To cope with climate change, farmers switch crops

March, 31/2018 - 09:00

Lê Tấn, a farmer in Kiên Giang Province’s An Biên District, is making the best of a bad situation.  


A farmer harvests mussels in the Mekong Delta’s Kiên Giang Province. – VNS Photo Văn Châu
Viet Nam News

By MEKONG DELTA – Lê Tấn, a farmer in Kiên Giang Province’s An Biên District, is making the best of a bad situation.  

As the effects of climate change and salinity intrusioncontinue to plague farmers in the Mekong Delta, they have begun to restructure their cultivation plans.

“The saltwater has damaged thousands of hectares of rice in An Biên and An Minh districts, and other Cửu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces. So, farmers in An Minh and An Biên districts are now breeding shrimp along with rice,” Tấn said.

Local authorities have been encouraging many farmers in the Delta to combine aquaculture and the cultivation of organic rice.

Phạm Thi Chi, a farmer in An Minh District, who has shifted to a combination of rice and aquaculture, said: “Fifteen households, including my own, invested in an irrigation dyke around rice areas to create a water supply system to control salinity. Local authorities have also helped us find firms who will buy our produce at a higher price than the market price.”

In the past, farmers in coastal districts such as An Biên and An Minh grew two rice crops a year. One ha of rice produced only 2.5 to 4 tonnes and brought income of about VNĐ20 million (US$900).

However, the combination of rice and aquaculture can bring in VNĐ80 million to VNĐ100 million ($3,600 – 4,500) per ha, according to Tấn.

In An Minh District, Võ Thị Trà owns a 2-ha field. During the fresh water season, she grows rice but when saline water enters her fields, she raises blue-legged prawns.

Her profit has reached VNĐ200 million ($8,800) a year.

Trà harvests about three tonnes of rice a year, keeping one tonne for her family and two tonnes mixed with baby shrimp to use as feed for blue-legged prawns.

Huỳnh Văn Thanh, an official in An Biên District, said the income of local farmers had improved in recent years. An Biên District has around 30,000ha of rice fields, producing 150 thousand tonnes per year.

Under an agricultural restructuring programme, the district plans to reduce the area for the two annual rice crops to 2,900ha by 2020, and increase the combined rice/aquaculture areas to 25,000 ha, according to the province’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“The new cultivation plans has also helped farmers save a lot on fertilisers,” Tấn said. “But I don’t have experience in growing vegetables, and lack capital to make certain changes.”

To help farmers, the province’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has been working with other agencies to organise workshops and has supported low-interest bank loans.

Raising mussels

Nguyễn Thanh Danh, a farmer in Kiên Giang Province’s An Biên District, said he began raising mussels instead of planting rice three years ago.

“My wife and I now own a 5-ha mussel farm, earning a profit of hundreds of millions of đồng each year,” he said. “Growing rice, we always worried how we would earn enough to cover daily expenses.”

Danh said that a decade ago local farmers cultivated rice for only six months and did not grow other crops for the remaining six months because salinity attacked their fields.

Many of the farmers were poor and had to earn a living during the salinity season in other provinces.

Mussels have high economic value and are mainly used as food for shrimp. They can be raised without being fed, so residents from An Biên and An Minh districts can place the traps and return two to three months later to collect the mussels, which are then sold.

The Mekong Delta, home to more than 17 million people, is Việt Nam’s most important agriculture region.

It is facing serious threats because of climate change. Last year, the severe drought and salinity in the southern Delta was a wake-up call for farmers, authorities and policymakers to take immediate action against the threat. – VNS