Agriculture in Vietnam
January 15, 2012
Story By Justin Burns
Vietnam was the largest exporter of rice in the world in 2010, 90% of which was grown right here in the Mekong River Delta. While in Vietnam, it’s been fascinating to visit with professors from Can Tho University (CTU) and many farmers to understand the current challenges that farmers are facing with increasing climate change, and what they are doing to mitigate and adapt to the changes.
In the city of Can Tho, we met with Dr. Nguyen Huu Chiem, a professor at CTU. He comes from a long line of rice farmers, but chose the path of education to assist all Vietnamese farmers in their practices. He stressed that climate change and land use practices are the biggest areas of concern, and that adapting to the current and future changes is a necessity for continued agriculture in the Delta. He spoke so passionately about the land; you can tell farming is in his blood.
Dr. Chiem has already implemented 50 biogas systems on farms throughout the Mekong River Delta and has a goal of 1,000 in the coming years. I learned that biogas systems collect methane from cattle and pigs to then be used in the homes of the farmers for electricity. A genius idea! Not only does it use the methane that would otherwise leak into the atmosphere, but it saves the household from having to pay an electricity bill.
Dr. Chiem then took us to see multiple farms in the Delta, both with and without biogas systems, to see the advantages first hand of the system. As we arrived to the first farm, I was surprised by how uncomplicated the system was, how easy it could be implemented, and how cheap it was to install ($100 usd). After talking to the farmers that had the system installed, it was clear that they were all very happy with the system. They expressed their happiness to be with how it worked, and that it saved them money. The only drawback is that while $100 is readily available to most Americans, most farmers in the Mekong Delta are poor and cannot afford the upfront costs of the system. To combat this, Dr. Chiem is applying for the funding for the farmers from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), where developed nations provide the funding to developing countries to implement climate change mitigation strategies to reduce their emissions.
While visiting the farms, I also was impressed by the other changes that farmers have been making to adapt to climate change. For example, rice farmers are now adding aquaculture to their farms. Aquaculture in Vietnam is the production of growing fresh water shrimp, salt water shrimp and catfish. This gives the farmers another source of income, while at the same time providing irrigation to their farms in case of drought. The fish also replace insecticides that were previously used for rice production. This cuts down on the pollution of the water in the Delta, and saves the farmer from costs of insecticides and health repercussions of the use of insecticides. Another example of a simple, cost effective, common sense plan to help with climate change impacts on the Delta.
I came away from my time with Dr. Chiem and local farmers with a whole new respect for what they are trying to accomplish. Given that these practices are still only being implemented on a small scale of individual farms, you have to start somewhere. Hopefully with proven success of their adaptation strategies to climate change, and economic advantage for farmers with limited income, we will begin to see large-scale adaptation strategies being implemented on agriculture in the Mekong River Delta.