Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Vietnam's Tryst With Climate Change

"Vietnam is the second-biggest rice exporter after Thailand. But there is no glory in that because the farmers are not thriving, and there is a lot of migration out of the delta."
Nguyen Huu Thien, consultant, International Union for Conservation of Nature

"I've been planting rice since I was thirteen, and I have never seen anything like this."
"In February I got one bag of rice. Last year we harvested one-and-a-quarter tons."
Lam Thi Loi, rice farmer, 38. Mekong Delta, Vietnam
A farmer drills a well to get water on drought-hit rice field in the southern Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang on March 2, 2016. Vietnam is suffering its worst drought in nearly a century hitting farmers especially hard in the crucial southern Mekong delta. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Faced with the impossible decision whether to allow the rice shoots on her farm to wither from lack of water, Ms. Loi decided she would pump water from the river to give the plants a chance to grow. The salty water did no such thing and she witnessed the death of her crop within days of using the saline water. Vietnam's premier rice growing region, the Mekong Delta, has been under drought conditions far surpassing the worst of statistics beginning in 1926.

The El Nino weather phenomenon causing excessive heat and reduced rainfall has hit Southeast Asia hard. But although there is certainly a climate perspective in the situation, there is as well a political one, whereby the Communist government has instructed farmers to grow within a year's space, three crops of rice rather than the traditional one or two. That overuse of the land has depleted the soil of its nutrients, working along with the drought to create an agricultural crisis.

Infamously the collectivization agricultural directives issued by the Soviet Union produced not the bumper crops that were expected from collective farms, but a lassitude and disinterest among workers to produce much of anything, since they saw no personal benefit from working land meant to improve the lives of the collective. Although the reasons for failure may be different, it was government interference in how farmers governed themselves and their trade and the land that caused failure.

The lower reaches of the Mekong River, shallower than normal, has been infiltrated by seawater, sweeping saline water up the delta, and wiping out rice fields along the way. The delta, home to 170-million people, one-fifth of the population of Vietnam who live in 13 provinces, have all been affected from the saltwater inundation of agricultural lands.

No fewer than 200,000 households experienced serious water shortages, and that number is on the rise, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Since the drought, not enough fresh water in the river system and its tributaries has been ineffective in diluting the salty seawater, even though saline water invading the delta is not a new phenomenon.

Scientists see it as a necessity for the government to rethink its agricultural strategy, and to focus on shrimp farming to represent a practical substitute. Yet it remains on a "rice first" policy dating to the 1970s when, post-Vietnam War, people were starving in an isolated country with few trading partners.

Sluice gates financed by the government in the 1990s so irritated some farmers by the efforts to stem salt water they destroyed the gates, and began to cultivate tiger prawns in the delta's west. Water levels in the vast Tonic Sap Lake in Cambodia, feeding into the Mekong River is also perilously low. Two large reservoirs of water in the provinces of An Giant and Dong Thap in Vietnam are also at extremely low levels.
Drought is hammering Vietnam's agriculture, including crops like rambutan seen here being transported in the Mekong delta.
Drought is hammering Vietnam's agriculture, including crops like rambutan seen here being transported in the Mekong delta.  Thomas Schoch/Creative Commons

As a major shrimp exporter to the United States, Vietnam produced 91,900 tonnes in the January-March period. To Viet Tien, 61, a shrimp farmer since 1982, has never seen the situation so bad. "It's been too hot toward the bottom of the pond and shrimp can't stand it", he said. "On this (salty) soil, it's impossible to switch to another crop."

"In the context of climate change, this kind of crisis (in the Mekong Delta) is forecast to happen more often, for example it could be once in 20 years instead of once in 90 years", warned Nguyen Huu Thien, an independent expert on the ecology of the Mekong Delta.

The Delta, a mere two metres or less above sea level, has been steadily sinking as a result of rising sea levels and groundwater extraction from wells. It represents a vicious cycle; while the ground compacts in reaction to depleted water tables, seawater intrudes into cropland and supplies of water.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

()() Follow @rheytah Tweet