Developing Digital Agriculture as New Growth Engine

9:10:31 AM | 1/27/2022

Digital agriculture will remedy consistent weaknesses of small, fragmented production and poor connection with consumer markets, and the agricultural sector should view this as a breakthrough solution to create a new driving force for growth and sustainability. To better understand digital agriculture development in Vietnam, the Vietnam Business Forum’s reporter has an interview with Mr. Tran Thanh Nam, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Minh Ngoc reports.

Three major challenges of climate change, market volatility and consumer trends together with COVID-19 pandemic impacts are posing an urgent need for digital transformation in Vietnam's agricultural development. Could you please tell us how digital transformation is prioritized in the agricultural sector?

The agricultural sector is using the internet to collect data, employing garden management software or optimizing resources (watering and fertilization). The horticulture sector is using software to analyze data about the environment and plant growth stage, allowing access and real-time monitoring of these parameters. The livestock industry is applying blockchain technology and biotechnology in large-scale farms.

Some large-scale agribusinesses such as VinEco, Hoang Anh Gia Lai, Nafood and Dabaco have applied high technology and information technology to the production, distribution and consumption of agricultural products. So far, the country has over 2,200 cooperatives applying high technology and digital technology in agricultural production.

In Vietnam, digital transformation can start from simple technologies like traceability to raise the value of agricultural products. Accordingly, on January 19, 2019, the Prime Minister issued Decision 100/QD-TTg approving the Project on implementation, application and management of traceability systems. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued 3,624 planting area codes in 48 out of 63 provinces and cities and 1,826 codes for packing establishments. QR code-labeled agricultural products help consumers access information from their smartphones.

In the next stage, the operation of the national product traceability portal will help boost traceability. Accordingly, the time to clear customs procedures for a traceable fruit container is 3-5 minutes, compared to 3-4 hours previously. VietGAP and GlobalGAP standards are applied to meet demanding markets. Selling prices of some VietGAP-certified agricultural products will be 1.5 times higher. And to access modern technologies, more investment is needed for new technologies such as blockchain in agricultural product traceability, IoT device connection, automatic management in tomato cultivation in Da Lat, pesticide spraying drones in Long An.

The Ministry of Agriculture is concentrating on strongly promoting digital transformation in agriculture, which is considered a breakthrough solution to create a new driving force for growth and development, with a focus on building transparent agriculture data and information, raising responsibility to producers and consumers.

What are the challenges for digital agriculture?

The big challenges are insufficient digital infrastructure in rural areas and farmers' weak awareness and skills in using smart devices. In addition, the digital agricultural database is scattered, not designed for digitization. The investment rate in smart agriculture and technology is much higher than that in traditional agriculture, so most households cannot afford this investment.

Although the science and technology research, application and transfer have been intensively invested, this process has still lagged behind actual production requirements. Criteria on high-tech agriculture and smart agriculture plus regulations, standards and processes for each specific animal and plant species have not yet been promulgated. In addition, high-tech agriculture and smart agriculture investment from the State budget and credit institutions is still limited.

Many people still do not understand what digital transformation is, especially digital transformation in agriculture. Could you please tell us about this?

Digital transformation is a positive solution helping address production scale and method shortcomings, form value chains and link agricultural production effectively. To transform the agrarian economy, we need to start with a leadership mindset in addition to the most appropriate policies to achieve digital transformation goals in agriculture. Human resources are also key as we have to train the business community, the main actor of agricultural technology and mechanization, and train farmers, the main workforce that makes agricultural products. Next is technology platforms that best suit terrestrial, soil and other natural conditions. Furthermore, we need to predict the market because, without anticipating market risks and demands, we will find it harder to achieve digital transformation goals.

Under the direction of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is carrying out the Program on Digital Agriculture, Agricultural Economy and Digital Farmers. Successful agricultural digital transformation not only restructures the agricultural industry that helps farmers, cooperatives and businesses optimize production, reduce costs and increase profits and yields, but also importantly assists the National Digital Transformation Program launched by the Prime Minister. I believe very excellent Vietnamese farmers are leading digital transformation despite numerous difficulties and challenges, and making great opportunities for revolutionary changes in agriculture.

By Vietnam Business Forum