Clear and serious impacts of rapid population growth and climate change are causing nations worldwide to think increasingly about sustainable agriculture. The question of how the world can produce enough food in 2050 using only currently available arable land was discussed by agricultural experts and students at a seminar this month at Ho Chi Minh City Students’ Cultural Palace, co-organized by the Ho Chi Minh City Student Assistance Centre (SAC) and Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD).
The event included 300 students and representatives from news media. Also attending were Quach Hai Dat, Director, SAC; Le Huy Lam, Member of the Board of Management of VBCSD; Ly Van Son, Deputy Managing Director of Ecofarm; Juan Ferreira, Vice President of Monsanto; Juan Farinati, Vice President of Monsanto Asia-Pacific; Nguyen Dinh Manh Chien, CEO of Monsanto Vietnam; Christopher Samuel, Director of Corporate Engagement of Monsanto Asia-Pacific;and Chinh Hong Nguyen, Director of Corporate Engagement of Monsanto Vietnam.
By 2050, there will be an additional two billion people, increasing the global population to nine billion and leading to the increased demand for food, said Juan Ferreira, vice president of Monsanto, when talking about the importance of sustainable agriculture. “The world’s farmers face the huge challenge of producing in 50 years the same amount of food humans grew in the previous 10,000 years combined, and the land available is insufficient unless forests are destroyed.”
Food insecurity is a problem even in the US, whose farmers are among the most productive in the world, he said. Thus, the only option is to grow more food on the same amount of land they have, or sustainable agriculture, which enables farmers to produce more yet conserve resources.
“With technologies, agriculture is much different to what it was hundreds of years ago. Technology helps agriculture develop sustainably by using the same or less water and nitrogen and get more yields,” Ferreira said. “Vietnam will be a main market for the company in the upcoming years and there will be more investment in the country in the future. In Vietnam, we see very large potential.”
Monsanto is collaborating with farmers to invest in agriculture in Vietnam and plant corn and other crops on less productive rice fields. As a part of government policies, a program involving Monsanto called “Rice-to-Corn Rotation” uses better seeds, farming practices and market linkages to help 8,000 farmers in the Mekong Delta triple the income they earned from rice. The company is also promoting its Products – Practices – Partnerships model. The model, also adopted by Ecofarm and other firms, involves four stakeholders – the state, enterprises, scientists and farmers – and aims to improve farmers’ productivity and income.
Most of the participants at the seminar agreed that Vietnam has great potential in agriculture. The sector, which contributes more than 20 per cent of the country’s GDP and employs 50 per cent of the work force, will continue to spearhead the nation’s economic growth.
“There is very good vision from the government on sustainable agriculture, engaging many stakeholders to help develop Vietnam’s agriculture,” Ferreira said. “The government’s commitment to developing agriculture plays a very important part.”
Asked if Vietnam can become an agricultural power, he agreed and said the country has a combination of good soil, good governance, policies, and appetite for investment, which allows the entry of latest technologies. “This can help Vietnam become a powerful country in agriculture.”
Vietnam imports $2 billion worth of corn every year, but he said through the use of technology, knowledge and partnership, the country would be able to produce that amount of corn in the future.
To become an agricultural power, Vietnam’s agricultural sector needs talented, goal-driven and passionate youth. Engaging and equipping young people with the right mindset and skills are an important part of Vietnam’s efforts to develop agriculture.
At the seminar, 300 students in agriculture and sustainability learned about the challenges facing agriculture – growing population, increasing demand for food and depleting natural resources. They learned about the important role young people can play in developing sustainable agriculture, and gained insight into how non-agricultural students could have a significant role in agribusiness and compete in the global economy, particularly in food and agriculture.
Tran Ngoc Quynh, a third-year student who studies biotechnology at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Natural Sciences, said he had had no idea about sustainable agriculture at high school and had thought farming was a hard job. Lectures in university totally changed his concept of agriculture. Though a student of biotechnology, after graduation he plans to set up his own small farm where he can apply advanced technologies.