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Climate change brings gains for some Vietnam farmers at a cost

Climate change brings gains for some Vietnam farmers at a cost

Rising river salinity is forcing rice farmers to switch to lucrative shrimp but the move threatens fragile mangrove ecosystems.

For years, Ta Thi Thanh Thuy toiled on a sliver of land sandwiched between the Mekong River and the South China Sea, a region widely known as Vietnam’s rice bowl, to grow the prized grain.

But Thuy, along with many of her neighbours, has over the past 10 years completed a production swap – to shrimp – a previously unlikely shift that was spurred by the effects of climate change.

As rising seawater significantly pushes salinity levels in the Mekong Delta region up, the trend towards shrimp ponds is expected to supercharge the country’s seafood industry.

The government has set an ambitious target to more than double shrimp exports from current levels to $10bn by 2025 and Delta farmers have benefitted from local authority training sessions and other measures, including some soft loans.

“Life was very hard for us until we began to farm shrimp,” Thuy, 52, said. “Many shrimp farmers around here have been able to build nice houses and open saving accounts at banks.”

The seawater increase in the Delta has been compounded by the construction of several hydropower dams upstream, further reducing freshwater flow.

“We planted rice but we harvested no rice,” said fellow shrimp farmer Ta Thanh Long. “There was a time the rice could still grow when the water was still fresh. But then the water became more and more salty each year.”

At least one-third of the rice farming area along Soc Trang province’s 72-km (45-mile) coastline has been affected by rising salinity over the past few years, said Duong Minh Hoang, former director of the province’s Agriculture Promotion Centre.

“We have urged local people to switch to crops that are suitable with salination,” Hoang said. “Climate change is impacting everyone here. We have to try to adapt to survive.”