Nguyễn Văn Ngưu

Rice is the staple food in Vietnam and Vietnamese grow rice with the main aim of harvesting the rice grain for food. When rice crops are maturing, Vietnamese farmers turn their activities to harvest and postharvest operations. The quantity of rice loss depends greatly on technology and equipment used in harvesting, threshing, drying, cleaning and storing the harvested grains of rice or hạt lúa in Vietnamese. The harvested rice grains are then subjected to a series of postharvest operations including milling, pilling/pounding and cleaning to produce the milled grains or hạt gạo in Vietnamese for home consumption and for selling in the markets to generate incomes for other expenditures of families of farmers. The techniques, tools, equipment and machines used in harvesting and post-harvest operations have changed with time. Similarly, the marketing/trading of un-milled and milled rice grains have also evolved greatly with time. The following pages try to capture the changes in rice harvesting, postharvest operations and the trading of rice in Vietnam.


In one cropping season, rice plants grow, develop, flower and then mature. In Vietnam, rice crop usually ripens at about 30 to 35 days from flowering. The ripening rice field has a golden yellow color and it bring happiness to farmers, as it is expressed in the following ca dao:

Rủ nhau bước xuống ruộng vàng
Nơi lộng tiếng hát, nơi vang tiếng cười

Những trông lúa chín mà vui
Bông ngã, bông cúi, bông thời gió lay


Let us go down to the golden rice field

There is singing there is laughter

Happy to see ripe rice panicles

Drooping panicles, bending panicles, floating panicles under winds

A Vietnamese poet also has the following lines to describe a beautiful ripening rice crop.

Những sáng hè dưới trời xanh đẹp nắng

Biển lúa vàng theo gió gợn rung rinh


In the beautiful summer morning under bright sunshine

A sea of golden rice panicles rippling with the winds

In the past, the ripen rice fields build up confident among the population, especially during war time. During the war of resistance to French colonization, a Vietnamese soldier also wrote the following lines about ripen rice field.

Lúa chín vàng hoe giặc mất hồn

Ăn không ngon, ngủ không yên, đứng không vững


The enemies lose their confidence seeing the golden ripening rice fields

Their food becomes tasteless, their sleep broken, their legs shaking

I.1 Harvesting Times in the Past

The rice cropping season then ends with harvesting. In the past, there were two rice seasons in a year in Vietnam, the monsoon (or Mua) and the Chiem seasons. The Chiem season rice crops usually ripen in summer, in the months of May and June and in the old time, farmers harvested the crop in June and July, as it is described in the following ca dao.

Tháng tư* lúa đã đỏ hoe đầy đồng
Chị em đi sắp gánh gồng
Đòn càn tay hái ta cùng ra đi
Khó nghèo cấy mướn gặt thuê
Lấy công đổi của chớ hề lụy ai

Tháng năm tháng sáu* gặt miền ruộng Chiêm


Rice fields turned into golden color in May

Sisters, let’s prepare tools and equipment

Levers, sickles in hand we go

Difficult to hire laborers to harvest

Do not give burden to other, let’s turn our labor into wealth

Harvesting our Chiem rice in June, July

*Vietnamese tháng tư, tháng năm, tháng sáu coincide with May, June, July in solar calendar

Similarly, the following ca dao describes about the harvesting of Chiem rice crop:

Trời hè lắm trận mưa rào

Gặt lúa sớm hãy liệu sao cho vừa

Khuyên em chớ ngại nắng mưa

Của chồng công vợ bao giờ quên nhau


There are frequent showers during summer

Let us harvest rice crop early

Please do not be afraid of the sun and rain

It is husband’s wealth and wife’s contribution no one forgets

The monsoon (or Mua) rice crop, however, usually ripens in October and it is harvested in November, as it is expressed in the following ca dao:

Thuận mùa lúa tốt đằng đằng

Tháng mười* gặt lúa ta ăn đầy nhà


If the season is good, our rice will grow well

We will then harvest it in November for an abundant crop

* Vietnamese tháng mười coincide with November in Solar calendar

Similarly, the harvest of monsoon rice crop is mentioned in the following ca dao:

Bao giờ cho đến tháng mười
Ta đem liềm hái ra ngoài ruộng ta
Gặt hái ta đem về nhà
Phơi khô quạt sạch ấy là xong công


When November arrives

We will bring sickles and scythes to our field

For harvesting and bringing the rice home

After drying and cleaning it, our work is done

I.2 Harvesting Times in Recent Times

In the recent past, there are 3 rice crops in a year: The Dong-Xuan (or Winter-Spring), the He-Thu (or Summer-Autumn) and the Mua (or Main). The harvest of Winter-Spring rice takes place from April to June , that of Summer-Autumn rice from August to September, and that of Main rice from September to December.

I.3 Harvesting Operations

Harvesting is a process of several operations including the gathering rice panicles from the fields, threshing or separating the grains from the panicles, drying and cleaning the grains, and finally storing the harvested grains. In the very old time, Vietnamese farmers harvested rice by cutting rice panicle, one by one, as it is told in the story of Cây Lúa or Bó Khâu Quang (Bui Huy Dap, 1985). With time, copper and iron sickles and scythes were developed and produced for cutting rice panicles/harvesting.

The upper parts of rice plants, including panicles, leaves and part of stem were cut, collected and brought home for threshing. In the very old time, threshing was done by beating rice panicle by hands and/or legs. Gradually, in some places, buffalos were used in rice threshing. Then simple tools such as bamboo or wooden tables were developed for threshing. In the recent past, different rice threshing machines were available and farmers used to thresh the harvested rice in the fields.

The number of threshing machines increased rapidly after 1985. In 2001, for example, about 599,000 threshing machines were used in Vietnam for rice threshing (GSO, 2002). Also, some combine harvesters, which could perform different functions at one time, were recently used for rice harvesting, especially in the Mekong River Delta.

At harvest, rice grains contain still at least 20% of moisture. At this moisture content rice grains are susceptible to the development and growth of mold that spoil/damage rice grains. The percentage of moisture in rice grains affect the effective duration for storing rice grains – rice grains at 14% moisture content could be kept in storage for 1 year, but rice grains at 18% moisture content can be kept in storage for only 2 weeks (Phan Hieu Hien et al., 2000). Consequently, farmers dry rice grains to bring its moisture content down to less than 14% before storing them. In the old time, the popular method for drying rice grains is to expose them to the sun. Drying rice grains using solar energy depends greatly on the weather, as it was described in the following ca dao.

Trời râm cho lúa lâu già

Cho cô hàng xóm vào ra tần ngần

Ước ngày nắng ấm tơ tằm

Tôi ra phơi lúa cùng sân với nàng

Lúa vàng lấy được nắng vàng

Lúa đi cứu nước vẹn toàn trước sau

Cho trầu thêm bén duyên cau

Chung sân mùa trước chung nhà mùa sau


A cloudy sky causes rice grains to take more time to ripen

My lady neighbor anxiously walks in and out

I wish for a sunny day

When I could dry rice grains in the same court with her

Golden yellow rice grain benefits from good sunshine

Rice to save the country with integrity before and after

For the betel leaf is charming the areca nut

Together in same court this season, together in the same house come next season

The harvest of Summer-Autumn rice is usually taken in August-September period or at the middle of raining season. Therefore, after threshing some farmers had to use drying machine to dry the rice grains. In 2001, there were only about 5,042 rice drying machines/ovens or stoves in Vietnam. In addition, small stoves were fabricated and sold to farmers to use for drying rice grains (Phan Hieu Hien et al, 2000).

After drying, farmers clean rice grains from unfilled grains, leaves and stems. In the past, initially farmers used force of wind to clean rice grains, then they used fans to winnow rice grains. In the recent past, the cleaning is integrated in rice threshing machines. Also, electrical fans were developed for rice cleaning.

After the above operations and if rice grains are not sold, farmers keep the rice grains in storage containers/facilities such as nong, bồ, bịch. In the Mekong River Delta large land owners/plantation owners built large container or Lẫm to store rice grain. Hardworking rice farmers usually have many bồ and bịch, as it is described in the following ca dao.

Bởi anh chăm việc canh nông

Nên anh mới có bồ trong bịch ngoài


Because you are good agricultural worker

You have mistresses all around

In Vietnamese, “bồ bịch” also indicates lovers. In Vietnam, many rich people had additional lovers in addition to their wives. In the recent past, rice research institutes in Vietnam developed safety bags for rice grain storage. Large rice trading companies also built metal bins in Saigon and Can Tho for rice storage (Tran Thi Que, 1999)


The products of the harvesting processes are raw rice grains or paddy or lúa in Vietnamese. In the past, majority of farmers undertook the milling and pilling of raw rice grains themselves to have milled rice grains (or gạo) for home consumption or for selling in market, as it is described in the following ca dao.

Năm nong đầy em xay em giã

Trấu ủ phân cám bã nuôi heo

Sang năm lúa tốt tiền nhiều

Em đem đóng thuế đóng sưu cho chồng


Five full nong I mill and pill

Hulls and husk to make fertilizer, rice brans for pig feed

Next year, good rice crop will bring in more money

Some of which I use to settle my husband’s taxes

In the very old times, Vietnamese farmers used stone grinding table for milling and pilling rice grains. Gradually mortars and pestles and then simple and hand-operating milling machines were developed for milling and pilling rice grains. The milling and pilling of paddy (or raw rice or lúa) using simple and hand-operating milling machines produce brown rice (or gạo lức), rice bran and rice husks and hulls after milling. After milling, farmers winnow to clean brown rice from rice bran, husk and hull.

The brown rice is then subjected to pilling/pounding process using wooden mortar and pestle to produce milled rice (or gạo) and rice bran. Farmers then use a sieve to separate the milled rice from rice bran. The milled rice is ready for family’s consumption as food or for selling/trading in market for monies. Due to the lack of food and/or money, some farmers decided to mill rice grains right after drying them, as it is expressed in the following ca dao:

Ngày thì đem lúa ra phơi

Tối lặn mặt trời đổ lúa vào xay

Một tay xay giả một tay giần sàng

Tháng ba* ngày tối rộn ràng

Làm sao đủ gạo mùa màng khỏi lo


I dry rice grains during day time

In the evening I mill the dried rice grains

One hand milling and pilling another hand cleaning with a sieve

I am busy in April evening

To make sure that I have enough milled rice for the season

* Vietnamese tháng ba coincides with April in Solar calendar

During war time, while pilling the rice grains, farming ladies often remember their lovers or husbands who are on the battle fields:

Một mình giã gạo giữa trời

Cám bay phảng phất nhớ người phương xa


Pilling rice grain alone

Seeing floating/flying rice brans I miss people afar

In 1885, series of rice mills were built along Bến Nghé and Tàu Hủ canals for milling rice grains that were transported from Mekong River Delta to Saigon for export (1). Brenier (1917) reported that at the beginning of the 20th century people/farmers in Lao Cai and Bac Can Provinces use the power of running streams in milling and pilling rice grains, while rice exporting companies in Cho Lon, Saigon and Hai Phong had large milling machines for processing rice grains. In the recent past various types of milling machines were available for farmers to mill rice grains. According to La Van Chu (1990), the milling machines used in the northern parts of the country during the 1980s belonged to the rubber roller huskers and horizontal polishers, while the milling machines used in southern parts of the country belonged to iron rollers or disc shellers powered by electricity or diesel.

In 2001, there were about 244,000 rice milling machines in Vietnam (GSO, 2002). In Mekong Rice Delta some millers/businessmen used moving milling machine to provide milling service to farmers in different village alleys. For export rice grains were milled by special milling machines with grain polishing capacity provided by specialized companies. Table 1 shows the characteristics of rice millers in Red River Delta and Mekong River Delta before 1996.

Table 1 Characteristics of rice millers in Red River Delta and Mekong River Delta before 1996 (IFPRI, 1996)


Starting year

Milling capacity (tons)

Capacity to whitening rice grain (tons)

Capacity to store rice grain (tons)

Number of employees

Red River Delta

Small miller






Medium miller





Miller and polisher





Mekong River Delta

Small miller






Medium miller






Large miller






Miller and polisher













In the past, farmers milled rice and sold it by themselves. According to Brenier (1917) at the start of the 20th century, large land owners in the Mekong River Delta sold rice to businessmen and exporters in Cho Lon town of Saigon. After land reform, rice trading system had changed substantially. In 1992-1993, 84% of families in rural areas grew rice and 43% of families traded rice (GSO, 1995). The Mekong River Delta had largest percentage of rice trading families (Table 2).

Table 2 Percentage of rice growing and rice trading families in different regions of the country in 1992 (GSO 1995)

Percentage of families growing rice

Percentage of rice trading rice

Norther Mountain and Midland Region



Red River Delta



North Central Coastal Region



South Central Coastal Region



Central Highland Region



North East South Region



Mekong River Delta



In the recent past, businessmen and State Own Enterprises (SOEs) have entered the rice trading business. Sales of freshly harvested rice by farmers are the entry point in the country rice trading system. After leaving farmers, paddy is dried, bagged, assembled, processed into milled rice, distributed, exported and consumed. In the recent past, the involved entities in rice marketing/trading are assemblers, wholesalers, and retailers.

Most of the assemblers in rice sector involve in paddy collection only, while the wholesalers are the intermediates between assemblers, retailers, millers, and SOEs. The retailers are small rice sellers who have a small stand in markets. The millers include pure millers who do only the milling, pure polishers who do only the polishing, and miller-polishers who do both milling and polishing of rice. The principal SOEs include the VINAFOOD1 covering the areas from Thua Thien Province to the North and VINAFOOD 2 covering the areas from Quang Nam Province to the South.


  • 1 = https://tuoitre.vn/con-kenh-xuat-khau-gao-20180512115324927.htm 15 March 2019)
  • Brenier MH 1917 Catalogue des produits de l’Indochine Tome 1: Produits alimentaires edited by Crevost and Lemaré. Gouvernement général de l’ Indochine
  • Bui Huy Dap 1985 Nghe trong lua nuoc Viet Nam. Nha xuat ban Nong Nghiep. Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 1985
  • GSO (General Statistical Office = Thong Ke Nong Nghiep) 2002. Statistical Publishing House, Ha Noi, Vienam 2002
  • GSO (General Statistical Office = Thong Ke Nong Nghiep) 1995. Statistical Publishing House, Ha Noi, Vienam 1995
  • IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) 1996 Rice Market Monitoring and Policy Option Study. Final Report, Washington, 1996
  • La Van Chu 1990 Rice by-products utilization in Viet Nam. PP 115-117 in Rice by-product utilization in selected countries in Asia. FAO, Bangkok, Thailand 1990
  • Phan Hieu Hien, Nguyen Van Xuan, Nguyen Hung Tam, Le Van Ban va Truong Vinh 2000 May say hat o Viet Nam. Nha xuat ban Nong Nghiep, Ho Chi Minh, 2000
  • Tran Thi Que 1998 Vietnam’s agriculture: The challenges and achievements. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore