Viet nam's Crop Diversity Threatened by Commercial Agriculture

13 May 2002

Ha Noi - The biological diversity of Vietnamese crops is threatened by modern commercial agriculture, with its high-yielding varieties and high-performance breeds, according to the Institute of Agricultural Genetics (IAG).

But help is being provided. Six important crops, including rice, taro, litchi-longan, rice bean, citrus and tea, will be protected in eight "gene management zones", established under a nearly USD 4 million project. This project, which will cover the northern mountains, the northern midlands, and the north-west mountains of Viet Nam, was signed today by the IAG and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the financial support from the Global Environment Facility.

Viet Nam, with 30% of its areas covered by forest, woodlands and 21% arable land and its permanent crop plants, is recognized as one of the 10 centres of highest biodiversity in the world. However, this genetic richness is being loss because of low market demand for traditional varieties.

"Agricultural biodiversity is the basis for national food security", said UNDP Resident Representative, Jordan Ryan. "Loss of native plant varieties undermines the nation's food security, and puts at risk people living in marginal areas". The rural poor depend upon biological resources for an estimated 90 percent of their needs including building materials, fuels, clothing, medicines and means of transport, according to work carried out by the United Nations.

"To stop this loss, the project -"In situ Conservation of Native Landraces and their Wild Relatives in Viet Nam" - will work with authorities and communities to develop new or increased markets for traditional varieties", explained Ryan. For example, current programs for credit to farmers as part of the national rural development strategy could be modified to introduce added incentives for growing native varieties in those areas particularly suited to their cultivation.

The crop system of the Viet Nam consists not only of domesticated native crops and their wild relatives, but also the indigenous knowledge systems that sustain them. This integrated system has generated genetic resources which secure farmers' survival in the face of difficult climatic conditions and marginal soils. However, modern research and development and centralized plant breeding have ignored and, in some cases, undermined the capacities of local farming communities to modify and improve plant varieties.

A growing population, with its demand for increased food production and availability, has resulted in an increased emphasis on subsidizing cultivation in fertile, well-irrigated land areas, thus pushing local varieties to marginal fields on steep slopes with poorer soils leading to genetic erosion. National laws and policies, in some cases driven by international commitments, often promote one-sided modern commercial farming systems. Mass migration further causes the loss of genetic resources and associated knowledge.

Activities of the new project will include identifying and documenting traditional practices of agrobiodiversity conservation. This information will be shared among project sites and farmers, and over the longer term, incorporated into Ministry of Agriculture training programmes and university curricula.

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