Vietnam’s Farmers Boost Productivity : Economy: Now that the government allows rice to be grown privately, there is more incentive to work harder. Rural cooperatives are being dismantled.


Chu Thi Nguyet, 19, stood in a corner of the flooded rice paddy, loose-fitting trousers soaked to the knee.

Mud sucked at her bare feet as she bent over a row of rice seedlings, a thin strip of pale green in the otherwise empty field. With a quick, rhythmic sweep of her left arm, she pulled one seedling after another from a bundle in her right hand and plugged them into the mud.

Beyond the earthen dikes separating her plot from others, the bare heads and conical hats of neighbors bobbed up and down. The farmers of Tan Cao village, 65 miles south of Hanoi, were planting their summer-autumn rice even before harvesting the last of the winter-spring crop.

The villagers shouted and laughed as they worked.


“Sometimes we joke together about what we did last night. Sometimes we argue about where the boundaries are between our plots,” Nguyet said, taking a moment’s rest.

In the new free market of Vietnamese agriculture, some farmers try to enlarge their own plots by moving boundary dikes, she explained.

Tan Cao is in Ninh Binh province on the southern edge of the Red River delta, Vietnam’s second-largest rice producer after the Mekong delta in the south.

Vietnam harvested a bumper rice crop in June and July. Improved pest control and higher-yield varieties were part of the reason, but most important was the incentive to work harder since the government began in 1986 to dismantle rural cooperatives and allow private farming.


The economic revolution has helped Vietnam, which could not feed itself in 1988, to become the third-ranking rice exporter after Thailand and the United States.

“We were hungry when we worked for the cooperative,” said Pham Van Quoc, 60, of Van Lam, a village near Tan Cao. “Now our productivity is 10 times what it used to be.”

After a lifetime of farming, Quoc said, he finally has become enthusiastic about it: “I work much harder than before because now the results of our work belong to us.”

Getting the rice from field to village for threshing is the hardest part, he said.


Quoc uses a battered Chinese bicycle with homemade bamboo flaps on either side that, fully loaded, nearly disappears beneath a mound of rice stalks weighing about 330 pounds. He said younger men move loads half again as large.

“Three years ago, a flood covered all the fields, and insects destroyed both crops the next year,” said Le Thi Trung, 26, of Dam Khe village, about a mile west of Tan Cao. “Farmers here were desperate. To survive, they went into the forest to look for wood to sell to other villages and districts to survive.”

Like most farmers in the area, Trung and her family eat the rice they grow and have little or none left to sell.

Her family usually has two meals a day of rice, home-grown vegetables and pork or chicken obtained by barter. Some rich farmers can afford a midday meal, Trung said.


She and her neighbors spend 10 or 12 hours a day in the fields, starting at 6 a.m. They sometimes gather after dinner to watch one of the village’s two television sets, but often are too tired even for that.