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Experts Reveal the Potential of Catfish Exports

VIET NAM - Catfish farming in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta needs to be revived by treating it as a strategic export item, tightening links between farmers and processors and reducing input prices, experts say.

Their advice comes as farmers have stopped catfish farming in large numbers after suffering huge losses, and the resultant drop in production has led to a shortage of raw material for seafood processing companies.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) convened a meeting in the Mekong Delta Province of Can Tho on Thursday to discuss the issue.

Duong Tan Loc, vice chairman of the Can Tho Seafood Association said processing enterprises should place orders directly with farmers, which is not the case now.

"Apart from their own farming, the processing enterprises should enter into contracts with other farmers," said Huynh The Nang, vice chairman of the People’s Committee of An Giang Province.

"For now, the provinces should not encourage farmers to resume production until they’re assured of outlets," commented Nang, whose home province is a major catfish producer in the Delta.

The Department of Aquaculture under MARD noted that although links had been established between farmers and processors, it was not binding.

Tightening up the links was crucial to tip the balance back in catfish farming, Nang said.

Le Vinh Tan, deputy chairman of the People’s Committee of Dong Thap Province, suggested processors and exporters hire farmers to raise catfish for them as an alternative model to having farming and processing as activities independent of each other.

Exceeding demand

High international prices had boosted catfish farming to over 6,000 hectares in the Delta last year, with an output of more than 1.1 million tonnes, exceeding processing and export demand.

This, coupled with falling export prices as processors competed with each other to get more overseas buyers, sent local catfish prices plunging, inflicting huge losses on farmers who were forced to abandon 35 per cent of their ponds.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is petitioning to the Government to remove the ban on importation of catfish feed to step up pressure on local suppliers to reduce prices.

Local catfish farmers have to bear catfish feed prices that are 20-30 per cent higher than in Thailand or China, according to the ministry’s Department of Fisheries.

Nguyen Huu Dung, vice chairman of the Association of Seafood Export and Processing Enterprises, said that input costs accounts for 80 per cent of the farmers’ total expenses.

"It’s obviously not just the processors who are to blame for farmers’ losses", he said.

Duong Tan Loc, an official of the Can Tho Seafood Association, suggested that the Government should reschedule loans for farmers who have suffered losses to enable them resume production.

Nang called for catfish to be given special status as a strategic export item, given that its export turnover in 2008 topped US$1.5 billion.

"We should give catfish equal status to that of rice so that it receives adequate attention from policy-makers", Nang added.

the Fish Site Editor

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