Mar 29, 2009

Bottom drops out of cassava market

Viet Nam News - Hanoi,Vietnam 28-03-2009

HA NOI — A 50 per cent fall in the price of cassava this year has affected many farmers who started to grow the crop when prices leapt in 2007. Last year the farmgate price of cassava was VND1,000 per kg. Now it is only VND450.

Nguyen Van Chien, a resident of Cau Khai Village in Dong Cuong Commune of Van Yen District in the northern mountainous province of Yen Bai, said he had planted more than 10,000 cassava plants and would have made VND20 million profit (US$1,100) if the price had held.

Chien said many families in the commune faced the same problem. Their only solution was to stop harvesting to save labour and transport costs in the hope that prices would soon rise.

According to the chairman of the Dong Cuong People’s Committee, Vu Manh Hai, the commune has 400ha of cassava which is expected to yield 16,000 tonnes. Yet only half of the crop has been harvested.

"Not only is the market price of cassava lower, fertiliser and transportation costs have gone up," he said, adding that farmers would lose money if they sold cassava now.

Chief accountant of Van Yen Cassava Factory Tran Quang Hung said the factory had so far bought only 20,000 tonnes of cassava, much lower than in other years.

The owner of a cassava processing workshop in Lam Giang Commune, Do Van Lien, said in previous years, he had purchased from 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of cassava, but this year he had bought only 10,000 tonnes.

According to statistics by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Yen Bai Province, cassava plantations in the province last year amounted to more than 16,000ha.

Of this, 9,700ha were in Van Yen, Yen Binh and Van Chan districts. In future, the province plans to grow only 12,000ha.

In past years, Chinese partners bought large quantities of cassava from Viet Nam. They paid from VND500 per kg in 2005 to a peak of VND1,200 per kg in 2008.

On the bandwagon

This encouraged farmers to place more and more land under cassava. The estimated yield of cassava in Van Yen District alone could be 162,000 tonnes, however only about 30,000 tonnes has been harvested and sold to factories.

"We advised farmers not to grow more cassava, but they didn’t listen. They wanted to grow more cassava because the price was high last year," said Nguyen Cong, a staff of the province’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

"Although it means breaking the province’s planning on cassava plantation, we cannot do anything because farmers say they have the right to plant any crop they want on their own land," he said.

The same situation is happening in other provinces, such as Hoa Binh, Thanh Hoa and Phu Yen.

Only 30 per cent of the total 13,000ha of cassava in Hoa Binh Province has so far been harvested.

Late last year, farmers in many districts of Thanh Hoa Province dug up their sugar-cane plantations to grow cassava.

"The commune cannot stop farmers from reducing sugar-cane areas to grow cassava," said vice chairman of Xuan Hoa Commune of Thanh Hoa Province Luong Van Xuan.

Head of the Planning Unit of Van Yen Cassava Factory Nguyen Van Thong said that the factory would try to purchase all cassava from farmers.

"However, the price cannot be as high as it was in previous years because of the current common economic difficulties in every country," he said.

Thong said if the provincial authority could financially support cassava factories, it would mutually benefit both farmers and factories.

Yen Bai Province authorities plan to give farmers an extra VND50 for every kg of cassava to help farmers.

Director of the Department of Cultivation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Tri Ngoc said low prices were not only affecting cassava farmers, but also those growing many other kinds of crops.

"Staff at local agriculture offices can hardly force farmers to grow particular crops," he said. "But we must provide more information to farmers about long-term prospects of various crops."

At present, Viet Nam has an estimated 510,000ha under cassava, but it is hoped to reduce this to 375,000ha by next year.— VNS

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