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Mekong Delta sugarcane farmers switch en masse to other crops

The area under sugarcane in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta has shrunk dramatically during the 2019-20 crop after many farmers switched to other crops following losses in recent years.

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Farmer Huynh Van Ut in Long An Province’s Ben Luc District has switched from sugarcane to other crops. — VNA/VNS Photo Bui Giang

 

In Long An Province, it has fallen to 3,800ha from 12,000ha in peak years.

Ben Luc District, which has the largest area under the crop in Long An, is planting 3,000ha.

Nguyen Hue, who has planted sugarcane for many years in its Luong Hoa Commune, said he has reduced his sugarcane growing area to 6ha after making losses in recent years.

He is growing the sugarcane this time from old roots since he does not want to spend more on new seedlings, he said.

“I did not want to give up sugarcane because it has made my family well-off. But I cannot sell sugarcane.”

He is growing coconut trees on the rest of the area where he was previously growing sugarcane, he added.

Farmers earned VND5-7 million (US$215-300) from a hectare of sugarcane during the last crop after spending VND10 million ($430) on fertiliser alone.

In Tra Cu District, the largest sugarcane farming area in Tra Vinh Province, the crop is grown only on 2,540ha, down by 50 per cent from previous years, according to the local Agriculture and Rural Development Bureau.

Huynh Van Thao, head of the bureau, said farmers suffered heavy losses after sugarcane prices fell for two consecutive years.

Kien Phume, a farmer in Tra Cu District’s Ngai Xuyen Commune who has switched to other crops this time, said after the last crop the Tra Vinh Sugarcane One Member Limited Company bought sugarcane with a commercial cane sugar (CCS) sweetness level of 10 at a price of VND850 per kilogramme, down nearly VND100 from the previous season.

Farmers suffer losses at this price, she said.

She has stopped growing sugarcane on her 6,000sq.m field this year and instead grows vegetables on 2,000sq.m and rice on 4,000sq.m, she said.

She earns around VND250,000 ($11) a day from selling mustard leaves, green onions and herbs.

But many other sugarcane farmers in the district lack the money and farming knowledge to switch to other crops.

The bureau has instructed some farmers in growing other crops and they have begun to grow other crops on 530ha.

Support policies

The Tra Vinh Sugarcane One Member Limited Company has announced a further VND100 cut per kilogramme in sugarcane buying prices in the 2019-20 crop to VND700.

However, it is helping farmers in other ways like advancing money at low interest rates to buy sugarcane seedlings and fertiliser, offering them training in farming techniques, and reducing middlemen.

Cao Van Tong, director of the Luu Nghiep Agricultural Co-operative in Tra Cu District, said despite the lower sugarcane prices, farmers are benefiting from the company’s policies.

Co-operatives, co-operative teams and households that have at least one hectare of sugarcane and sign a contract with the company are offered assistance and guaranteed outlets.

Tran Ngoc Hieu, general director of Tra Vinh Sugarcane, said the company also gives VND2 million ($860) per hectare to farmers who switch from other crops to sugarcane and pledge to grow at least two crops.

The company then instructs them in farming techniques, growing processes and treating pests and diseases, he added.

In Hau Giang Province, which has the largest area under sugarcane in the delta, the Can Tho Sugar Joint Stock Company (Casuco) buys much of the local output.

Pham Quang Vinh, deputy general director of Casuco, said the company would directly buy sugarcane from farmers in the 2019-20 season and not through traders like in the past.

Casuco buys sugarcane grown on around 6,000ha, he said.

It recently decided to suspend operations at one of its two sugar mills in the province until the next sugarcane crop.

It is implementing policies to assist farmers, hoping to increase the contracted area under sugarcane in the province to 10,000-15,000ha.

But Hau Giang Province only has 8,300ha under the crop this year, according to its Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The delta has 10 sugar mills but four of them have suspended operations due to several reasons, including losses and a decline in sugarcane farming areas.

VNS

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