Challenges in the Mekong Delta

What initially held a lot of promise became yet another challenge to us, particularly myself. Basically a counterpart of our good Thai friends offered to assist with contacts on the Mekong but ultimately failed to provide any useful assistance. So it was left to our very good tour guide, Nhon, to do his best to help us out.

We began our Mekong journey traveling south from HCM city (which many here still call Saigon) to Tien Giang Province. Our destination was a rice farmer in Go Cong Tay district, about 15 km from the coast. We had lunch with Mr Pham Van Tu and his family and then talked with Mr Pham and his son. These two farmers and others we met that day talked about a number of challenges they have to deal with. In the past Mr Pham only grew one rice crop per year, then it increased to two, now many grow three crops per year. Even with two crops they have to manage the second crop carefully, to time the harvest before water levels drop too low and salt water intrusion destroys the crop. Now they are also experiencing hotter weather, problems with an invasive insect pest and generally poorer rice.

Mr Pham Van Tu and his son, with Gavin and our guide Nhon. They talked about the various challenges they are facing with their rice crops

Mr Pham Van Tu and his son, with Gavin and our guide Nhon. They talked about the various challenges they are facing with their rice crops

We then went out into the field, along red dirt roads where many people were drying their recently harvested crop, to film farmers at work harvesting. It is a time of communal effort, with everyone working together to harvest each others crop.

Hand harvesting of rice

Hand harvesting of rice

We learnt quite a lot about the challenges of growing rice in this coastal area of the Mekong.  It is clear that farmers have to manage their crop carefully, particularly at this time of year when salt water intrusion becomes much more of a problem.  Intensification of cropping, increased fertilizer inputs, invasive insects and poorer crops, are all interconnected problems that are clearly made worse by higher temperatures and drought.

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