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Heatwave scorches farmers and their earth

Update: April, 23/2013 - 10:15
Soldiers help farmers in Dak Nong Province dig new irrigation canals to ensure more water reaches fields hit by a severe drought. — VNA/VNS Photo Huu Hieu

by Tran Huu Hieu

DAK NONG (VNS)— Temperatures of up to 37 degrees Celsius are taking their toll among farmers in Central Highlang Dak Nong Province. Tanned coffee farmer Hong Hao, in Krong No District, squints, stretches his fingers to cover his face, and looks at the blue sky.

He sighs. "I wish for rain but it doesn't seem to make any difference. Coffee leaves are being burned by harsh sunshine. There are no coffee beans appearing and a yellow colour is covering the coffee and rice fields. Springs and lakes are dry."

Not only Hao's but the 1,900ha of coffee bush in the district, where most ethnic people are living, are undergoing a severe drought.

Statistics of the province's Agriculture and Rural Development Department show the total yield of coffee will be down by 30 per cent while 240ha of rice are in the same situation.

If there is no rain in May, more than 4,000ha of coffee bush will fail, decreasing total productivity by 50 per cent, the department said.

In Dak Nong Province, more than 10,000ha of coffee bushes, making up 20 per cent of the total area, and 1,224ha of rice, 80 per cent of the total, have undergone severe drought.

Nguyen Van Ton, deputy director of Dak Nong Province's Agriculture and Rural Development Department, said drought in the Central Highlands was the worst in 10 years.

"Drought chaps coffee, rice and corn fields," Ton said.

Hao and his neighbours are experienced farmers and have tried all options to get water to their plants. They have dredged lakes and springs to take advantage of their last drops of water. They also have dug more wells to use other underground water sources.

"At the beginning of the drought, we managed the situation and our coffee plants got enough water. However, the drought has lasted so long that we have exhausted all our options.

"When someone put forward an initiative, we all tried. But we now have to give up."

Hao has lost all his coffee and rice. One hectare of coffee bushes earned a good income under normal circumstances. Now was harvest time but there was nothing to harvest, nothing but a "bunch of worries".

Hao and his wife are working temporarily on a construction site to earn a total of about VND100,000 (US$4.7) a day.

"It is just enough for our four-member family to live on."

Hao said they had to shoulder this burden, not only this year but also for at least three more years, because they would have to earn or borrow money to buy new saplings, which take about three years and a lot of care to grow and bear beans.

Meanwhile, they had used up their savings trying to save their bushes.

Financial woes are shared by many local farmers who still live in houses built of timber and thatch.

Hong Van Hai, head of the district's Dak Son Village, says many households were on the verge of poverty before the drought.

District resident Hua Thi Sinh, who abandoned her rice field at the end of last year due to a lack of water, seemed like a loser at the time but she now is luckier than Hao and his neighbours.

"Intuition caused me not to take the risk of spending money to buy rice seed and material. I chose not to farm this season to avoid losses."

Sinh and her children are doing temporary jobs to earn their daily living but the drought has created a double whammy. The crop failure has caused other businesses to stagnate and a reduction in jobs."

Water shortage for daily use is also a problem. Many local residents are having to transport water from springs 15-20km from their house.

Children have been trained to save water. They know how to decant from a small can to wash rice and vegetables and to store the used water in a bowl for reuse.

Farmer Hao said his family washed clothes once a week instead of after each ablution.

Ton said a 3km canal, 1.5m wide, was being dug to take water from Long Son spring to service nearly 2,000ha of coffee plants, corn and rice fields. Other canals would carry water from full springs as a permanent solution to severe droughts, he said.

In areas where the underground water level was not lowered, wells would be formed to supply water for domestic use and drought prevention, he said.

Nguyen Duc Hia, of the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, said rainfall in Central Highland provinces was down 30 per cent on the same period last year.

Little rain was forecast for May and the dry season in some Central Highland provinces was predicted to last until August.

As for farmer Hao, even though his coffee bushes are doomed, his eyes still turn toward the sky for a sign of rain.

"The sky on many days is shrouded in dark clouds," he said. "Everybody becomes happy with the thought of rain and then, a few hours later, the dark clouds disappear.

"The God who our crops are mainly depending on seems only interested in kidding us. But our plants didn't wait for the end of his game." — VNS

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