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Viet Nam Advances Toward
Food Security Using Nuclear Techniques

Viet Nam is determined to end food shortages by 2005 and to surpass international nutrition standards by 2010—with each citizen’s daily food intake reaching 2600–2700 calories. Its population is expected to reach 95–100 million before the end of this decade, so there is no secret about what needs to be done: food productivity, crop diversity, and grain quality all have to increase to cover growing demand.

Rice is the single most important crop in Viet Nam providing nearly 70 per cent of the food energy. It is the main source of living for 80 per cent of the population, and it is planted on 82 per cent of the total farm area, accounting for more than 85 per cent of food grain output.

Over the past decade, the country has instituted fundamental macroeconomic reforms, trade liberalization, and important changes in agricultural policy which have enabled it to move rapidly from a nation suffering severe food shortages and under-nutrition to the world’s foremost rice exporter.

The Mekong River Delta, known as the “rice basket,” is the major rice producing area, supplying more than 50 per cent of the annual national production and 90 per cent of the rice designed for export. Soils in the Delta are highly variable, but alluvial, acid sulphate and saline soils predominate. Introduction of new “Green Revolution” rice varieties has been strongly encouraged and supported by international organizations. These modern rice varieties result in high yields and cropping intensities, but at the same time require high levels of inputs.

Some acid sulphate soils in the Delta suffer extreme acidity and toxicity causing stunted root systems affecting growth and productivity of crops. The coastal soils, which occupy about 20 per cent of the total area, have a very high salt content leading to reduced crop productivity or total crop failure. In this context, the IAEA has supported the use of nuclear techniques to induce genetic variations for the improvement of local landraces of rice through research and technical co-operation projects.

These new local varieties, with enhanced agronomic characteristics and export quality, are resulting not only in higher productivity, but in more competitive prices on the world market. The breeding cycle was accelerated through the application of nuclear techniques and within only five years, two improved local varieties, TNDB-100 and THDB were officially released in 1997 and 1999.

Rice field

TNDB-100 is characterized by a short maturity period of 95–100 days (from 200 days), good resistance to diseases and pests, wide adaptation to acid sulphate soils, suitable for two to three crops per year, and has export quality. TNDB-100 is grown in large areas of the Delta on acid sulphate soils, as well as in many provinces of the South. The inherent advantages of this variety led to its popularity among poor farmers in the South who could afford its costs, but also realized the potential for higher income as this variety produced a yield of six to eight tonnes per hectare in a much shorter period.

TNDB-100 also requires 10 to 20 per cent less nitrogen fertilizer than other improved varieties. Indeed, the surface cultivated increased from 41,000 hectares in 1997 to 112,000 hectares in 1998 and 203,000 hectares in 1999. TNDB-100 has become the most popular variety covering more than 50 per cent of the total rice area in Vinh-Long province, more than 20 per cent in Kien Giang Province of summer-autumn crop and 5 to 10 per cent in Dong Thap, An Giang, Can Tho and Tra Vinh provinces.

The second improved local rice variety, THDB, developed from a deep water variety, is characterized by a high yield, i.e. six to eight tonnes per hectare compared to two to four tonnes of its predecessor, medium maturity of 130 days (from 210 days), improved resistance to diseases and pests, good grain quality and good adaptation to acid sulphate and saline soils. It is grown largely by poor farmers in the deep water areas of the coastal region of the south. It is very suitable for rice/fish and rice/shrimp cropping systems. THDB was cultivated on more than 14,500 hectares in 1999 with major areas in provinces of Ca-Mau, Soc-Trang, Kien Giang, Bac Lieu and around Ho Chi Minh City.

Mr. Pham Van Ro, senior rice breeder at the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) explains, “This was the first time that radiation-induced mutations were used for variety development in the Mekong Delta. Because of their rapid success and acceptability by farmers, induced mutations through nuclear techniques have become one of the main methods for crop improvements at CLRRI. We are very grateful to the IAEA for this scientific support.”

Based on these achievements, the IAEA, in collaboration with CLRRI, the Institute of Agricultural Science of South Viet Nam, the Centre of Nuclear Techniques, and the Institute of Agricultural Genetics are placing growing emphasis on breeding appropriate mutants combining grain quality for various export and local markets, good yield potential, and tolerance to environmental stresses. The exchange of improved mutant germplasm is also being encouraged, which could be valuable for the entire Asian region.

Target areas for the breeding activities, moreover, have been extended from the Mekong Delta to the upland areas, where poor tribal minorities live. Expert services, fellowship training and scientific visits, as well as equipment have been provided in support of these initiatives. A laboratory for the quality control of basic seed has been established to provide high quality seed of the new varieties to companies in provinces and districts.

To respond to the Government priority for quality rice production for export markets, the IAEA also supported the establishment of breeding laboratories for rice quality assessment with the capacity to screen thousands of rice mutant samples. Through a nationwide course scientists from various national rice centres of the Mekong and Red River Delta have been trained using the newly established facility to enable them to develop rice mutants with the required good grain quality.

According to CLRRI’s Vuong Dinh Tuan, a rice breeder, “The IAEA sponsored training programme on ‘rice quality analysis’ was successful. The 10 participants were very excited to gain new knowledge for their future scientific research toward steady improvements in the quality of our principal rice varieties.”

As Viet Nam’s poor farmers also develop confidence and skill in the cultivation of nuclear-induced mutant varieties, productivity of high quality rice will rise, hopefully leading to higher incomes through increased exports, and the elimination of under-nutrition in rural areas. In short, nuclear technology has been making a very focused, but strategic contribution to this developing nation’s long-term food security.

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“The application of nuclear techniques has accelerated the release of new high quality rice varieties developed from local genetic resources thus improving adaptability and productivity.”
Karin Nichterlein, IAEA geneticist

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