Vietnam exported US$638 million of cassava in the first five months of the year, nearly equal to 110 per cent of the entire export revenue of last year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Although the domestic price has risen to VND5,800 a kg, cassava is still exported to China in large quantities because it can fetch higher prices.
In recent years, exports to China accounted for about 5 million tonnes annually.
Vietnam has about 510,000ha of cassava planted, with an annual output of nearly 9 million tonnes.
The ministry estimates the country’s domestic demand for cassava this year will be 8.12 million tonnes.
Of that figure, 1.89 million tonnes are used for producing ethanol, and the remaining volume for animal feed and confectionary products.
Pham Duc Binh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Animal Feed Association, said cassava accounted for 30-40 per cent of input materials in animal feed production.
However, cassava is also exported so domestic animal feed plants have not been able to buy enough for production, Binh told Vietnam Economic Times.
Le Khac Triet, Director of the Vietnam Cassava and Cassava Starch Club, said since 2009 cassava had become an agricultural plant with high economic value.
The price of cassava has increased to VND5,700-6,000 a kg, compared to just VND200-500 a kg in 2007-08 and VND4,000 a kg in 2010.
Farmers in central provinces have expanded the area under cassava cultivation, raising concerns among local authorities about forest protection and transferring to cassava cultivation.
In Quang Ngai Province’s Son Ha District, for instance, farmers have cleared protective forests upstream of the Thach Nham River to grow cassava.
Ta Tien, acting head of the Son Tra District Forest Protection Bureau, said this situation had happened over the past few months.
In 2006-2010, Quang Ngai had planned for 13,500 ha of cassava in 2010, but the area had increased to 21,000ha in 2010, and is continuing to rise.
In Ha Tinh Province, hundreds of households in Ky Anh District had also destroyed protective forests to grow cassava.
Triet warned that cassava had become a hot product and when output exceeds demand, the price could drop as it did in 2007-08.
At that time, it would be difficult for farmers to switch to other crops because the fertility of the soil would be eroded after three to four years of growing cassava, he said.
To resolve the cassava material shortage, the cultivation area should not be increased, but measures should be taken to increase productivity, Triet said.
Farmers in some countries have harvested cassava output of 40 tonnes per ha a year while in Vietnam output is only 17.2 tonnes per ha.
Measures to increase cassava productivity include applying advanced farming techniques and finding high-yield cassava strains, he said.
He added that his club had found new cassava strains with a high yield of 40 tonnes per ha a year.