Safety, quality key to export growth

Thursday, Oct 16, 2014 08:19

Food inspectors test poultry products at a modern slaughter house in Binh Duong Province's Di An Commune. Ensuring food safety and high-quality products would advance sustainable development of Viet Nam's agricultural sector, experts say. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue

HCM CITY (Biz Hub) — Ensuring food safety and security as well as higher-quality products would enhance the sustainable development of Viet Nam's agricultural sector, attendees said yesterday at a EuroCham seminar that discussed the status of the industry.

Thierry Rocaboy, an expert in the agribusiness and agrifood industry, told seminar participants that the country's food production for consumption had expanded greatly, with Viet Nam now playing a major role as a large exporter of farm produce.

However, he noted that export prices had remained low due to the quality of products, and that food safety, especially herbs and seafood products, were still of concern.

The value added to products was also low as materials were not locally processed, he said, adding that less than 10 per cent of coffee and 20 per cent of rubber were processed in Viet Nam.

Marieke Van Der Pijl, vice chairwoman of the Food, Agri and Aqua Business Sector Committee of Eurocham, said food safety was a key issue as demand for higher standards had increased from both export and local markets.

Further steps are needed to achieve efficient and effective food safety control, and co-operation with neighbouring countries should be enhanced to address cross-border food-safety issues.

Improved food-safety management and enforcement would also help export growth, she said.

Also speaking at the seminar, Alain Cany, country chairman of Jardine Matheson Viet Nam, said the sector should develop measures to create brands for Vietnamese farm produce in an effort to increase export value.

Another pressing concern mentioned at the seminar was climate change. Arie Veldhuizen, agricultural counsellor at the Dutch Embassy in Ha Noi, said the world population was forecast to reach nine billion by 2050, with climate change expected to undermine agriculture and food systems in many regions, making it difficult to achieve food security.

Under such a scenario, it is necessary to create a sustainable increase in agricultural productivity and resilient food systems.

"The key for Viet Nam to ensure food security and sustainable development should be based on science and technology," he said.

The country should focus more on restructuring the agricultural sector to improve productivity, quality and efficiency, ensuring sustainable food security while protecting the environment, he said, adding that efficient co-operation among different stakeholders was also needed.

Delegates at the seminar said that costs and post-harvest losses were too high, mainly due to weak logistics services.

Currently, 20 per cent of seafood, 25 per cent of fruit and 30 per cent of vegetables produced in Viet Nam are lost due to deficient logistics.

Nguyen Tien Dinh at the Rural Development Centre under the Institute of Policy for Agriculture and Rural Development said demand for meat and dairy products would continue to increase.

To further develop the animal feed industry, improvement must be made to small-scale and fragmented manufacturing, ineffective supply chains with too many intermediaries, quality of animal feed, and food safety.

Other seminar speakers mentioned the challenges in agricultural mechanisation.

Farmers have not been using advanced mechanical methods for several reasons: financial problems, a lack of understanding and application of advanced technology, a lack of special expertise, and the use of small and split fields, especially in northern and central regions.

Foreign investment

Despite robust growth of the agricultural sector and Government incentives, foreign investment in the sector remains low compared to other industries, accounting for about 0.5 per cent of total foreign direct investment in the country.

Since the sector is heavily dependent on natural conditions, it poses higher risks for investors. Inefficient, small-scale dispersed production, and a shortage of infrastructure had contributed to investment problems as well.

Seminar attendees urged the Government to develop clear incentives and transparent policies, reduce licensing and land procedures and costs, apply policies and regulations in a uniform way across regions, and focus on protection of investors' rights.

In addition, authorities should consider ways of promoting more public-private partnerships in the agricultural sector, they said.

Luong Van Tu, chairman of the Viet Nam Coffee and Cocoa Association, suggested that EU investors increase investment in processed coffee and provide loans for replanting old coffee farms.

The seminar was organised by EuroCham, its Food Agri Aqua Sector Committee and the EU Viet Nam Business Network.

Attendees included Government officials, public- and private-sector practitioners, agribusiness leaders and researchers. — VNS

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