HANOI, Dec 27 (Reuters): Vietnam, the world's second- largest rice exporter after Thailand, will harvest 35.79 million tonnes of paddy this year, down 1 per cent from 2004 as some areas have been switched to other crops, the government said today.
But higher rice demand in the region has prompted Vietnam to export record volumes this year at 5.2 million tonnes.
Rice is the biggest earner among the country's exported agro- products even though many of the 83 million Vietnamese still regard the grain as their staple food while rising income has allowed a more diverse meal for part of the population.
A General Statistics Office report said Vietnam planted 7.33 million hectares (18.11 million acres) of rice this year, or 1.6 per cent less than in 2004, and the lost areas were in both the northern and southern regions, which incorporate the Mekong Delta rice basket.
While typhoons and floods battered Vietnam's northern and central provinces in recent months, farmers in the south have switched part of rice fields to raising shrimps or growing fruits.
But a higher yield has kept Vietnam's output of paddy, or unhusked rice, from falling too far.
The government estimated the average yield this year at 0.49 tonne per hectare, or 0.6 per cent up from last year.
Vietnam grows three rice crops a year. Most of the grain from its winter-spring crop, the highest-yielding and best- quality crop, is used for exports.
The Southeast Asian country is estimated to ship a record 5.2 million tonnes of rice in 2005, up 27.3 per cent on last year.