Sunday , April 21 2024

Oversupply fears as Mekong Delta farmers switch en masse to durian

Rice farmers in the Mekong Delta have been switching to durian on thousands of hectares of lands despite warnings the soil is unsuitable and there will be oversupply.

Tran Dang Khoa in Long An Province in the delta is busy preparing to harvest his durian crop he has sold to a trader at VND150,000 ($6.32) per kilogram.

The 32-year-old man borrowed from banks five years ago to plant the fruit trees on a part of his 3.5-hectare rice farm. He invested VND1 billion to plant over 150 durian trees, which are now nearly ready for harvest.

“One hectare can produce 15 tons of fruits, and I can earn an income of over VND1 billion,” he said, pointing out that was 10 times the income he would get by growing rice on his whole farm.

In the neighboring province of Tien Giang, Nguyen Van Dong gets up early every day to fertilize his four-year-old durian trees that will be ready for harvest next year.

He too used to farm rice, but it fetched him VND20 million a year. When jackfruit prices rose, he switched to it, but prices plunged due to oversupply and he suffered losses.

With durian prices rising relentlessly in recent years, he switched to the fruit.

“I have 200 trees and invested VND800 million in the farm, part of it borrowed from banks.”

In the last three years the area under durian in Tien Giang has expanded by 21% to 17,600 ha. Neighboring localities such as Can Tho City and Hau Giang Province have been witnessing a similar trend with thousands of hectares of durian added in recent years.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development planned to have 75,000 ha of durian by 2030, but the figure has already exceeded 80,000 ha and is increasing.

Two hectares of rice are chopped down to be replaced with durian in Long An Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam

Two hectares of rice are chopped down to be replaced with durian in Long An Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam

Nguyen Bao Ve, former head of agriculture studies at Can Tho University, said warned about unsuitable soil and low yields.

Tan Phuoc District in Tien Giang has for instance acid sulphate in the soil, and it would cost farmers a lot of money to make the soil suitable for growing durian, he said.

Tien Giang, Long An and Dong Thap provinces frequently suffer flooding and growing durian there without building dikes could lead to losses, he warned.

Vo Huu Thoai, head of the Southern Horticultural Research Institute, said farmers used to replace rice with jackfruit when the latter’s prices rose and chop them down when prices dropped. The same thing happened with orange and is now happening with durian, he said.

“Of the 80,000 hectares of durian in Vietnam, only 5% are approved for imports by China, and this poses a great risk to farmers.”

In the long run the government needs to impose limits on durian farming to prevent oversupply, he added.

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