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November 29, 2007

Vietnamese rice farmers to assist Sierra Leone

Professor Vo Tong Xuan, rector of An Giang University (Vietnam), will send 20 farmers from the Mekong Delta to work as agriculture experts in Africa. Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper interviewed the professor.

How did the idea for this programme come about?

During a visit to Japan in 2006 I met with the agriculture minister of Sierra Leone, who asked me to co-operate with his country’s agricultural sector. Sierra Leone’s climatic conditions are the same as Viet Nam’s, and I believe that the cultivation techniques of Vietnamese farmers in the Cuu Long Delta region can be applied in Sierra Leone.

Is the programme sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development?

After I failed to get a reply from the ministry, I was afraid to lose this opportunity, so I asked some enterprises to invest in the programme. However, the purpose of this programme has always been to share the talent of Vietnamese farmers with those who can benefit and not to make a profit.

Why are you so determined to realise the programme?

First of all, I want to improve the hard lives of farmers.

Another reason is that Viet Nam is now the second-largest rice exporter in the world, but the country is at risk of losing its competitive edge. This is because alongside the rising productivity of other rice-exporting countries, Viet Nam’s rice cultivation area is faced with reductions due to an exploding population and the growth of industry.

According to deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Ba Bong, in the last five years Viet Nam has lost 300,000 ha of land for rice cultivation. In other words, the Cuu Long Delta will run out of land and natural resources if we continue to use the old methods of land exploitation.

Do you bring any personal experiences into the programme?

Yes, I do. When I was a student in Los Banos University in the Philippines, I successfully organised an agricultural extension programme for the local people. Then, I published a handbook on techniques for high-yield rice cultivation, which was re-published by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Seven years ago, I was invited by a Japanese professor to conduct a field study of agriculture in Brazil. I visited a museum on Japanese migrants to Brazil. The museum tells the history of Japanese migrants who started their new lives with agricultural production. They were allotted land and applied their experience and techniques of livestock breeding and plant cultivation. They not only became rich people, but also helped train experienced and technically-advanced agricultural experts for Brazil.

The visit inspired my ambition to make Viet Nam succeed in Africa as Japan did in Brazil.

In the past, many countries failed to help Africa. Do you believe in your success?

Definitely.

In the past, European countries and the US sent experts to Africa to help eradicate hunger and poverty. Many projects costing billions of US dollars failed. The reasons were many. But I think the major reason was that the transfer of technology was mismanaged.

So, when accepting the proposal, I carefully considered the methods of implementation.

The farmers of Sierra Leone have little experience in cultivating high-yield rice. Besides, they don’t have irrigation systems or machines, so crops depend totally on nature. We decided to teach them not only how to plant high-yield rice but also build irrigation works. This year, we completed the planning of the irrigation works and succeeded in planting 50 varieties of high-yield rice on a large area in Sierra Leone.

Do you think about sending out more farmers in the future?

Yes, I do. Farmers will be sent not only to Sierra Leone but elsewhere in Africa as well.

Initially, the first batch of farmers to Sierra Leone will train the local farmers in an arrangement wherein one Vietnamese farmers trains four Sierra Leone farmers.

Sponsoring enterprises will set up a stock company here to help duplicate the model in other African countries.

Besides assisting in rice cultivation, the company will also help Sierra Leone tap other potentials such as processing fish and vegetables. So in the long term, we will also be sending over vegetable growers and fish breeders and processors.

Viet Nam News

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