The Culture In Agriculture
The Culture In Agriculture by Hailey Jorgensen
After driving though the country side and sitting on the banks of the bustling Song Can Tho river, it is clear that Vietnam is from a culture that has forever lived off the land. Modern culture has infiltrated the country side as well as driven the development of large industrialized cities such as Ho Chi Minh city, but a deep connection to the land is still visible in the eyes of most Vietnamese people. The people of Vietnam have faced so much hardship in their past that their culture developed under the constant strain to simply survive. They have lived off the land for centuries and still rely on agriculture as a major survival mechanism even if today, much of it is to survive economically in a global market.
Vietnam’s growing economy is now primarily based in the industry sector which has grown more rapidly than anything else since opening the Vietnamese economy to the global market in the 1980s. Still, agriculture accounts for over 20% of GDP with 54% of the labor force working in agriculture and 70% of the population living in rural areas. To this major portion of the population, agriculture continues to be a way of life. The Mekong River Delta region is the most prime example of a continued wide spread reliance on agriculture.
With its fertile soils, rainy season, and accessible water sources throughout the region, the Mekong River Delta has long been the perfect place for agriculture The middle of the Delta region, having some of the most fertile soil, can grow just about anything, but rice is the primary crop produced in the Delta and has obtained a high economic growth rate of 11.5% in recent years. Known as the rice basket of the country, the Mekong produces about 50% of the country’s rice crop and 90% of the total amount of rice used for export.
The skyrocketing growth in rice production in the Mekong River Delta has been driven by this strong desire for economic growth. The issue with this economic growth is that the amount of land left to use is becoming depleted. Though the amount of available agricultural land in the Mekong is 2.6 million hectares, the amount of area cultivated each year is over 4 million hectares. How is this possible? In recent years, farmers have been increasing their yields by planting three to four crops a year, thus allowing them to plant more land area per year than is physically available. This form of intensive agriculture is forcing farmers to overuse chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which challenges the sustainability of the natural systems. This process has begun to cause numerous problems with pollution, biodiversity loss, and chemical dependence, and primarily, it is inhibiting the ability of the land to produce crops.
This adoption of industrial chemical fertilizer, though not part of traditional farming practices, has become increasingly common in agricultural systems especially in areas where high demands are being placed. The people of Vietnam are only trying to keep up in a global economy to make a living and in the process they are irreversibly harming their land. It is because of this over-cultivation that environmentally sustainable agricultural practices are needed. It is because of this global market stress that these practices must be economically viable for the people.
As many of our speakers have stressed, the people of this region do not have the luxury of being “green” simply because it is environmentally beneficial; they must receive economic benefits as well. There is no reason that a culture as vibrant as this should sacrifice their land simply for economic gain. Finding ways to sustainably cultivate crops such as rice would not only restore the land its self, but it would help restore the Vietnamese connection to a natural reliance on the land.