Salinity intrusion has been a problem in the Mekong River Delta (MRD) affecting rice production that can impact food security and livelihood of people living in the delta region.
Climate change is causing sea-level to rise and increases saline intrusion. The Vietnamese government says that 40 per cent of the delta region could be underwater if sea-level rise by 1 meter in decades to come. Sea-level is currently rising at 3mm per year (Aljazeera news, 2017).
The Mekong Common article “As salinity intrudes into the Mekong Delta, farmers lose yields and income” mentions that “seawater intrusion has been expanding in the 13 provinces of the delta region due to climate change, exposing its rice fields, fruits, and vegetable gardens” (Mekong Commons, 2017).
Another news reported that saltwater has entered up to 50km deep inland into canals in rice fields in Ben Tre. In the Ba Tri District, saltwater content in rice fields has reached 0.1 – 0.15 per cent, it added. The salt content rate could affect the 11,000 hectares of winter-spring rice fields in the district, according to the district’s Agriculture and Rural Development Division (Viet Nam News, 2019, 9 March).
The report “The drought and salinity intrusion in the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam” (April 2016) presents a comprehensive look at the impacts of sea-level rise, drought, the El Niño phenomenon, and altered precipitation events to the Mekong River Delta and its rice paddies.
Background of the Mekong River Delta and its significance to Food Production
The Mekong River Delta covers an area of about 39,000 square kilometres, consisting of 13 provinces in the south of Vietnam. It has a flat terrain with an average elevation of less than 1 meter above sea level, according to a report.
Agricultural land accounts for 2.6 million hectares and produces 50% of the total amount of food in Vietnam, providing food security and livelihoods for 70% of the region’s population. Development of its agriculture sector has a direct impact on its poverty reduction, the report says.
One of its main products is rice, contributing to 50% of the country’s total rice yield. Other products include fruits, fish, vegetables, sugar can, maize, mango, coconut, etc.
What is the government doing about it
Given the delta’s contribution to the country’s economy, damages from salt-water intrusion can be significant. In 2015, the estimated losses is at US$445 million or 1.5 per cent of the annual rice production (Mekong Commons, 2017). The government has built dykes and sluice gates to control seawater intrusion into the coastal provinces, the Mekong Commons reports.
Because of the increasing threats of sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion, the government and its people have come up with the following solutions: (Viet Nam News, 2019, 27 April).
- The people dredged canals and ponds, dug wells, and built temporary dams, and pumping stations to supply fresh water for drought and salt-water affected areas.
- Authorities have encouraged farmers to strictly follow the rice-growing schedules of sowing between April and June, and at different periods.
- The government recommends that farmers use high-quality, drought and salt-water resistant rice varieties
- Vietnam’s Department of Agriculture has ordered plans to develop the supply of water for the autumn-summer cropping period.
- Maximising the use of rainwater and those without irrigation should sow the autumn-summer rice crop only when there is rain.
The report, “The drought and salinity intrusion in the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam” also presents a comprehensive recommendation regarding the problem.