To many farmers in the Mekong Delta region, the bumper fruit harvest this year just means massive losses since prices have dropped by more than a half after foreign importers stopped buying them.
In Ben Tre Province’s Cho Lach District, the Mekong Delta’s fruit basket, most farmers are unhappy with their bountiful rambutan, dragon fruit, and coconut crops.
Le Van Hieu of Vinh Binh Commune said his three-hectare rambutan crop is ready for harvest but he was unable to find a trader willing to pay an acceptable price.
One trader had recently offered 1,700 dong (US$0.08) a kilogram, a rate at which he said he would make a big loss.
“The daily wage for a laborer to pick the fruit is 160,000 dong and a person can pick 150 kilograms a day at most.
“How could I make profit with the 95,000 dong left?”
From the 12 tons of rambutan he would harvest he would earn 8 million dong, while his expenses had been as much as 20 million dong, he said.
Nguyen Van Sam of Vinh Thanh Commune was forced to sell his 80 tons of rambutan at just 1,800 dong a kilogram.
Worse, with the trader buying only two tons a day, it would take him 40 days to sell his crop which would rot within 10 days, he said.
A fruit wholesaler in Cho Lach said rambutan had been exported mostly to Cambodia and China, but these two countries had recently stopped buying.
With prices slumping to just 3,000 dong a kilogram, blue dragon is sharing the same fate.
Huynh Hong An, chairman of the Tien Giang Province-based Cho Gao blue dragon cooperative, said farmers were incurring huge losses since they could only break even at around 5,500 dong a kilogram.
Many farmers now used the fruit as fertilizer, he added.
Coconut prices have plunged to 30,000-40,000 dong a dozen, down by half from a few months ago.
“Traders said prices have fallen since people drink less coconut water during the rainy season and demand in the north has also slumped,” Tam, a farmer in Ben Tre, said.
Traders said fruit farmers and prices are heavily dependent on the Chinese market.
Nguyen Xuan Huy, director of the Tien Giang-based Long Giang AgricultureFood Processing Co, said Chinese traders were not buying Vietnamese rambutan and blue dragon.
“Many trucks carrying these fruits have even crossed over the border but [they] still refuse to buy.”
Nguyen Thi Hong Thu, director of the Ben Tre-based Chanh Thu Food Import Export Co, said amid the bumper harvest, demand in major domestic markets like Hanoi and the central region had also remained unchanged.
But she said the fall in prices during times of big harvests was not a new phenomenon.
Most farmers grow crops without any direction from authorities.
“They rushed to grow rambutan and blue dragon a few years ago when prices were high, resulting in this surplus,” she said.
Bui Thanh Liem, head of the Cho Lach Agriculture and Rural Development Office, said some farmers did not have any information about the market.
“They need a market research agency to guide them.”