By Michael Friedländer , Eatglobe
Can Tho City, Vietnam, February 23, 2016
The year-round rice cultivation in the Mekong Delta and most other rice-growing areas in Vietnam is made possible by the area’s ideal conditions for rice growing – ample rainfall, tropical temperatures, fertile soil and an extensive canal irrigation infrastructure built over the past 40 years.
The spring harvest contributes 44 percent to the delta’s production, followed by the summer harvest with a 38 percent and by the winter harvest with 18 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With an annual rice production in 2015 of 45 million tons, Vietnam is the world’s fourth-largest producer, after China, India and Bangladesh, as shown by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It rice exports, forecasted by FAO to reach 8.7 million tons in 2016, make Vietnam the world’s third-largest exporter, after India with 10.6 million tons and Thailand with 10.4 million tons (see chart).
It is expected that the El Nino weather phenomenon will peter out in spring or early summer of 2016. This will likely end the extreme drought from which Vietnam and many other parts of the world are suffering, which will increase the supply of freshwater to the Mekong Delta and would thereby halt or even reverse the advance of salt water.
Under such a scenario, the negative effects of the salt water intrusion into the delta would be concentrated on the spring harvest and parts of the summer harvest, and will not be repeated in 2017. Furthermore, it is possible that the resulting losses will be compensated by increases in other areas of the country. But even if Vietnam’s overall rice production should decline in 2016, the domestic availability of rice will not be affected as only exports will be cut.
Despite this likely benign outcome, the advance of saltwater in the Mekong Delta serves as a demonstration of how vulnerable it is to the effects of climate change.