Cheap foreign salt undercuts Bac Lieu farmers

July 27, 2009
Farmers harvest salt fields in Bac Lieu Province.

Farmers in the country’s major salt-producing province are struggling in the face of a cheap imports surge that local agencies have yet to explain.

Bac Lieu Province farmers have stockpiled around 25,000 tons of salt but Bac Lieu Salt Company still imports large shipments of salt from India.

Vietnam Salt Corporation decides how much salt to import to the province while Bac Lieu Salt Company imports the goods.

Dozens of shipments have been arriving daily since March. Local salt farmers have asked local agencies to tighten controls over salt imports into the province, but the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said it cannot control the situation.

An export management decree issued by the Ministry of Industry and Trade earlier this year only allows the import of up to 250,000 tons of salt a year nationwide.

But a source from Vietnam Salt Corporation said nearly 500,000 tons of salt were slated for import this year.

“It doesn’t make sense that a province so rich in salt has to import it,” said Pham Minh Quang, deputy director of the department.

“Foreign salt will kill local farmers.”

Salty situation

More than 1,266 hectares of salt fields in the province produce 100,000- 130,000 tons of salt every year.

Of that, 50,000-60,000 tons are sold to dealers while less than 20,000 tons go to the Bac Lieu Salt Company for export.

With a large surplus every year, local farmers wonder why more salt is being imported.

Local salt is popular throughout the Mekong Delta for its high quality. It’s exported to Japan as well.

But Indian salt is sold to wholesalers in Ho Chi Minh City for VND1.2 million (US$67) a ton and retailers at VND1.8 million a ton, VND400,000 ($23) cheaper than Bac Lieu salt.

‘No one wants to buy’

Vuong Minh Trieu, owner of a salt warehouse in Bac Lieu Province, has distributed Indian salt to other provinces in the Mekong Delta for nearly a year.

Many of his customers, mainly ice and fish sauce producers, as well as fishing boat owners in Ca Mau, Bac Lieu and Soc Trang provinces, have switched to Indian salt.

“They admit that Indian salt is lower in quality than Bac Lieu, but it is so much cheaper,” he said.

Lam Van Loi, a ten-year veteran salt farmer in Vinh Thinh Commune, Hoa Binh District, said he used to sell out of his stock quickly every year.

“Now, I harvested months ago but still can’t sell.”

Loi also lost dozens of millions of dong early this year when unseasonal rain wiped out his salt fields.

“This season, I have harvested more than ten tons of salt, thanks to the good weather, but no one wants to buy it,” he said.

Tables have turned

Hundreds of poor salt farmers in Vinh Thinh Commune are deep in debt after borrowing to start their crops.

Farmer Nguyen Quoc Toan in Dien Hai Commune, Dong Hai District, said that at this time last year salt dealers had to go to salt fields to buy directly from the farmers.

“This year, the tables have turned,” Toan said.

“I’ve been waiting for months but haven’t seen a single serious salt dealer. Actually, a few have visited me, but they were offering dirt-cheap prices.”

Farmers from the commune, the province’s number-one salt producer, sold their salt at VND25,000 ($1.50) a kilogram last year but now find it hard to sell at half that.

Nguyen Minh Dang, chairman of Dien Hai Commune People’s Committee, said salt farmers in the commune had also lost three to four crops this year due to unexpected weather.

Reported by Tran Thanh Phong

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