Mekong Delta needs to upgrade post-harvest technology

Despite being the largest rice producing region in the country, the Mekong Delta’s post-harvest technology is substandard. This not only causes huge losses to local farmers but also has an adverse effect on the quality of Vietnamese rice.

Farmers face loss of thousands of dong every year

In many Mekong Delta provinces, rice transportation is heavily reliant on cattle and manpower (Photo: SGGP)

According to the Mekong Delta Rice Institute, the loss rate of rice after harvesting in the delta is up to between 12 -15 percent a year, while the figures given by experts from the International Rice Research Institute are between 15 -20 percent.

Such a rate of damage indicates that the delta loses from 2.4 to 3.15 tons of rice a year, worth about VND9.1 trillion, taking into account the price of rice currently stands at VND3,800 - 4,000 a kilo.

Every year, local farmers are estimated to suffer a loss of ten to 30 percent in their total income as a result.

Dr. Le Van Banh, director of the Mekong Delta Rice Institute said, “The loss of rice after harvests not only reduces local farmers’ output but also adversely affects the quality and value of Vietnamese rice.”

He emphasized that much rice is lost in different phases of the harvesting process, from drying to preservation, husking and transportation.

In just the reaping phase, he said, the loss rate of rice reaches between three to five percent because the reaping is mostly done by hand. The loss rate in the drying phase is even more serious, especially in recent summer-fall crops due to the affect of heavy floods.

The main culprit of the loss: Substandard post-harvest technology

The Mekong Delta currently has 3,000 combine harvesters and 3,600 paddy reapers responsible for harvesting nearly 30 percent of the total rice growing area in the region. The remaining is done by hand.

A local farmer said, “The introduction of combine harvesters into the harvesting process faces difficulties because not many fields in the region are large enough for such machines to operate. Besides, an imported combine-harvester costs between VND150 -200 billion, too costly for us to own one.”

He added that locally-made harvesters are cheaper, but their quality is not good and it is very hard to find replacement parts.

As to the drying process, the region now has 6,500 drying machines with a capacity from four to eight tons a batch, among them, only a few can dry between 20 -30 tons a batch. The whole system meets just 30 to 35 percent of demand.

The loss rate of rice, therefore, increases significantly in the summer and fall season, when floods submerge paddy fields in the region.

Due to the shortage of rice dryers, the wet rice will be colored and eventually sprout, resulting in a sharp fall in selling price.

The farmer said, “Not many businesses think about investing in building rice dryers. Though requiring high investment costs, dryers can be used for summer-fall crops. It is very hard for investors to get back their investment.”

However, the weakest point of the post-harvest technologies in the Mekong Delta is the shortage of storehouses. The total rice output of six provinces in the region is some 21 million tons a year, but the entire system of storehouses in the region can store less than one ton.

Farmers in the Mekong Delta dry rice on the highway due to a shortage of rice dryers (Photo: SGGP)

Most of farmers have no choice but to keep the produce in their own houses. The farmer said, “If the weather is favorable, the quality of rice can remain in good condition in three months or so. But if the weather is no longer favorable; wind, rains and floods deteriorate the quality of rice rapidly, and if we can’t sell our produce in one or two months, their quality drops and prices go down, too.”

Mass production, the solution for renovating post-harvest technologies

Scientists and agricultural experts said that to renovate the post-harvest technologies, the Mekong Delta should follow the model of mass production, which has been conducted in a number of countries in the regions, as well as many other countries.

Dr. Banh said, “If the harvest is conducted by combine harvesters, the loss rate in the reaping phase will drop down to two percent. To do so, the delta needs some 10,000 machines while farmers should join together to form cooperative teams taking care of large-scale areas specializing in growing a certain kind of rice.”

The local government at the same time should have policies to encourage investors to invest in building a modern system of rice dryers and storehouses. The storehouse system can store at least three to five million tons of rice a year, added Dr Banh.

Municipal authorities should also have policies to encourage local businesses to manufacture good quality agricultural machines ,equipment and their replacement parts to meet demand. At present, not many businesses are interested in making investments in the field because of high investment costs and the difficulty in getting a return for their investment, said Dr. Banh.  

By Binh Dai – Translated by Phuong Lan

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