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Mekong Delta: From "rescuing" Sanh oranges to the huge citrus planting.

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

The idyllic charm of Sanh oranges has been met with a distressing reality as their prices plummet, leaving countless farmers grappling with a dire situation. With prices sinking to as low as 3,000 VND per kilogram, the agricultural landscape of Vinh Long province is marred by the surplus of unsold oranges. This article delves into the heartrending predicament that has unfolded, as farmers contend with the consequences of a market imbalance.

Farmers begged for "rescue" after the price of Sanh oranges fell dramatically.
Farmers begged for "rescue" after the price of Sanh oranges fell dramatically.

The serene landscapes of Vinh Long and Hau Giang provinces, known for their lush Sanh orange orchards, are currently marred by a distressing predicament. As orange prices plummet and an overwhelming surplus accumulates, the very foundations of these agricultural communities are shaken. This article sheds light on the challenges faced by the farmers in these provinces, particularly in the largest Sanh oranges cultivating district of Tra On district in Vinh Long.

Vast Orchards and Dwindling Prices: Tra On district, the largest Sanh oranges cultivating district in Vinh Long province, boasts a sprawling expanse of over 9,000 hectares dedicated to orange cultivation. With an estimated yield of around 50 tons per hectare, the region is a crucial contributor to Vietnam's citrus industry. However, the mid-February harvest season of 2023 brought with it a grim reality as prices plummeted dramatically.

Price Plunge Amidst Harvest: During the crucial harvest period in mid-February, when Sanh oranges should have been the focus of attention, the market witnessed a catastrophic drop in prices. The sharp decline in demand and unwillingness of buyers to meet the previous price points left farmers grappling with a heart-wrenching dilemma.

Mounting Unsold Produce: As prices sank to unprecedented lows, a distressing scenario unfolded. Vast quantities of Sanh oranges, cultivated with care and dedication, found themselves accumulating with no willing buyers. The once-thriving orchards of Huu Thanh commune, Thoi Hoa commune, and other regions are now marred by the plight of farmers burdened with tons of unsold produce.

A Troubling Future: The sight of tens of tons of unsold Sanh oranges symbolizes more than just an economic challenge; it reflects the uncertain future of the farmers who rely on these crops for their livelihood. The accumulating losses cast a shadow of uncertainty over the agricultural landscape, leaving farmers with a heavy burden to bear.

Ignoring Cautionary Signals.

Warnings regarding the unchecked growth of citrus cultivation, including oranges, pomelos, and mandarins, have been sounded by various stakeholders and authorities. However, many farmers and growers, driven by their autonomous production practices, have chosen to overlook these alerts. Consequently, the acreage of citrus orchards continues to expand.

Ignoring Cautionary Signals.
Ignoring Cautionary Signals.

A Surge in Citrus Acreage:

Data from the Department of Crop Production reveals that the total acreage of citrus cultivation nationwide reached 256.86 thousand hectares in 2019, yielding over 2.46 million tons of fruit. Citrus cultivation accounts for 24.07% of the total fruit-bearing acreage. Key players in this category are oranges, pomelos, lemons, and mandarins, which comprise the 15 primary fruit types with the largest cultivation areas, each exceeding 20 thousand hectares.

Dominance in Varietal Structure:

Among these, oranges and pomelos dominate the citrus cultivation landscape, encompassing approximately 38% of each type. Lemon cultivation follows at 15.1%, trailed by mandarins at 8.6%. In the northern region, orange cultivation commands nearly 45.6% of the citrus acreage, closely followed by pomelos at 40.2%, lemons at 7.9%, and mandarins at 7.4%.

The Complex Scenario of Sanh Oranges
The Complex Scenario of Sanh Oranges

The Complex Scenario:

While the expansion of citrus cultivation holds promise for increased production and economic growth, it also presents challenges. The imbalance between supply and demand, the risk of overproduction, and fluctuations in market prices can lead to unpredictable outcomes.

Sanh oranges: Challenges in the Market.

In the lead-up to the Lunar New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan), the consumption of Sanh oranges encountered difficulties. The market for these premium oranges faced a narrow scope, with the consumption scenario changing drastically before and after Tet. This shift in demand dynamics posed challenges for farmers and traders alike.

Farmers call for "rescue" Sanh oranges in HCMC
Farmers call for "rescue" Sanh oranges in HCMC

Price Fluctuations:

Concerning the cause of the rapid drop in the price of oranges, prior to it, the price of oranges was fairly high, exceeding 10,000 VND/kg. However, before the 2023 Lunar New Year, the price of oranges fluctuates from 6,000 to 7,000 VND/kg, and farmers are not viable at this price. Many farmers have waited for after Tet in the belief that orange prices will rise due to the price disparity from prior years. As a result, there is a big backlog of oranges and the price has dropped to 2,000-3,000 VND/kg.

The "Rescue" Narrative:

Amid the ongoing efforts to "rescue" Sanh oranges, a narrative has emerged highlighting the urgency to address the situation. However, amidst the noise, an industry expert sheds light on the root cause of this phenomenon. Mr. Dang Phuc Nguyen, the Secretary-General of the Vietnam Fruits and Vegetables Association, attributes the challenges to mistimed cultivation practices by farmers. A key factor contributing to the predicament lies in mistimed planting. The demand for Sanh oranges surges ahead of Tet, but it dwindles after the festivities. Farmers who plant with a focus solely on the pre-Tet market may find themselves grappling with lower demand and fluctuating prices post-Tet.

Export Hurdles.

Limited Export Opportunities:

The absence of Sanh oranges and similar citrus fruits from the official list of mainstream fresh fruit exports to China has resulted in a predominantly domestic market. While sporadic small-scale exports to China do occur, the volumes remain marginal. This situation has led to a heavy reliance on local consumption.

Orange consumption is primarily domestic.
Orange consumption is primarily domestic.

Interestingly, the very oranges that are the focus of the "rescue" efforts face limitations in export potential due to their aesthetic attributes. The oranges targeted for "rescue" suffer from poor visual appeal, making them less suitable for export markets.

Quality and Competitiveness.

Dr. Nguyen Quoc Manh from the Department of Cultivation highlights one of the key limitations in the expansive growth of citrus cultivation - the prevalence of local varieties. Many of these varieties lack high-quality traits and suffer from degeneration, presenting challenges to the competitiveness of fresh produce and complicating the processing industry.

Quality and Competitiveness of Sanh Oranges
Quality and Competitiveness of Sanh Oranges

Overreliance on Chemical Inputs:

The overuse of inorganic fertilizers and chemical pesticides has contributed to a decline in consumer confidence. Instances of chemical residue on citrus fruits have led some consumers to turn away from these products. This loss of trust has been a contributing factor to a significant reduction in market prices.

Sustainable Solutions.

Sustainable Solutions of Sanh oranges
Sustainable Solutions of Sanh oranges

Addressing these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach:

Cultivating High-Quality Varieties: Prioritizing the cultivation of high-quality, visually appealing, and delicious varieties can enhance product competitiveness and boost consumer confidence.

Organic and Sustainable Farming: Encouraging eco-friendly practices, reducing chemical inputs, and adopting organic farming methods can restore consumer trust and attract premium pricing.

Diversified Export Strategies: Exploring alternative markets for citrus exports beyond China can create opportunities for growth and reduce dependency on a single market.

Processing and Value Addition: Investing in processing facilities and promoting value-added products such as juices and jams can provide an avenue for surplus fruits and enhance economic viability.

As the Vietnamese oranges industry navigates through the complexities of rapid expansion, a careful balance between quality, sustainability, and market diversification is essential. Addressing challenges such as varietal quality, chemical inputs, and market dependency requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. By embracing sustainable practices and exploring diverse export avenues, the citrus sector can transform challenges into opportunities, ensuring a vibrant and resilient future for citrus cultivation in Vietnam.
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