ACIAR and SunRice invest in sustainable rice in Vietnam
An Australian public-private partnership between ACIAR and the SunRice Group will benefit rice growers throughout the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
The new initiative will connect smallholder rice-growing communities to high-value international markets and give farmers economic incentives to grow higher-value rice sustainably.
The 4-year project will also enable the SunRice Group to diversify its supply of high-quality rice to meet growing global demand.
The Australian Government Assistant Minister for Trade, Senator Tim Ayres, spoke at the launch of the new partnership in Dong Thap Province, Vietnam.
‘Rice is an essential food crop in the developing world and the staple food of more than half of the world's population. Vietnam is the world's third-largest rice exporter, with 53% of rice grown in the Mekong Delta region on the country's southern coastline,’ Senator Ayres said.
‘But with the global issues we are facing today and the impact of climate change right here in the Mekong Delta, we can’t just think only about meeting market demand. We must do it sustainably.
‘ACIAR has the research expertise and relationship-brokering capabilities to help improve agricultural sustainability in the Mekong. This project will be the first major public-private partnership for ACIAR, and I welcome SunRice’s investment and contribution to the Australia-Vietnam relationship.’
SunRice Group CEO, Mr Rob Gordon, said partnering with ACIAR was an ideal way to improve agricultural sustainability in the Mekong and enhance economic returns for rural communities while further strengthening the reputation of Vietnam rice in SunRice’s global markets.
‘The SunRice Group has well-established, high-value markets in approximately 50 countries around the world and sources from 11 countries to supply these markets. Our Australian Japonica-style rice varieties are renowned in world markets for their quality, which our customers and consumers are prepared to pay a premium for,’ Gordon said.
‘Vietnam has a great rice-growing culture. It stood out as an ideal opportunity to partner with Vietnamese rice-growers, introduce some of the technology we have gained from around the world to the Mekong Delta and work with growers to supply our offshore markets.
‘We are excited to be a part of this project, which brings together the best research, government and rice industry minds from Vietnam and Australia focused on a set of common goals around improving the rice value chain of the Mekong Delta.
ACIAR CEO, Professor Andrew Campbell, believes the new partnership with the SunRice Group will improve the adoption of more sustainable rice growing practices in the lower Mekong, a hotspot for the impact of climate change on food security.
‘Farmers are part of a wider business system. Improving incomes and livelihoods is the best way to encourage smallholder farmers to switch to more sustainable farming systems,’ Prof Campbell said.
‘Sustainability isn't just about the environment. It's about the entire model of producing food. If it can't be viably maintained, then it's not sustainable.
‘A key focus for ACIAR is partnering with the private sector to establish commercial adoption pathways that deliver higher returns to farmers. This approach is the most efficient option for scaling out improved practices in staple crops like rice.’
In 2016, 4.5 million tonnes of rice worth USD$2 billion was exported by Vietnam, making rice production one of the most important agricultural sectors in the Mekong Delta.
With the upsurge in production, the Vietnamese Government has recognised that agricultural practices needed to become more sustainable and implemented policy changes in 2017. These changes encouraged a reduction in total rice production with a shift to a more resilient model, focusing on exporting high-quality rice to premium markets.
National coordinator for the project in Vietnam and Vice President of An Giang University, Assoicate Professor Dr Ho Thanh Binh, believes Australian knowledge has much to offer Vietnamese rice-growers.
‘The Mekong Delta plays a fundamental role in national and regional food security. We have a long history of traditional, household-based agricultural production,’ Dr Binh said.
‘When Mekong farmers join this project, their production techniques will be standardised to meet the requirements of SunRice's established markets. This new way of producing rice can be seen as a challenge but it will increase the rice quality and make production more sustainable.
‘When we have a group of farmers who apply these standards efficiently, there will be a high chance of the new practices spreading out to other rice growers in the region.
‘The Australia-Vietnam partnership is unique. Our two countries are different in culture and socio-political infrastructure but we can work together because there are many potential collaborations and mutual benefits. I believe this project will become one of the highlights of the Vietnam-Australia partnership,’ A. Professor Dr Binh added.
ACIAR has been working closely with Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development since 2018 to connect Australia's rice-growing knowledge with Vietnam's industry. The new project focuses on establishing a highly productive, sustainable, traceable and quality-assured value chain for tropical medium grain rice production in the Mekong Delta.
The A$5 million project consists of an investment totalling A$2.4 million (50% in kind, 50% in cash) from the SunRice Group and A$2.6 million investment from ACIAR.
The project will run until December 2025 and collaborates closely with researchers from the University of Queensland and local Vietnamese universities and research institutions, including An Giang University (Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City), Can Tho University, and Cuu Long Rice Research Institute.
The project's leader from the University of Queensland, Dr Jaquie Mitchell, believes engaging with the private sector from the beginning of the project will ensure impact and value for money.
‘Research-for-development on its own without a market doesn't have the success that it potentially could if it was market-led,’ Dr Mitchell said.
‘We have a large and diverse team of researchers working on this project, including plant breeders, agronomists, agribusiness specialists, food scientists and social scientists. We are covering all aspects and actors along the value chain to improve the livelihoods of all involved.
‘It’s a fantastic opportunity for Australian and Vietnamese research partners to learn from each other and collaborate to build capacity. I think the outcomes of this project are going to be very significant for both for the Mekong and the wider rice industry.’
Learn more about the project via the ACIAR website.