The biggest challenge in the agriculture and farming sector is to actually take the step to invest in new digital technologies. From a short perspective, this is associated with high costs for farmers. In the long term, however, it can increase yields and protect the environment significantly. So far, there have been three key phases in the development of agriculture and farming, namely mechanization, the introduction of mineral fertilizers and industrialization. The fourth phase is the currently evolving digitization. The positive effects of intelligent and digital agriculture can be significant.
When technological agriculture started (with utilization of satellite navigation and remote sensing to farm each square meter as efficiently and sustainably as possible), it seemed to be very unlikely for the ordinary farmer to gain benefits from it since the costs were too high. However, nowadays, it is possible for many farmers to collect a tremendous amount of data and use inexpensive small processors to make use of the information and to control equipment or monitor animals with it. Through digital smartness and connectivity, the agricultural machines can collect weather data, order spare parts or access detailed information about the field from a central, cloud based farm management software.
However, the technology development in the farming sector in Vietnam is still in its infancy. The digitalization has not reached Vietnams farming sector yet. The farmers are still using basic computers, standard internet information and basic information and communications technology in general. Many did not even reach the industrialization yet, using the telephone, light bulb, and the internal combustion engine. Still, a growing number of farmers is starting to adopt digital technology and data-driven innovations.
- Precision Agriculture
Precision Agriculture (PA) is a key component of the agricultural digitization and means to apply the exact and correct amount of inputs like water, fertilizer, pesticides etc. at the correct time to the crop for increasing its productivity and maximizing its yields. It provides farmers with information to build up a record of their farm, helps to make decisions, promotes traceability and provides better marketing of farm products. Finally, it enhances the quality of the product itself.
Efficient farming must increase and the government should support investors of this sector. For instance, from 1900 to 1930 worldwide, each farmer produced enough food to feed about 26 people. In the 1990s, the so-called Green Revolution lead to new methods of genetic modification, therefore each farmer was able to feed about 155 people. The global population is increasing and by 2050 it is expected that the worldwide population will reach to almost 10 billion, thus food production must effectively double from the current magnitude. With the introduction of new technological improvements of precision farming, each farmer could be able to feed 265 people on the same acreage.
The first steps of PA came in the forms of satellite and aerial imagery, weather prediction, variable rate fertilizer application, and crop health indicators. The second wave collects the machine data for even more precise planting, topographical mapping and soil data. Another example of developed technology is the Geo-Localization. With this, field data can be captured. An analysis of soils, residual nitrogen, soil resistance and past harvests takes place. Further, by now, self-steering tractors do most of the work. The farmer only needs to intervene in emergencies. Through GPS connection, they spread fertilizer or plough land. Another notable innovation is a solar powered machine that identifies weeds and precisely kills them with a dose of herbicide or lasers.
- Precision Livestock Farming
Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) aims to improve the efficiency of production. It helps the farmer and ensures the well-being of the animal through applying advanced information and communication technologies, targeted resource use and precise control of the production process. Through this technology, the contribution of each animal is streamlined. By this individual approach, the farmer can deliver better results in livestock farming. Those results can be quantitative, qualitative and sustainable.
PLF can significantly improve livestock farming. It can ensure animal welfare because the whole procedure is being documented on farms. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission can be reduced and environmental performance of farms can improve. Further, PLF can facilitate product segmentation and reduce illegal trading of livestock products.
- Benefits and obstacles
Utilizing new technology can deliver more yields and greater environmental protection. For instance, farms in Germany using advanced digital technology have reported higher yields per hectare while reducing nitrogen levels considerably, as well as cutting herbicide and diesel use by 10% – 20%. Farmers thus obtain a return on their investment by saving on water, pesticides and fertilizer costs. The second large-scale benefit is to reduce the environmental harm. Applying the right amount of chemicals in the right place and at the right time benefits crops, soils and groundwater, and thus the entire crop cycle.
However, there are rarely any examples of successful commercialization of PLF technologies. There is currently an abundance of information available to livestock managers, but it is not generally structured in a way that can be applied readily.
The farmers and investors hesitation might be due the involving risks. The noted risks include financial failure because of unforeseen environment or market circumstances, damage to the farm infrastructure such as soils and pasture, compromises to animal health and welfare, and increased stress on farmers from managing the allegedly complicated systems. Thus, it is important to develop a management system that ensures only the most essential procedures are carried out, they are all carried out correctly and consistently, and in a way that controls risk.
For the implementation of digital farming in Vietnam, a good collaboration between the public sector, industry players and the farming community is significantly important. In specific, decision-makers and the national government need to ensure that the basic digital infrastructure for rapidly growing data flows, in terms of network coverage and transmission rates in rural areas, is put in place. Further, the government must set incentives that boost investment in agriculture, especially during low time commodity prices. Lastly, it is important that the farmers accept and are able to handle the upcoming change. Not only is their attitude important, but also to ensure that they have the necessary digital skills.
The international market can only be reached by more transparency and traceability. For consumers and retailers it gets increasingly more important to trace the origin of their food. How was the crop cultivated, under what conditions did the animal grow up and be bred? At the same time, the gathering of this information can simplify the farmer´s documentation on compliance with legislation. Lastly, farmers need the security, that ownership and control of their data are protected. For this, a regulating contract law, that states that the data generated on a farm is the property of the farmer, needs to be settled.
- Outlook on Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement
In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially became the seventh member of the CPTPP.
The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. This will make the Vietnamese market more attractive due to technology advances and the reduction of production costs. The effects of the TPP 11 promise great benefits for the agriculture sector in Vietnam and will support Vietnam’s national agriculture to transform into a self-sufficient and competitive sector. Furthermore, sustainable environments are a primary concern of the CPTPP agreement. With the Most-Favored Nation Treatment principle, the TPP 11 is ensuring a fair competition, which will attract new foreign investments as well as support for the agriculture sector in its restructuring process. Moreover, national farmers must adopt high-developed technologies in nutrients and animal healthcare to be competitive. This will lead to more safety and trust of the consumer in the agriculture market in Vietnam.
One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers.
Both agreements promise great benefits for the agricultural and farming sector in Vietnam. The food industry is a very hesitating industry in general. Naturally, farmers usually invest part of their gains in technology. However, they buy just the ordinary machinery instead of new technology like software or sensors. The trade agreements could lead to the end of this hesitation and finally demonstrate the economic benefits of the new technologies. Further, the co-ordination between researches, developers and technology suppliers of PLF tools could be streamlined.
To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.
Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. Every investor should use these standards. It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases.
Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.
This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.
If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.