Demand for organic rice is on the rise in Vietnam despite its higher prices, local media reported Tuesday.
The rice has become more popular for several reasons, including clear labels of origin and production that follows organic standards or national and international standards like VietGap and GlobalGap.
Customers in southern Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City said they can buy organic rice as well as fruit, vegetables, fish, meat at organic food shops, according to local Vietnam News daily, adding that they prefer organic rice because the labels show where and when the rice was planted and the date of harvest.
Among companies investing more in organic rice and vegetables, the Ca Mau-based Vien Phu Organic and Healthy Foods Joint Stock Corporation has received organic production certificates granted by the U.S. and EU since 2012.
Vien Phu Company initially planned to export its organic rice to high-end markets, but local demand had now surpassed export orders. The company annually exports 1,000 tons of Hoa Sua-brand fragrant organic rice at a price of 10 U.S. dollars per kilo, mostly to the U.S. and the EU.
Apart from white organic rice, the company supplies red, purple and black rice. Thanks to its higher nutrients and minerals than normal rice, organic rice can be sold in Vietnam at 45,000-75,000 VND (2.1-3.5 U.S. dollars) per kilo, compared to the average 20, 000 VND (94 cents) for one kilo of normal rice.
By 2015, organic rice output harvested by Vien Phu Company is expected to reach five tons per hectare on the company's total cultivated area of 320 ha.
In addition the company plans to cooperate with 10,000-20,000 farm households that have a total of 10,000-20,000 ha to grow the rice.
Meanwhile, the Co May Co. Ltd. in southern Dong Thap province also sells three kinds of organic rice under the Nosavina brand. There is a QR (quick response) code on each of the rice packages that tracks the product's origin.
According to Nham Ba Phuong, co-founder of Nosavina brand rice, consumers are concerned about quality, but they are paying as much or more attention to the safety of the rice.
For that reason, his company invested 5 million U.S. dollars to establish its rice material area and processing plant that meets HACCP standards, an internationally recognized method of managing food safety and protecting consumers.
Along with organic rice, rice that contains high nutrients and other ingredients that can assist medical treatment is also sold on the market. An Giang Plant Protection Joint Stock Company (in southern An Giang province) has supplied the market with Vibigaba- brand sprouted rice, which can help stabilize blood glucose levels of diabetics.
Experts said the low export prices of the normal rice, plus the increasingly high demand for organic food both have prompted Vietnamese enterprises to produce organic rice. However, developing organic rice would be a thorny path due to required heavy investments.
According to Professor Vo Tong Xuan, a Vietnamese well-known rice expert, Vietnam's rice needs to have at least two certificates, i.e. Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and USDA, to be able to penetrate the U.S. market. However, it would be easier to bring rice products to the U.S. with USDA's certificate, though it is less costly to obtain USDA certificate than Global Gap.
Insiders said the high production costs would make Vietnamese farmers still hesitate to develop the organic food program.