The Mekong River Delta in Vietnam is home to more than 17 million people and is responsible for half the country’s rice production.
But salinity caused by rising sea levels, reduced stream flow and land subsidence is threatening the productivity of rice production and the livelihoods of the farming families in the Delta.
Graham Centre researchers, Dr Jason Condon and Dr Sergio Moroni from Charles Sturt University (CSU) and Dr Susan Orgill from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) are working on a study to identify what research is needed to allow for diversification of crops in the region.
The scoping study is an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) brokered partnership between CSU, Can Tho University, Murdoch University, the University of New England, NSW DPI, An Giang University, the Provincial Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Loc Troi Group, Vietnam.
Dr Condon said, “Inland farmers in the Delta grow two or three rice crops per year but the increased salinity means that dry season rice is now very unreliable.
“In 2016 some provinces in the Delta region reported 70 per cent losses of dry-season rice with 30 per cent of rice farmers experiencing a total crop failure.
“It’s anticipated that by 2030 half the Mekong Delta will be affected by salinity. This research is focused on Vietnam but other delta systems, such as in Bangladesh and Myanmar, are likely to face similar issues in the future,” Dr Condon said.
Earlier research showed that alternative cropping options to rice may be an option for farmers as salinity increases in the Delta and this new project is identifying what further questions need to be answered to allow for successful adaption of alternatives to rice.
“Along with finding crops that may be suitable and providing farmers with the agronomic information to grow them successfully, a key part of changing the cropping mix is ensuring that the products are marketable,” Dr Condon said.
“The development of strong and stable markets often depends on the investment of private industry but to invest they need to be sure there will be secure production base.
“That means we have to have the capacity to predict future land use and crop production as salinity increases.”
Dr Condon and Dr Orgill held training workshops in Vietnam during May, with partners from Murdoch University and Can Tho University, to support scientists and extension staff learn the latest techniques in measuring and understanding the impact of salinity.
Rapid and correct measurement of soil salinity is an important start of the monitoring process required to record the size of the problem facing farmers of the Delta.
This is just one of many research for development projects that Dr Condon has been involved with.
“The need for this research is obvious, and it has the potential to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of families,” Dr Condon said.
“I also enjoy working with farmers from another part of the world and I’m often struck by the similarities to here in Australia despite the different cultures and production systems.
“You could be having the same conversations with a farmer from the Mekong Delta as you would have with a farmer in Ardlethan. They talk about the impact of youth moving to the city, commodity prices and rising input costs.
“I also value the partnerships that are created through collaborative research,” Dr Condon said.
2018 marks 25 years of ACIAR funded research in Vietnam with 170 projects worth $100 million to develop the agricultural sector, while making a positive impact on the lives of Vietnamese farmers.
Contact: Dr Jason Condon E:JCondon@csu.edu.au