Vietnamese Mushroom Brands: Long and Hard Road

5:07:29 PM | 1/4/2014

Though approved by the Vietnamese government as a national product since 2012, so far only five mushroom products have been recognized and certified. Mr Le Huy Ngo, former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Senior Advisor to the New Rural Construction Programme, had a conversation with Vietnam Business Forum about the arduous road of Vietnamese mushroom brands. Nguyen Thanh reports.
According to Mr Ngo, the objectives set by agricultural sector is that by 2015, annual mushroom production will reach 400,000 tonnes, of which 25 percent will be for exports; by 2020 the figure will be 1 million tonnes, with export earning of about US$1 billion.
 
However, so far, only the Plant Biotechnology Centre (Agricultural Genetics Institute) has studied and created 16 types of edible and medicinal mushrooms; of which five were officially recognized by MARD and put to mass production.
 
Why has this project not yet been implemented at full force?
On April 16th 2012, the Prime Minister approved Scheme 439 of developing mushrooms as national product, unfortunately research in this field right now is still limited (as noted above). Actually, the Department of Plantation (MARD) organised many conferences all over the country to promote and implement the program, but they haven’t yet achieved the expected results. The reason comes from a lack of synchrony in implementation: guiding committee and production units both are doing their jobs in their own ways. Conferences only came up with guidelines while the project failed to have an impact on production.
 
Besides those situations, are there any other causes that slow down the mushroom industry?
It’s obviously not because of lack of capital and resources. As projected by MARD, the total capital deployed for the framework project is VND6,900 billion, of which the state budget is VND650 billion; and funding from businesses, farmers and credit loans is VND6,250 billion. Moreover, those wishing to invest in the mushroom industry are abundant. As for inefficiency in equipment, mushrooms varieties, technique, our country can import and seek consultation from foreign experts.
 
The main reason here, I think, is the lack of experience among farmers, and experience takes time. Mushrooms are a quite demanding crop; experts can “diagnose” with one look, but to expect farmers to be able to do the same only with basic knowledge from short courses is impossible. So in Vietnamese mushroom industry, as the professionals go, so goes the knowledge.
 
Vietnam began planting mushroom in the 1970s, but ever since then the industry has continued to develop in spontaneous style, at small scale with very slow mechanization. Especially, research on mushroom pests or cultivation processes has been given very little attention.
 
But if we only count on experience, is there much chance for Vietnamese mushroom to go far on the global market?
To create a long-term brand for mushrooms, a must-have is marketing technology. It means a solution for the problems of product, positioning, pricing, distribution, etc. We have yet to see any branding research focus on this segment.
 
On the other hand, there’s also the problem of no connection among research, production organisation, processing and consumption. In this chain, the State should play the role of guiding and regulating, for example using the State budget to investigate markets in exporting countries then shares this information with manufacturers. Businesses also need broad vision, pooling in collective strengths instead of price - dumping each other. As for farmers, farms must equip them with knowledge of management, finance, even of the export market, so that they can make necessary adjustments.
 
There’s no doubt that Vietnam has high potential for mushroom development, but for this product to become a national brand, Vietnam needs a clearer roadmap with specific calculations about varieties, production organisation, branding and marketing.
 
Do you have any recommendation for Vietnamese mushroom businesses?
Brand, especially of agricultural products, usually is associated with a business, geographic location, or national product. That product must have a steady value chain from A - Z, which means from research to consumption. We are building brand for mushroom industry in two directions, the first is associating brands with types of products, for example chicken mushrooms, needle mushrooms, the second is associating brand with business, for example we now have Viet My Joint Stock Company famous for straw mushrooms which are well-known as far away as Eastern Europe.
 
In building brand, business is the key factor. However, the State should also play the supporting role instead of leaving enterprises to struggle on their own. Recently, the Ministry of Science and Technology launched a programme to support enterprises and localities in building product brands, including products of the national product program. Mushroom businesses should take advantage of this opportunity to develop their products.