Wed, 22nd May 2024 16:38 (GMT +7)

Digital transformation is the new buzz on rice fields

Wednesday, 24/04/2024 | 08:57:01 [GMT +7] A  A

The Mekong Delta is witnessing a continuous digital transformation revolution in agriculture, unfolding every day and every hour.

Engineers from Lộc Trời Group JSC demonstrate pesticide spraying on rice fields using drones for farmers to observe firsthand. — VNA/VNS Photo Công Mạo

The daily routine of farmers has undergone a complete transformation, shifting from traditional methods of observing nature to relying on smartphones as an essential tool. The Mekong Delta is witnessing a continuous digital transformation revolution in agriculture, unfolding every day and every hour.

Amid the radiant sun and expansive rice fields nearing harvest season, farmer Nguyễn Văn Khanh greeted us warmly, on his sun-darkened face a bright smile.

As he led us to see the rice fields, he pointed to the unmanned aerial vehicle flying above and said: "I bought this T10 myself, then hired someone to operate it. The machine is spraying organic fertiliser to make the grains firm. Modern rice farming is different now, not like before, with many mechanical processes to take care of."

Khanh, a prominent farmer in the "land of pink lotus" Đồng Tháp, has gained recognition for his achievements growing Japanese rice varieties in Tam Nông District. With a rice production area spanning 120 hectares, he is committed to adhering to the VietGAP standard. This involves reducing pesticide usage, producing high-quality and safe rice, and mitigating the environmental impact of fertilisers and chemicals. To achieve this goal, he utilises unmanned aerial vehicles and a range of other mechanical tools.

Khanh said: "Agricultural production according to VietGAP standards is different from traditional agriculture that uses a lot of fertiliser and chemicals. Cultivating three rice crops a year with that amount of fertiliser and chemicals will heavily pollute water sources and land. Applying VietGAP standards to the rice production process will reduce productivity, but with large-scale production, closed processes, and the use of modern technology in care, production costs will decrease, while product prices will be higher."

Recognising the pivotal role of modern technology in rice cultivation, Khanh has invested in a range of advanced machinery, including unmanned aerial vehicles, electric pumps, ploughs, cultivators, combine harvesters, and excavators. Additionally, he employs smart sensor systems in the fields to monitor various factors such as water quality, pest presence and weather changes, enabling him to devise solutions proactively through his smartphone. With the aid of modern technology, Khanh efficiently manages his 120-hectare rice fields with just 30 workers.

In January 2024, Khanh expanded his commitment to sustainable agriculture by dedicating 32 hectares of his rice fields to the project "Transforming the rice value chain in response to climate change and sustainable development in the Mekong Delta."

This initiative, backed by a A$17 million (US$10.8 million) investment from the Australian Government and executed by the Netherlands Development Organisation in collaboration with agricultural sectors in An Giang, Đồng Tháp and Kiên Giang provinces, aims to convert 200,000 hectares of rice to sustainable production in over six consecutive seasons from 2023 to 2028. This endeavour seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard the environment.

Assessing the current landscape of rice production in Tam Nông District, Lâm Trọng Nghĩa, deputy director of the Tam Nông Agricultural Services Centre, notes that farmers face challenges in determining rice selling prices and reducing production costs. Despite potential limitations on productivity compared to traditional methods, cost reductions translate to increased profits. In regions like Đồng Tháp Province, where unpredictable weather disrupts the annual cycle, advanced technical solutions and modern technology enhance the resilience of rice plants to climate change, ensuring consistent productivity and quality.

According to Trần Thu Hà, director of the project "Transforming the rice value chain in response to climate change and sustainable development in the Mekong Delta", the project has mobilised 11 reputable companies in the rice industry to collaborate with farmers and cooperatives in localities. These companies have brought excellent technology packages to ensure that farmers receive at least 30 per cent of the profits from rice production when implementing purchase contracts. The products can participate in the premium rice segment; and when carbon credits are sold, companies will also share profits with farmers.

"In the first phase, more than 8,000 hectares of rice have been registered to participate in the project. The activities will lay the foundation for companies and farmers to link themselves and share profits. The project has proposed a measurement reporting, and verification system for greenhouse gas emissions reduction (MRV), recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which can be applied on a large scale. Carbon credits from the project are not only traded at the project or national level, but can also enter the international voluntary carbon market," Hà added.

According to the implementation orientation of the project "Sustainable development of one million hectares of low-emission, high-quality rice cultivation, linked to green growth in the Mekong Delta by 2030", Tam Nông District has registered about 4,900 hectares of rice to participate in the project by the end of 2023, 12,000 hectares in 2025, and over 29,000 hectares in 2030 - equivalent to the entire rice area of the district. The expansion of rice cultivation area to reduce emissions is being implemented more urgently than ever.

Nghĩa from the Tam Nông Agricultural Services Centre highlighted that farmers in Tam Nông, already adept at modern cultivation techniques and climate change adaptation, stand to benefit greatly from specific guidance, which could bolster the local agricultural sector. As awareness grows regarding the significance of modern technology in rice production, there's a gradual shift towards organic farming and the adoption of scientific methods, potentially becoming a widespread movement in the region.

The pilot model of the first 50 hectares applying sustainable farming practices is being implemented at the Thuận Tiến Cooperative. — VNA/VNS Photo Thu Hiền

The local transformation

According to Decision 749/QĐ-TTg approving the "National Digital Transformation Programme by 2025, with a vision to 2030," agriculture emerges as one of the eight priority sectors for digital transformation. This initiative aims to enhance productivity, quality and resource efficiency while reducing costs and fostering innovation across the agricultural value chain. Digital transformation is seen as essential for modernising the agricultural industry, boosting productivity and improving competitiveness domestically and internationally.

Recognising the imperative and benefits of digital transformation, various localities in the Mekong Delta have initiated measures to promote digitalisation in agriculture. For instance, Cần Thơ City's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is developing databases, digital platforms and agricultural management software, alongside conducting training sessions to educate farmers, cooperatives and businesses on digital transformation. Similarly, Kiên Giang Province's agriculture department has established an electronic trading platform for agricultural products and developed applications to support production management, disease prevention, weather forecasting and market information dissemination.

With active involvement from authorities, departments and farmers, the digital transformation in Mekong Delta agriculture is making strides, boosting productivity, quality and competitiveness while fostering sustainable development and improving farmers' livelihoods. Nonetheless, challenges such as limited technology infrastructure, digital skills among farmers, and rural access to digital services persist. Hence, a comprehensive approach focusing on infrastructure improvement, human resource development and collaboration among sectors, localities and businesses is crucial to expedite the digital transformation process and ensure the region's sustainable agricultural development.

In An Giang, between 2017 and 2022, the province implemented 710 new production development models incorporating high technology into rural agriculture, focusing on crop cultivation, livestock farming and aquaculture. These models have led to the adoption of effective digital transformation practices by farmers, cooperatives, and businesses.

Large farms now employ closed barns with automated systems for feeding, watering and waste collection, all remotely controlled via smartphones or computers, resulting in faster livestock development, reduced disease incidence, shorter breeding times and increased efficiency. Swiftlet breeding operations also benefit from remote management and monitoring, utilising cameras and automated mist sprayers to regulate conditions and monitor flock health without disturbing the birds.

Meanwhile, Đồng Tháp Province has launched the Digital Transformation Project for the agriculture sector from 2022 to 2025, with a vision extending to 2030. Spearheaded by the provincial Digital Transformation Committee, the project focuses on digitising management data and implementing automation across various agricultural sectors. Through platforms like VDAPES, management systems for crop cultivation, livestock, aquaculture and rural development are being digitised to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Many cooperatives have embraced unmanned aerial vehicles for pesticide spraying, machine-planting rice and deploying sensor systems for irrigation management and pest monitoring. GIS technology is also leveraged for database management, enhancing pest forecasting and control efforts.

In Đồng Tháp Province, six smart water monitoring stations and 15 smart insect monitoring stations have been installed to support models applying Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) in data collection for cultivation warning, forecasting and origin traceability. All origin traceability management data is integrated and managed on the digital data platform of the province's agriculture.

A change of perspective

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Lê Minh Hoan stresses that the agriculture sector in Mekong Delta provinces faces unprecedented challenges across economic, social, and environmental aspects. To foster sustainable and efficient agriculture, breakthrough technology solutions are imperative, along with a shift towards high-value production models to uplift farmers economically. Minister Hoan advocates transitioning from agricultural production thinking to agricultural economy, highlighting fragrant rice and clean shrimp as prominent models for the Mekong Delta region.

However, according to Vũ Sơn from the Institute of Economic Development Research at Hồ Chí Minh City University of Economics, the details of digital transformation remain unclear to farmers, businesses and localities. Limited infrastructure for digital data systems and inadequate training in digital transformation hinder effective utilisation of digital tools among farmers. Sơn recommends prioritising high-quality human resource training to meet the growing demand for digital transformation in the Mekong Delta and emphasises simplifying the concept of digital transformation while enhancing connectivity among stakeholders.

Nguyễn Phương Lam, director of the VCCI's Cần Thơ branch, underscores the need for a comprehensive strategy for digital transformation in Mekong Delta agriculture, based on vision, institutional framework, science, technology and structural changes. Lam suggests shifting the vision to align with modern agricultural development trends, establishing an enabling institutional framework, and embracing science and technology advancements such as mechanisation, digitisation and smart production. This transformation aims to enhance the quality and value of agricultural products while integrating agricultural production with broader economic and social development activities.

Source: Vietnam News