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To live in harmony with climate change
Sunday,  2/10/2019, 08:35 

To live in harmony with climate change

By Trung Chanh

The rice monoculture is now obsolete given the impacts of climate change in Vietnam. A Mekong Delta famer harvests water lily during an interval between two rice crops – PHOTO: LE HOANG VU

The adverse impacts of climate change are disrupting the livelihoods and production practices of residents in the Mekong Delta. Yet necessity is the mother of invention as adaptation models have emerged.

Climate change has exerted tremendous impacts on livelihoods and production activities of local residents. River bank and coastal erosion is a case in point.

“This is the problem we need to focus on solving,” says Nguyen Huu Lap, vice chairman of the People’s Committee of Ben Tre Province, at the workshop “After a Year of Implementing Government Resolution No. 120 on Sustainable and Climate Change Adatation of the Mekong Delta.” During the event organized by the Saigon Times Group in cooperation with Can Tho University in December, Lap continued to back his argument with examples showing landslides in some coastal provinces.

According to Lap, concerted efforts must be made to eliminate thoroughly landslide hazards in the coming time. “If the Government actually spends VND12 trillion (US$515 million) supporting the Mekong Delta in focusing on different aspects of development, I think further attention should be given to coastal and riverbank landslides,” he said.

Another negative impact of climate change, Lap added, is saltwater intrusion. Ben Tre, which lies downstream of the Mekong River, has suffered terribly from serious effects of climate change on rice and fruit tree crops. “This is why the construction of water reservoirs must be considered,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dong Thap Province is one of a few localities which have yet to be affected by saltwater intrusion. However, according to Le Minh Hoan, the province’s Party Secretary, sea level has been rising under the influence of climate change. As it is an interregional issue, he argued, the toughest part is to regulate the freshwater source so as to mitigate effects on the downstream area. “Dong Thap has to find out a way to store and regulate freshwater so that coastal provinces (whose rivers flow) into estuaries will not be impacted,” Hoan said, admitting that it is a hard nut to crack.

It has taken a long time to construct dykes for third rice crop planting, said Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of the Institute for Climate Change Research at Can Tho University, about one of the difficulties the Mekong Delta has to face. “For example, the development of dykes in Tu Giac Long Xuyen (Long Xuyen Quadrangle) and Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds) has resulted in sharp declines in water resources here,” he said, adding that instead of running into lowland as it used to, water has tended to overflow Can Tho and Vinh Long, causing serious inundation.

Adaptation models

Given such negative impacts, residents in the Mekong Delta have come up with production models highly adaptive to natural conditions. Tuan said local farmers have developed a slew of multi-crop models. Instead of rice monoculture, they have combined rice with fish or shrimp farming. “Farmers are already aware of diversifying farming practices in order to offset [production costs] rather than suffer total losses in the event of natural disasters or unfavorable weather conditions,” said Tuan.

More specifically, Tuan said residents in the Mekong Delta have adopted a model of aquaculture in mangrove forests which do not only help preserve the plant to protect local coastlines but also improve locals’ livelihoods by providing them with shrimps, crabs, and oysters.

Another model is farming both rice and fish in freshwater. In other words, local farmers do not actually abandon rice cultivation; they, to some extent, cut down their rice crops to make room for fish or coastal shrimp farming in paddy fields. “This model can solve the conflict in rice cultivation on shrimp farms, as a smart adaptation of delta residents,” Tuan said, adding that the model has been highly appreciated by many experts.

On his part, Hoan maintained that agricultural restructuring aims at adapting to climate change and satisfying new market trends. “It has to fulfill these two requirements rather than meet the sole requirement for coping with climate change,” he explained, saying that there are already successful adaptation models.

For instance, Dong Thap has been applying the ‘two rice, one lotus’ model. “We have cut off a rice crop to grow lotuses, and we combine lotus harvest with tourism on its water surface,” Hoan said. Lotus cultivation can restore soil quality while helping locals improve their income due to tourism.

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