Photo: Mr. Kohei Sakata, General Director of Bayer Vietnam
Mr. Kohei Sakata, General Director of Bayer Vietnam, discusses the company’s experience and support in helping Vietnamese farmers improve rice quality and yields.
■ What are the major challenges facing rice production in Vietnam and how can Bayer help local farmers overcome them?
Vietnamese rice farmers have had to face so many challenges in 2016. When visiting rice fields and farmers in the Mekong Delta, I observed and heard from farmers about the mental and physical loss and damage they have suffered from the prolonged drought, which resulted in higher salinity levels in the region. Statistics-wise, rice production fell 1.1 million tons according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In addition to that, Vietnam’s rice exports are estimated to have fallen to 5.65 million tons in 2016, down 14 per cent against 2015 and 800,000 tons lower than the initial forecast, according to recent media reports.
Reviewing our contributions to Vietnam’s rice industry over several years, I am honored to be a part of Bayer in activities that have supported Vietnamese rice farmers. As a leading innovative company, Bayer has been active in bringing innovative solutions to provide full support to Vietnamese farmers.
In particular, since 2014 Bayer has developed and implemented its four-point action plan as a holistic approach to dealing with farming challenges in Vietnam: (i) leading innovation to address the key challenges for rice farming; (ii) enabling farmers by providing them with tools, technology and training; (iii) raising agricultural productivity in an environmentally-compatible and sustainable manner; and (iv) expanding partnerships across the rice value chain and between the public and private sectors. The plan has made significant progress with its newly developed and innovative solutions for Vietnamese farmers to overcome challenges from climate change and to improve rice quality and yields.
■ What particular solutions has Bayer introduced in Vietnam?
With many years working in the agricultural industry, I always follow every improvement of rice farmers. Since beginning my journey in Vietnam I have been pleased to see that Vietnamese farmers have more opportunities to gain access to advanced farming technologies.
In particular, farmers have the chance to gain access to two new varieties of hybrid rice that are suitable with local conditions: BTE1 and TEJ Vang. Due to heterosis, these hybrid rice strains possess significant advantages over inbred rice. They offer up to 20 per cent higher yields, have greater tolerance towards biotic stresses, and have stronger root systems for more efficient water and nitrogen use. Going forward, Bayer is working on bringing more hybrids with increased tolerance to the Brown Plant Hopper (BPH), submergence and salinity, as well as blast. These rice varieties contribute to better yield security and enhanced productivity, which will, in turn, help to secure the incomes of small-holder farmers in Vietnam. It proves our mission, which is to contribute to the country’s economy, ecology and society.
Together with suitable varieties, Bayer also developed the “Much More Rice” initiative, which was launched in Vietnam in 2010. The thing that makes me proud about this program is that farmers can get access to crop protection products as well as agricultural know-how, including proper training on rice production systems and the safe use of agro solutions. As a result, participating farmers have been able to increase their harvest yields by 19 per cent and their profits by an even more substantial 22 per cent on average. That makes a big difference for farmers with small-holdings, as they simply have more money to live on.
In biosafety, I believe that Bayer has the ability to help farmers overcome the challenges in the industry through innovative and sustainable agricultural solutions, which can be chemically or biologically based, protecting rice plants against these threats during their entire growth cycle as well as in the post-harvest stage. I have noticed that biologics are gaining increasing acceptance from farmers as a fundamental part of crop protection, because they offer unique and effective ways of controlling pests and diseases. Moreover, I also follow the process of Bayer’s researchers, who are working on new biological products based on microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, plant extracts, and beneficial insect supplements as part of our integrated crop solutions in support of sustainable agriculture.
■ How do you view Vietnam’s rice value chain? What have been results of the rice value chain project Bayer began several years ago?
As we all know, the majority of farmers in Vietnam are smallholders and farms are typically family-run, which means most rice production is carried out on a small scale. They lack the storage capacity as well as the negotiation power against middlemen and rice millers.
Moreover, there are many stakeholders involved in the rice production chain, from seed to table, resulting in higher input costs for farmers, while savings after harvesting are very low. Therefore, Bayer actively cooperates with numerous partners both from the public and private sectors to connect these smallholders with rice producing and processing companies, rice distributors, as well as global food processing companies, to help farmers ensure incomes in each season with suitable prices. Together with that, farmers also have the opportunity to gain access to tools, technology and training to increase rice quality and yields.
I am very excited about the rice value chain (RVC) project that Bayer started in 2013. The concept has expanded to more provinces covering a larger area. RVC farmers have seen on an average a decrease of 9 per cent in input costs and an increase of 6 per cent in yields, leading to a nearly 30 per cent increase in profits. I would like to send my regards to Bayer’s partners in the RVC project, who helped transfer best practices to farmers for the production of high quality rice and disseminate success stories further.
■ Scientists have said that one of the main reasons why increasing value in order to build a Vietnamese rice brand has been difficult is weaknesses in pesticide management. Pesticide advertising management is lacking control, which may lead to overuse by farmers. What is Bayer’s view of this situation?
Under rules and regulations, before introducing to the market a new variety, agricultural product, or agricultural technology, producers have to prove that these are only being used after undergoing extensive testing to ensure they perform their intended job without presenting an unreasonable risk to people, wildlife, or the environment. All must be guaranteed by an official license and be governed by many national and international laws and regulations, which have become increasingly tighter over recent years in order to increase safety and reduce potential risks. Plant protection products belong to the most strictly-examined product category, with the requirement of more than ten years of examination by international independent organizations. Hence, all global products are safe for humans and the environment if they are used correctly as per instructions.
At Bayer, a new chemical product requires an average of 10-14 years of development and testing, at a cost of around $266 million, before it can be made commercially available. All inventions that Bayer has introduced to the market have met all requirements and international regulations as well as regulations of the country in which the products are sold, including Vietnam.
Nevertheless, Bayer is strongly committed to promoting and ensuring the responsible use of crop protection products by end-users, by providing tailor-made spray programs for specific crops for different countries and also technical support. Bayer has been a member of CropLife Vietnam for many years. Together with this organization, via our product stewardship program we offer Vietnamese farmers a range of training designed to promote the responsible handling of crop protection solutions. In addition to training activities, Bayer has developed manuals explaining the safe use and scope of protective clothing and the correct storage and disposal of its products.