Science and technology: a driving force in sustainable agricultural development

(The roundtable discussion was published on VnEconomy Newspaper on 22 December 2021)

Drastic changes in the agro-forestry-fisheries sector have been seen in recent years because of scientific research, technical advances, and modern agricultural production and processing technologies. With cooperation and support from agricultural research institutes worldwide, a number of research products have been applied in Vietnam, resulting in increased incomes for farmers and sustainable agricultural development. VnEconomy sought the opinions of international partners cooperating in agricultural scientific research in Vietnam about the achievements and challenges as well as the prospects in the future.

Receiving gene funds and advanced breeding technology

Associate Professor Dr. Dao The Anh, vice president, Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS)

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CGIAR is a partnership between many organizations, some of which have had collaborative partnerships with the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS) for a long period of time. For example, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has cooperated with VAAS since the 1970s. The IRRI has a very large rice genetic resource and has become a key partner for exchanging genetic resources. Vietnam has also provided more than 3,900 varieties of rice to IRRI’s international rice gene bank. The institute has also provided over 2,700 rice genetic samples for VAAS member institutes to use as research and breeding materials. In addition, about 100 rice lines of IRRI have been recognized as certified varieties in Vietnam.

The IRRI has cooperated with the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute to create many drought- and salt-tolerant rice varieties as well as solutions to mitigate the negative impact of drought and salinity on production. International studies and assessments on the impact of climate change in the Mekong Delta have forecast severe damage in rice production. In fact, with cropping calendar adjustments, short-term varieties, and other solutions, the damage has been minimized, with rice yields and production in the Mekong Delta much higher than expected. This is testament to the results of agricultural scientific research cooperation between VAAS and CGIAR.

The IRRI also provides technical assistance to support the transformation of the rice sector towards sustainability with user-friendly tools to calculate greenhouse gas emissions from rice production. One typical scientific product from this cooperation that has demonstrated excellent applicability is the methodology of developing climate-smart maps supporting the adaptation of agricultural production to climate change in the Mekong Delta. This enabled customized farming packages for different crops and the calculation of carbon footprints for the entire price chain value, from production to processing, including losses.

CGIAR also helps equip agricultural scientific research institutes in Vietnam with research skills and rice breeding techniques, as well as greenhouse gas emission measurements, the setting up of remote sensing maps, and other knowledge and skills. The breeding biotechnologies transferred by CGIAR centers and partners have supported the selection and crossbreeding of new varieties with a shorter time.

Strengthening food safety and developing the livestock value chain

Dr. Fred Unger, regional representative, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in East and Southeast Asia

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In Vietnam, over the past five years, our livestock research has directly approached 5,000 actors in the small and medium-sized value chain and indirectly approached 100,000 people from different groups of farmers, grassroots butchers, retailers, local government, and the community.

In the animal health component, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners studied two important diseases in pigs, African swine fever (ASF), and blue ear disease. ASF has led to a serious decline in pig values, reducing Vietnam’s total pig herd by 20 per cent by 2020. In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the ILRI studied risk factors and transmission routes of ASF, and developed scenarios for more effective disease control.

Another activity is the Li-chan project, which means “beauty” in the Thai dialect. This project is being jointly implemented by many CGIAR centers in different countries. In Vietnam, the project has helped transform livelihoods, the environment, and equity and market access to empower upland farming communities through integrated interventions in northwest Vietnam.

The ILRI in Vietnam has also actively participated in the Vietnam One Health Partnership for Zoonotic Diseases, led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The institute’s food safety studies focus on animal-sourced foods, mainly pork, which contribute up to 60 per cent of consumed animal-sourced foods. The ILRI food safety study, funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and BMZ, was carried out in Hanoi and Hung Yen, Hoa Binh, Thai Nguyen, and Nghe An provinces. While previous studies have often focused on the presence of hazards (for e.g., salmonella), our studies for the first time estimated the disease burden of foodborne illnesses (salmonella in pork) as well as associated hospital costs at about $200 million per year. Based on research findings, the ILRI and partners have developed and tested successful low-cost interventions at slaughter and retail. Interventions include the provision of small equipment, capacity building training, and incentives. These activities will complement and support existing food safety, veterinary, and livestock laws in Vietnam in order to better implement and help stakeholders in the livestock value chain with compliance. We also conduct research on zoonotic diseases such as rabies, cysticercosis, and trichinellosis, mosquito-borne diseases, and antibiotic resistance in livestock.

Development of forage for dairy and beef cattle

Dr. Sabine Douxchamps, country representative, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT in Vietnam

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For nearly 30 years, CIAT has conducted adaptation studies to provide solutions for small-scale farmers in Southeast Asia. Dairy and beef cattle production in Vietnam has a lot of room for development because supply is still too low compared to demand. However, the main obstacle for cattle raising in Vietnam is the lack of forage. In recent years, forage varieties have been produced and introduced by CIAT’s plant breeding programs, which adapt well to nutrient-poor soils in prolonged drought, provide nutrients, and produce high yields. The forage has proven to be widely replicated by farmers. Government extension programs have also included these forages in their plans for further research and the dissemination of the results at the national level. This means that compared to natural pastures, these forages will help farmers improve livestock both in quantity and quality and maintain stable year-round feed for buffalos, cattle, goats, and sheep. These forages also contribute to the development of agro-ecology through the improvement of soil characteristics and soil conservation, improve soil nutrient recycling, adapt to climate change, contribute to strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve biodiversity.

Strengthening partnerships

Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh An, country manager, Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in Vietnam

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The Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has sustained research collaboration with Vietnam for the past 28 years. We have invested A$126 million ($89.8 million) through more than 200 projects. In 2021-2022, we have A$4.6 million ($3.28 million) budgeted for 26 projects and small research activities. But I want to highlight and emphasize that ACIAR and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have developed the strategy for research collaboration between Vietnam and Australia from 2017 to 2027 based on the mutual acknowledgment that the relationship between Australia and Vietnam has evolved from donor-recipient to partnership, co-investment, and, possibly, through this period, to trilateral collaboration. The strategy confirms the desires of both sides to co-fund 75 per cent of projects during the ten years and to join with the private sector wherever possible to create opportunities for poorer residents in rural and urban areas through inclusive agribusiness systems.

In Vietnam, over the last five years (from 2016 to 2021), the ACIAR has invested in 14 research projects led by individual centers in the CGIAR network, with total investment being A$18 million ($12.8 million). We calculate that over the past five decades, on average, each dollar invested in CGIAR has generated ten times more in valuable benefits to farmers globally. Many CGIAR research centers are long-term and effective partners of ACIAR in Vietnam.

 Sustainable poverty alleviation

Dr. Pawin Padungtod, senior technical coordinator, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Vietnam

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been focusing on four key areas of work in Vietnam, contributing to poverty reduction:

1- Increased food security, with a focus on the alleviation of hunger, malnutrition, and food safety concerns.

2- Sustainable development of the agriculture sector (including agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fisheries), contributing to the national Green Growth and other strategies on improved natural resources management and environment protection.

3- New rural development and sustainable poverty reduction.

4- Enhanced resilience of communities to disaster and threats.

Moving forward, the UN system in Vietnam has set a goal that, by 2026, people in Vietnam, especially those at risk of being left behind, will have moved further away from poverty in all its dimensions and will be empowered to reach their full potential.

As part of the UN system, the FAO will support the government to enable One Health implementation for the improved control and prevention of zoonoses, pesticides, AMR, food safety and pandemic risk, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, disaster risk reduction and resilience building and the sustainable management of natural resources, and the transformation of food systems toward safe, heathy and sustainable production and consumption, which enhances affordability and equal access for all.

 Promoting sustainable production practices

Dr. Hardwick Tchale, senior agricultural specialist, World Bank in Vietnam

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The World Bank has worked with many CGIAR institutions. I would like to highlight two of these: the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). With the IRRI, we have worked together in promoting sustainable rice production practices in the Mekong Delta, through the Vietnam Sustainable Agricultural Transformation Project (VNSAT). The IRRI has been providing technical assistance to help farmers adopt sustainable rice production technologies. With the ILRI, we have gained a lot of technical insights into livestock management as well as food safety. Its technical guidance helped us in the design of the Livestock Competitiveness and Food Safety Project, which was implemented from 2009 to 2019.

The clear strength of the CGIAR centers is their technical depth on development issues through their thorough and quality research programs. In Vietnam, the technical designs for two Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development projects funded by the World Bank partly benefited from the technical insights and guidance from the ILRI and IRRI.

These institutions, through their research studies and publications, have over the years provided analytical evidence for some policy reforms promoting rice production practices and sustainable livestock management.