Biotechnology in Vietnam’s Agricultural Sector

Vietnam is an agricultural country and one of the largest exporters of agricultural products in the world. Although the country still lags behind advanced countries in the research and application of biotechnology in agriculture, it has achieved encouraging achievements in this field.

Like many other countries in the world, Vietnam is facing the problems of climate change, population growth, shrinkage of agricultural land due to the urbanization process and degradation of land, which has resulted in a decrease in the output of agricultural products. Therefore, the Vietnamese agricultural sector has sought the optimal solutions to timely deal with these problems to develop a sustainable green agriculture to ensure national food security and contribute to the world’s food security. Among these solutions, biotechnology is defined as a key strategic spearhead.
Talking about the development of biotechnology in the agriculture of Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said: “Biotechnology in Vietnam’s agricultural sector has reached many achievements. These include the research and application of gene technology in selecting and creating species of crops and livestock, which have high yield and good quality and are resistant to diseases. These also include cytological technology in propagation of promising varieties in both crop and animal issues, especially in terms of disease-free aquatic creatures. Biotechnology has also been successfully applied in creating biological products such as biofertilizers and biopesticides, biomaterials in treating aquaculture environment. Biotechnology has emphazied to animal feedstuffs and vaccines due to recombinant technology and enzymology...”.


Checking the growth of saplings planted by the light technology line at Mekong University. Photo: Le Minh


In recent years, the leading centres such as the Institutes of Agricultural Sciences for Southern Vietnam, the Southern Horticultural Research Institute, the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute and the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 have made great contributions to the research and application of biotechnology in agriculture, especially in Southern region, a key agricultural area of the country. 
The Cuu Long Delta is the largest rice production area of the country, so the research and application of biotechnology in the production of rice is considered a decisive factor to help improve the varieties of rice, increase the output and quality of rice to deal with exporting and climate change. The Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute has detected rice candidate genes, which are tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses, obtain high yield and good quality. The institute has found 30 varieties of rice with their promising qualities, which allow them to grow in large scale areas after yield trial testing. It has successfully researched the modification of genes to create rice genotypes, which are tolerant to drought and exhibit rich micronutrients.
The Cuu Long River Delta is also a large fruit basket. The Southern Horticultural Research Institute has concentrated its biotechnological research on developing species of special fruit trees of high economic value. The most prominent technology is the multiplication of the disease-free citrus trees with shoot-tip grafting techniques. Using this technique, the scientists have created a species of citrus trees which are tolerant to the greening-greening disease (VLG) and some viral diseases. The institute has applied the technique of irradiating gamma rays to change the structure of a gene to create citrus trees with seedless fruit. So far, the institute has transferred many species of disease-free and high-yield plants to farmers in the Mekong Delta, helping them be active in farming and harvesting. Now the Institute is doing several major research projects, notably to identify the substance causing Choi rong (witches broom disease) in longan trees by using the molecular marker techniques to multiply the specific DNA segment and the project on classifying the pathogens and cross-breeding the variety of the yellow dragon fruit and the variety of the dragon fruit with white flesh to produce a variety with yellow flesh and a high content of carotenoids.
The Biotechnology Centre of Ho Chi Minh City was established in 2004 with a total construction cost of about 100 million USD. The centre has achieved initial results in the application of biotechnology in cross-breeding orchids, collecting and identifying over 100 varieties of rare and precious forest orchids in Vietnam. It has successfully carried out the research on the virus-detection PCR Kit; research and application of the temporary immersion system in cultivating the plant tissues, resulting in an increase in the number of the seedlings with a higher survival rate; research on the genetics of the trait of white spot disease resistance in catfish, using the technology of recombining the genes and causing a mutation; research and application of the animal cell technology to complete the process of creating the bovine embryos by using the in-vitro fertilization method. In 2007, Ho Chi Minh City’s Agricultural High-Tech Park covering over 80ha was established with the goal of transferring the agricultural scientific and technical achievements. Now, 100% of the areas for the investors have been occupied with 14 projects. In the initial period, some models of the tissue cultivation of the precious orchid and banana varieties, the examination of diseases using the molecular biotechnology, the transfer of disease-resistant genes in tomato plants have been transferred.
Vietnamese scientists have also studied and applied biotechnological achievements in the production of organic fertilizers towards a sustainable green agriculture. The Thien Sinh Joint-Stock Company and the Huu Co Company Limited have taken the lead in applying the fermentation microorganism technology to produce bio-organic fertilizers and microbial-organic fertilizers to supply nutrients for crops, helping improve the soil and protect the environment. Every year, these companies provide the market with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of high-quality organic fertilizers, basically meeting the domestic demand and for export.


The room for preserving breeds at Ho Chi Minh City’s Agricultural High-Tech Park. Photo: Nguyen Luan

In the field of animal husbandry and aquaculture, the application of biotechnology has also obtained great achievements. The Research Institute for Aquaculture No.2 has successfully the domestication of black tiger shrimp with biotechnology to make them become the disease-free parent shrimp, opening the prospect of producing a large number of disease-free tiger prawn for export. For the catfish, the institute uses biotechnology in many steps, from selecting the parent generation as a source to produce a good breeding species to researching genetics of the strait of white spot disease resistant in striped catfish to create a species which has a high growth rate, and is safe and disease-free. The institute also applies molecular biology in diagnoses of fish pathogen, all-male production of giant freshwater prawn and improvement of the quality of induced spawning of seabass and effective microorganism product to be used in preventing the disease in shrimp larvae.
The Institute of Agricultural Sciences for Southern Vietnam is also a unit that has attained many results on animals. These include the identification of the gene, which is applied in selecting the species of animals and controlling the diseases in livestock and poultry, the improvement of reproduction to create a generation of calves with a desired gender, and embryo cultivation in the womb. All these contribute to the husbandry development in Ho Chi Minh City.
The world’s biotechnology has made remarkable progress. One of the outstanding achievements is genetically modified organism (GMO) technology. Vietnamese scientists have accessed the technology. However, as there are still many different opinions about GMO, mainly in the research circle, Vietnamese scientists have selectively received and applied the scientific achievements of the GMO technology to bring economic benefits and ensure biological safety.

Story: Van Quy - Photos: Le Minh - Nguyen Luan