Sustainable rice cultivation in the deep flooded zones of the Vietnamese Mekong Delta
Authors: Alexander Chapman, Stephen Darby, Emma Tompkins, Christopher Hackney, Julian Leyland, Pham Dang Tri Van, Thanh Vu Pham, Daniel Parsons, Rolf Aalto, Andrew Nicholas
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This paper explains how the management of the full-dyke system in the deep flooded zones of the Vietnamese Mekong Delta affects rice cultivation, and outlines how alternative dyke management strategies could offer more sustainable adaptations in the face of future environmental threats. The current management of the ‘full-dyke’ network has been successful in promoting triple-cropping rice cultivation, but this practice has prevented sediment deposition on the land surface. River-borne sediments deposited on the delta land surface have high economic value because they are (i) rich in nutrients (potentially 26 million USD/yr of free fertiliser to An Giang Province) and can (ii) help to maintain the Mekong Delta land above sea-level. Without a continuing supply of sediment to the delta, triple-cropping paddies may not continue to be sustainable or profitable for the majority of rice farmers over the next 10 to 20 years. The economic value of sediment as a free fertiliser is particularly important to poor farmers, as without sediment, they run a significant risk of debt due to fluctuations in rice, fertiliser, and other input prices. With incoming loads now declining, sediment must be managed carefully as a resource. Our projections show that the best use of the remaining sediment resource can be achieved by allowing full paddy flooding only in years of high sediment potential, and this would greatly increase the sustainability of rice agriculture in the face of future environmental change. This recommended policy is an option with few regrets, in that its other benefits include maximising groundwater replenishment, ensuring freshwater availability during drought periods (including countering salt water intrusion), cleansing rice paddies of pests and disease, and tempering downstream flooding. If triple-rice-cropping continues to have priority, financial support will particularly be needed to provide help to poorer farmers coping with increases in artificial fertiliser prices.