agriculture. Instead it is assigned to control floods and storms, which ought to be the job of MoNRE. Not only farmers suffer from floods!

Q: Current rules say that local authorities must ask for MARD’s views before converting rice-growing land to other uses. However, this step is neglected. Why?

A: Because local administrations don’t depend on MARD, not even indirectly. Generally, the central ministries have very little influence in local affairs. Local governments don’t look at agriculture as part of Vietnam’s development strategy.


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