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Gov’t directs Mekong Delta to focus on science

Update: September, 29/2016 - 06:00
A farmer in Trần Văn Thời District in southernmost Cà Mau Province digs ditches to water his crops. The province, together with other Mekong Delta provinces, has seen record drought for decades, and saltwater intrusion is a visible impact of climate change on the region. — VNA/VNS Photo Tràng Dương
Viet Nam News

HCM CITY — With climate change and rising sea levels threatening it, the Cửu Long (Mekong) Delta cannot rely on natural advantages for development but should focus on science and technology, a Government minister has said. 

Speaking at a seminar in Cà Mau Province on Monday, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Trần Hồng Hà said climate change is making the delta less fertile than in the past, affecting agriculture.

The country’s largest rice, fruit and seafood producer has been affected by diminishing rainfall, more saltwater intrusion and less flooding in recent years.

Nguyễn Văn Thể, secretary of the Sóc Trăng Province Party’s Committee, said the reducing floods are increasing saltwater intrusion in the delta’s coastal areas and alum in the Long Xuyên Quadrangle.

However, the biggest concern is that in the first half of the year there was no rain and farmers could not farm and many had to leave the province to find work elsewhere, he said.

“If the situation does not change, the delta will face a high threat of poverty.”

Tăng Đức Thắng, deputy director of the Việt Nam Irrigation Science Institute, warned about an imminent threat of drought and saltwater intrusion this year because whenever the flooding is not intense these twin threats appear.

Since 2010 saltwater intrusion has been occurring earlier than normal, he said.

Instead of February, it has been beginning in December and lasting six months or more.

The delta has seen coastal erosion and saltwater has intruded deeper inland in recent years, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The increased exploitation of water in the Mekong’s upstream areas, especially for electricity generation, has reduced the river’s flow.  

Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, the former prime minister, said the delta depends on the Mekong River, but the quantity and quality (silt, fish and other aquatic species) of its water have been declining rapidly.

To deal with climate change and the construction of dams in the Mekong’s upstream, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment should soon issue a new climate change scenario to replace the one it issued in 2009, he said.

It should include detailed forecasts for each region, sub-region and even each province in the delta, he said. 

The delta’s general zoning plan should be updated, with attention paid to the zoning of dykes, sluice gates and reservoirs, he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Vương Đình Huệ said the delta should have two different solutions, one each with and without construction works, he said.

Non-construction solutions involve updating climate change scenarios for the whole delta region, sub-regions and each locality, he said.

Based on the scenarios, the delta would amend its zoning plans, he said.

Construction work solutions include building sluice gates to prevent saltwater intrusion and retaining freshwater, he said.

Technical solutions such as studying suitable plant and animal varieties should be focused on, he said.

Huệ instructed the Ministries of Planning and Investment and Finance to research to allocate funds for programmes to respond to climate change in delta provinces in 2016-21.

The provinces should update information about climate change and its challenges in their socio-economic development plans, he added.

Restructured farming

The delta has switched to growing cash crops on more than 78,000ha of infertile rice fields after a three-year restructure of its agriculture, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).

The cash crops, including water melon, sesame, corn, soy bean and vegetables, offer 20-30 per cent higher profits than rice.

The region has also expanded the area under the large-scale rice field programme from 2,000ha in 2010 to 250,000ha now.

All 12 provinces and Cần Thơ city have approved restructure plans aimed at increasing agricultural production value.

In Đồng Tháp, for instance, the restructure is helping farmers find steady outlets for their produce by co-operating with agribusinesses.

The province’s average annual income last year increased 1.5 times from 2012 to VNĐ29 million (US$1,300).

The delta has also developed several new agricultural models but the restructuring has yet to achieve significant results due to several obstacles like the small scale of farming.   

Speaking at a seminar held in Đồng Tháp on Tuesday (Sept 27), Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyễn Xuân Cường said the restructuring has not been synchronous or consistent across the delta.

Several provinces like Đồng Tháp Province have restructured early and drastically, achieving good results, but others have been laggards, he said.

People living in the delta, especially in rural and remote areas, still face many difficulties, he said.

Huệ said agriculture restructuring in the delta is an urgent need since it has to adapt to climate change and freshwater shortages.

Its coastal provinces should rezone salt-water, brackish-water and freshwater agricultural production areas, he said.

MARD should oversee and assist the region’s efforts to choose key agriculture produce and build brands for them, he said.

All the provinces should link their production with market demand and make greater use of science and technology to improve quality, he said.

Sub-region linkage

At the seminar, Đồng Tháp, Tiền Giang and Long An provinces in the Đồng Tháp Mười (Plain of Reeds) sub-region signed an agreement to establish links among themselves for sustainable agriculture development.

Đồng Tháp Mười, the Cửu Long (Mekong) Delta’s flood plain, spreads over more than 700,000ha.

The linkage, the first one of its kind in the delta and focused on rice, seafood and fruits, also aims to turn Đồng Tháp Mười into the country’s major agricultural area.

The three provinces will also co-operate in agricultural production and restructuring, the management of water resources and infrastructure development, especially for transportation and irrigation. 

The tie-up will help farmers switch from small-scale to large-scale farming, reducing costs and increasing profits.

Huệ said similar linkages would be established in the delta’s other sub-regions and the whole delta in future.

They would boost co-operation in agriculture production and consumption, improving the value of agriculture produce, he added. —VNS

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