Climate Change Threatens Vietnam's Rice Production
Global warming is affecting rice farming in Southeast Asia. In the last few years more and more saltwater has entered the rice fields of Vietnam’s Mekong delta. Rice farmers are worried because salt water is bad for rice crops and can destroy them completely. The Mekong Delta is one of the world’s rice bowls with almost 40 000 square kilometres of rice fields.
Most of Vietnam’s rice is produced in the Mekong delta. The Asian country earns over 3 billion dollars from exporting rice to other countries. However, farming experts claim that rising sea levels could flush more and more salt water into the delta, thus reducing the rice harvest by up to 50%.
A large network of canals connect the rice paddies with the Mekong other rivers. Thus, it is easier for salt water to flow inland to the rice fields. Gates and dikes, which were built to stop water from coming in, are repeatedly flooded. On the other side, the climate in the region is becoming drier. Less rainfall means less fresh water in the rice paddies. In some areas that lack fresh water completely, farmers have to use salt water for the rice plants.
Rice field in the Mekong delta - Philippe Berry, IFPRI - http://www.usaid.gov/; exact source
However, the threat that Vietnam’s rice farmers are facing is also man-made. In the last century more and more swamps in the region have been turned into farming land. Rice fields now flourish in places that have been regularly flooded by the sea. During the first part of the 20th century the French started building canals to expand rice farming in the region. When the Communists took over after the Vietnam War they were eager to produce as much rice as possible because the country was in need of food after the 30-year-old conflict.
The Vietnamese government is taking measures to combat the problem and help rice farmers. Research is also developing rice plants that are more resistant to salt water. Dikes and dams are being repaired and made higher. In addition, the government is telling farmers to consider a switch to other crops, partly because rice consumption in the country is going down. Recently, some farmers have switched to growing shrimp, which has become a major source of exports. But they lack the money that is needed to start a shrimp farm.
Some farmers are even considering leaving their much loved rice paddies and moving to nearby cities, especially Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
- affect = influence, change
- century = a hundred years
- claim = to say that something is true
- combat = fight against
- consider = think about something
- consumption = the amount that is used by people
- crops = plant, such as wheat, corn or rice that is grown by farmers and used as food
- delta = area of low land in which a river divides itself into many small rivers that flow into the sea
- destroy = damage completely
- develop = invent, make something new
- dike =wall made to keep water out
- eager = excited
- earn = to make money
- expand = to make larger
- flourish = to grow very well
- flush = to make water move to a place
- government = the people who rule a country
- harvest = crops that have been gathered from the fields
- however = but
- in addition = also
- in need of = need very badly
- inland = into the country and away from the sea
- lack = not enough of
- major = very important
- manmade = caused by people
- measures = action
- network = system
- paddy = field where rice is grown
- reduce = go down, lower
- repeatedly = over and over again
- research = study something to find out more about it
- resistant = strong; cannot be destroyed by …
- rice bowl = a large area in which the main farming product is rice
- rise = to go up
- sea level = the average height of the sea, used to measure the height of other places, like cities or mountains
- shrimp = small sea creature that you can eat; it has ten legs and a soft shell
- source = where you get something from
- swamp = land that is very wet or covered with water
- switch = change
- threat = danger
- thus = therefore