Vietnam: Toward Rice Sufficiency
White Gold” is the Vietnamese reference for rice, and fittingly so since the Vietnam economy practically struck gold when it achieved rice sufficiency in 1985. Since then, the country has never looked back as it was not only able to sustain its sufficiency but also produce for exportation to other countries.
At present, Vietnam is among the top rice-producing and exporting countries in the world. Its production accounts for at least 5.6% of global rice production and 7M tons of global rice exports. Vietnam is also among the top rice consumers in the world as rice is the main staple of its more than 90M population.
Rice is cultivated in 82% of the total arable land of the country’s more than 33M hectares total land area. It is produced mainly in two river deltas in the country, the Red River Delta (RRD) and the Mekong River Delta (MRD).
The two deltas account for 70% of the country’s total rice production, 18% and 52% respectively. Rice is produced in three cropping seasons, namely: the winter/spring cropping season (45%), the summer/autumn cropping season (32%), and the 10th month cropping season (23%). Vietnam is ecologically gifted. It is among the countries with rich biodiversity, and one of the original 12 cultivar centers in the world. It has at least 6,000 traditional rice varieties, but these varieties are threatened of being lost as 80% of traditional varieties are no longer in existence in rice production systems throughout the country.
CLIMATE CHANGE THREAT
Vietnam is listed among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. It is projected to experience variability in rainfall, increasing temperature, sea level rise, floods, drought, and saltwater intrusion. Temperatures have been observed to have increased by 0.7⁰C since 1951 and are projected to increase further from current levels by at least 1.4⁰C by 2050. A 1.0⁰C increase in temperature will decrease yield in agriculture by 10%.
Sea level rise and its impact to food security in the country is a major concern especially because MRD is among the three deltas in the world most vulnerable to climate change. The MRD’s landscape is mostly flat flood plains in low elevations above sea level. Close to 80% of land area is devoted to rice production. An increase in sea level by one meter will inundated 40% of the MRD and will cause 13% loss in total national rice production. Further, rising sea levels will cause increase in salinity of agricultural lands and will in turn make soil less productive.
Of the 13 provinces that comprise the MRD, only three provinces produce less than 1M tons, and only two have lower than 50% of total land area as agricultural land. One of the top rice-producing provinces, An Giang, produces at least 3M tons but is threatened by flooding and saltwater intrusion. An Giang’s production combined with that of the provinces of Kien Giang and Dong Thap can already surpass the production of the RRD.
In provinces like Ca Mau, rice production areas have been decreased and farmers have shifted to aquaculture due to saltwater intrusion. Such areas remain threatened by flooding and increasing temperatures.
The situation with respect to climate change vulnerability is no different in other rice-producing provinces in Vietnam such as those in the northern part and the RRD. A one-meter rise in sea level will inundate 11% of the RRD. Provinces in the Northwestern part of Vietnam like Son La, Yen Bai, Hoa Binh, Lao Cai, and Thanh Hoa have experienced the extremes of climate variability.
Droughts and long cold spells affect the areas along with floods, typhoons, and saltwater intrusion. Long cold spells lasting at times for more than a month have been experienced in recent years and have caused significant crop losses. Dry spells aggravate the already limited water resources both for consumption and farm use as water sources are greatly polluted.
Moreover, variability in rainfall have caused both flooding and drought situations as 60% to 90% of rainfall tend to be concentrated during particular months in the rainy season, but very little (if any) precipitation during the dry season.
Rainy season has also been observed to start late and end late. Flooding of cropping areas is projected to cause the relocation of farms either inward or to higher elevations. The emergence of pests and diseases that thrive in dry and rainy conditions can be attributed to the variability of rainfall.
Vietnam’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions remains at low levels but nonetheless is still contributory to climate change. Rice production remains bias for modern high yielding varieties that require chemical inputs harmful to the environment. Its intensive production means higher levels of emitted methane, a greenhouse gas. There are suggestions to forego the third cropping season production to allow for the normal flow of river systems in order for soil nutrients and sediments to be replenished especially for flooded and high-salinity areas.
MITIGATING THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
The national strategy on climate change mentions the protection of biodiversity, genes, and species as among the critical actions to be undertaken. It is however specifically silent on agricultural biodiversity as erosion of rice genetic resources remain prevalent with the continuing use of genetically uniform modern varieties simply because of their high-yielding characteristics. The protection of biodiversity mentioned specifically targeted forests as areas for implementation.
The creation of seed clubs is a mechanism to socialize seed production and localize seed supply sources. It however defeats the purpose of ensuring sustainable agriculture by promoting modern varieties rather than the traditional ones.
The seed clubs can be maximized by starting the recovery, vast production conservation, and development and utilization of traditional varieties in the vast rice production systems of the country in the context primarily of food security, biodiversity conservation, and climate proofing and not based on the dictates of market economics.
With the seed clubs being community-based, it is imperative that farmers are capacitated in crop management, seed and varietal selection, participatory plant breeding, and other similar capacity-building needs. Research and extension services should be accorded and made available to communities.
Infrastructural mitigation and adaptation measures are important in addressing the effects of climate change. However, such should not undermine its potential effects to the environment. River systems need to flow in order for nutrients and sediments to improve soil near its tributaries. Equally important is making these water sources clean not only for the benefit of crops but more so for human consumption.
CLIMATE CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE
As an environmental issue, climate change should be addressed from ridge to reef. Forests (including mangrove areas) need to be restored. Destructive practices of deforestation, conversion, and introduction of exotic species should be stopped. Harmful chemicals should be stopped from being deposited in soils and water systems through unsustainable agricultural production systems and industrial areas.
As a socio-political issue, it is a multi-stakeholder concern with government playing a critical role not only in terms of financial resources but more so in providing an enabling environment for the participation of other stakeholders in mitigation and adaptation initiatives especially for communities who shall be directly impacted by climate change.
The contribution of Vietnam’s rice sufficiency to its economy cannot be denied. More importantly, it supports the argument that for agricultural countries to improve their economies, they should invest in agriculture. However, rice sufficiency should not translate to losing plant genetic resources and increasing vulnerability because of additional environmental stress. The intent to contribute to global needs through exports should not undermine the need to make rice for domestic consumption more accessible. As it is, production is primarily geared towards the demand of the market as farmers tend to produce primarily to sell.
4. http://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications /Grain%20and%20Feed%20Annual_Hanoi_Vietnam_4- 16-2012.pdf
9. http://www.vietnam.gov.vn:80/portal/page/portal/Englis h/strategies/strategiesdetails?categoryId=30&articleId=1 0051283
10. http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/environment/103158/f uture-of-vietnam-s-rice-production-threatened-by-climate-change.html
14. Vietnam National Conference for SAP (December 8-9, 2013). SEARICE
15. Report: Baseline study for Strategic Action Plan (SAP) In the Mekong Delta for ITPGRFA. November 2013. SEARICE; FARE; MDI
16. Minutes of Meeting: “National Workshop on the Development of a Strategic Action Plan for Plant Genetic Resources Conservation and Use for Food and Agriculture (PGR-CDU) as a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy”. December 7-11, 2013. SEARICE.
[First published: 2014]