For the next two weeks, participants in the 2012 International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program will be blogging about their travels in Malaysia and Vietnam. Check back often, as they’ll be sharing some great insights from their trip along with some amazing photos! (To see even more photos of the trip, check out U.S. Grains Council’s Flickr site.)
Hello from Ho Chi Minh City!
Our second full day in Vietnam was filled with many different cultural and agricultural learning opportunities, and a full night’s rest prepared us all for a full day. We started out with bus ride south towards the Tien Giang Province to visit an aquaculture farm.
Along the way, we passed by hundreds of rice plantations and observed Vietnamese rice farmers transplanting and spraying the fields. Their work is very laborious compared to the mechanized American way of farming, so it was very interesting to see these practices.
We unloaded our bus and boarded a small boat that transported us up the Mekong River to tour a small family aquaculture farm. The farmer greeted us with fresh coconuts filled with coconut juice from his garden, which we all happily accepted.
He had waited to feed his fish until we arrived, so we were able to watch that process and observed how very dense the fish population was in his net cages. He explained to us how he is able to increase the cage density because the water flows over the cages more quickly in the river than in the ocean. He primarily grows tilapia (although catfish is commonly grown in that region as well), and gets feed from a feed mill conveniently located across the river. The feed ration fed to the fish includes wheat bran, soybean meal, fish meal, rice bran, corn, DDGS, minerals, and vitamins. When he first gets the fingerling fish, they are fed about 35% crude protein. As they grow to market weight, their crude protein ration is reduced down to 28%. In one year, he harvests two cycles of fish. In one cycle, he harvests approximately 50-80 metric tons of fish.
We asked him about some of the challenges he faces in the fishing industry. Disease and water pollution are two of the biggest hurdles he faces, but fortunately the government recognizes this problem and has been sending extension specialists out along the river to check the water quality and regulate disease. The farmer was extremely welcoming and seemed very happy that we had come to learn about his farming operation.
Following our visit to the aquaculture farm, we got back on the boat to head to a different island for lunch. Lunch was another adventure for us! A variety of new foods were tasted that definitely forced us to step out of our comfort zones.
After lunch we made our way back to the jetty where we boarded our bus to head back north towards Saigon. We met with Vina Commodities (a feed trading company). The company has 15 locations throughout Singapore and Vietnam and has 1,000 employees.
The director of the company informed us that he is projecting more growth in sales volume, and the company currently generates $800 million USD in sales volume. Three advantages the company has over other trading companies are that the company owns one of Vietnam’s two soybean crushing facilities, it has its own port that helps reduce transportation costs, and the company is a participant in the USDA’s GSM 102 program (provides credit guarantees to encourage financing of U.S. agricultural exports). The GSM program reduces the interest rate Vietnamese companies like Vina have to pay from 16% to 3-5%. Chein (U.S. Grains Council Consultant in Vietnam) was one of the individuals who introduced the program to this company, which is an example of another great way the U.S. Grains Council has added value to the Vietnamese agricultural sector.
After our visit with the director at Vina Commodities, we made our way to the night market to try our hand at haggling for a few hours. Many of us were quite successful and are looking forward to using our newly developed bargaining skills again in Kuala Lumpur! Our day concluded with a cultural experience on a dinner cruise on the Mekong River. We were entertained by a few musicians who pulled Karl, Breanne, Margery, and Anne up to the front to help her perform. This was especially entertaining for us!
We also enjoyed playing “dodge the moped” as we made our way through heavy moped traffic in the streets of Saigon.
After today’s experiences, we can more clearly see the significant role U.S. Grains Council has in building relationships with Vietnamese companies in encouraging exports. Our cultural experiences also made us more fully aware of the how fortunate we are to have the food security system that is in place in the United States, as well as the government assistance U.S. farmers receive. Tomorrow we look forward to touring an egg processing plant, seeing some Vietnam-American war memorial sites, and concluding our stay in Vietnam with dinner on the rooftop of Rex Hotel. Stay tuned to learn about what exciting things we learn tomorrow!
Bethany Olson, Iowa State University
Mathias Peterson, University of Minnesota