An emergency fund set up by the central bank last month to support the struggling Mekong Delta catfish industry has not made life any easier for catfish farmers, a teleconference heard Monday.
The State Bank of Vietnam (SBV)’s 1 trillion dong (US$61.54 million) fund is meant to help catfish processors and exporters buy tra and basa fish from farmers struggling with tumbling prices and oversupply.
Catfish prices have plummeted to 13,500-13,800 dong (US$0.82-0.84) per kilogram from an average 15,500 dong last month.
But only 22% of the fund has been disbursed so far as businesses have been reluctant to borrow at interest rates as high as 18%, the conference held Monday by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development heard.
The meeting saw officials from the ministry and eight Mekong Delta provinces discuss ways to bail out the farmers.
The Hau Giang provincial administration said of the 100 billion dong (US$6.3 million) earmarked for the province, only 15 billion dong has been lent.
Processors and exporters have bought just 920 tonnes out of the 6,000 tonnes farmers have harvested, Tran Thanh Lap, the province’s deputy leader, said.
He blamed the sluggish offtake on their cash crunch.
In Dong Thap Province, authorities said only 81 billion dong has been loaned so far out of the allotted 200 billion dong.
But even that went mostly to farmers and not businesses, they added.
Huynh Thai Nang, vice chair of the An Giang Province People’s Committee, said a shortage of workers was another problem facing catfish businesses.
He cited the example of Nam Viet Co which has been able to hire only a few hundred workers out of the 10,000 it needs.
He also lambasted the frequent and unexpected power outages which were taking a toll on the businesses.
Power cuts often last the whole day and fish die in large numbers without the electricity needed to cool their tanks, he said, forcing processors to reduce production to 50-60% of capacity.
These problems mean businesses buy less fish from farmers, he said.
Leaders of other provinces said local businesses face the same hurdles.
Around 323,000 tonnes of catfish remain in stock in the delta.
Most catfish firms said they prefer deferred payment deals with catfish farmers instead of borrowing money from banks.
Ta Quang Khanh, head of the SBV’s Credit Department, said he was upset at this decision.
Nguyen Huu Dung, vice chair of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors (Vasep), feared the remaining catfish stocks would not be sold by the end of August as planned.
Breeders bear the brunt
Catfish farmers across the delta region are saddled with huge stocks they have been unable to sell.
But keeping the fish is proving harder since they cannot afford to feed them.
To compound the problems, the price of feed has been rising relentlessly.
Vo Thi Phuoc Hong, a farmer in Dong Thap Province, said she and others have been selling their stocks by hook or by crook even if it meant getting 12,000 dong per kilogram.
But businesses are refusing to buy even at these prices.
Speaking at the conference, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat instructed agencies concerned to remain in close touch to assist the farmers.
He asked Vasep to persuade its members to pay at least 14,000 dong for catfish, and mull over measures to decrease feed prices.