Despite the fact that pangasius exports earn US$2 billion every year, most fish breeders have gone bankrupt, while the rest are wearily hoping that they can pay their debts when the fish prices increase someday.
Nguyen Huu Nguyen, who used to be rich thanks to his pangasius ponds in An Giang Province’s Chau Phu District, said, “Tens of billions of dong and my heritage already turned to dust and ashes with my catfish ponds. Nothing left after 20 years of working”.
He is one of the few catfish breeders to still maintain this job. After starting his career by raising catfish in nets, he bought land in Long Xuyen City and in Chau Phu District in An Giang Province to build fish ponds before 2007. He used to earn tens of billions of dong by selling over 10,000 tons of catfish every year.
Since 2008, due to the fact that the fish price has continuously fallen and the credit crunch has been applied, most farmers have sold at a loss. Just like other farmers, Nguyen had to sell his land and narrow his business. Even though he sold all of his fish ponds and a fish food factory to pay off debts in 2011, he still owes the bank about VND 2 billion.
A similar reality has hit other catfish breeders, not only in An Giang Province, but also in Can Tho, Dong Thap and many other provinces in the Mekong Delta.
Nguyen Van Son is another example. He used to earn tens of billions of dongs via his pangasius business before quitting the job years ago. At that time, he had to gather all of his remaining money to build a small house, where he now lives and sells groceries as well as breakfast to earn a daily living.
When asked about the catfish, he said, “I quit a long time ago. All of my money and land have gone with those fish.”
‘I had to sell 5.4 hectares of land that my parents had left to me for debt repayment from the catfish business”, he added while pointing to the large green field near his small house.
According to Le Chi Binh, deputy president of the An Giang Seafood Processing and Feeding Association, approximately 80 percent of farmers have quit the catfish business. “Because catfish exporting is becoming more challenging, many companies have had to reduce raw material purchasing prices”, he said.
“Breeding catfish costs farmers VND 23,000 to 24,000 for every kilogram, whereas the purchasing price that companies offer is only VND18,000 to 19,000 per kilo. The more they breed, the more they lose”, said Phan Thi Yen, director of the An Giang Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Not only selling at a loss
According to Nguyen Van Khen, one of the farmers who has been breeding catfish for years in Chau Phu District’s My Phu Commune, they have to sell fish for domestic consumers and companies producing dried fish, since the demand of seafood processing companies has declined.
However, this is not a solution. Khen and four other farmers, who sold fish for a company in Tan Chau Commune, have never gotten their money back, an amount worth up to VND2 billion. The company has disappeared with their money.
“Since many families quit, I thought that if I keep working, I can make a profit. Therefore, I borrowed more money, maintained my two catfish ponds and waited for the increase in fish price.
Unfortunately, the price kept going down, under VND 20,000 per kilo, which is lower than my costs. Not only that, I have also lost money from some companies, who bought fish but never paid. I have lost almost everything now”, Khen lamented.
In another case, Ho Van Nghia, a farmer in Can Tho Province, said, “Farmers are facing bankruptcy due to the decrease in fish prices and losing money from companies.
‘I sold fish to a company but they have delayed paying me money. After going to court, they have only paid me VND20 million a month, and still owe about VND 2 billion. Companies like that are pushing farmers to bankruptcy”.
As a result, farmers have had to reduce their catfish yield. However, even when they do so, only a few companies buy fish, at a price of VND 18,000 to 19,000 per kilo, and only with deferred payments, which are also delayed sometimes.
According to Duong Ngoc Minh, deputy president of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), contracts with catfish businesses are usually signed without care.
These contracts have lots of mistakes and lack necessary causes. As a result, many companies take advantage of this to appropriate farmers’ money.
Firstly, they agree to pay VND1,000 to 2,000 higher than the normal price for every kilo of catfish and are willing to pay in advance 30 percent of the total amount, while the rest will be paid gradually after one to three months.
With a business of 500 tons of catfish, farmers can receive about VND1 million more. Therefore, the farmers usually sign the contracts right away. After buying, these companies delay their payment or appropriate all the money.