A programme designed to improve crop productivity and quality has provided tangible benefits to both farmers and consumers
There has been increasing concern in Vietnam regarding biochemical residues and heavy metals in agricultural products, especially vegetables, which are both harmful to people’s health and the environment. Safe crops have been developed in Vietnam but their quantity falls short of consumption demand and food poisoning remains all too common. The situation is quite different in Japan, where consumers are known to have a high level of concern and requirements when it comes to food safety. A project to strengthen capacity in the management of crop production in Vietnam to improve productivity and quality, involving the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), covered two important areas in crop production: encouraging and developing new plant varieties through strengthening capacity in PVP systems (Plant Variety Protection), and improving sustainable crop production systems for safe and high quality crops.
With a total budget estimated at around $3.3 million, the project was conducted for three and half years (from July 2010 to December 2013) in six cities and provinces in the northern region: Hung Yen, Ha Nam, Quang Ninh, Thai Binh, Hoa Binh and Hai Phong. The Japanese side trained food sanitation inspectors in the application of the HACCP System (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point - a systematic preventative approach to the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards) for the food industry, and made considerable ground in controlling hazardous residues.
The project also utilised Japanese experience to disseminate VietGAP (Vietnam Good Agriculture Practice - principles on site selection, soil preparation, fertiliser use, water, pest control, harvesting, packaging, and transporting, etc., to ensure food safety and environment protection) through training officers in charge of safe production at the central and provincial levels, with techniques then being transferred to farmers. At the same time the project carried out activities to raise awareness on safe production among both officials and farmers.
Apart from a need for safe agricultural products, consumers also wish to have more diverse varieties, with breeders being encouraged to create new varieties when they are licensed as the owner of the variety and granted exclusive control over marketing and use of the variety for a certain number of years. This can be guaranteed through the PVP system, which was established in Vietnam after it became a member of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) in 2006. The project focused on improving the PVP system as regards administrative procedures, data management, and established DUS (Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability) Testing methods.
According to Ms Nguyen Thi Hang from MARD one of the key requirements of the project is that farmers log daily records on fertiliser use and pest control. “This acts as a database to access the source of safe products,” she said. “Local authorities, not farmers, are responsible for analysing and certifying safe products.” Farmers say that understanding the right way to use pest control is the greatest benefit they have received from being involved in the project. Once certified as safe, their products can be priced at a higher level and often sell out.