Agricultural researcher totals in Vietnam increased steadily during 1991–2003, reaching nearly 3,000 fte’s in 2003. The country’s agricultural R&D expenditures almost tripled throughout 1996–2002 as a result of an increased commitment by the national government to financing agricultural research, as well as a rise in donor support. Nonetheless, average expenditures per researcher and research intensity levels are still lower than in many of Vietnam’s Southeast Asian neighbors. With the launch of its medium-term program for 2001–10, the national government announced that it intended to attain an agricultural research intensity ratio of 0.51 percent by 2005. In view of the country’s low 2002 ratio (0.17 percent) and modest growth in R&D spending in real terms during 2002-05, this goal appears to have been somewhat overoptimistic. Nonetheless, the approval of large-scale investments in biotechnology research by the Vietnamese government in February 2006 certainly underlines the government’s commitment to reaching this goal.
Besides relatively low investment levels, agricultural research in Vietnam is characterized by low qualification levels of research staff, a legacy of the country’s political isolation. Since the country’s political and economic reforms, rapidly increasing numbers of scientists have been trained abroad to the MSc and PhD level, significantly boosting average degree levels in recent years.
In 2005 MARD-led R&D underwent a major reshuffling, in which the total number of MARD agencies with a research mandate was reduced from 28 to 12. Another round of mergers is expected to halve this total again by 2008. These amalgamations aim to eliminate duplication of research efforts between the various MARD agencies, but they do not appear to address the extreme geographic centralization of Vietnamese agricultural R&D, with most activities still taking place in the immediate vicinity of Hanoi (and to a lesser extent Ho Chi Minh City). This situation prevents R&D from being closely connected with Vietnam’s rural development programs.