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Cablegate: Vietnam Food Security Research by Staffdel Luse, Senate

DE RUEHHI #1404/01 3590714
R 240714Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

HANOI 00001404 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) Summary: Keith Luse, Senior Professional Staff Member,
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Vietnamese officials,
scientists, policy makers, and NGO representatives to analyze food
security issues and identify partnership opportunities in Vietnam
from December 6-11. Vietnamese participants expressed appreciation
for US assistance and hope to receive additional support to build
partnerships with US universities and research institutions,
especially in human resource development at all levels of the
agricultural sector and biotech research. Participants stated
concerns about rice production and storage, human resource
development, and climate change. While Vietnam is well known as the
world's second largest rice exporter, gaps remain in its ability to
provide safe and sufficient nutrition to all of its population and
the agricultural sector needs capacity building at all levels. Luse
also met with Vietnamese MFA officials and National Assembly members
and discussed bilateral relations and regional issues. End summary.

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Policy Makers and Crop Production Officials

2. (U) Luse met with representatives from the Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development's (MARD) Institute of Policy and
Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development (IpSard). He
discussed MARD's educational facilities and extension services from
the national to the local level. IpSard said current priorities
include maintaining agricultural exports, especially rice and
coffee, finding full employment for rural labor, and promoting the
use of biotechnology. Future concerns include avoiding loss of
needed agricultural land to increased industrialization and

3. (U) IpSard said Vietnam would benefit from US assistance in
building human resources capacity not only in research and
biotechnology, but also in agricultural policy and management.
Vietnam also needs assistance in post harvest technology, and
although it is the world's second largest rice exporter, it is still
lacking in capacity to properly store, label, and market its rice.

4. (U) Officials from MARD's Crop Production Department described
how MARD assists and supports farmers. Concerns were raised about
the effects of climate change on rice production, especially if
rising ocean levels would increase the salinization of the Red River
and Mekong River Deltas. Officials discussed ways to improve the
quality of rice, including developing new saltwater resistant
strains and building the use of additional export crops including
coffee, peppers, corn, cashews and rubber.

NGO Roundtable and Agricultural Genetics Institute
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (U) Luse participated in a roundtable with 3 NGOs working in the
food sector. The American Red Cross has school feeding and water
sanitation programs funded under USDA's Food for Education program,
with beneficiaries in Central Vietnam and in ethnic minority areas
of Northwest Vietnam. CounterPart International has a USDA Food for
Progress grant under which it is offering support to farmers and
agricultural workers at the grassroots level in Central Vietnam.
OxFam Great Britain has been working in northern Vietnam and the
Mekong Delta on food security, including emergency response to
disasters and advocacy for farmers.

6. (U) The NGOs noted that while Vietnam exports large amounts of
rice, coffee, pepper and cashew, there are several serious
vulnerabilities in food security. First, Vietnam is prone to
natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, and droughts which
negatively impact food crops. Secondly, parts of the population,
especially in the Central Highlands, Central Vietnam, and the
Northwest, including ethnic minorities, have higher poverty rates
and weaker access to sufficient nutrition than urban populations.
Third, Vietnam has been listed by the UN as one of the world's most
vulnerable countries to Climate Change. Finally, at the grassroots
level, many farmers are at a subsistence level and the agricultural
extension service is inadequate.

7. (U) Luse emphasized the importance of providing detailed project
evaluations to determine which programs are most effective. The
USDA-funded projects have detailed reporting requirements, and the
NGOs conduct additional external monitoring and evaluations. The
USDA programs are concluding, and no additional funds will be
available from those sources. Despite repeated efforts by Post to
arrange a meeting, World Bank officials in Hanoi were unavailable to
discuss food security issues with Luse.

8. (U) At the meeting with the Agricultural Genetics Institute, the

HANOI 00001404 002.2 OF 003

Director General (DG) said there could be food security problems if
the land available for agriculture continues to decline. Different
types of crops and crops with different characteristics will be
needed to respond to changing conditions. The DG welcomed research
and academic partnerships with American universities and thought
there would be many topics for joint research, especially in

Food Crop Research Institute and Hanoi Agricultural
--------------------------------------------- ------

9. (U) Luse met with the leadership of the Food Crop Research
Institute of the Vietnam Academy for Agricultural Sciences located
in an agricultural province 70 kilometers north of Hanoi.
Scientists have an active research program there focusing on rice,
tubers, legumes and vegetables. The institute develops food crops
to meet the needs of farmers using traditional and high tech methods
such as strains that are drought resistant. One professor said that
the GVN maintains a 6 month supply of food stores for emergencies
and that because geographic conditions differ regionally, it is
unlikely that a massive disaster would wipe out all food crops in
the north, center, and south at the same time.

10. (U) Many of the institute's staff have advanced degrees from
different countries and would like to have greater exchanges with
American universities. One repeatedly mentioned concern was the
lack of Vietnamese with sufficient English skills to participate in
programs in the United States. The senior leadership at the
Biotechnology Institute of Hanoi Agricultural University shared many
of the same interests and concerns as their colleagues at the Food
Crop Research Institute. Vietnam needs human resource development
in the agricultural sector, from local extension workers to national
policy makers. They would like to establish more research
partnerships with American universities, especially in
biotechnology, but have concerns about the English abilities of
potential participants.

MARD Vice Minister and Ministry of Health

11. (U) On December 11, Luse met with MARD Vice Minister Bui Ba Bong
who emphasized the need to upgrade rice production, storage and
marketing, ensure biosafety, address climate change and build human
resources. The Vice Minister thanked the US for cooperation and
support, especially from USDA, and expressed hope for future support
from USAID. He said he would like to build more partnerships with
US universities and research institutions and was optimistic about
the future of biotech in Vietnam.

12. (U) The DG of the Vietnam Food Administration of the Ministry of
Health provided a detailed briefing of the administrative structure
of the food safety system. He said key issues in 2008 were consumer
complaints about pesticides in vegetables and problems with fruit
preservatives. Many of these concerns proved to be unfounded.
Current priorities are the implementation of the GVN decree on Food
Safety systems and screening food imports for safety. He requested
US further assistance in drafting Food Safety laws.

Meetings with MFA and National Assembly

13. (U) MFA and National Assembly representatives separately hosted
Luse for dinner. During those meetings, Luse raised issues of
concern in the bilateral relationship, including curbs on press
freedom, arrests of journalists, and pressure on the Catholic
archbishop of Hanoi. He noted the high degree of Senate interest
about Vietnam and Senator Lugar's satisfaction with the positive
trend of relations in recent years. There was also discussion of
the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations and Vietnam's
application for GSP status.

14. (U) On regional issues, Luse said that the North Koreans have
shown they trust Vietnam and he encouraged his Vietnamese hosts to
contribute to regional stability by sharing their economic reform
experience with Pyongyang. He noted that the North Koreans have
tried unsuccessfully several times to implement new economic
policies. The Vietnamese responded that their interaction with the
North Koreans had dropped off earlier in the year and agreed that
this might be a result of leadership uncertainty in Pyongyang. Luse
and an MFA North Korea expert shared their views on the North Korean
political situation and Kim Jong-il. Luse emphasized that both
parties in the Senate were concerned about North Korean weapons
shipments to Burma and the possibility of nuclear cooperation
between those two parties. Luse and his hosts also discussed the US

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relationship with ASEAN and China's regional policies.

15. (U) This cable was cleared by Staffdel Luse.


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