Last update 4/18/2011 8:00:00 AM (GMT+7)

Salt producers abandon fields as prices and productivity fall

VietNamNet Bridge - Salt farmers nationwide have been caught in such a difficult situation that many have left their fields idle even as peak production season looms, local reports say.

They say that this season has been characterised by low productivity, low prices and large stockpiles of low quality salt that is difficult to consume.

The country produced 136,706 tonnes of salt in the first three months of the year, just 47 per cent of the output of the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).

It estimates that farmers and salt companies now have 202,844 tonnes in stock. Of this, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta accounts for the largest quantity with 155,083 tonnes, followed by the central region with 26,017 tonnes and the northern region with 21,744 tonnes.

Farmers in Bac Lieu Province, which has the largest area of salt fields in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, lost about 50,000 tonnes of salt ready for harvest early this months due to unusual rains, according to the province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

At the end of last month, unexpected rain had also destroyed 3,500 tonnes of salt in the province's Dong Hai and Hoa Binh districts.

But the province's farmers are still stuck with 80,000 tones of salt produced last year and 15,000 tonnes produced this year, according to local officials.

Provincial authorities have tried out several measures to increase consumption and help farmers, but the quantity in stock is large and most of it is of low quality (locally called black salt) and difficult to consume.

Bac Lieu has 3,333ha of salt, up nearly 200ha against last year.

Ba Ria – Vung Tau has about 1,200ha of salt and the southern province's output in this year's production season was around 70 tonnes per hectare, down 10 per cent compared to last year, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In the central province of Binh Dinh, many farmers have not begun salt production this year even though it is the peak season.

Farmer Le Ngoc Hai in the province's Phuoc Thuan Commune in Tuy Phuoc District said: "Every year, salt production enters its peak season at this time. But this year, because of the low price of salt at the beginning of the production season and prolonged cold weather that lasted until early April, farmers were not eager to begin a new production season."

The price of salt purchased by traders at fields at the beginning of this year's production season dropped to VND700-800 per kilo compared to VND1,400-1,600 per kilo in previous years, Hai said, adding that farmers could not earn any profit at such rates.

"Many farmers in our commune have abandoned their salt fields or offered to lease their salt fields for cheap, but they are still not able to find a tenant," he said.

Representatives of the Central Salt and Trade Joint Stock Company's Binh Dinh Branch attributed the falling prices to the large amount of salt left in stock from previous years as well as the low quality of salt produced.

In addition, a large amount of salt from the southern region, which was of better quality, has been transported to the province, causing a further dip in prices, they said.

Binh Dinh has 220ha of salt that are a source of livelihood for 2,000 households, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In response to the situation, the agriculture ministry is drafting a decree on salt production and trade under which salt farmers will be provided with 100 per cent of the capital they need to renovate production, according to a report by the Thoi Bao Kinh Te Viet Nam (Vietnam Economic Times).

The decree will also have regulations on controlling the import and export of salt, giving priority to consumption of homemade salt, the paper cited the ministry as saying.

Source: VNS