Rising seas threaten Vietnam’s top rice producer

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Because of climate change, Vietnam’s Kien Giang province is struggling to maintain its place as the country’s biggest rice producer, a distinction it has held for nearly two decades.

The province is well positioned to produce rice. Located on the coast, in an area in the Mekong Delta with some of the country’s richest soil, Kien Giang has more than 357,000 hectares of rice paddies. It produces an average of four million tonnes each year.

But ever-rising seas have deposited saltwater deeper into the province, contaminating the three key production areas of Long Xuyen Quadrangle, West Hau River and U Minh Thuong and killing off hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice over the last few years.

“Climate change is affecting the growth of local agriculture,” said Do Minh Nhut, deputy director of the province’s agriculture and rural development department.

He cited drought and the intrusion of saltwater as factors that had damaged more than 56,500ha in 2016 alone, reducing that year’s yield by more than 481,200 tonnes compared to the previous year.

Saltwater intrusion continued in 2017, destroying over 30,455ha. Heavy rain and flooding damaged an additional 7,150ha.

Agriculture in Kien Giang is not only about rice. As a seaside province, it has developed its aquaculture by focusing on farming shrimp, fish, crabs, and clams.

According to the municipal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, aquaculture areas have grown steadily since 2015, producing more than 217,000 tonnes of seafood last year.

“Aquaculture has helped increase the value of Kien Giang’s agriculture sector, lifting farmers out of poverty and raising their quality of life,” said department director Nguyen Van Tam.

“However, annual productivity has not yet reached its potential, especially in shrimp farming. One important factor is certainly the negative impact of climate change.”

Tam said prolonged drought and the intrusion of saltwater had cost farmers more than 22,188ha of shrimp farms in the 2015-2016 season. Similar environmental factors caused the loss of 6,000ha in 2017 and 10,000ha so far this year.

With its economy threatened by climate change, Kien Giang is pushing ahead with new irrigation facilities to manage the rapid invasion of saltwater.

The province is investing 950 billion dong (Bt137 million) to finance new sluice gates along the An Bien-An Minh coastal dyke that will prevent saltwater intrusion and retain as much fresh water as possible.

The funds will also go towards a massive network of irrigation channels in the Long Xuyen Quadrangle and West Hau River agricultural areas.

Although the province had already invested much of its own money, Kien Giang People’s Committee chairman Pham Vu Hong said it would need more financial support from the central government to protect its agricultural sector from climate change.

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