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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        8  March 2011

Vietnam sets Mekong Delta priorities

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Sustainable development of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta and achievement of its growth potential depend on more sensible exploitation of its agricultural strengths, experts say. Professor Vo Tong Xuan, a rice scientist, said agriculture and aquaculture were fundamentally important for the delta's development, and any strategy excluding them would result in ruin for the region.

"Industry in the delta should be developed in the direction of supporting agricultural production and processing of agricultural and seafood products," Xuan said.

Xuan also said that fully exploiting the region's agricultural and aquaculture potential required the rezoning of cultivation areas.

"I have suggested a model to combine the cultivation of rice, fish, fruit trees and animal husbandry. Fish ponds would be adjacent to rice paddies, husbandry sheds and orchards and gardens," he said.

"Ponds would provide water for trees and gardens, and vegetables would feed cattle and pigs. Ponds would also provide irrigation for rice fields."

Xuan also felt earmarking separate cultivation areas for rice, fruit and fish or shrimp cultivation for the region as a whole would improve agricultural management and exploitation. For instance, coastal areas with large amounts of brackish water would focus on aquaculture while areas further inland would mainly grow crops that need fresh water. This would reduce conflicts over the use of limited natural resources and ensure more balanced development.

With a combined area of 40, that is crisscrossed by millions of inland canals and river systems, the delta accounts for half of the country's rice, 52 per cent of aquaculture and 90 per cent of its fruit production. It also accounts for 90 and 60 per cent of the country's rice and seafood exports respectively.

While local economists agree with scientists like Xuan that the region's agricultural potential has not been tapped well, they tend to differ on how it should be done.

Vo Hung Dung, director of the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) in Can Tho City, considered the region's growth hub, told Viet Nam News that agricultural production had not reached its full capacity in the region.

While some localities' investments had paid off and improved production, many other areas had not spent enough on developing farming, aquaculture and fruit production, said Dung, an economist who specialises in the region.

"The delta did not have adequate industrial infrastructure for quick development of general industry," Dung said. "And a strategy and process for economic growth with a focus on agriculture was not implemented."

"Under the current system, farmers are not getting sufficient returns on their produce because investment has been too low", Dung said.

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