Mekong Delta provinces adapt to drought, saltwater intrusion

06:00 | 08/05/2020 Environment

(VEN) - Though saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta was predicted to come earlier and with a higher level of salinity than was recorded in the 2015-2016 dry season, the damage to farming is expected to be less serious as authorities and farmers have taken measures to cope with the situation in the 2019-2020 dry season.

mekong delta provinces adapt to drought saltwater intrusion
Storing fresh water for irrigation in orchards

Fighting drought, saltwater intrusion

According to the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, in late March and early April 2020, there was little rain and more sunny days in the southwestern region with temperatures ranging from 32-34 degrees Celsius. Localities in the region were urged to store fresh water right when the tide was low and closely check their salinity when watering fruit trees to avoid damages.

In this context, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and regional localities have accelerated construction and put dykes and lakes into operation to stem saltwater, store fresh water for agriculture production and people’s use. These projects have been directly controlling saltwater intrusion for about 83,000 ha and supporting the control of saltwater intrusion impacts on another 300,000 ha. Other projects will effectively control saltwater intrusion in the Northern Ben Tre, Cai Lon-Cai Be, and Long Xuyen quadrangle irrigation systems.

Regarding agricultural production, localities in the region have been advised to sow their winter-spring rice crop for the 2019-2020 season 10 to 20 days ahead the schedule compared to previous years to avoid the peak period of saltwater intrusion.

In Tien Giang Province, many fruit garden owners have dredged more canals to store fresh water in ponds, and installed drip irrigation systems to minimize damages caused by drought and saltwater intrusion.

Conversion, adaptation and going with the flow

The Mekong Delta is a key agricultural production area, but drought and saltwater intrusion have seriously affected the region’s output in recent years.

According to Professor Tang Duc Thang, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Academy for Water Resources, in order to solve the problem, localities in the Mekong Delta must create fresh water resources, especially in areas with water scarcity. Measures include urgently building reservoirs, ponds and temporary dams on canals to store fresh water and rainwater in coastal areas when salinity decreases.

The MARD is coordinating with the Ministry of Planning and Investment and other ministries and agencies to build a master plan for the region to address the saltwater intrusion. According to the plan, the agricultural production model will be rotated from rice-fruit-fishery to fishery-fruit-rice, with the goal of reducing rice plantations and increasing areas for fruit and seafood products.

In addition, saline and fresh water will be regulated by automatic sluice gates, which restrict the use of groundwater. Ben Tre Province will be able to regulate saltwater and fresh water on its own by 2024.

Professor Vo Tong Xuan, rector of Nam Can Tho University, said farmers need to change their thinking and combine small plots to form larger farms with modern irrigation canals. The agriculture sector needs diversified commodities in addition to rice. In addition, local authorities and enterprises need to reorganize production in newly-planned areas with the participation of farm produce distributors and processors in agriculture value chains.

Dr. Tran Huu Hiep said this year’s historic saltwater intrusion and drought should strengthen adaptive thinking. Vietnam needs to improve its early weather forecasting capabilities and switch from irrigation systems built mainly for flood drainage to fresh water storage. In some sub-regions seriously affected by saline intrusion and drought, many farmers could still avoid damage by shifting the cultivation calendar, and using short-term crop varieties.

For hundreds of years, Dr. Hiep said, local people adapted to nature and respected the laws of nature. Now, too, adaptation to nature is the best way to save the Mekong Delta, turning challenges into opportunities for the regional sustainable development.

Thanh Thanh