Rice in Vietnam


Rice is an integral part of life in Vietnam. Vietnam is an agricultural country with eight out of ten Vietnamese living in rural areas and making their living by growing rice. Many Vietnamese people say their country looks like two rice baskets placed at two ends of a pole.

Rice is a staple food for half the world’s population and its cultivation is dated back some 7,000 years ago in Southeast Asia. It is a symbol and also part of ceremonies and offerings. It’s one of the most important food crops in the world and an important part of Asian culture.

There are thousands of rice varieties. Rice is a cereal grain related to oats, rye and wheat. It comes in white, brown, red, black or amber. Its grains can be either short or long, and thick or thin. Rice mainly grows in flooded fields (it needs a constant supply of water) and is called lowland rice. In countries where there is plenty of rainfall, rice may be raised on hills and is called upland rice.

Lowland rice, known as wet rice, is the most common species in Southeast Asia which can be planted in two or three crops a year. Seedlings are raised in nursery beds and transplanted after 25-50 days to flooded fields surrounded by soil-raised border. The paddy stem is submerged in two to six inches of water and the seedlings placed in rows approximately a foot apart.

When the leaves of the rice stalks start to turn yellow the paddies are drained and dried in preparation for the harvest. Vietnamese farmers reap rice by using sickles to cut the stalks. Then they tie the stalks together and dry them.

Threshing separates the grain from the rest of the plant. Sometimes it is done mechanically and sometimes people or animals trample the sheaves. After threshing the rice is ready for milling. If the rice is not completely dry it is often spread out on communal yards or highways to dry in the sun. Rice dryers are widely used in some regions now. Milling removes the husk from the kernel. Sometimes the process also strips off the bran layer which contains most of the nutrients. Brown rice still has its bran coat.

Nothing is wasted in rice processing. It can be turned into everything from paper to pudding. It’s steamed, puffed and flaked. It can be used to make noodles, wine, cosmetics and cooking oil. While the kernels are eaten, the stalks are made into straw and used for making sandals, hats, baskets, ropes, brooms and thatched roofs. The hulls provide fuel and fertilizer.

Despite destruction caused by natural disasters, rice production keeps increasing in Vietnam over the last 14 years, with bumper harvests recorded year-on-year.

Vietnam’s major breakthrough in agriculture came in 1989 when the country had a record output of 18.9 million tons of food in term of paddy while annual production could not exceed 17 million tons in the 1981-1985 period.

The country’s agriculture, especially rice production, saw a strong and fast growth in the 1990-1999 period. From a country facing chronicle food shortage, Vietnam has over the past 11 years become the world’s second largest rice exporter after ensuring adequate supply for domestic consumption. Rural people’s life has constantly improved. The fragrance of Vietnamese rice has actually spread across kitchens of many homes in foreign countries.



Agra Europe; 10/22/2004

Rice exports by Vietnam, the world’s second largest rice exporter, could reach between 3.8-3.9 million tons this year, the Vietnam Food Association (Vietfood) said late last week. This compares to the government’s target of 3.8mt.

“We have been executing export contracts…. we are not restricted by the target,” said Vietfood’s chairman Truong Thanh Phong.

Last month, Vietnam raised its annual export target to 3.8mt from 3.5mt earlier. Last year’s grain shipments totaled 3.82mt. Hanoi sets a rice export target each year to ensure food security. Vietnam has set a preliminary export target of 3.75mt in 2005.

Phong said Vietnamese exporters were holding stocks of 600 000t of rice. Crop harvesting in the Mekong Delta, the country’s largest rice growing area, finished by August before the seasonal floods arrived.

In late July the government banned rice sales for exports after contracts reached the 3.5mt temporary ceiling.

Since the ban was lifted and the shipping target adjusted upwards, traders said exporters have as of the end of last week sealed deals for a combined 200 000t, mostly for Africa, bringing the total contracted volume to 3.7mt.

Strong buying demand

Traders said buying demand for Vietnamese rice continued from Iraq and Iran in the Middle East and several African countries. In Asia, Vietnam’s main export market, South Korea has been seeking between 50 000-100 000t of 15% broken rice from Vietnam, at the more stringent US standards, as food aid to North Korea.

Traders said South Korea was discussing the deal with the trade ministry and the state-run Vietnam Northern Food Corporation based in Hanoi.

Vietnam has exported 3.33mt of rice in the first nine months of 2004, down 0.6% on a year earlier, according to government figures. This figure compares with a shipment of 7.31mt exported by Thailand, the world’s top rice exporter, in the same period.

Fragrant rice in demand too

Meanwhile, Vietnamese rice exporters have so far shipped around 100 000 tons of fragrant rice, of which around 90% is Jasmine rice as at mid-October this year, according to the Vietfood. The country previously targeted to sell around 80 000t of fragrant rice this year, up from 36 000t last year.

Vietnamese fragrant rice is sold at prices higher than the normal price, ranging between US$280-340 per ton and up to US$380-420/t for KDM or ST1 rice, Vietfood said.

However, the country is facing several difficulties in export market expansion as Vietnam’s limited fragrant rice volume is not satisfying foreign demand. The quality of Vietnamese fragrant rice also remains unstable.

Vietnam’s major rice importers such as Malaysia, China and Singapore are demanding large volumes of Vietnamese fragrant rice strains Jasmine 85 and VD20. Vietnam now grows around 115 000 hectares of these varieties.

Phong, Vietfood chairman, said that the association has petitioned the ministry of agriculture and rural development to develop intensive fragrant rice cultivation zones for export, focusing on Jasmine strains.

The Mekong Delta region is cultivating around 400 000ha of sticky rice this year, accounting for 40% of the country’s total fragrant rice areas.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Agra Europe Ltd.