Promoting the Role of Science and Technology in Vietnam’s Agriculture and Rural Development

Promoting the Role of Science and Technology in Vietnam’s Agriculture and Rural Development

Published: 2021.05.31
Accepted: 2021.05.28
19
Vice President
Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences (VAAS).
Researcher
Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS)

ABSTRACT

Over the past 30 years, agriculture has had a high and relatively stable growth, reaching an average of 3.5% per year. However, at the current stage, the basic resources (labor, land, fertilizer) for agricultural growth in the previous periods have almost reached their limit. Total Factor Productivity (TFP) of Vietnam’s agriculture sector has increased rapidly over the past two decades, but its growth rate has gradually decreased. Growth in agricultural research spending during 2011-2018 was considerably slower. At just 0.20% in 2017, the country’s agricultural research intensity ratio (spending as a share of AgGDP) is very low, and well below the average for ASEAN as a whole about 0.33%. To achieve the goal of becoming a prosperous society, belonging to the group of countries with high average income, becoming a developed, socialist-oriented country by 2045, Vietnam needs a strong development strategy of S&T and innovation in Agriculture and Rural Development. Research intensity ratio of 0.84% of AgGDP is thought to be attainable for Vietnam, which means the country should be able to quadruple its agricultural research investments. Besides this, in order to attract more private investments for increasing innovation, Vietnam should reform in innovation system and promote the market mechanism for technology transfers. The comprehensive innovation priorities were proposed to promote the role of S&T in Vietnam’s agriculture and rural development for the next decade.

Keywords: Agricultural Science & Technology, investment, rural development, Vietnam

INTRODUCTION

After about 30 years of reform, Vietnam’s  agriculture is not only meeting the supply of food and raw materials for national industry-service development but also increasing its participation in export markets (World Bank, 2015). Recently, Vietnam's agriculture continues to develop quite comprehensively and is moving towards large commodity production, with increasing productivity and quality, firmly ensuring national food security and gradually ensuring nutrition security, making an important contribution to sustainable poverty reduction. Many of Vietnam's agricultural products are highly recognized in the international market, with 10 groups of items with export turnover from US$ 1 billion or more (of which 5 items are fruits, cashew nuts, coffee, shrimp and wooden products with export turnover of over US$ 3 billion). Vietnamese agricultural products are present in over 196 countries and territories, including major markets such as the US, Japan, and the EU. Vietnam's agricultural export ranks 2nd in Southeast Asia and 15th in the world. Having achieved results of agricultural growth, it is important to mention the very important contribution of Science and Technology (S&T) in the field of agriculture and rural development.

THE TREND OF TFP AND AGRICULTURAL R&D INVESTMENTS

Agriculture is a strategic basis for sustainable socio-economic development, political stability, security and defense maintenance, preservation and promotion of national cultural identity and protection of the ecological environment. Since the implementation of the Innovation policy in 1986, Vietnamese agriculture has gradually asserted itself in the global market of agricultural products with an impressive agricultural export growth and consistently shown a trade surplus while receiving little support from the government. Over the past 30 years, agriculture has had a high and relatively stable growth, reaching an average of 3.5% per year. However, at the current stage, the basic resources (labor, land, fertilizer) for agricultural growth in the previous periods have almost reached their limit. Total Factor Productivity (TFP) of Vietnam’s agriculture sector has increased rapidly over the past two decades, but its growth rate has gradually decreased.

In general, the breakthrough developments in digital technology and the achievements of  S&T have contributed to the reduction of costs, efficiency, and flexibility in agricultural production. S&T is, at present, an important factor contributing to the sustainability of agriculture. Vietnam’s agricultural sector cannot stand outside the innovative development, either to take advantage of new technology to break through or be left behind. In the case of Vietnam, a country whose agriculture depends largely on natural resources and weather, S&T plays a key role in creating the momentum leaps for Vietnam’s agricultural growth, reducing the influence of uncontrolled environmental factors.

This study aims to assess the current situation of the application of S&T in agriculture, the contribution of S&T to agricultural development, and propose solutions to promote the application of S&T in Vietnam’s agriculture. In this study, we have explored the current status of policies supporting research, transfer, and application of S&T in Vietnam; its contribution to agriculture and development goals; and the status of agricultural research in Vietnam. Our findings revealed that the contribution of S&T is especially important in crop sub-sector, including improved farming techniques, production organization and management, helping the productivity of some major agricultural products reach a high level. However, and despite policy and investment efforts by Vietnam to advance S&T in agriculture, our findings on the performance of agriculture show that TFP growth is relatively low compared to TFP growth observed in other Asian countries at similar levels of development and even dropping to a historical low of 1% in recent years. This growth in TFP together with very low growth in input, resulted in low output growth for a fast-growing economy like Vietnam. If this numbers reflect the performance of agriculture in Vietnam, they raise alerts about the future growth of the sector (IPSARD, 2020).

Development of agricultural research in Vietnam is still modest compared to other countries in the region. A proper policy to encourage and facilitate the investment in R&D and a commitment from the government to provide new sources to fund public agricultural research can make a big impact on S&T development in Vietnam in general and in the agriculture sector. An increase of public R&D investment should require a definition of priorities, investing strategically in selected areas while increasing the efficiency of the public agricultural research system. As the problem here is the limited funding for R&D - the Government may consider new sources of funding like a small tax on agricultural exports to fund public investments, as applied in some exporting countries. As of now, slow growth of R&D investments in the past has resulted in slow output and TFP growth in recent years, especially between 2011 and 2018. The government increased its investments in agriculture by nearly 50%. Growth in agricultural research spending during this timeframe was considerably slower. At just 0.20 % in 2017, the country’s agricultural research intensity ratio (that is, spending as a share of AgGDP) is very low, and well below the average for ASEAN as a whole about 0.33% (ASTI, 2020). In the 2005-2015 period, the annual public expenditure for agricultural R&D represent about 2.3% of the total investment capital for the whole agriculture and rural development sector and  equivalent to 13% of the total budget for scientific research of the whole country (Dao The Anh et al., 2019). Despite a considerable increase in agricultural research spending in recent years, Vietnam is still grossly underinvesting. Most of Vietnam’s public agricultural expenditures are allocated to the development of large irrigation schemes for land dedicated to cultivating rice. Further cuts in R&D state spending are expected (ASTI, 2020).

In this context, the government of Vietnam should reallocate expenditure paying more attention to research and development activities while using public procurement tools to encourage research and development activities in the private sector. Since 2005, Vietnam has embarked on a gradual process of giving more financial and managerial autonomy to research institutions, which has demanded that an increasing share of budgets be self-funded through the sale of goods and services. During 2013–2017, 47 percent of the funding for Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS) member institutions was derived from government sources, 36 % was generated internally, and 8 % was contributed by donors (ASTI, 2020).

SOME MAIN AGRICULTURAL R&D SUBJECTS HAD POSITIVE IMPACT IN THE LAST DECADE

Science and technology play a crucial role in Vietnam’s agriculture and rural development. The long-term policy on agricultural research investment over the green revolution period had successful results in Vietnam. The productivity of some crops such as rice and coffee ranked at the top of Asian countries. In particular, the state research investments through the Ministry of Science and Technology for the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences have significantly contributed to the achievement of agricultural growth over the past 10 years. Some main agricultural R&D subjects had positive results in the last decade:

R&D contribution of Plant breeding selection

From 2008-2018, more than 400 varieties were recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as new varieties and varieties for trial production, of which more than 200 varieties were officially recognized and nearly 200 cultivars of all kinds have been recognized for trial production. New agricultural cultivars have had higher yields compared to control varieties which are popular outside of production or possessing valuable properties such as high quality, resistance to pests and diseases, or adaptability to weather conditions.

R&D on technical processes to help reduce input costs, or to improve the quality and value of agricultural products

In the past 10 years, we have researched and transferred into production hundreds of technical processes for cultivation and husbandry; Many technological processes in the forestry sector, such as intensive plantation, forest care and protection, have been studied and applied effectively in production. Up to now, the application of good agricultural practices (VietGAP) is increasingly expanding and have been proven effective, resulting in the production of safe and high-quality products to serve the needs of the market. In addition, the expansion of the application of S&T advances in production along with the results of research, evaluation, drawing experiences, and guiding the implementation of large field models has had the impact of accelerating the process of accumulation and gathering land for agricultural production, developing large fields, linking agricultural production and consumption in the value chain.

R&D on post-harvest creating added value for agricultural products

The new value of some agricultural products such as vegetables, fruits, fresh flowers is created through preservation technology for fresh consumption. Recently transferred technical advances are in production technology and equipment for inoculants used for preserving fresh fruits and vegetables; processing technology of retaining probiotics in the pre-harvest and post-harvest stages to prolong the time on the tree and the storage time for some fruits; samples of cold storage stored at different scales to preserve fresh vegetables, roots, fruits, flowers are also standardized for application in practice. These results have contributed to bringing the export turnover of vegetables and fruits from more than US$800 million in 2013 to US$3.52 billion in 2018, exceeding the export turnover of tea, pepper, and rice and has become one of Vietnam’s main export products. The added value of many agricultural products is raised through processing. Among the technical advances, the postharvest technology recently transferred into production has the technology of synchronous processing of high-quality plant seeds; small to large scale agricultural grain dryers; fruit and vegetable dryer with the cost only 50-60% of that of imported ones, which saves drying costs by using available and inexpensive materials; heat pump drying technology and equipment; technology and equipment to preserve agricultural seeds, etc.

R&D on environmental protection in agricultural production and rural area

Most of the research projects and technical advances, when applied in practice, have accompanying results of the impact asssesment on the environment and ecosystems before extension. In addition, there are many scientific and technological projects with objectives specializing in the environment, agricultural and rural ecosystems such as: biogas production program which contributes to waste treatment in livestock production (up to 10% of households use biogas to serve the needs of life, and at the same time contribute to reducing environmental pollution); Research projects to promulgate legal documents, environmental standards, and produce safe products according to VietGAP.

THE PRIORITIES R&D SUBJECTS FOR AGRICULTURAL AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE NEXT DECADE

Vietnam attained national food security and became an important exporter of agricultural products. But recently, during the agricultural restructuring policy, the state funding for agricultural research and extension declined. This under-investment by the state required increased private investments in agricultural research and development.

To achieve the goal of becoming a prosperous society, belonging to the group of countries with high average income, becoming a developed, socialist-oriented country by 2045, Vietnam needs a strong development strategy of S&T and innovation as a basis to improve productivity, output quality, efficiency, and competitiveness of the economy, promoting research and development, innovative startups, and technological development, especially in potential new industries and fields. It should also improve coordination in the development of S&T between the government and society, and between internal and external resources.

Despite a considerable increase in agricultural research spending in recent years, Vietnam is still grossly underinvesting. At just 0.20 percent in 2017, the country’s agricultural research intensity ratio (that is, spending as a share of AgGDP) is very low, and well below the average for ASEAN as a whole about 0.33% (ASTI, 2020). An agricultural research intensity ratio of 0.84% of AgGDP is thought to be attainable for Vietnam, which means the country should be able to quadruple its agricultural research investments (ASTI, 2020).

In order to attract more investments for increasing innovation in growing agricultural sector, Vietnam should reform its innovation system and promote the market mechanism for technology transfers. The R&D priorities for the next decade, focusing more on applying S&T innovations to improve the quality of building a new rural area are as follows:

  1. Research and propose solutions to the application of scientific and technical advances to plant varieties suitable to regions and localities in order to improve the use and service of providing quality varieties and seeds to producers;
  2. Research, propose and apply solutions for application of plant varieties, conservation of plant genetic resources through improvement of mixed gardens, construction of nursery, focusing on key crops, ability to cope with climate change in affected regions, with a focus on national, regional and local crops;
  3. Study technical production processes in the direction of ecological agriculture, organic agriculture, and safe agriculture;
  4. Research and apply post-harvest technology, preservation and processing technology, digital technology to increase the value of agricultural products, ensure food safety in agrifood value chain, suitable for small and medium scale of family farming, collaborative groups and cooperatives;
  5. Research and apply synchronous solutions to develop production in association with environmental protection and develop high-end domestic and foreign markets, markets that customers are willing to pay for biological products and organic products;
  6. Research and implement master projects on development of key products, typical of regions, provinces and localities in association with agricultural restructuring, response to climate change, environmental protection, and sustainable agricultural and rural economic development;
  7. Research and propose overall solutions to policies and solutions to science and technology to ensure the rural and agricultural environment at the national, regional and local levels of the province, in accordance with the small production conditions and the education level of the majority of people in rural areas;
  8. Research on model of exploitation of specialty, traditional and indigenous products with comparative advantages of regions and regions associated with the protection of community trademarks (Geographical Indications, Certification marks, Collective marks) and OCOP products according to the value chain;
  9. Research to build models of rural tourism, ecotourism, associated with promoting the consumption of OCOP products, traditional products, and protected community trademarks products; and
  10. Research on specific support mechanisms and policies in the construction of a new countryside: a new rural peri-urban area associated with urbanization; a new rural area associated with agricultural tourism, ecotourism; a new rural area associated with agro-ecological production area; new rural area in border areas, coastal areas and islands, ethnic minority areas, new rural adaptation and response to climate change.

So finally, in the next decade, the role of S&T for ceating innovation will be the key point to be promoted in Vietnam’s Agriculture and Rural development in order to archieve sustainability.

REFERENCES

Dao The Anh et al, 2019. Overview of the impact of scientific research on agriculture and rural development in Vietnam. FFTC policy platform.

IFPRI & APAARI, 2020. Agricultural Science and Technology Index (ASTI).

IPSARD, 2020. Technical Innovation as a Key to a Breakthrough in Agricultural Development.

MARD, 2019. Annual Report of activities in 2019.

S&T program for new rural development, 2019. Sciences and Technology with new rural development period 2011-2017.

WB, 2015. Agricultural Research in Vietnam Recent Trends and Emerging Challenges.

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