Making salty soil productive in the Mekong

The Mekong Delta is home to 19 million people who produce 50% of Vietnam's food. Saline water is creeping further inland in the Mekong Delta, threatening the livelihoods of millions of farmers and, more broadly, food security in Vietnam’s critically important ‘rice bowl’.

The challenge

Salinity is increasing in the Delta for several reasons. The availability of fresh water has decreased and the frequency of saline intrusions has increased during the dry season due to climate change-induced sea level rise, changed seasonal rainfall patterns and changed water flows in the Mekong River.

Severe crop losses have been reported with up to 70% of rice salt damaged and 30% of the crop yielding no grain in some provinces. This has created a significant loss of income to thousands of farmers and it is predicted that these events will increase in frequency, magnitude and spatial extent.

Project name
Farmer Options for Crops Under Saline conditions (FOCUS) in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam (2020 - 2025)

Funding Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) $2.3M

Project website

Our response

Farmers and supporting Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) staff are seeking improved soil management techniques and profitable alternative crops to grow in the dry season. These options must be marketable and profitable for rural communities to sustain livelihoods.

This project aims to equip local stakeholders with the best soil management and alternative crop options to grow during the dry season when the threat of salinity is greatest.

The focus of the project is to

  • Characterise the impact of saline water intrusion on crop-based farming systems (water, soil, crops, people and markets).
  • Develop and evaluate crop diversification and soil management options for saline-affected areas.
  • Describe and analyse market opportunities and policies for adaptive transformation of cropping systems in the Mekong River Delta.
  • Develop and promote spatially targeted management practices that build adaptive capacity and optimise farm livelihoods in a changing environment

The project’s goal is to increase production and profitability of saline-affected crop production systems in the Mekong Delta and to create a capacity legacy to enable these systems to adapt to ongoing climate change.

The expected outcomes include:

  • Adoption of profitable non-rice crops as an alternative to dry season rice production under conditions of climate change.
  • Provision of successful soil management practices to improve economic and environmental outcomes for growers.
  • Improve capacity in research, technical and extension services. Improved knowledge, skills and capacity of farmers, farming cooperatives and communities.
  • Stronger integration of data collection and analysis for planning and policy making.
  • Reliable crop production, sustained or increased profitability under conditions of ongoing climate change.
  • Implement better land and water resource use under conditions of saline intrusion.

The goal

Summary of achievements to date


  • Training of local government staff and farmers on the impact of salinity on plant production and methods to measure salinity in soil and water enabling farmers to avoid irrigating with saline water and diagnose salinity risks.
  • Glasshouse and field experiments have identified suitable crops (e.g., quinoa, maize, beetroot, watermelon) as an alternative to rice in the dry season.
  • Field experiments have demonstrated the beneficial use of mulches to decrease soil salinity and increase production of upland crops when rice cannot be grown.
  • The use of Chameleon soil water sensors has enabled water use to be halved without loss of yield, and reduce time spent irrigating, representing significant savings in fuel, water and labour costs.
  • Farmers have earned an additional source of income from selling upland crops e.g., maize and beetroot. These crops have a 2- and 20-fold increase in profit compared with rice, respectively.
  • The project is building capacity of research teams with junior staff being mentored to conduct quality, multidisciplinary science. The project continues to foster the postgraduate training of local government staff from rural areas via enrolment in a Master of Science course utilizing the project as a resource.
  • Youth perceptions of the environmental, economic and social pressures faced due to climate change and COVID-19 were studied with emphasis on perceptions of gender roles, career prospects for youth, family farming activity and decision making. Though gender roles differ, youth aspire for a more balanced representation of roles and opportunities.
  • Remoted sensed data is being used to study the influence of climate change on land use change from rice production within target provinces.
  • Three project staff were awarded ACIAR Alumni Research Support Facility (ARSF) grants to support their research in socioeconomics.

Our team

Principal scientist

portrait of  Associate Professor Jason Condon
Associate Professor Jason Condon
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Our research team

portrait of Dr Brooke Kaveney
Dr Brooke Kaveney
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Our partners

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