Updated: Aug 30
In the province of Vinh Long, Vietnamese farmers who grow sweet potatoes are gradually moving towards using organic fertilizers and establishing production connections to enhance the value of sweet potato crops on paddy fields, with the goal of exporting them. The official export of sweet potatoes to China has brought joy to the farmers in Vinh Long, as it helped them recover from a significant decrease in cultivation area due to falling prices.
"Vietnamese sweet potato capital" achieves its goal thanks to changes in production methods.
Thanks to the advantage of fertile soil along the peaceful Hau River, the people in Binh Tan district, Vinh Long province, cultivate sweet potatoes in rotation with rice on paddy fields, making it the largest area for sweet potato cultivation in the Mekong Delta region. Since then, this land has been famously referred to as the "sweet potato kingdom" or the "capital of sweet potatoes."
Few people know that for farmers in the sweet potato capital, they always hold the belief that planting sweet potatoes is a generational tradition, passed down from their ancestors to be continued by their descendants. Regardless of the ups and downs that sweet potato cultivation may go through, these farmers always demonstrate their love for this crop in their homeland. To develop sustainable sweet potato farming for both local consumption and export, they have come to realize the need to innovate and apply modern scientific and technical methods to adapt to new conditions, allowing sweet potatoes to thrive beyond their borders.
Efficient implementation of the agricultural restructuring plan has increased the production value of crops per unit area. Fruit tree cultivation on rice fields proves to be economically more profitable, yielding 2.5 to 10.5 times higher returns compared to traditional rice cultivation. Similarly, vegetable farming on rice fields shows economic benefits ranging from 2.9 to 11.2 times greater than traditional rice farming.
For a long time, sweet potatoes have been the main crop in Bình Tân district. With an annual cultivation area of about 10,000 hectares, the average yield reaches approximately 300,000 tons. Currently, 220 hectares of sweet potato cultivation have received VietGAP certification and are produced under the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) guidelines. Moreover, a request for registration of the cultivation area code has been submitted for an additional 251 hectares of sweet potatoes.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, sweet potato prices plummeted, causing significant losses for many farmers, leaving them with little capital for reinvestment. Previously, the sweet potato cultivation area in the district was over 1,000 hectares per crop. However, the current cultivated area has reduced to only 126.9 hectares, with sweet potatoes being between 1 to 3 months old. As of the end of April, approximately 9 hectares of Japanese purple sweet potatoes will be ready for harvest and will be targeted for the Chinese market.
Enterprises support 50% of the cost and guarantee the purchase of sweet potatoes.
According to Mr. Bui Thanh Viet, Chairman of Thanh commune People's Committee, the entire commune has an area of 1,100 hectares for sweet potato cultivation, which has decreased compared to previous years. The reason behind this is the persistently low prices of Japanese purple sweet potatoes since the beginning of the year, leading farmers to limit their planting.
Instead, they have switched to rice cultivation and started planting fruit trees. Currently, with the official opening of the sweet potato export route to China, some enterprises have approached farmers in the commune for collaboration. Companies such as Song Toan Phat Company, Nhat Thanh Company, and Hoa Cuong Company have signed agreements to guarantee the output for farmers, covering around 127 hectares and 230 households.
To ensure the sustainable development of sweet potato crops, we call for enterprises to collaborate with farmers in producing safe agricultural products, which will then be granted region-specific codes to meet international export standards. Farmers are also encouraged to move away from individual production habits and use fertilizers and plant protection products according to the recommended safe food list.
Everyone who cultivates sweet potatoes must participate in the region-specific code for cultivation.
To reorganize the production of sweet potatoes, authorities at all levels in Vinh Long province have made significant efforts in communication, mobilization, and guidance to establish region-specific codes for farmers. Recently, 27 applications for region-specific codes for sweet potato cultivation in the province have been approved by the General Department of Customs of China.
Mr. Pham Van Chao, along with many farmers in Thanh Trung commune, is excited by the news of Vietnamese sweet potatoes being officially exported to the Chinese market. After harvesting the winter-spring rice crop, he has started replanting sweet potatoes. For over a month now, he has been tirelessly tending to his sweet potato fields from morning till evening. Under the scorching summer sun, he and his two laborers are diligently watering the growing sweet potatoes, anticipating the time when the linked enterprises will come to harvest and export them to China officially.
Mr. Chao stated that upon hearing the news of sweet potatoes being approved for official export by the General Department of Customs of China, he and some fellow farmers here applied to participate in the establishment of region-specific codes for cultivation. With the guidance of the relevant authorities, his sweet potato fields, covering an area of 10 hectares, have been granted the region-specific code. According to local authorities, all sweet potato farmers have received training and completed the paperwork for establishing the region-specific codes.
"If sweet potatoes are not within the designated cultivation area, they cannot be exported. Over the past few years, farmers have experienced ups and downs in prices and consumption, so now, planting sweet potatoes with the region-specific code is more regulated, and no one dares to take risks anymore," Mr. Chao said. He also mentioned that besides establishing the region-specific code, this sweet potato-growing region is also producing following VietGAP standards to further enhance the quality of the sweet potatoes.
Ms. Huynh Kim Dinh, Deputy Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vĩnh Long province, shared that currently, the province has issued 38 region-specific codes for cultivation, with 26 of them dedicated to sweet potatoes, covering over 500 hectares. The department has organized communication campaigns, training sessions, and provided support to train local officials and farmers to adhere to the required regulations. Additionally, the provincial Department of Crop Production and Plant Protection is in the process of developing detailed guidelines on the steps to establish region-specific codes to enable farmers to implement them effectively. Building on this foundation, Ms. Dinh recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development provide more specific and detailed guidance on the issuance and management of region-specific codes for cultivation at the local level, facilitating smooth implementation and ensuring efficient results.