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Vietnam Turns to Other Cash Crops to Reduce Reliance on Rice

The world's third-largest rice exporter is considering shifting to other crops like coconuts in response to dropping rice prices and uncertainty over rice production's long-term viability.

Officials recently announced plans to reduce the 4.1 million hectares of land area used for rice production by 0.5 million hectares, reducing rice production by 3-4 million tons a year. Unpredictable weather conditions, capricious tariff policies and a complex, turbulent global market make rice a risky product to rely heavily on. In 2019's first three quarters, the value of Vietnam's rice exports fell by 9.8% to US$2.24 billion compared to the same period last year. 

"The rice sector is a risky one, and it cannot ensure economic efficiency," Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Xuan Cuong summarized.

Authorities have recommended switching to other crops such as coconuts. Coconut trees' ability to cope with saltwater makes them more appealing in light of the effects of climate change, and the global market for them is positive. Rice bran oil, a more lucrative commodity, has also been proposed.

In addition to switching crops, the country is also looking to improve the rice sector by producing higher-quality and organic, and thus more valuable, strains of rice. Inefficiencies in production, distribution and storage need to be addressed, while increased reliance on technology and better packaging could improve the situation.

Nguyen Hong Son, Director of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), told Vietnam Plus: "In recent years, many businesses have invested in high-quality products from design and appearance to good quality of rice, as well as maintaining the quality of rice during storage and trading. However, the number of producers doing that is not many compared to the large rice export volume."

Vietnam exported over six million tons of rice last year, worth US$3.15 billion. The figures place the country behind only Thailand and India as the globe's largest rice dealer. 

[Photo via Pixabay]