Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):
Over 30% of the country is forested and about 17% is cultivated for seasonal crops, with another 5% under permanent crops. Climate varies from humid tropical in the southern lowlands to temperate in the northern highlands. There are two monsoon seasons: the northeastern winter monsoon and the southwestern summer monsoon. Destructive typhoons sometimes develop over the South China Sea during hot weather. Mean annual sea level temperatures range from 27 °C in the south to 21 °C in the extreme north.
Mean annual rainfall ranges from 1,300 to 2,300 mm. Rainfall is usually evenly distributed through June to October or November. In the Mekong Delta, the summer monsoon brings 5–6 months of rainfall above 100 mm/month. October is the wettest month of the year.
The population of Vietnam was about 87 million in 2010, with an average density of 263 people per km2. The population grew at 1.1% per year during 2005-10. Seventy percent of the population lives in rural areas, mainly in the two rice-growing deltas: the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong River Delta in the south. The Red River Delta’s population density (939/km²) was higher than that of the Mekong River Delta’s (426/km²) and elsewhere. The country’s total labor force was above 47 million, with more than half engaged in agriculture.
The economy continues to improve, although agriculture’s share of economic output (GDP) dropped from about 25% in 2000 to almost 21% in 2010, as the share of the industrial sector surged to 41% and the service sector to 38% of GDP in the same period.
The country’s primary produce is rice, coffee, rubber, cotton, tea, pepper, soybeans, cashews, sugarcane, peanuts, bananas, fish, seafood, and poultry.
Recent developments in the rice sector
Vietnam is the world’s fifth-largest rice-producing country. Rice production has continuously increased, from 25 million t in 1995 to almost 40 million t in 2010. This increase can be attributed to some expansion of rice harvested area and higher yield. Rice yield improved to 5.3 t/ha in 2010 from 3.7 t/ha in 1995. The use of input-responsive modern varieties, sufficient fertilizer, and an increase in the proportion of rice area (93.4%) under irrigation account for the high yields in recent years. Although the rice area harvested expanded from 6.8 million ha in 1995 to 7.5 million ha in 2010, annual growth was only 0.5% from 2005 to 2010.
Rice remains the staple food. Average annual per capita consumption rose to 141.2 kg in 2009 from 138.8 kg in 1995. However, the share of total calories per person obtained from rice decreased to 51.7% (1,390 kcal) per day in 2009 from 66.6% (1,407 kcal) per day in 1995. Similarly, the per capita protein intake from rice fell to 38% (28.3 g) per day in 2009 from 56.7% (28.7 g) per day in 1995. These declines are due to an increase in consumption of other sources such as wheat and meat. The shares of both wheat and meat as sources of calories and protein increased during 1995-2009.
Vietnam is one of the world’s leading rice exporters. The country’s rice exports reached 5.3 million t in 2005 and almost 6.9 million t in 2010. The decline in exports to an average 4.7 million t during 2006-08 led the head of the Ministry of Cultivation in 2009 to raise concern about the conversion of agricultural land into commercial land: too much rice land was being converted for housing projects and golf courses. He argued that, if this continued, coupled with fast-increasing population, the country would have difficulty in meeting the demand for rice exports by 2020.
Vietnam has changed from a highly centralized planned economy to a socialist-oriented market economy that uses both directive and suggestive planning. With the country’s commitment to economic liberalization and international integration, it employed structural reforms required to modernize the economy and to create more competitive export-driven industries. Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007, which secured the country’s link to the global market and fortified the domestic economic reform process.
Moreover, Vietnam became an official partner in developing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in 2010. This agreement brings together a significant number of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies under a single free trade agreement.
Present rice policies in Vietnam are a balance between maintaining domestic food security and promoting rice exports. Government intervention is limited in the domestic market and a majority of rice exports in the country are made through state-owned trading enterprises (50% share), particularly by the Vietnam Food Association (VFA). VFA buys rice from farmers to keep the price of rice stable and also to prevent rice importers from haggling for prices too low during the harvest season.
The Mekong River Delta produces most of Vietnam’s rice. The other rice-growing regions are the Red River Delta, northeast, and the north-central coast. The Mekong Delta has three major cropping seasons: spring or early season; autumn or midseason; and winter, long-duration wet-season crop. The largest rice area is cropped during the autumn season followed by a spring crop; only a small area is cropped in winter. Farmers in this region adopt a direct-seeding method of crop establishment to save labor costs.
Soils in the Mekong River Delta are highly variable, but alluvial, acid-sulfate, and saline soils dominate. Alluvial soils predominate in 30% of the Mekong Delta, mostly along the banks of the Tien (Mekong) and Hau (Bassac) rivers. This is the best soil in the delta, wherein 2–3 crops can be grown each year. The Red River Delta, which is densely populated, has very small landholdings and has long been practicing very intensive double-crop rice cultivation.
Rice production constraints
Rice production in Vietnam faces the following constraints:
- Shrinkage in rice area for rice cultivation due to land conversion to commercial lands, which will result in a decrease in total rice production.
- Inadequate credit facilities, which limit farmers’ input use due to insufficient capital.
- Limited access to inputs.
- Inadequate water during summer-autumn seasons.
- Soil degradation brought about by a long-term high cropping intensity, which could deplete soil fertility.
- High inflation rate (about 11%), which increases input costs.
- Small landholdings, which restrict farmers’ ability to produce rice for export.
Rice production opportunities
In spite of these production constraints, there are great opportunities to overcome them. For instance, increased development and deployment of high-yielding varieties can offset the decline in rice area due to urbanization; improved crop management technologies can possibly avert soil degradation.
Sources: FAO’s FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012.