Binh Tan district, Vinh Long province, has long been considered the capital of purple sweet potatoes. 215.43 hectares of purple sweet potatoes in the province have completed the procedures for granting planting area codes, traceability, and recording manuals, meeting orders 248 and 249 by the Chinese government on agricultural products imported into this market.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Binh Tan district, the aforementioned area corresponds to 8 planting areas. Each planting area houses at least 8 households, and a maximum of 92 households, with one household registering as a representative to receive a planting area code.
The Department reported that the purple sweet potato areas are qualified: they have farming records, use pesticides on the permitted list, exceptional growth, and meet the requirements of exporting to the Chinese market.
However, the potato fields in reality shows a bleak picture. At the purple sweet potato planting area in Tan Bien hamlet, Tan Binh commune, Mr. Nguyen Anh Dung's household, representing 92 households with 54.9 hectares, is currently anxiously waiting because the price of potatoes is only 100,000 VND/quintal (each quintal of purple sweet potato corresponds to 60kg).
“Farmers are helpless with that price. The cost to grow one potato plot of 1,200m2 from sowing to harvesting is 17.5 million VND. The price of potatoes must be at least 300,000 VND/quintal for us to have a little profit", said Mr. Dung.
Mr. Dung was not made aware of orders 248, 249, but he is no stranger to Chinese traders. Chinese traders are present to collect goods every harvesting season. The best season was 3 years ago, when Chinese traders came to Mr. Dung's growing area to buy potatoes at 1.2 million VND/quintal. At the lowest point, the price of potatoes still reach 700,000 - 800,000 VND/quintal.
Mr. Dung and many members of the planting area said they were most distraught last year, when the price of potatoes was only 30,000 - 40,000 VND/quintal. Some farmers lost up to 300 million dong. Purple sweet potato were once the livelihood of the farmers; now they are deserted in the field because of the low prices.
“My son is a doctor in Vinh Long, my youngest daughter is also a graduate of the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City. We all depend mainly on the potato plant. This land has nothing comparable to purple sweet potatoes. Even rice is not as significant as potatoes", said Mr. Dung.
The old farmer has passed the age of 60, wiping the certificates of merit from the province for his son, he sighed and looked out the door.
“The pandemic is troubling, I heard that there are difficulties in the customs process in Lang Son. Traders reach the border gates but they are stuck for weeks so the potatoes are rotten. The cost of cold storage trucks with air conditioner is too high, farmers wouldn't be able to bear it" Dung said.
Mr. Dung waits for Chinese traders to buy at high prices in his house. In the fields, many farmers expressed frustration when they saw reporters taking pictures. “Don't take any more pictures, you will ruin the potatoes. It's already so bad", many farmers protested grumpily. They said, everytime a journalist vists to take pictures, the potatoes die out. “The price is so low, the farmer lost 200 million potatoes last year. This year, I don't dare to rent land anymore, I only cultivate on 2 hectares of house fields. She only dares to dream of breaking even, it seems difficult to make a profit under these circumstances", Mr. Dung explained.
Mr. Vo Hoang Long's household is at about 10km away, representing 13 households with an area of 17.3ha in Thanh Trung commune. Mr. Long said that farmers are frustrated, partly because of the low price of potatoes, and partly because of their superstitions. A few years ago, every household that could grow a crop and sell it at a good price would be interviewed by the press. The next season, most of these households lost money.
“Growing purple sweet potatoes or any other crops, winning or losing is due to the market, we can't know in advance. So this year, the loss is nothing too worrisome. But many farmers suffer from the same problem, so they get frustrated when someone points a camera at their crops", said Mr. Long.
Because the Chinese market is facing difficulties, Mr. Long and many other households turned to the Thai market. This market is easier to predict, but the price is lower than that of the Chinese market by several thousand dong per kg. "Thailand is similar to China a few years ago, purple sweet potatoes are bought, consumers are not too picky", said Mr. Long.
According to Mr. Nguyen Anh Dung, his cooperative group currently has 30 hectares of potatoes, producing following VietGAP standards and developing towards a planting area code. However, because they have not been able to export to China, businesses are reluctant to cooperate in purchasing.
The 50 year-old farmer, and a potato trader in the field, said that in the past few years, the Chinese market often prefers long tubers to round ones. “They are smart, knowing that round potatoes are the results of farmers using chemicals that inhibit stem growth, so that the plants can focus on growing roots. They switch to choosing long tubers so that farmers won't use chemicals anymore. We have to change according to the needs of the market”, said the farmer.
For the last two years, potato farmer like to gamble. There are times when the price of potatoes increase to over 1.2 million VND/quintal, and other times, the price of potatoes drops to a few thousands of VND/quintal. Whenever the price fluctuates, farmers are restless because the profit from the potato crop is very high, while low quality potatoes can lead to poverty or debt for farmers. Therefore, many farmers are desperately in need of businesses for long-term cooperation. "Our farmers want the price to range from at least 400,000 to 500,000 VND/quintal or higher", said Mr. Nguyen Anh Dung.
Most households representing the planting area code have capital, warehouses, and can generally handle consumption and preliminarily process. Farmers have access to safe production standards from training programs organized by the functional sector. What they are most interested in right now, is when the Chinese market will open again. Then, potato prices will return to pre-Covid-19 levels, saving the lives of many farmers in Vinh Long purple sweet potato area.
According to Mr. Nguyen Vinh Phuc, Director of Vinh Long province Sub-Department of Cultivation and Plant Protection, the Sub-department has organized many training courses on establishing planting areas codes and producing clean potatoes for farmers. In addition, the Sub-department has also submitted a dossier to the Department of Plant Protection for issuance of a planting area code for exports to China. However, because China has not officially opened the door for export of sweet potatoes, the application has not been accepted and has expired by the end of the season. There are currently 4 planting area codes with potatoes in the field. In the immediate future, the Sub-department will continue to prepare documents for these 4 planting area codes and mobilize farmers to participate.
Translated by Nguyen Hai Long
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