Mitigating Mayhem in the Mekong by Mimicking Mother Earth’s Models
by Leydon Thornton
Climate change is a very serious threat in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam. Sea level rise, heat waves, irregular rain patterns, and loss of livelihood are just some of the effects that stem from climate change and make the Mekong Delta one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. These problems are severe because the local population depends on the land, natural resources, water, and climate for the structure of their economy. People in the Mekong Delta are looking to take serious action to adapt to the oncoming threats, and one such method is biomimicry, or innovation inspired by nature. This is the science of using nature as a model, mentor, and measure to solve problems we humans face with the same genius that has evolved and adapted all forms of life surviving on earth today. Biomimicry is a part of many climate change adaptations in the Mekong Delta.
One key factor in mitigating effects of climate change is restoring the mangrove forests that were destroyed during the Vietnam American War. Mangroves act as natural barriers to erosion and coastal storms, so in their absence erosion has occurred in many areas of the coastal regions. One method of recapturing the sediment on shorelines is to install T structure bamboo entrapments. These take a team of people about two days to set up and are made with all natural materials. The T shape is modeled after the way that mangroves let water and sediment in during high tide, but detain the sediment as the water leaves during low tide. After 3 weeks a small layer of mud builds between the top of the T and the shoreline and by 3 months the sediments are contained and ready for mangrove planting. Another perk is that the bamboo is biodegradable, which is another mimic of nature’s problem solving. [Check out a 2-minute time lapse video of building a T-structure at http://czm-soctrang.org.vn/en/Films.aspx ]
Other remarkable biomimetic practices are in the realm of adaptive and sustainable agriculture. This is very important in Mekong Delta because 85% of the population is rural and this area is responsible for most of the rice, fruit, and fish production in Vietnam. One promising system is the VACB Model that sets up a farm to function in cycle like one would find in nature. This stands for Vuan (Orchard) – Ao (Pond) – Chuong (Pig Pen), and Biogas. Fruit trees, fish, and pigs provide food, and nutrients are cycled throughout the system from compost to filtering ponds and ultimately to biogas systems. Just like in nature, the waste from the pigs is recycled, and in this case turned into methane to produce energy for the farmers. Farm women are freed up from the laborious collection of firewood for cooking, as gas now is piped directly into their kitchens and deforestation pressures lessen. The integrated farms system is a viable option for adaptive management to help local farmers gain self-sufficiency and efficiency to buffer the effects of climate variables.
Agricultural practices that are flexible in the local climate are essential during a time of climatic transition, even if they are less productive in the short term. For example, the native rice, called floating rice, rises with the floods and germinates in the high water before it is harvestable when the floods recede. It is not as productive as high yield rice, which has little resistance to floods, but it is manageable in the native environment. Using local rice varieties ensures food security. If this is coupled with integrated farming, livelihoods can be adapted and replaced by other methods of agriculture to supplement for reduced rice yield.
The natural world is evidence of the adaptation of life that has evolved for over 3.8 billion years. It has endured far worse circumstances than climate change, so if we turn to nature as a model by which we base our innovation, we can unlock secrets to survival. Global climate change is the biggest threat in human history but through imagination, adaptation, and intentional action, we can protect many lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems.