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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs     25 October  2011

Vietnamese delta makes improvements

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The autumn-winter rice crop in the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta is in danger of being completely lost because of flooding in the region for the last month and poor planning by provincial authorities, according to agricultural experts.

Speaking at a conference held on Wednesday in Can Tho, Dr. Le Van Banh, director of the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute said that violent floods had caused dykes to collapse, destroying thousands of ha of the autumn-winter rice crop.

To reduce the losses, provinces have had to mobilise all available forces to protect the remaining rice crops.

The losses have led to increased debate about whether a third rice crop should be planted next year and what could be done to prevent further losses in the future, including building a better dyke system.

Even though floods arrived a month earlier this year, many farmers went ahead with planting because rice prices had risen.

Banh said that better planning should be done next year before the flood season arrives.

As of yesterday, floods in the Delta had killed 49 people, inundated 88,300 houses and destroyed 23,000 of 630,000 ha of autumn-winter rice. It has eroded 1,700 kilometres of dykes.

To protect the rice, the research institute is working with local provinces to help reduce losses for farmers.

The largest area devoted to the third rice crop this year is located in An Giang Province, according to Nguyen Huu Anh, director of the An Giang Plant Protection sub-Department.

Although farmers in An Giang were warned about violent floods, they continued to plant a third rice crop and even expanded it to a larger area, he said.

The province has 131,000 ha under the autumn-winter crop, a year-on-year increase of 17,000 ha.

In Kien Giang Province, the area for the third crop increased from 15,000 ha in 2010 to 53,000 ha this year, although the year's target was only 36,000 ha, according to Tran Quang Cui, director of the Kien Giang Agriculture and Rural Development Department.

Farmers in the highly flood-prone area in the Long Xuyen Triangle also planted 11,000 ha more rice while Hau Giang Province added 10,000 ha to the third rice crop.

Dong Thap Province's combined area for the third crop is 98,858 ha, 40,000 ha more than last year's figure. Attractive rice prices also encouraged farmers in Can Tho City to put 54,000 ha under the third rice crop.

According to the research institute, only 50 percent of the autumn-winter rice fields in An Giang are contained within a local dyke system, and the remainder are in areas that have weak dykes or no dykes.

In Dong Thap, only 70 percent of the fields used for the third rice crop are protected by dykes. The remaining farmland is in a high-risk area unprotected by dykes.

Mr. Cui of Kien Giang Province said the dyke system in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta was too old and that it was built to protect only summer-autumn crops from floods in August, which are usually not heavy.

"Most provinces in the delta compete with each other in growing a third rice crop," he said, adding that the planting had overloaded the dyke system.

According to a representative of the An Giang Agriculture and Rural Development Department, provincial authorities believe it is necessary to strengthen dykes but they do not have enough money.
Provincial authorities had set aside money from the state budget and had called for local people to contribute funds, but the amount has been insufficient.

Speakers at the conference noted that late-season third crops often gave high yields and could be sold at high prices, benefiting farmers.
Building a solid dyke system in the region would allow a third planting of the crop every year, they said.

Nguyen Thi Kieu, deputy director of the Can Tho Agriculture and Rural Development Department, said that provinces in the delta needed to jointly devise a detailed plan on how they should plant the third rice crop of the year.

"Construction of a dyke system remains critically important, especially because of flooding and climate change. However, we need financial support from the Government to realise it," Kieu said.

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