Saigon Investment interviewed Mr. Lam Ngoc Tuan, Director of Tuan Ngoc Agricultural Co-operative, who grows hydroponic vegetables using high-tech agricultural methods in district 9 in Ho Chi Minh City. Mr. Tuan shared his many views and experiences while developing clean vegetables for the domestic market.
JOURNALIST: - Sir, please could you share the advantages and disadvantages of growing hydroponic vegetables using high-tech agricultural methods in Ho Chi Minh City?
Mr. LAM NGOC TUAN: - With such a large population in Ho Chi Minh City, the demand for agricultural produce is huge. In recent years, consumers are becoming more and more interested in clean agricultural produce, so there are more opportunities for companies like Tuan Ngoc. When we participate in the Green and Safe Food Fair organized by the Business Studies and Assistance Center (BSA), about 100kg of vegetables is consumed per day, or when bringing our produce to supermarkets such as Saigon Coopmart and Bach Hoa Xanh, Tuan Ngoc's output is not enough to meet the demand, so we are planning to expand the area for hydroponic vegetables. Tuan Ngoc hopes to expand by another 10,000 square meters by next year, to our current area of 14,000 square meters.
Currently, the Government as well as the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City has many policies that support high-tech agriculture, but there are also shortcomings that we are facing. For example, the disagreement between the management agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Ho Chi Minh City, and the Department of Agriculture, concerning our land lease expansion. Tuan Ngoc applied to lease agricultural land to develop high-tech agriculture, but was entangled in building membrane houses on agricultural land.
There have been quite a few meetings with City authorities to solve this problem, but we still have not found a suitable solution. Some people suggested that Tuan Ngoc could expand towards Cu Chi in the hi-tech agricultural zone, but in terms of transportation and climate, farming in District 9 is still more convenient and more competitive. Another difficulty is that in doing high-tech agriculture the initial investment is very large.
- Sir, many clean agricultural produce are difficult to access due to high pricing and also have to compete with non-standard produce. How does Tuan Ngoc view such supply?
- At the beginning of 2017, we supplied vegetables to small stores in district 9 and district 2 and some neighboring districts. At the beginning, it was not easy when we launched because the price of Tuan Ngoc hydroponic vegetables was 2.5 times higher than that of conventionally grown vegetables. Moreover, at that time, consumers did not have much information about hydroponic vegetables so they were not interested in our produce.
After a period of participating in markets such as the Green and Safe Food Fair and additional support from the Department of Agriculture, Tuan Ngoc participated in many programs to find the right output location for our produce. Having gained a certain reputation, Tuan Ngoc signed a contract as a vegetable supplier to Saigon Coopmart and Bach Hoa Xanh. These two retailers follow very strict procedures in vegetable quality control, and initially only ordered 200kg per day. Now the output has increased to 1 ton or 1.2 tons per day. They are also asking us to increase production, but we do not have enough land so we cannot meet that demand.
Currently, Tuan Ngoc is planning to research on how to reduce the initial investment cost to the lowest level in order to lower the cost of the produce, from which it can be brought into traditional markets to serve consumer needs. In fact, when entering the traditional market, clean vegetables have to compete very fiercely with vegetables that do not meet the standards. More worrisome is that our produce has to compete with fake clean vegetables that do not follow the correct process in growing or do not follow the standards to meet the quality.
- Sir, Ho Chi Minh City is applying many measures to manage agricultural produce in the supply chain, including traceable stamps and most recently the idea of establishing compulsory technical standard barriers for agricultural produce for consumption within the City. How do you rate these measures?
- First of all, Tuan Ngoc is stamping the origin of hydroponic vegetables in order to help consumers better understand our clean vegetable produce and trust them when buying. However, it also pushes us into a fear of fake retrieval stamps. In fact, there are units that buy produce somewhere, or do not follow the correct process, but still stamp and introduce it as Tuan Ngoc produce. To solve this problem, we are working hard so that customers can recognize the difference in our produce. First of all, to ensure a commitment to quality with consumers, we must avoid confusion with many other hydroponic produce.
In my opinion, setting compulsory technical barriers for agricultural produce for consumption in Ho Chi Minh City is very necessary. When we export, we always have to ensure the standards of the importing country. So why don't we have mandatory standards when consuming domestically? This not only ensures that it can be managed in a favorable chain, but also safe for the health of consumers. With clean manufacturers like us, when there are standards there will be fair competition.
Specifically, with a large population, Ho Chi Minh City is having to import many agricultural produce and foodstuffs from other provinces and cities. This makes clean produce fiercely competitive with produce that does not meet the standards, especially with fake produce. Setting standards in the beginning can be difficult, but if we are determined it will certainly help in the long run to also ensure that domestic agricultural produce can compete fairly with imported goods.
Farmers can cultivate according to the standards set by the Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices (VietGAP). However, some choose not to follow the standards because they want to produce a lot and harvest early. Now, the time has come to help them change their minds, as agricultural production must be oriented towards sustainability and safety of consumers. When everyone works together to make clean produce, there are no questions about why we need to do so, as it is for the good of everyone concerned.
- Thank you very much.