AGRICULTURE IN VIETNAM

AGRICULTURE IN VIETNAM

Vietnam according to AFP “is well-known for cheap agricultural exports like coffee -- it provides 50 percent of the world's low-end Robusta beans -- and catfish so cheap it is repeatedly hit by US anti-dumping measures.” Rice cultivation in submerged fields is the main economic activity of the Kinh (Vietnamese). They also erect dykes and dig canals which help in the growing of wet rice, gardening, and sericulture (silk worm raising and silk making). They also raise cattle and poultry. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Even though Vietnam is poor, there seems to be plenty of food. There is a 12 month growing season in many parts of the country and two or three rice harvests a year. Much of the agricultural work is done by hand by women.

Land use: arable land: 19.64 percent permanent crops: 11.18 percent other: 69.18 percent (2011) Irrigated land: 45,850 sq kilometers (2005): Total renewable water resources: 884.1 cu kilometers (2011) Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 82.03 cu km/yr (1 percent/4 percent/95 percent) per capita: 965 cu m/yr (2005). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Thirteen people share one hectare of agricultural land in Vietnam compared to 13 per 5 hectares in India and 13 per 11 hectares in China. GDP: composition by sector: agriculture: 21.5 percent; industry: 40.7 percent; services: 37.7 percent (2012 est.). In 2004 the contributions to GDP by sector were as follows: agriculture, 21.8 percent; industry, 40.1 percent; and services, 38.2 percent.

In 2004 agriculture and forestry accounted for 21.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and during 1994–2004 the sector grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent. However, agricultural employment was much higher than agriculture’s share of GDP; in 2005 some 60 percent of the employed labor force was engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Agricultural products accounted for 30 percent of exports in 2005. The relaxation of the state monopoly on rice exports transformed the country into the world’s second or third largest rice exporter. Other cash crops are coffee, cotton, peanuts, rubber, sugarcane, and tea. [Source: Library of Congress]

Part of $1 billion development fund from Qatar will go to agriculture in Vietnam, presumably to give Qatar access to Vietnam’s productive farmland.

Traditional Agricultural Practices and Farmers in Vietnam

Wetland rice farming has traditionally been the main form of agriculture. In the north, farms average about two acres in size. Irrigated water is lifted from canals and ponds and fertilizer is made with animal and human waste. Farming in the south has traditionally been less intensive.

Despite efforts to mechanize, much of the farm labor is done by water buffalo and people. In many paddies rice seedlings are planted by hand. The land is plowed behind water buffalo. Water is moved to fields with diesel pumps and Burmese-style hand irrigation. In Red River Delta people say that pig excrement and leaves makes better fertilizer than water buffalo chips.

Many places produce three crops a year and bumper crops have been the norm since the 1990s. Many people get their food from home gardens. Vietnam is trying to diversify its agriculture and not be so reliant on one cash crop like coffee.

Until fairly recently 80 percent of the population lived off farming. Despite boom cities, much of the villagers in the countryside are dirt poor and 60 percent of people are still farmers. Sometimes they suffer from low crop prices.

"Your face to the earth, your back to the sun" is a proverb that describes the hard life of Vietnamese peasants. Rural Vietnam has traditionally been left on its own. There is often repeated old saying: "The emperor's authority stop's at the village gate." The word emperor could also be replace the French colonial government and the current Communist government.

See Rural Life, See Food Scares, Fast Food

Early History of Agriculture in Vietnam

In the 1st century, furrowing with iron ploughshares on wingploughs drawn by oxen or water buffaloes gradually replaced cultivation in burned out clearings. In particular, hydraulic works, canals and dykes ensured control over water; the use of fertilizer facilitated intensive farming, the practice of growing two crops a year on well-irrigated fields for example. The growing of tubers such as sweet potato, sugarcane and mulberry was already known, as well as various vegetables and fruit trees. Mulberry growing and silkworm raising took pride of place; there was also betel, areca-nut trees, medicinal plants, bamboo and rattan, which supplied raw materials for basket making. From the earliest centuries, there was thus a diversified agriculture which, gradually improved, would last for a very long time. ~

Dykes in Vietnam

According to Vietnam-culture.com: “Control of the rivers has been crucial to the Vietnamese people’s hard-won ability to survive and thrive in a sometimes unforgiving land. The construction of dykes along rivers is without a doubt one of the most important steps in the emergence of the Vietnamese people. Throughout Vietnamese history, the dykes have played an important role in everyday life. Since ancient times, the mobilization of people to dyke construction sites helped build up the nation’s common identity. Agrarians saw the dykes as a matter of life and death, and as the protector of their crops - especially rice. [Source:Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com ><]

“The dykes were sometimes ascribed with the hard-working, intelligent, innovative and flexible characteristics of the Vietnamese. They reinforced the sense of community of the people that helped them fight foreign invaders, and regain independence after 1,000 years of feudal Chinese domination. They also created a new cultural space within which the Vietnamese village prospered. People who dared to move outside of the dyke to live were seen as having strong characters and unwilling to obey the village code and other restrictions. This idea has even been used to explain the observation that Vietnamese farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta seem to be more outgoing than the more reserved people of the Hong (Red) River Delta. ><

“Each Vietnamese village has its own local culture, linked to the others by the roads built on top of the dykes. A Russian historian once wrote: "Vietnam has a wet paddy civilization attached to a dyke civilization. These two factors combined have a strength that has made Vietnamese culture endure time and history." When the dyke system fails the results can be disastrous. After the great flood of August 1971 overwhelmed the dyke system large sections of Vietnam were underwater. ><

History of Dykes in Vietnam

According to Vietnam-culture.com: “Before they built dykes, the Viet people had lived as hunters and collectors of wild fruits in hilly areas such as the present-day Phu Tho, Hoa Binh, Thanh Hoa provinces. There was a revolution in Vietnamese agriculture at the start of the Dong Dau (Bronze Age) and the Iron Age, when people discovered how to raise pigs, chickens, dogs and sticky rice. This was when rice became the chief staple of Vietnam, and came to be seen as a "totem." Even today, sticky rice is used as a key offering by the Vietnamese people in their ceremonies and worship practices. [Source:Vietnam-culture.com vietnam-culture.com ><]

“As their population increased, the Vietnamese people moved down to the plains of the Hong (Red) River Delta where conditions for agriculture were better. The delta offered more access to water from ponds, lakes and rivers, but also offered a major challenge in the form of irrigation and water management. They could only survive through proper water management and the cultivation of rice in wet paddies. The construction of dykes was a challenge beyond anything a single village or community could manage on its own. The ancient Vietnamese had to unite various tribes to construct dykes for their mutual benefit, and the most respected chief would be called vua (king). ><

“The history of the Vietnamese state can be traced back to those chiefs who knew how to unite people in the common cause of water control and defense against foreign invasions. The early people’s desire for control over the waters of the Hong River is reflected in the legend of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh (Mountain Spirit and Water Spirit). The successful marriage of Son Tinh and the king’s daughter, My Nuong, demonstrates the success of the early attempts to conquer the natural flow of the waters. ><

“Dykes cannot simply be built and left alone; the skill was shared from one generation to another. As early as the 3rd Century B.C., foreigners visiting Vietnam noted the presence of huge dykes along its rivers. "The district of Phong Khe has dykes to hold back the water from the Long Mon [now Da] River," said Giao Chau Ky (The Report on Giao Chau - then the name of Vietnam). Later, the Han Thu (Documents of the Han) observed, "To the northwest of Long Bien district there are dykes to keep back the river water." ><

By the A.D. 9th Century, the historical record stated, "Cao Bien ordered the people to construct a dyke around the Dai La citadel with a total length of 8,500m and height of 8m." At the time, Hanoi was known as Dai La Citadel. When Ly Cong Uan took the throne in 1010, he became the first king of the Ly Dynasty - Vietnam’s first feudal dynasty. He ordered that the capital be moved from Hoa Lu to Dai La and renamed it Thang Long (now Hanoi), with the ambition of controlling the waters of the Hong River. In 1077, the Ly Dynasty ordered the construction of a 30km long dyke on the Nhu Nguyet River, now Cau River in the northern province of Bac Ninh.Twenty-six years later, the dynasty issued Vietnam’s first-ever decree on dyke construction. ><

As the Tran Dynasty replaced the Ly, the feudal courts not only continued to strengthen the river dykes system but also started the construction of coastal dykes. They appointed mandarins and officials called Ha De Chanh Pho Su (chief and deputy mandarins for dyke protection) to take care of the dykes. Under the Le Dynasty in 1664, King Le Huyen Tong issued a detailed regulation on dyke protection and the dykes were strenghtened with rocks. However, the Nguyen Dynasty could be the most ignorant period of dyke protection in the history of Vietnam. Throughout their reign, the Nguyen courts rarely invested in dyke construction and protection. The many poems from the period reveal that there were 18 dyke brakes under their rule in Hung Yen Province alone. ><

The reunification of Vietnam in 1975 led again to a united effort in dyke development. A department of dyke management was created in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The State issued the Decree on Dyke Protection and reinforced the existing system to a new level.

Collective Farms

Most landholdings were collectivized under the Communists. Each household in a collective was allowed to have some land for their own use. Private plots, which made up about 5 percent of the land area, typically produced 10 to 20 percent or more of the total yield.

In the North, formation of cooperatives had begun in 1959 and 1960, and by 1965 about 90 percent of peasant households were organized into collectives. By 1975 more than 96 percent of peasant households belonging to cooperatives were classified as members of "high-level cooperatives," which meant that farmers had contributed land, tools, animals, and labor in exchange for income. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The program undertaken in mid-1977 to expedite unification of North and South by collectivizing Southern agriculture met with strong resistance. The reportedly voluntary program was designed to be implemented by local leaders, but Southern peasants were mainly freeholders--not tenants--and, aside from forming production teams for mutual assistance (an idea that won immediate acceptance), they resisted participation in any collective program that attenuated property rights. *

Failure to collectivize agriculture by voluntary means led briefly to the adoption of coercive measures to increase peasant participation. It soon became apparent, however, that such harsh methods were counterproductive. Increased food shortages and heightened security concerns in late 1978 and 1979 caused the leadership once again to relax its grip on Southern agriculture. *

Agriculture in Vietnam Since the End of the Vietnam War in 1975

Agricultural production, the backbone of Vietnam's development strategy, varied considerably from year to year following national reunification in 1975. A particularly strong performance in agriculture was recorded in 1976--up more than 10 percent from 1975--but production dropped back to approximately 95 percent of the 1976 level in 1977 and 1978 and recovered to a level higher than that of 1976 only in 1979. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Vietnamese crop and livestock production offset agricultural performance during this period. For example, an 8-percent increase in the value of livestock production in 1977 balanced an 8-percent decrease in the value of crop production (mainly the result of a 1-million-ton decline in the rice harvest). In 1978 the reverse occurred: a steep decline in livestock output countered a significant increase in grain production. The value of crop production, however, averaged four times the value of livestock output at this time. *

Foremost among Vietnam's agricultural troubles was exceptionally adverse weather, including a drought in 1977 and major typhoons and widespread flooding in 1978. The drought overtaxed Vietnam's modest irrigation systems, and the floods damaged them. In addition, the floods reportedly reduced cattle herds by 20 percent. The size of this loss was indirectly confirmed in Vietnamese statistics that showed a leveling off of growth in livestock inventories (particularly of cattle) between 1978 and 1980. Throughout the Second Five-Year Plan, and especially in the late 1970s, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and spare parts for mechanical equipment were in short supply. *

Despite their having occurred, for the most part, fairly early in the plan period, the severe reversals in the agricultural sector greatly diminished hopes of achieving self-sufficiency in food production by 1980. The 1980 grain target eventually was lowered from 21 million tons to 15 million tons, but even that amount proved unattainable. *

The agricultural policies promulgated from 1976 through 1980 had mixed results. Pragmatic measures that encouraged the planting of more subsidiary food crops (such as sweet potatoes, manioc, beans, and corn) led to an increase of these crops from a level of less than 10 percent that of grain production in 1975 to a level that was more than 20 percent of grain output by the late 1970s. Improved incentives for farmers in 1978 and 1979 included efforts to boost availability of consumer goods in the countryside and to raise state procurement prices. They were reinforced by adoption of a contract system that sought to guarantee producers access to agricultural inputs in exchange for farm products. Even so, bureaucratic inefficiencies and shortages of agricultural supplies prevented complete success. *

Agriculture Policy in Vietnam Since the End of the Vietnam War in 1975

Between 1976 and 1980, agricultural policy in the North was implemented by newly established government district offices in an effort to improve central control over planting decisions and farm work. The lax enforcement of state agricultural policies adopted during the war years gave way to a greater rigidity that diminished cooperative members' flexibility to undertake different tasks. Labor productivity fell as a result. A study by an overseas Vietnamese who surveyed ten rice-growing cooperatives found that, despite an increase in labor and area cultivated in 1975, 1976, and 1977, production decreased while costs increased when compared with production and costs for 1972 through 1974. Although the study failed to take weather and other variables into account, the findings were consistent with conclusions reached by investigators who have studied the effects of collectivization in other countries. Moreover, the study drew attention to the North's poor agricultural performance as a reason for Vietnam's persistent food problem. [Source: Library of Congress *]

State investment in agriculture under the Third Five-Year Plan remained low, and the sector was severely troubled throughout the plan period and into 1986 and 1987 as well. Only modest food-grain increases of 5 percent were generated annually. Although this was enough to outpace the 2.3 percent annual rate of population growth during the 1980s, it remained insufficient to raise average annual per capita food consumption much above the official subsistence level of 300 kilograms. One official Vietnamese source estimated in 1986 that farm families devoted up to 80 percent of their income to their own food needs. *

At the conclusion of the Third Five-Year Plan, agricultural yields remained less than required to permit diverting resources to the support of industrial development. In 1986 agriculture still accounted for about 44 percent of national income (the figure for developed nations is closer to 10 percent). The agricultural sector also occupied some 66 percent of the work force--a higher percentage than in 1976 and 1980. Worse still, the output per agricultural worker had slipped during the plan period, falling even farther behind the increasing output per worker in industry. In 1980 more than three agricultural workers were needed to produce as much national income as a single industrial or construction worker. By 1985 an industrial worker produced more than six times as much as an agricultural worker. *

In December 1986, Vo Van Kiet, vice chairman of the Council of Ministers and member of the Political Bureau, highlighted most of the major problems of Vietnamese agriculture in his speech to the Twelfth Session of the Seventh National Assembly. While mentioning gains in fisheries and forestry, he noted that nearly all farming subsectors--constituting 80 percent of the agricultural sector--had failed to achieve plan targets for 1986. Kiet blamed state agencies, such as the Council of Ministers, the State Planning Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Trade, for their failure to ensure appropriate "material conditions" (chiefly sufficient quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides) for the growth of agricultural production. Kiet also blamed the state price system for underproduction of key "industrial crops" that Vietnam exported, including jute, sugar, groundnut, coffee, tea, and rubber. Production levels of subsidiary food crops, such as sweet potatoes, corn, and manioc, had been declining for several years, both in relation to plan targets and in actual output as well. By contrast, livestockoutput , including that of cattle, poultry, buffalo, and hogs, was reported by the government to have continued its growth and to have met or exceeded targets, despite unstable prices and shortages of state-provided animal feed. *

Outside observers agreed that the problems noted in Kiet's speech had been exacerbated by the complexity of the pricing system, which included multiple tiers of fixed prices for quota and above-quota state purchases as well as generally higher free market prices. The removal of more orthodox leaders, the rise of moderate reformists such as Kiet to high party and government positions during the Sixth National Party Congress, and the cabinet changes in early 1987 seemed to indicate that the pricing system would be modified, although no change was evident in the fundamental structure of state-controlled markets or in the tension within the multiple-market system. *

Both the availability of land and the density of settlement in traditional agricultural areas--about 463 persons per square kilometer in the Red River Delta and 366 persons per square kilometer in the Mekong Delta-- explained much of the government's commitment to the building of new economic zones in less-settled areas. During the period from 1976 to 1980, only 1.5 million out of the 4 million persons targeted for relocation actually were moved to new economic zones. The government's Third Five-Year Plan (1981-85) called for the relocation of 2 million people by 1985, and subsequent plans projected the resettlement of as many as 10 million by 1999. By the end of 1986, however, the Vietnamese reported that fewer than 3 million people had been resettled since the program began. Slow progress in bringing new land into production, low yields on reclaimed land, and hardships endured by resettled workers-- particularly former city dwellers, many of whom chose to return home--testified to the problems inherent in the resettlement program. *

Agricultural Reforms

Reforms introduced in the early 1980s, gave local people more say in their own affairs and allowed them to sell surpluses once their quotas had been met. In 1988, collective farms were broken up and the land was distributed among small farmers given 20 year leases. Rice production boomed. In 1990, farmers were allowed to sell their crops in the open market. This immediately boosted productivity. Labeled as strategic commodity, crops could can only exported through state-approved companies, which made a profit by paying farmers significantly less than the world price.

In 1981, Vietnam departed from the collective agricultural production system by introducing the group-oriented contract system of production. That was changed to individual contracts in 1986 when the Sixth Party Congress approved a broad economic reform package called "Doi Moi" policy. Since then, Vietnam became one of the fastest growing economies in the world. [Source: International Rice Research Institute ]

The institutional reform encouraged farmers to produce more rice. Moreover, trade liberalization under the Doi Moi created favorable conditions for the rice industry. Within less than two decades, after being a chronic rice importer, the country re-emerged in the world rice market as a sustainable rice supplier and it became one of the world’s largest rice exporters, with exports averaging 3–4 million tons in recent years. Rice production in Vietnam increased as a result of yield improvement and, in particular, the expansion of planted area induced by the improvement of the heavily subsidized irrigation system.

Despite destruction caused by natural disasters, rice production keeps increasing in Vietnam over the last 14 years, with bumper harvests recorded year-on-year. Vietnam's major breakthrough in agriculture came in 1989 when the country had a record output of 18.9 million tonnes of food in term of paddy while annual production could not exceed 17 million tonnes in the 1981-1985period. The country's agriculture, especially rice production, saw a strong and fast growth in the 1990-1999 period. From a country facing chronical food shortage, Vietnam has over the past 11 years become the world's second largest rice exporter after ensuring adequate supply for domestic consumption. Rural people's life has constantly improved. The fragrance of Vietnamese rice has actually spread across kitchens of many homes in foreign countries.

Rural earnings jumped 60 percent between 1992 and 2000 but increases in agricultural productivity have been offset by population increases. Some cooperatives continued to exist. They had difficulty competing with private companies and were transformed into private companies in all but name. Other cooperatives were divided up among families, who were required to meet certain quotas set by the government. Anything extra they raised could sell on the open market.

Productivity was increased as Vietnam processed a significant amount of unused land with agricultural potential. According to Vietnamese statistics of the mid 1980s, agricultural land then in use theoretically could be expanded by more than 50 percent to occupy nearly one-third of the nation. Funds and equipment for expensive land-reclamation projects were scarce, however, and foreign economists believed that a projected increase in agricultural land use of about 20 to 25 percent was more realistic. Even if the reclaimed land were only minimally productive, an increase in land use would increase agricultural output substantially. *

Agricultural Importance of the Mekong Delta

Katie Padilla wrote in an ICE Case Studies: The Mekong Delta is critical to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in Vietnam. 22 percent of the population of Vietnam lives in the Mekong Delta, which is a high population density area of about 17 million people (Yun). Agriculture is a primary source of livelihood in the Mekong Delta, where roughly half of the total amount of food in Vietnam is produced (ICEM, 7). A large volume of the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta is exported throughout Southeast Asia, making it a crucial agricultural source for other countries in the region as well (ICEM, 59).[Source: Katie Padilla, American University, ICE Case Studies, Number 265, December, 2011 <*>]

The Mekong Delta is critically important to Vietnam’s national agricultural production. According to Can Tho University estimates, the Mekong Delta produces 50 percent of the nation’s rice, 80 percent of the nation’s fruit, and 60 percent of the nation’s fish, making it the largest agriculture and aquaculture production region in Vietnam (ICEM, 37). Overall, 46 percent of the total amount of food produced in Vietnam comes from the Mekong Delta (ICEM, 7). Agriculture is a crucial source of livelihood for the residents of the Mekong Delta, particularly rice cultivation, which is the primary livelihood for 60 percent of the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta (Käkönen, 206). <*>

The agricultural output of the Mekong Delta supports the population of numerous other countries in the region in addition to Vietnam’s population. According to a National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Report from January 2010, Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, and the Mekong Delta produces the overwhelming majority of Vietnam’s rice exports (CENTRA Technology, Inc. and Scitor Corporation, 14). “As well as being the “food basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta region also provides more than 80 per cent of total rice exports – an important contribution to the food security across the region” (ICEM, 59). <*>

The agricultural output of the Mekong Delta supports the population of numerous other countries in the region in addition to Vietnam’s population. According to a National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Report from January 2010, Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, and the Mekong Delta produces the overwhelming majority of Vietnam’s rice exports (CENTRA Technology, Inc. and Scitor Corporation, 14). “As well as being the “food basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta region also provides more than 80 per cent of total rice exports – an important contribution to the food security across the region” (ICEM, 59). <*>

The Mekong Delta represents the largest scale of irrigation areas in the region, and the high agricultural output of the Mekong Delta translates into a substantial source of economic output for Vietnam as well. The Mekong Delta contributes 27 percent of Vietnam’s GDP according to the 2009 Mekong Delta Climate Change Forum Report (ICEM, 59). As such, the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta is not only crucial to the food security of numerous countries in Southeast Asia, but also an important component of Vietnam’s GDP. <*>

Mekong Delta, See Places

Vietnam's 'Food Bowl'—the Mekong Delta—under Stress

The Mekong Delta is regarded at the breadbasket of Vietnam. In recent years the region has come under stress from problems such as over-exploitation and salt-water intrusion. In 2005, Tran Dinh Thanh Lam wrote in the Inter Press Service, “Vietnam's ecologically sensitive wetlands, which produce much of the country's food staples, including rice, fish and fowl, are now beginning to suffer the effects of over-exploitation. "Environmental protection and economic development sometimes contradict each other," Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Pham Khoi Nguyen said recently, spelling out the government's dilemma. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, September 22, 2005 >>>]

“But Nguyen indicated that the time had come for drastic measures to be taken to protect a vast region of shimmering paddies and mudflats, stretching from the Red River valley in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south, which not only "play a crucial role in ensuring the national food supply but (are) also home to delicate ecosystems''. "The trend of making quick money by tapping wetland resources in Vietnam is threatening the country's environment," Nguyen stressed. One-fifth of Vietnam's 78 million population makes a living by exploiting 10 million ha (hectares) of wetland areas for growing rice and aquaculture. >>>

Much of Vietnam's largest wetland area lies in the Mekong Delta in the south, with its elaborate network of river channels and vast areas of rice paddies, mangrove and melaleuca forests, tidal mudflats and shrimp and fish ponds. But rapid demographic development has resulted in greater demand for food, which in turn forced farmers to reclaim vast areas of wetlands by cutting down mangrove and melaleuca trees for charcoal, firewood and timber. At Can Gio wetland, 50 kilometers southeast of Ho Chi Minh City for instance, 400,000 ha of mangroves are now under threat from illegal salt farming and shrimp breeding. "Last year, there were 123 violations of reserve regulations - most were for illegal aquaculture activities," Nguyen Van Thanh, deputy head of the forests' management board, told IPS. "These illegal farms caused the destruction of 2.6 ha, and thousands of mangrove trees in the reserve have been cut down." Can Gio has been named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) biosphere reserve, and any attempt to farm, to take fish or wood from the reserve is illegal. Like in other national parks and reserves in the country, some Can Gio people are allowed to live and farm in buffer zones that separate the reserve from the surrounding region. They are not permitted to carry out any production activities in the reserve. >>>

Salt Water Intrusion in the Mekong Delta

According to World Bank: In 1999, agriculture in the Mekong Delta accounted for 30 percent of Vietnam’s GDP and more than 80 percent of its rice exports. However, without appropriate infrastructure, the delta’s many canals and irrigation networks were vulnerable to salt water intrusion from the South China Sea during the dry season, threatening land arability, and to flooding during the rainy season, putting harvests in danger. Poor drinking water supplies and inadequate rural transport also held down production levels and rural incomes.

Water with 4 percent salinity has encroached by 40-50 kilometers far into the Mekong Delta. In February 2013, Vietnam.net reported: “In Soc Trang province, drought and salinity both have seriously affected the agricultural production, damaging tens of thousands of hectares of the winter-spring rice fields in the areas bordering Bac Lieu province. More than 20,000 hectares of rice fields in some communes along the Long Phu – Tiep Nhat canal have been in the danger of getting suffered from the drought and saltwater intrusion. [Source: Vietnam.net, February 28, 2013 /:\]

“Local authorities have affirmed that the saltwater intrusion this year may be the most severe in the history, following the last small flood season and the strong northeast wind. Since mid February 2013, it has been unable to find fresh water at the river mouths, just 30 kilometers from the sea. Meanwhile, scientists have warned that in March, April and May, the coastal areas may lack freshwater for daily lives. According to the Ben Tre provincial Center for Hydrometeorology Forecast, on Cua Dai River, the salinity has reached 27 ‰ -30 ‰ in Binh Dai district, 13 ‰ -16 ‰ in Loc Thuan, 2 ‰ -3,5 ‰ in Long Hoa. On the Ham Luong River, the salinity is as high as 27 ‰ -30 ‰ in An Thuan, 0.1 ‰ -1 ‰ in Vam Mon. Local authorities have been hurrying taking actions to protect over 64,500 hectares of the winter-spring crop rice fields and 25,000 hectares of aquatic ponds. /:\

“Under the climate change and sea water rise scenario, if the sea water rises by 30 cm, 50,000 hectares of agricultural land in Mekong Delta would suffer from the saltwater intrusion, which means that the delta would lose up to 120,000 tons of rice. In the worst case, the mangrove area may be larger of up to 500,000 hectares, farmers would lose one million tons of rice. In fact, local farmers have been familiar with the salinity intrusion over the last many years. Coping with the salinity intrusion has always been very important for the survival of the agricultural production in the area.” /:\

Efforts to Combat Salt Water Intrusion in the Mekong Delta

Vietnam.net reported: “Experts have suggested changing the crop seasons, cultivation techniques and plant varieties, and utilizing the plant varieties with high salinity resistance, emphasizing that these are the measures to optimize the use of agriculture land. Pham Thanh Vu, MA, from the Can Tho University, believes that the rotational rice cultivation & shrimp hatchery model should be applied to the areas with the long salinity intrusion time and high salinity. The areas with the salinity intrusion duration of more than seven months a year should turn into shrimp farming areas. [Source: Vietnam.net, February 28, 2013 /:\]

“Meanwhile, the 3-crop would still be applied in the areas which have embankments to prevent the salt intrusion, or have irrigation works to provide fresh water. Diversifying plantations to make it suitable to the different conditions of the land areas has been considered the long term solution to get adapted to the climate change. In Soc Trang province, for example, farmers have been using the high salinity resistance rice varieties in the rotational crop model. However, experts say the model would be helpful in the areas with the low land salinity. It may happen that when farmers try to rescue rice fields by blocking water inlet sluice, this would lead to the lack of salt water for shrimp. “ /:\

The International Development Association (IDA) supported Mekong Delta Water Resources Project sought to develop water control infrastructure to prevent salinity intrusion and promote irrigation, drainage, flood protection and improved rural drinking water supplies. Five subproject areas covering more than 500,000 hectares were targeted to boost agricultural productivity and rural incomes. Results: Freshwater supplies for irrigation were substantially improved along with the ability to control salinity and floods in the delta. An IDA credit of US$102 million financed a bit more than two-thirds of the total project cost of US$148 million.[Source: World Bank]

Highlights: 1) About 1 million people were expected to benefit from project expansion of clean water supplies and improvements in sanitation facilities, with the connection rate to potable water sources increasing from 30–40 percent of the population living in the delta in 1999 to 75 percent at the end of 2007. 2) Farmers’ incomes doubled on average between 1999 and 2007, from VND 300,000 (less than US$500) to VND 625,000 (about US$1,000). 3) Crop productivity has risen, with the average yield for double rice cropping increasing from 4.7 tons/hectare in 1999 to 5.3 tons/hectare in 2007. 4) Sluice gates have helped contain seasonal floods to allow farmers to complete their harvest. Forty-one main sluice gates and 125 secondary sluice gates have been built. Over 1,000 kilometers of primary and secondary canals were also dredged and enlarged. 5) To protect towns from floods, 234 kilometers of dikes were constructed. 6) The delta is now better prepared to withstand rising sea levels and catastrophic weather. 7) The doubling of water fee collections envisaged by the project did not occur: a government decree has exempted all farmers and individuals from paying water fees since January 2008.

The project’s impact will be sustained, provided proper attention is paid to operation and maintenance of infrastructure. Because of the decision to exempt farmers from water service fees, heavy subsidies will be needed to maintain the newly created infrastructure. On the other hand, farmers whose livelihoods depend on irrigation and drainage are likely to continue to use the new facilities effectively. Further investments in sea dikes and sluices could help the delta cope with the effects of climate change (droughts, floods and rising sea levels). Investment in agricultural processing, marketing and information technology could help maximize the impact of irrigation infrastructure.

Rats and Vietnamese Agriculture

Vietnam suffers from periodic rat infestations. In some years they multiply as a result of bumper rice crops and they eat large amounts of rice. In 1997, rats destroyed 925,000 acres of rice paddies in Vietnam. Answering the call to "Kill Rat, Grow Cat," Vietnamese have smoked and flooded rats out of their holes and clubbed them and poisoned them. Tails from killed rats can be taken to a local rat control center for a 200 dong reward for each tail. One man who brought in a bag with 2,000 tails told the Los Angeles Times, "This is easy work. There are rats everywhere."

Huw Watkin wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Vietnam's capital is under threat from an army of giant rats that officials say have seriously damaged the city's flood-protection dyke system ahead of the wet season. Media reports yesterday said a 2.3km section of a dyke protecting low-lying Hanoi from the Red River had become a "rat castle", where the rats had dug in after an intense, but failed, eradication campaign. [Source: By Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, June 26, 2001 \|/]

“Hoang Van Huong, a commune official at Dong My on the southern outskirts of the capital, confirmed the reports, saying the rodents had severely damaged the dyke by building underground nests from which they raided nearby rice fields. Mr Huong said surviving rodents moved to the dyke after locals eliminated about 45,000 animals in a government-sponsored 12-month offensive offering about 500 dong (HK26 cents) a tail. He said the survivors had bred quickly and now numbered in the tens of thousands, with many weighing in at more than 2kg. \|/

"There are literally thousands of nests undermining the dyke and many of the rats are so big, even our cats are afraid of them," he said. "They are very clever animals and have learned to identify our traps and poison. They also know that the law prevents us from interfering with the dyke, so that is where they have built their homes." Irrigation official Hoang Van Uoc said authorities faced a dilemma as water levels in the Red River were already rising fast ahead of heavy rains that usually hit northern Vietnam in the coming three months. "We can't repair the dyke until water levels fall sufficiently, and that will not be until October at least," he said. "Until then, we will just have to step up efforts to catch the rats in the fields." Rat plagues have become an increasingly serious problem in rural Vietnam, with some areas reportedly losing 15 percent of agricultural production to the voracious creatures. \|/

“According to Ministry of Agriculture figures, rats destroyed more than 700,000 hectares of rice crops last year, nearly treble the losses in 1996. Conservationists attribute the rise in rat numbers to the near extinction of natural predators, in particular the killing of snakes, which fetch big money from the illegal wildlife trade in Vietnam and China. But some regions have adapted to the scourge by selling rat meat for human consumption.Defensive strategy: An irrigation system was built in 1958 to water the vast farmlands of the three provinces of Bac Ninh, Hung Yen and Hai Duong and protect them from flood. \|/

Coffee and Vietnam’s Effort to Grow Through Agriculture

Vietnam is a major coffee producer. With the help of government subsidies, it expanded coffee production by eight fold in the 1990s to over 550,000 tons a years to become the world's number two producer in 2001 after Brazil and ahead of Columbia. The increased production provided Vietnam with valuable hard currency but caused a worldwide coffee glut and a drop in prices which hurt coffee farmers around the globe.

William Pesek Jr wrote in Bloomberg News, “Vietnam will have to make sure the nation's coffee bubble is not repeated elsewhere in one of Asia's most vibrant economies. If it is, investors will lack confidence in Vietnam's budding stock and bond markets. Vietnam may be an emerging Asian tiger, but its continued focus on agricultural pursuits makes it an odd one, TheGlobalist.com, a Washington-based think tank, said in a recent report. Most tiger countries in the region - including neighboring Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines - have sought to use cheap labor to develop manufacturing or assembly operations. Traditionally, they strive to move up the technology curve to make higher value-added products. [Source: William Pesek Jr., Bloomberg News, June 2, 2003 \-/]

"Not so for the Vietnamese," the report said. "Vietnam's Communist government still seems to prize agricultural production above all else. In recent years, it applied the organizational skills and dogged persistence that characterized economic planning to developing one particular crop - coffee." An overstatement, perhaps. The good news is that the government is working to move up the economic food chain, going after higher value-added production markets. The government has signed a trade agreement with the United States, reduced obstacles for entrepreneurs, created an active stock market and taken steps to boost investment. \-/

“What's worrying, though, is the risk that Vietnam's coffee problems turn out to be a microcosm of the broader economy. Minister of Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc recently pointed to the coffee industry as an example of how "poor-quality planning has caused damage" to local economies. The important point here is that Vietnam appears to be learning from its coffee woes. If that's indeed the case, investors may have a new tiger to bet on in the years ahead.” \-/

Innovative Farming in Vietnam

Karl John wrote in the Asia Times, “Faced with adversity, Vietnam has a reputation for achieving remarkable results - both on the battlefield and in the marketplace. Once faced with chronic rice shortages after the American War, technologically challenged Vietnam has since emerged as the world's second-largest rice exporter. It is also the world's biggest pepper exporter and second-largest exporter of coffee and cashew nuts. The agricultural sector is already racing to implement a number of new programs, including structural adjustment schemes aimed at developing regional competitive advantages, improving quality control and increasing production of farm products, and developing infrastructure and production facilities more in line with international standards. [Source: Karl John, Asia Times, January 12, 2007 /

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) worked on a pilot project to ween Mekong Delta rice farmers off pesticides by using an electric device to check the migrations of brown plant hoppers, a major pest. The project found that if farmers planted rice immediately after the infestations, the crops grew strong enough to resist the next hopper infestation three weeks later -- without the use of pesticides. The strategy produced a healthy crop and good yields, said the FAO, even as other farmers sprayed their fields eight times or more and inadvertently killed off spiders and other natural enemies of the hoppers. "There is a trend to go back to using chemicals, under pressure from salesmen and advertisements," said FAO country chief Andrew Speedy. "Vietnam has a long and successful history of applying integrated pest management for natural control of pests and this should not be forgotten by modern farmers." Despite such efforts and government promises to make things better, for now, housewife Huong remains skeptical. "I don't trust the officials," she said. "They say a lot of things but don't realise them. We have to protect ourselves and our families."

Breaking Away from Rice Monoculture with the Queen of Mekong Delta Agriculture

In 2002, Vietnam’s Tran Ngoc Suong, director of Song Hau Farm, won an award for the most prominent businesswoman in Asia. Saigon Times Weekly reported: “What this 53-year-old businesswoman has done to her farm and the local farming community is really impressive. "I think my business activities are highly related to the local community," Suong explains about why she was given the title. "That means the results of my work are closely associated with the improvement of the livelihood of a community of 15,000 farmers." More importantly, she adds, the farmers have received and popularized the way of doing business she has instructed them. Suong outdid 15 finalists from 11 countries to claim the title of Asia's most successful businesswoman. "My colleagues [at the event] are all famous businesspeople," recalls Suong. [Source: Saigon Times Weekly, December 7, 2002 ////]

Suong succeeded her late father, Tran Ngoc Hoang, as the director of Song Hau Farm in Vietnam's Mekong Delta province of Can Tho. Hoang founded the 6,000-hectare Song Hau Farm in 1979. In a decade Suong's father and his team had turned the abandoned land into a regional rice basket. "Yet we realized that we could go to nowhere with only rice monoculture," says Suong. In the early 90s when rice paddy was still a strategic farm produce of the entire nation, Song Hau Farm's management, including Suong, probed an alternative. "Multiple-crop is a must," Suong says. ////

The strategic shift has translated Song Hau into the region's agricultural hub capable of exporting farm products under Sohafarm trademark to foreign markets. Song Hau Farm's annual revenue reaches some VND3 trillion (US$200 million) while its farming households each earn VND33 million (US$2,100) per year. The farm's food processing factory has won both HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), the hygienic qualification for food exports, and ISO9002/2000, the quality management system. Song Hau Farm has its own power generator, a high school and a cultural club. Farmers and their family members are entitled to free medical treatment and social welfare. The children are given education from kindergarten to senior high school. ////

In Vietnam, many people have known about Song Hau Farm in the Mekong Delta and Tran Ngoc Suong. Yet only a few know that Song Hau Director Suong was one of the first post-war agricultural engineers graduating from the Can Tho University, the cradle of agriculturists for Vietnam's largest rice basket. Suong also learnt business administration in the former Soviet Union. It is not by chance that Song Hau's 6,000 hectares are able to supply enough rice seeds to the entire 100,000 hectares of Can Tho's export rice area. To do so, Song Hau has set up a seedling farm. This was one of the first establishments in Vietnam to produce seeds in three categories: breeder seeds that have the highest quality; foundation seeds; and certified seeds that are sold to farmers for planting. ////

This regime has enabled Song Hau to produce rice of high and stable quality suitable for export. Rice trademarked Sohafarm has traveled far and wide to markets worldwide. Hai Dinh, a local farmer, says, "Here [in Song Hau Farm], farmers are prosperous. Ms. Suong is very good at doing business and she is much loved by farmers." Agreeing with Hai Dinh, Prof. Vo Tong Xuan, who is among the most prominent Vietnamese agriculturists, says, "Vietnam's agricultural sector has found a way out because it has been able to find export markets. Ms. Suong knows what to do. She knows how to apply science and technology to production and processing, and then export products directly, bypassing intermediators. So, it's more beneficial to farmers." Suong's method has worked well and Song Hau exports half of Can Tho Province's rice export volume. ////

Song Hau Farm pays every month for business and market information it gains from domestic and foreign sources. In 1996, Suong came to the U.S. and spent several months there to learn more about this market. "Song Hau is able to export half a million tons of rice a year," she says. "However, the rice market is very unstable. So, it's hard for farmers to prosper if relying only on rice cultivation. We have to export other processed foods." The core is, emphasizes Suong, to be fully aware of what the world needs and try to satisfy the demands. "That's the solution," she concludes. ////

Consequently, mushroom, red chili, ginger, shrimp, fish and the like raised by farmers at Song Hau have been processed to reach export standards. Exported Sohafarm rice and processed foods have earned Song Hau more than US$50 million annually. Suong says she alone cannot do all things. Around her is a contingent of some 150 agricultural engineers who devote all their time and efforts to working with farmers. Song Hau has also established close relations with the region's scientific and technological institutions such as the Mekong Delta Rice Institute, Can Tho University, Industrial Crop Institute, and the Southern Agricultural Science Institute. "Vietnam, currently still an agricultural-based country, has to run like an express train to catch up with neighbors," says Suong. "If not, we will further lag behind." ////

Making Money from Wild Vegetables in Vietnam

Rural villagers are raising their families’ incomes by cultivating wild vegetables and rice in local forests to sell at the market. Cong Thanh wrote in the Viet Nam News, “A villager in Minh Phuong Village, Ba Be District of north-eastern Bac Can Province has significantly raised his family’s income by growing a vegetable normally only found in the wild near rivers or in rainy valleys. Farmer Duong Van Tot is the first villager to plant bo khai (Sainat), which grows well in the shadow of big trees in highland forests. The 42-year-old Tay ethnic minority earns around VND40 million (US$2,200) per year from his 2ha forest, wild vegetable plots and rice. "I grow the vegetable to increase our income, because terrace paddy-fields do not bring bumper crops. Vegetable sales earn me VND8 million ($450), a fifth of my family’s annual income," Tot said. "The local people pick bo khai in the forest to sell in the market, but I bring the vegetable back to grow on my 2,000sq.m garden under fruit trees and logs," he added. [Source: Cong Thanh, Viet Nam News, March 1, 2009 ^*^]

“The vegetable grows at a time of the year when most people in the village must earn their living by hunting or harvesting various forest products, causing damaging effects to ecological systems. Tot said bo khai sells out quickly in the market because it’s a clean and safe vegetable. It is also popular due to its common usage by the local Tay for curing kidney ailments. According to Minh Phuong official Duong Thi Van, the village is home to 3,450 people; most families produce around 630kg of rice and maize on terraced slopes of an annual income per capita of around VND2.5 million ($144). ^*^

"Tot’s cultivation sets an example for other households in the village on how to increase their living standards. We want to encourage villagers to develop more vegetable gardens, creating another income generating stream for their lives to complement harvesting forest products and breeding," Van said. "However, to help them do this we need technical support and finance from Bac Can Province," she added. As scheduled, the provincial Department of Agricultural and Rural Development will plan a pilot project for growing this special crop in the northern district. An official said the project will build a standard sample before expanding to numerous households in the village. ^*^

“Ba Be District is home to another popular wild vegetable called don (a member of the fern family) – which grows profusely in damp valleys or near streams. In Ha Hieu Village, home to nearly 3,000 people mostly from the Tay, Dao and Nung ethnic minority groups, farmers have cultivated the don vegetable on lower slopes and valleys. The communal Youth Union began farming a small 10ha plot three years ago, a wooded lot reserved for them to plant don from which they expect to have 100kg of crop. "After planting, we can harvest the vegetable and sell it in two years," said Youth Union member Be Van Duy. ^*^

“Duy, 23, a Nung man on the farm for the last two years, said they just earned VND2 million ($120) from the vegetable sale last year. But, he expects the figure to increase by 10 times this year. "We asked the Ba Be District administration for a VND600 million ($34,000) preferential loan in the second quarter of this year, solely for planting don and bo khai," Duy added. He also said that the farm, which has attracted dozen of young farmers, will also invest in planting trees for logging, cattle, poultry and vegetable to diversify. ^*^

“As part of the loan, Ba Be, Pac Nam and Na Ri districts receive a $21 million loan for the Pro-Poor Partnerships for Agroforestry Development Project from the International Fund for Agricultural Development for 2009-12 period. It is the young famers’ hope to receive full financial support from the province and the youth union. The project will target poor upland farmers living in the three poorest districts of Bac Can Province: Pac Nam, Ba Be and Na Ri, which have the highest concentration of ethnic minority groups and the highest incidence of poverty in Viet Nam due to the limited agricultural land and rugged mountainous terrain. ^*^

Livestock in Vietnam

Pigs, chickens, ducks and water buffalo are the main livestock animals in Vietnam. Water buffalo are the main beast of burden. Ducks and fish ponds are everywhere. The pigs can be huge. Pigs trundled in tube-like bamboo cages with small opening for the nose to stick out a piled on to the back of motorcycles. A typical rural family has 4 pigs, 2 piglets, 20 chickens, a rooster, 11 ducks, 50 banana trees and two star fruit trees.

See Buffalo Boy: Lovely Film About Rural Life in Vietnam, See Bird Flu

Explaining in 1928 "why insects occupy an important place in the diet of the poor Tonkinese": Nguyen-Cong-Tieu wrote: "Everyone who has traveled throughout the Tonkinese countryside easily understands the difficulty that the farmers, especially those of the lower class, face in obtaining food of animal origin. The causes appear to be multiple. First of all, fish on the coast of Tonkin yield less fruitful results than in Annam or Cochinchine. Moreover, streams, lagoons and ponds are relatively devoid of fish. Thus, fresh fish, saltwater fish, shellfish and crustaceans offer no sufficient quantities to respond to the needs of an ever-growing population. On the other hand, because the surface dirt of the delta is almost entirely devoted to the growing of rice and other food plants, there remains little room available for the development of prairies destined for the raising of animals. Buffalo and beef, usually imported from the upper region, are exclusively reserved for field work. They are only killed for the butcher shop when they can no longer work, or on the occasion of a ritualistic festivity .Goats are rare. Many pigs are found, but the flesh of this animal, as well as fowl, constitutes the basis of meat in the diet of only the well-to-do classes."

Vietnam's First Foie Gras Falls Foul of Bird Flu

In 2004, Reuters reported: “ It would have been Vietnam's first homemade, commercial production of foie gras, but the deadly bird flu has forced the slaughter of Hugh Adam's entire flock of geese. "I'm not in the geese business today," lamented the American consultant who is also a gourmet chef. Earlier this week, he turned over his flock of 500 to 600 birds to local authorities for slaughter. [Source: Reuters, February 12, 2004 +=+]

“They joined more than 20 million poultry in Vietnam already killed by the H5N1 virus or culled. At least 14 people in Vietnam and five in Thailand have caught the virus and died. Mass slaughter of poultry is believed to be the most effective way of containing the virus, strains of which has spread to 11 countries and has been reported in nearly all of Vietnam's 64 provinces and cities. Adams, a resident of Hanoi, had begun the production of the goose liver delicacy with a local partner on a trial basis, but was approaching the end of the process, that of feeding the poultry large amounts of food to enlarge their livers. He even played soothing Mozart music to the geese to keep them in fine fettle. +=+

"We were on our third set of (20) geese," he said on Thursday. He had already agreed to supply foie gras to some local Hanoi restaurants from his first batch. Now, Adams also doesn't even have eggs, as 3,000 that were being incubated had to be destroyed. He put his losses in the thousands of dollars. But he said he wants to try to rebuild his inventory if the outbreak doesn't spiral out of control. "For me it's a little setback," he said, adding that he will import geese from China if Vietnam's bird stock is too depleted. +=+

Timber in Vietnam

see Deforestation

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.