FEATURE: Can Tho Province bids to become Mekong Delta hub

CAN THO, Vietnam, June 7 Kyodo

Long regarded as the capital of the Mekong Delta, Can Tho Province is trying to develop its infrastructure and to fight poverty in a bid to become the biggest economic center in the resource-rich region by 2010.

Provincial authorities are upgrading an airport so light cargo planes can make direct flights to Southeast Asian countries, and building a port with an annual handling capacity of 3 million tons to export food and import fertilizers, said Nguyen Van Duoc, vice director of the province’s Planning and Investment Department.

The province is developing three industrial zones surrounding the provincial capital Can Tho, about 180 kilometers southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, and calling for foreign investment in 19 infrastructure and processing industry projects, Duoc says.

Duoc said projects are under the 10-year master plan for the province’s social and economic development.

“I am quite optimistic about the province’s development prospects,” Duoc said, adding Can Tho’s gross domestic product growth last year was 6.64% while that of the whole country was only 4.8%.

Surrounded by 11 other provinces, Can Tho is a relay center for products from the delta.

The Mekong region is known as Vietnam’s biggest rice basket, with an output of up to 51% of the whole country, and boasts of rich aquatic resources such as shrimp and fish, and abundant tropical fruits such as citrus fruits, mangoes, coconuts, bananas and longan.

However, domestic and foreign marketing of those products remains a problem for farmers in the region due to the absence of adequate processing and storage facilities, Duoc said.

Another alternative for farmers is to transport the products to Ho Chi Minh City for export. But that would put an additional cost in terms of transporting the commodities by boat.

Bridges play an important role in transportation in the region because old boats cannot ferry cars and trucks.

The My Thuan bridge was completed in late May after three years of construction at a cost of about $60 million with financial assistance from Australia.

The construction of the Can Tho bridge is scheduled to start in September next year and is expected to be completed by 2005 with Japanese official development assistance totaling $295 million.

Agriculture is the most important trade in Can Tho, covering 250,000 out of its 300,000 hectares of natural land, with an annual rice output of more than 2 million tons, half of which is for export.

Rice makes up 60% of the province’s gross domestic product, but local agriculture authorities are trying to limit rice production because of the falling prices in international markets, said Nguyen Van Ngau, deputy director of the province’s Agriculture Department.

They are now giving priority to the development of aquaculture and dairy farming because fruit production is falling as a result of diseases that destroy citrus fruit trees, Ngau said.

Can Tho is the second biggest fruit producing province in the delta, after Tien Giang Province.

Officials said the biggest headache for the province’s agriculture authorities is not production, but the sale of the products, especially to foreign markets.

Local farmers do not have proper market information and cannot make direct export activities by themselves.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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