Mekong Delta: It is difficult for small farmers to convert to a sustainable rice farming model

Small farmers in the Mekong Delta have been struggling to adopt sustainable rice farming practices due to a variety of factors. While these practices are seen as crucial for mitigating the impact of climate change and improving the livelihoods of farmers, many small-scale farmers face significant barriers to adopting them. According to recent research, only a small percentage of farmers in the region have been able to switch to sustainable rice farming methods. In this article, we will examine the challenges faced by small farmers in the Mekong Delta as they try to convert to a more sustainable model of rice farming.

Challenges of small farmers in transitioning to sustainable rice farming

The third crop model only brings sustainable income in the short term, but in order to switch to a more sustainable farming model, smallholder farmers need a lot of capital and technical support.

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That is the research result of scientists from the Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (VNU-HCM), the Institute of Climate Change (Can Tho University), Nanyang Technological University, Vrije University, Deltares organization (Netherlands). , published in the magazine Agricultural Water Management “The economic sustainability of rice farming and its influence on farmer decision-making in the upper Mekong delta, Science&Tech”.

This study focuses on two provinces in the Mekong Delta, Dong Thap and An Giang, where fertile soils near the Hau River and other tributaries of the Mekong River and alkaline soils in the Long Xuyen and Dong Thap Muoi quadrangle. Over the past two decades, especially after the major flood seasons of 2000 and 2011, the construction of high dykes has taken place throughout the region. Much of the investment in the irrigation infrastructure system allowed the expansion of agricultural land and the transition to third-crop rice since 2000. As a result, the area under third-crop rice has been steadily expanded from 84,000. ha in 2002 to 276,500 ha in 2014, while the area under second crop rice decreased from 425,000 ha to 238,000 ha. By cultivating three rice crops a year, farmers can increase their income.

The researchers believe that the expansion of the area under the third crop of rice as well as the exploitation of rice in all three crops by 2015 is accompanied by an increase in both high and low dike systems, and an increase in the fertilizer use and other technical measures. The increase in crops and income has offset the input costs due to the increasing use of fertilizers. Therefore, farmers in the high dike area are not affected by their income, even motivating them to change farming methods.

Investment efficiency in traditional farming areas lower due to high fertilizer costs and soil quality degradation.

The investment efficiency of farmers in the old dyke area is lower than that in the new dyke area because the cost of fertilizer increases much more than the increase in income from selling rice. The quality of the soil in this place has declined after many years of focusing on rice cultivation and has not been filled with alluvium due to the dike to prevent flooding into the fields. Although in the early years, the investment efficiency was still in the high dyke area, but it has declined rapidly over time (in the low dyke area, it is still relatively sustainable). This is a risk to the income of rice farmers in high dyke areas as crop sustainability decreases and fertilizer costs increase. The high dyke system also presents potential risk consequences: lack of flood in the flood season, depletion of soil nutrients that reduces yield and requires increased amounts of chemical fertilizers.

It is noteworthy that there is an income imbalance between households with a small farming area (less than one hectare) compared with households with a large cultivation area in an increasingly high dike area. If households with large farming areas sustainably increase their incomes, on the contrary, small farming households are at risk when the conditions of the farming environment change. According to scientists, input costs will have to increase, even fluctuate when fertilizer prices increase, thereby affecting income. On the other hand, they do not have the capacity to coordinate the price of rice in the market for stable income. These reasons cause farmers to fall into a spiral of debt, possibly having to sell their land…

Although smallholder farmers are the first to bear the negative consequences of loss of yield when planting third-crop rice, they do not have the necessary conditions to switch to another farming model, because techniques, Farming skills and initial investment costs are the main barriers. Although alternative models are very potential, the adoption rate will be very low if small groups of households do not have financial and technical support. In contrast, large-scale farming households will be easier to convert if they are consulted and have a clear cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, to successfully transform farming models, it is necessary to have policies suitable for different groups of farmers.


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In short, the difficulties faced by small farmers in the Mekong Delta as they try to switch to sustainable rice farming are numerous and complex. Without support and incentives from the government and other organizations, it is unlikely that the majority of small-scale farmers will be able to transition to these more sustainable practices. However, with the right policies and investments in place, it is possible to create a more sustainable and equitable agricultural system in the region. We must recognize the importance of small farmers in the Mekong Delta and work to ensure that they are given the tools and resources they need to succeed.

Translated and edited by from internet sources

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