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Enhancing Preservation Capabilities: Propelling Vietnamese Sweet Potatoes Industry Forward.

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Following the success of durian, bananas, and bird's nests, Vietnam's agricultural products now include Vietnamese sweet potatoes, officially approved for export to the Chinese market. China has granted formal approval for the export of Vietnamese sweet potatoes to their market. However, to ensure a sustainable and stable export to China and other countries, it is essential to promote technology in preservation and processing within the sweet potatoes industry.


Enhancing Preservation and Processing Capabilities: Propelling the Sweet Potatoes Industry Forward.
Enhancing Preservation and Processing Capabilities: Propelling the Sweet Potatoes Industry Forward.

Preservation and processing play a crucial role in the success of any agricultural export. For sweet potatoes, which have a relatively short shelf life and are prone to spoilage, advanced preservation techniques are imperative. Implementing cutting-edge preservation technology can prolong the storage life of sweet potatoes, enabling them to reach distant markets without losing quality.


Many countries in the region highly appreciate and favor sweet potatoes.


A report from the General Department of Customs reveals that Vietnam's sweet potato export turnover reached approximately 39 million USD in the first nine months of 2022. This export value is broken down into raw sweet potatoes at over 15.3 million USD, processed sweet potatoes at about 23.1 million USD, and sweet potato leaves accounting for the remainder. Moreover, sweet potato tubers have become a significant export product, generating up to 60 million USD in certain years.


Many countries in the region highly appreciate and favor sweet potatoes.
Many countries in the region highly appreciate and favor sweet potatoes.

In Vietnam, sweet potatoes hold a special place as one of the long-standing traditional staple crops, cultivated by people for generations after rice and corn. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the nationwide annual harvest of sweet potato tubers fluctuates between 1.2 to 1.5 million tons.


In the past 15 years, farmers in various regions have actively introduced Japanese purple sweet potato varieties into cultivation due to their high nutritional content. This trend has gained significant traction and favor among consumers. Vietnam's sweet potato export success reflects the growing demand and appreciation for this versatile crop. The diversified export portfolio, encompassing both raw and processed sweet potatoes, as well as sweet potato leaves, showcases the adaptability and value of the crop.


Challenges Faced by Vietnamese Sweet Potato Farmers: Price Slump and Reduced Cultivation Area.


The emergence of Covid-19 in early 2020 had a profound impact on the sweet potato industry, particularly in regions like Binh Tan district, where Japanese purple sweet potatoes are grown. The "zero Covid policy" in China led to a prolonged restriction on the export of sweet potatoes, causing prices for Japanese purple sweet potatoes in Binh Tan to continuously plummet. This price slump persisted for two years, severely affecting farmers' incomes and leading to financial difficulties In response to the unfavorable market conditions, farmers in Binh Tan made the difficult decision to reduce the cultivation area of sweet potatoes. Compared to the previous year, the sweet potato cultivation area in the entire district decreased drastically, with only 699 hectares cultivated in the 2022 season, a sharp decline from the previous 6,300 hectares.


Challenges in Export:


Challenges Faced by Sweet Potato Farmers: Price Slump and Reduced Cultivation Area.
Challenges Faced by Sweet Potato Farmers: Price Slump and Reduced Cultivation Area.

Despite the demand for sweet potatoes in China, the stringent Covid-19 control measures at the border created obstacles for the smooth export of Vietnamese sweet potatoes. Many consignments faced difficulties passing through customs, leading to delays and disruptions in supply chains. This resulted in a loss of opportunities for sweet potato farmers to access the Chinese market, exacerbating the price slump.


Traditionally, the export of sweet potatoes to China was done through informal channels or unofficial trade routes. However, with the pandemic's outbreak, these informal channels were disrupted as China implemented different disease control policies than Vietnam. As a result, the majority of sweet potato shipments were held up, leading to significant challenges for exporters and farmers alike.


The Market Potential of a "Billion People" Country.


China is the world's largest producer of sweet potatoes, accounting for 80% of the global production with an estimated output of 100 to 110 million tons (out of approximately 127 million tons worldwide). Besides being a staple food, sweet potatoes are utilized in various industries, including animal feed, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and snack foods.


Despite their substantial sweet potato production, China still imports sweet potatoes from Vietnam every year. This is because China's harvesting season for sweet potatoes falls mainly in August, September, and October, while the rest of the year necessitates imports to meet demand.


Sweet potatoes for sale at a Chinese supermarket.
Sweet potatoes for sale at a Chinese supermarket.

The export of sweet potatoes to China represents a transformative opportunity for Vietnamese agriculture. The increased demand from China can drive production growth and enhance the overall value chain for sweet potatoes in Vietnam. This potential market expansion can bring about positive changes in farming practices, post-harvest handling, and packaging standards, which would lead to improved competitiveness and better access to international markets.


The strict technical requirements outlined in the bilateral agreements can be challenging for Vietnamese exporters to meet consistently. To navigate these obstacles successfully, investment in modernizing agricultural practices, upgrading processing facilities, and ensuring quality control is crucial. Additionally, collaboration between government agencies and private sector stakeholders is essential to develop a unified approach towards meeting China's import standards.


According to the latest information, the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) has recently approved and issued identification codes to 70 sweet potato cultivation areas and 13 packaging facilities in Vietnam that meet the necessary requirements for official export to China. This development is considered a significant boost and will contribute to increasing Vietnam's export turnover to one of the world's most promising markets.

Enhancing Preservation and Processing Capacities for Sustainable Sweet Potato Industry.


Mr. Nguyen Quoc Toan, the Director of the Department of Processing and Market Development for Agricultural Products, has emphasized that formal sweet potato exports offer a potential solution to boost the sweet potato export industry. To achieve stable and sustainable production and consumption, preventing price fluctuations, Toan believes that the processing of sweet potatoes needs to be promoted.


Mr. Nguyen Quoc Toan, the Director of the Department of Processing and Market Development for Agricultural Products
Mr. Nguyen Quoc Toan, the Director of the Department of Processing and Market Development for Agricultural Products

To achieve stable and sustainable production, farmers must reorganize their farming practices, with production closely linked to agribusinesses. This includes raising the quality of sweet potato products and expanding cultivation areas to meet safety standards, thereby enhancing the processing capabilities of farmer cooperatives.


Vietnam has already established several sweet potato processing companies, including those producing sweet potato starch, ethanol, and dried products. Prominent companies include Vinapas Vietnam International Limited Company, Tung Lam Alcohol Factory Joint Stock Company, Yen Bai Agricultural and Foodstuff Joint Stock Company, Dong Nhut Limited Company, Thinh Cuong Limited Company, Dai Viet Limited Company, and others. Additionally, there are companies specializing in dried sweet potato processing, such as Vinamit Joint Stock Company, Ngo Mai Hoa Production Trading and Service Limited Company, and more.


Vietnam has already established several sweet potato processing companies, including those producing sweet potato starch, ethanol, and dried products. Prominent companies include Vinapas Vietnam International Limited Company, Tung Lam Alcohol Factory Joint Stock Company, Yen Bai Agricultural and Foodstuff Joint Stock Company, Dong Nhut Limited Company, Thinh Cuong Limited Company, Dai Viet Limited Company, and others. Additionally, there are companies specializing in dried sweet potato processing, such as Vinamit Joint Stock Company, Ngo Mai Hoa Production Trading and Service Limited Company, and more.


In Vietnam, sweet potatoes have a long-standing tradition as one of the staple crops, cultivated by people for generations, following rice and corn. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, sweet potatoes are grown on approximately 100,000 hectares of land in Vietnam, with a total production of 1.2-1.3 million tons. Notably, the highest sweet potato yields are recorded in the Mekong Delta region, reaching up to 25 tons per hectare, which is twice the yield of the northern regions, where it only reaches 12-13 tons per hectare. Alongside traditional sweet potato varieties, in the past 15 years, farmers in various regions have actively introduced Japanese purple sweet potato varieties, which boast high nutritional content and are favored by consumers.

Product Diversification.


To harness the maximum potential of the sweet potato industry, exploring various processing methods to create a range of sweet potato products is essential. Researching and developing products such as nutrient-rich sweet potato flour, dried sweet potatoes, vacuum-processed sweet potatoes, sweet potato milk, sweet potato wine, and sweet potato vermicelli can significantly contribute to value-added products, enhancing Vietnam's agricultural competitiveness.


One of the key product innovations is nutrient-rich sweet potato flour. This versatile ingredient can be incorporated into various food products, such as baked goods, noodles, and snacks, offering an excellent source of essential nutrients and dietary fiber.


The diversification of sweet potato products creates value-added options for consumers, allowing them to choose from a wide array of nutritious and innovative offerings. Moreover, investing in product diversification strengthens the sweet potato industry's competitiveness in both domestic and international markets.


With a diverse range of sweet potato products, Vietnam can tap into new markets, including health-conscious consumers and those seeking unique and novel food experiences. Increased demand for these products can generate economic benefits and create new opportunities for farmers, processors, and other stakeholders.


The diversification of sweet potato products creates value-added options for consumers, allowing them to choose from a wide array of nutritious and innovative offerings.
The diversification of sweet potato products creates value-added options for consumers, allowing them to choose from a wide array of nutritious and innovative offerings.
According to scientists, sweet potatoes have 15 beneficial effects on human health: preventing vitamin A deficiency, aiding in stress reduction, helping to control diabetes, managing weight, promoting anti-inflammatory activity, enhancing memory, supporting cancer treatment, protecting against ulcers, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, improving hair and skin, acting as an antibacterial agent, aiding digestion, regulating blood pressure, and enhancing cognitive function.


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