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Urged to rethink the plan to develop cassava plants

Cassava products have been selling like hot cakes. Meanwhile, the consumption is expected to increase further in the next years. However, development programmers still have been called to reconsider the plan to develop cassava plants.

The rise of the cassava plants
It is now the second time that Vietnam has witnessed the boom of cassava plant since 1975. The first time occurred during the first years after the country’s union, when the rice and maize output was low. Just within three years, since 1979, the cassava growing area increased by two folds, to the record high of 461,400 hectares, while the output also climbed to the record high of 3.422 million tons.

Later, when Vietnam became a rice export power, cassava plants became less attractive in the eyes of farmers, who preferred to grow rice to earn money.

However, cassava plants, once again, have become “favored” by farmers, which have hindered the development of many other kinds of plants. The cassava growing area has increased by 7.6 percent to 496,200 hectares, while the output has increased by 15.7 percent to 8.522 million tons.

Vietnamese farmers have been rushing to grow cassava because they can see the high demand from the Chinese market.

In 2010, Vietnam exported 1.7 million tons of cassava products in total, of which, China alone consumed 92.4 percent. The percentage was 94.1 percent in the first two months of the year. Fresh cassava has also been carried out continuously to China across the border gates.

Why cassava?
While Vietnamese farmers feel happy with the money they earn from exporting cassava to China, experts have called on to reconsider the plan on developing cassava plants.

Nguyen Dinh Bich, a well known trade expert from the Trade Research Institute, said on Thoi bao Kinh te Saigon, that Vietnam is not the country which has advantages in developing cassava plants for export. In the world, only the countries with large area and thin population density can reserve many areas for growing cassava. This explains why in the world, only four countries have the cassava growing areas of more than one million hectares, namely Nigeria (3.8 million hectares), Brazil (1.8-1.9 million), Thailand (1.3 million) and Indonesia (1.2 million).

Besides Ghana, there are only three other poor countries in the world which have the cassava growing areas exceeding Vietnam’s, including Angola, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Regarding the yield; though Vietnam’s cassava output in 2009 was high at 16.8 tons per hectare, which was much higher than the average yield in the world, the figure is still lower than the average level of 20.2 tons per hectare in Asia and 22.7 tons per hectares in Thailand.

The demand for cassava is believed to increase sharply in the time to come, as enterprises need cassava to make many kinds of products. Cassava is being used in making seasoning powder, used in food industry. Especially, the demand for animal breeding alone is at 1.5 million tons per annum. Besides, Vietnam also has five ethanol factories and tens of other factories making alcohol of different kinds, which also need cassava.

However, Bich has pointed out that Vietnam cannot compete with China, even though the cassava yield has been increasing considerably in recent years. Since the cassava prices have been increasing too sharply, many enterprises have to shift to use other kinds of materials, which explain why the imports of maize and wheat have been increasing rapidly.

The third problem that experts have pointed out to persuade development programmers to put a brake on the cassava growing area development, is that while growing cassavas mostly serve the demand from foreign countries, Vietnam would lack land to develop other important farm produce, because the agriculture land fund will not be enlarged.

Statistics show that while cassava plants see “hot development”, the growing areas of many other kinds of plants has been decreasing. The cotton growing area, for example, has reduced by 6.9 percent per annum, while the sugar cane area by 1.3 percent per annum. Especially, the cashew growing area has been decreasing for the third consecutive years by 11 percent in total.

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