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Question about agro-chemical industry in Vietnam

Margaret Amalia Hiesinger meg1 at MIT.EDU
Mon Mar 26 14:28:16 PDT 2007

Dear all,

I am a doctoral candidate in MIT's program in Science, Technology,
and Society. I'm finishing up my thesis on consumers' responses to
changes in Hanoi's system of food markets in recent years. However, I
am stuck for information in one particular aspect, and I was
wondering if anyone here knows something about the following: I'm
looking for some background information on Vietnam's agro-chemical
use - especially the origins of the fertilizers and other
agricultural chemicals used (i.e. are they imported? If so, from
where? Are they mainly produced by local industries? What are the
main chemicals used? Is there any relationship to chemicals used in
the American war? etc.). All I really have right now are statistics
that the use of agricultural chemicals has risen in the past 20 or so
years. But I would like to provide some kind of historical background
and information to explain these statistics a bit more in the context
of the international circulation of agrochemicals. Any help you can
offer would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks, Meg Hiesinger

Howie CA C.A.Howie at rhul.ac.uk
Mon Mar 26 14:52:46 PDT 2007

Hi Meg.
In the Mekong Delta, where I'm doing my PhD, the use of agro-chemicals
stems from the so-called green revolution of the 1960s , when 'improved'
varieties of rice were made available. These were higher yielding, but
required much larger amounts of fertilizers than the former system would
provide, so chemicals had to be used. In the delta nutrients formerly
came from the deposits left by the annual floods, deposits of silt and
organic stuff, including large amounts of fish that just rotted on the
ground, and stank! However, yields were small, say 1 to 2 tonnes a
hectare and took 6 months to grow. The new stuff (such as IR 8) took 95
days, produced 3+ tonnes per hectare and created more employment. You
could say, from one perspective, that the green revolution was a way for
capitalist industry in the US and elsewhere to make money out of peasant
farmers--the new varieties needed fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide and
other stuff that made money for the producers. Today Vietnam is making
fertilizers--with oil feedstocks from the rich oil fields off Vung Tau
proivince there is no shortage of starting materials, but much was still
imported, a couple of years ago, because it tended to be cheaper.
.
Hope that gets you started
Regards
Charles Howie

Maxner, Steve steve.maxner at ttu.edu
Mon Mar 26 18:55:50 PDT 2007

Meg:

I recommend you contact the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
Development in Vietnam:

http://210.245.64.232/en/

They have an "Informatic Center" and I suspect they have conducted
studies and have collected data. There is a link on that page where you
can contact them.

Charles:

I wonder if there is any evidence to support the assertion that "from
one perspective, the green revolution was a way for capitalist industry
in the US and elsewhere to make money out of peasant farmers--the new
varieties needed fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide and other stuff that
made money for the producers."

Gerald Hickey covers this topic in Village in Vietnam, page 139, where
he explains that chemical fertilizers were introduced in very small
quantities by a French entrepreneur sometime in the 1930s or 1940s (well
before the US was there) when he proposed to a village elder that they
use some fertilizer on a small test plot. The results were so favorable
that the elder bought more fertilizer and within 15 years all farmers in
the area were using it.

Based on this it seems that many Vietnamese farmers made the conscious
decision to begin using chemical fertilizers because their plants were
hardier and the crop yields were higher. Fertilizers worked to their
benefit - higher yields meant better nutrition, more rice for sale, and
a better standard of living - all for the same amount of work. Was that
not incentive enough to use them and were the farmers not smart enough
to make this determination on their own?

Respectfully,

Stephen Maxner, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
The Vietnam Center

Adam at UoM fforde at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Mar 26 19:09:01 PDT 2007

I saw a TV documentary once that argued that the industry of hybrid maize,
extension and chemical fertiliser grew up in the US as part of the need to
support munitions factories find outlets for the capacity after the war, and
the politics was driven by standard US political practices (named Senators
in the pockets of named US companies).

There is also a PhD student at NUS working on the social factors that
influenced the technological choices at IRRI that constructed the green
revolution models. I think her name is Bann Chua - SEAS Program. They have a
site.

Adam

Maxner, Steve steve.maxner at ttu.edu
Mon Mar 26 19:24:17 PDT 2007

Are these the same things? The development of "hybrid maize" in the US
(dates and veracity of sources for the documentary unknown?) and the
gradual introduction of chemical fertilizers in Vietnam in the 1930s and
40s in small quantities by a French entrepreneur as chronicled by one of
the leading anthropologists of Vietnamese society?

Steve

Adam at UoM fforde at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Mar 26 22:03:13 PDT 2007

The original question was actually about the Green Revolution package that
came into the Mekong in the 1960s - see below. Nguyen Thu Sa's 1991 article
on the ways in which, he argues, the US largely created a middle peasantry
in the Mekong, is interesting here. Reference is Ve nhan vat trung tam o
nong thon Nam bo : Nguoi Trung nong, Nguyen Thu Sa, Tap chi KHXH So 9, Qui
3/91.
Regards
Adam

 

Maxner, Steve steve.maxner at ttu.edu
Mon Mar 26 19:50:54 PDT 2007

Meg:

We have some documents in the Vietnam Archive that might be of help.

This one lists chemical fertilizers and insecticides as needed imports
for North Vietnam:

Item #: 2390107003
Title: List Of Export And Import Goods Of State Foreign Trade
Enterprises (38 pages) [January 1963]
View Item: Document (.pdf)
Collection: Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 11 - Monographs
Web Status: Available to Public

This one links the restoration of domestic chemical fertilizer
production in South Vietnam to electrical output from the Dong Cam Dam:

Item #: 2390814005
Title: Major Policy Speeches by President Ngo Dinh Diem (43 pages)
[November 1956]
View Item: Document (.pdf)
Collection: Douglas Pike Collection: Unit 11 - Monographs
Web Status: Available to Public

You can view these documents online by searching for each item number as
a keyword in the Virtual Archive search page:
http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/virtualarchive/redirects/vva.htm

You need to search for each document individually. Also, if you conduct
a separate search for "chemical fertilizer", it will return 141
documents that cover various issues from 1954 onward.

Just so you know, it appears we are having a problem with our database
system right now so you might not be able to search for these until
tomorrow.

Steve

Stephen Maxner, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
The Vietnam Center

Jonathan Haughton jhaughto at beaconhill.org
Mon Mar 26 19:31:02 PDT 2007

Hello,

A few quick figures on fertilizers in Vietnam: The numbers refer to 2006:

Domestic production: 2.176 million tonnes. Mainly urea produced using
natural gas.
Imports: 3.047 million tonnes, at a cost of $673 million.

Source: General Statistics Office.

I hope this helps!

Jonathan

David Marr dgm405 at coombs.anu.edu.au
Mon Mar 26 19:40:11 PDT 2007

Don't forget the phosphate mines along the Sino-Vietnamese
border. It is said the Chinese troops destroyed them when
withdrawing in 1979, but presumably they were back in action by the 1990s.
David Marr

Tom Miller milltom at gmail.com
Mon Mar 26 23:34:49 PDT 2007

and to see what will happen in vietnam and the world if it continues to
depend on petroleum based fertilizers, take a look at The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Michael Pollan and Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. Scary!

Tom Miller

Maxner, Steve steve.maxner at ttu.edu
Tue Mar 27 07:22:53 PDT 2007

Adam:

Thanks. I think we read that message from Meg differently. She does
not mention the "green revolution" but actually asked, "I'm looking for
some background information on Vietnam's agro-chemical use - especially
on the origins of the fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals
used." While she asks about the potential for a relationship between
the chemicals used during the American Vietnam War, I did not read that
as the focus of her inquiry. Charles referenced the green revolution in
his response which is why I addressed my question to him.

My point was that by focusing on the US involvement as Charles did, we
were overlooking the much earlier introduction of chemical fertilizers
in Vietnam via the French, which, according to Hickey, appears to have
occurred through the voluntary agency of the Vietnamese farmers
themselves. They chose to use these fertilizers and were not forced or
compelled to through some US capitalistic plan "to make money out of
peasant farmers." I think a stronger argument can be presented that the
use of chemical fertilizers expanded during the US involvement in
Vietnam as a trajectory of voluntary usage by Vietnamese farmers as a
means to increase crop yields, which apparently Vietnamese farmers found
to be in their self interests. Indeed, during the early years of the
Republic of Vietnam villages established cooperatives that negotiated
low interest loans so that member farmers could collectively purchase
the necessary fertilizers and insecticides for the higher yielding
crops. Apparently it was worth it to the farmers to do this as they
made enough money in return to pay their share of the loans and had
enough additional rice left over to internally justify continuing this
practice.

I am not sure why we would only offer as one possible perspective a
capitalistic conspiracy to exploit farmers. Is it not more likely,
based on the historical evidence provided by Hickey, that Vietnamese
farmers served as agents acting in their own interests? To ascribe this
as some form of capitalistic plot seems to remove Vietnamese farmers
from having any control over their own decisions on how they farmed,
which I believe is historically inaccurate.

Respectfully,

Steve

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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