A type of Chinese-made combine harvester, which used to be a bestselling machine in the Mekong Delta provinces thanks to its much cheaper prices than its Japanese counterpart, is now nothing but a big nuisance for its owners, as the machines often breaks down in the paddy fields.
A farmer in Kien Giang Province, who refused to be named, said he has gotten used to seeing his Chinese combine harvester broken down in the middle of harvesting.
“The latest shutdown occurred a few days ago when I was hired to harvest the crop of Ut Thuyen in Hon Dat District,” he said.
The machine managed to cover half of the area in the morning before it stopped working in the afternoon after emitting a strange, loud sound, Ut Thuyen recalled.
“The machine owner said it was due to the faulty gearbox bearings, and the harvester could only resume operations a day later,” Thuyen said.
The farmer added that he had reluctantly hired the Chinese machine as no Japanese combine harvesters were available at the time.
“The blades, timing belts, and bearings of the Chinese machines often break down, which delays the work for two to three days,” he complained.
Ut Ly, a farmer in Can Tho, also said deploying a Chinese harvester for his crop is the last thing he would do, even though the leasing fee is lower than that of a Japanese machine.
“During the summer – autumn crop, when the fields are usually wet with rain, the [Chinese] machine fails to thoroughly harvest the paddy, and has a high loss rate of up to 40 kilograms of rice per 1,000 square meters,” he said.
Other machine owners said their Chinese harvesters are nothing but a big debt.
“I bought one for VND200 million (US$9,600) years ago, but ended up bargaining it off at only one fourth of the original price,” said Ngo Thanh Thien, a farmer in Kien Giang.
Nguyen Thi Nhung, another Kien Giang farmer, said her VND70 million machine became officially useless after being used for only two crops.
“I had no choice but to spend an additional VND7 million to turn it into cargo,” she said.
Where are the Vietnamese machines?
The combine harvester market used to be dominated by made-in-Vietnam machines, with supply at some points failing to meet demand.
However, many mechanics facilities specializing in making combine harvesters have switched into manufacturing simple machines.
And it is money that matters, said Quach Ba, director of the Vinh Hung Co Ltd, a well-known harvester manufacturer in Kien Giang.
Ba said the Vietnamese manufacturers are in fact “only able to make several simple parts of the machine, while other complex parts have to be imported from China.”
“We had no money to upgrade technology and expand our market, and eventually had to reduce production,” he said.
There are some 1,100 mechanics businesses in Kien Giang, but 95 percent of them are small facilities which deploy almost no advance technology in production, according to figures from the local agriculture department.
“Kien Giang has some 1,140 active combine harvesters, 75 percent of which are Chinese-made, 23 percent are from Japan, and only 2 percent are locally made,” said Tran Quang Cui, deputy director of the province’s agriculture department.
“So where are the Vietnamese manufacturers? Have they given up on the game?”