Vietnam Needs Independent Farmers’ Associations: Social Commentators

vietnam-mekong-rice-farmers-dec10-2014.jpg Farmers walk along a rice field in the southern Mekong Delta province of Can Tho in Vietnam, Dec. 10, 2014.

Vietnamese farmers must form independent associations to protect their rights and provide advice for selling their products, rather than be overseen by the Communist government-controlled organizations, according to social commentators.

Le Phu Khai, a retired journalist who works in the Mekong Delta — a major rice-production area — said the members of official farmers’ organizations are Communist Party members who do not have the best interests of agricultural laborers at heart.

“They are the extended hand of the Communist Party to help the party rule the country and control society,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service

Khai, who has written a book entitled Mekong Delta: 40 Years On, said Vietnamese farmers need to have their own independent associations to protect their rights, because they have no voice in the production and consumption process. This has created a situation where they do not know how and to whom to sell their products.

Agriculture accounts for 22 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product, 30 percent of exports, and 60 percent of employment, according to the World Bank.

Khai also accused the main Vietnam Farmers’ Association headquartered in Hanoi of taking money away from farmers.

“They only try to get money for the government and leave the farmers poor,” he said. “Its president, Truong Thanh Phong, even threatened not to buy rice from farmers. He said he would buy rice at lower prices for storage and sell it at higher prices. Every farmers’ association is rich, while the farmers are poor.”

The Communist government-controlled organization was formed in 1930 and has branches in every province and city.

Social critic Nguyen Quang also urged Vietnam’s 14 million farmers to form their own union.

“I think the farmers should know that they have the right to form their own union to compete with the Vietnam Farmers’ Association to protect their rights,” he told RFA.

Agriculture growth slows

Although agriculture continues to play an important part in the national economy, the sector’s growth has slowed during the last few years. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has attributed this to an overabundance of small-scale family farms with low productivity and poorer quality products compared to those of other countries.

But Quang said it was unfair to criticize the government for farmers being unable to find outlets for their products because such risks would be minimized if the farmers had their own unions.

Another problem is that farmers often imitate each other and produce in mass quantity of certain products without having supporting information or policy, economist Huynh Bao Son said.

Farmers also do not have long-term goals, so instead they will grow a product in mass quantity if they see that it is selling quickly on the market, he said.

“This calls for a well thought-out strategy on growth,” he said. “Also, the farmers need to have instructions on which kind of products to choose to grow, how to choose seeds, and how to grow products according to international standards.”

Reported by Nam Nguyen and Thanh Truc for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Ninh Pham. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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