Thursday, 24 August 2017

Improving Vietnam's rice-shrimp systems

Woman rice farmer in Ca Mau.
ACIAR researchers have published a new paper based on their exciting work sustaining rice-shrimp systems in Vietnam's Mekong Delta.  The paper is available online until 4 October 2017 at

Farmers in the Mekong Delta and their families are struggling to make a living from an environment that is increasingly under pressure.

The Mekong Delta is the most important rice-producing region in Vietnam, and more than half the annual rice crop is grown there.  Shrimp is the region’s most valuable commodity, and produces about 40% of the country’s earnings from seafood.

Many farmers in the tropics are combining rice and shrimp production.  While these systems were developed as a form of crop-rotation – growing rice in the wet season and shrimp in the dry season – some farmers grow both rice and brackish-water shrimp simultaneously during the wet season.

Although farmers depend on rice and shrimp, rice crop failures in the Mekong Delta are so widespread that the Vietnamese government has declared an emergency.

Green but unhealthy: rice crops in the Mekong.

Severe soil salinity caused by climatic variability has affected the rice plant’s capacity to flower and produce seed, resulting in considerable crop losses.  Poor quality pond soil and water have affected shrimp yields, which also suffer recurrent disease outbreaks.

ACIAR project SMCN/2010/083 aims to increase yields and profitability for rice-shrimp production systems in the Mekong Delta, and ensure these systems can adapt to environmental change.

The researchers tested a re-designed rice–shrimp farming system in the Southern Mekong Delta and new varieties of salt-resistant rice.  They worked with local farmers and extension officers to study why both crops failed in integrated rice-shrimp farming systems during the wet season.

The project used 18 farms to test different management practices and fertiliser treatments for the rice crop, and to compare the new farm designs with the traditional farm layout.

Experimental plots at Hoa My Commune.

The research enabled the farming system to be scientifically modified to increase profitability and promote sustainable practices.  Farmers perceived they have a better chance to minimise risk of failure for shrimp rather than rice crops, and that limited opportunities exist for successfully producing both.

The researchers also identified both additional research questions for the broader research team and simple steps the farmers could take to reduce the risk of crop failure.

They hope that their research will help identify ways of improving farming practices that should reduce the risk of crop failure.

The project team at Hoa My Commune.

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