Scientists help Vietnam’s rice farmers adapt to climate change, amid major drought.
Jared Ferrie, Asia Editor Phnom Penh, 16 March 2016
Scientists are developing more resistant varieties of rice to help farmers in Vietnam adapt to climate change, amid the country’s worst drought in 90 years. The drought, as well as the related flow of saltwater upriver, has destroyed 159,000 hectares of rice paddies and left almost one million people lacking drinking water. But the drought has made it worse: the saltwater arrived about two months earlier than usual and has extended around 25 kilometres further inland.
The drought, as well as the related flow of saltwater upriver, has destroyed 159,000 hectares of rice paddies and left almost one million people lacking drinking water, according to a new UN report. Another half million hectares are expected to be damaged by mid-year.
In line with its work in other Asian countries, the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute has been breeding high quality “climate-smart rice varieties” that mature quickly, can tolerate salt, and are designed specifically for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Reiner Wassmann, the project leader, told IRIN.
The delta region, one of the worst-hit by the drought, accounted for half the country’s rice production and 90 percent of its exports last year. The drought is linked to El Nino, which is disrupting weather patterns around the world, while saltwater intrusion occurs annually. But the drought has made it worse: the saltwater arrived about two months earlier than usual and has extended around 25 kilometres further inland than average because river levels were lower than any year since record-keeping began one century ago.
In the midst of a drought in 2014, the government urged farmers in the northern and central regions to shift from rice to more drought-resistant crops. Scientists say that this year’s emergency is only a taste of what’s to come, as climate change leads to more frequent and intense droughts and rising sea levels. That’s bad news for rice farmers, as well as Vietnam’s economy and its 90 million people.
Rice is a staple at dinner tables throughout the country and an important export. Only India and Thailand exported more rice than Vietnam last year, according to the IRRI.