For years, Ta Thi Thanh Thuy worked on a piece of land between the Mekong River and the South China Sea, a region widely known as Vietnam’s rice, to cultivate the precious grain.
But Thuy, along with many of his neighbors, has made a change in production (for shrimp) in the last ten years, a change that was previously unlikely that was spurred by the effects of climate change.
As rising seawater significantly increases salinity levels in the Mekong Delta region, the trend toward shrimp ponds is expected to overburden the country’s marine industry.
The government has set an ambitious goal of doubling shrimp exports from current levels to $ 10 billion by 2025, and Delta farmers have benefited from training sessions from local authorities and other measures, including some soft loans.
“Life was very hard for us until we started growing shrimp,” said Thuy, 52. “Many shrimp producers here have been able to build beautiful houses and open savings accounts in banks.”
The increase in seawater in the Delta has been exacerbated by the construction of several upstream hydroelectric dams, further reducing the flow of fresh water.
“We planted rice, but we didn’t harvest any rice,” said Ta Thanh Long, a peasant farmer. “There was a time when rice could still grow when the water was still fresh. But then, the water became saltier and saltier every year.
At least one-third of the rice-growing area along the 72 km (45-mile) coastline of Soc Trang province has been affected by rising salinity in recent years, Duong Minh said. Hoang, former director of the province’s Agriculture Promotion Center.
“We have urged local people to switch to suitable crops for salinization,” Hoang said. “Climate change is affecting everyone here. We have to try to adapt to survive. ”
Vietnam is the world’s third largest exporter of rice in the world, but revenue generated from shrimp exports has surpassed rice profits since 2013 and is growing rapidly.
“The seafood processors around here come to buy all the prawns we grow,” said Ta Thanh Tung, 44, one of Thuy’s five brothers who have all switched from rice to shrimp farming.
“We have heard that they exported prawns to Europe, China and the United States.”
Industry analysts expect exports to increase by 5 to 10 percent annually over the next 10 years, as the country’s total shrimp growing area, mainly in the Delta, increases from 3 to 5 percent each year. .
Vietnam’s largest seafood exporter, Minh Phu Seafood Corp., has an even more ambitious goal of making the country the world’s largest shrimp exporter. Minh Phu expects more than a dozen recently agreed bilateral and multilateral trade agreements to help increase exports to $ 20 billion, or a quarter of world exports, by 2045.
This could help alleviate some of the economic pressure facing the Southeast Asian country in the coming years. The World Bank estimates that only climate change is about to cut Vietnam’s national income by 3.5 percent by 2050.
However, the change in rice shrimp entails a number of environmental issues.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a non-governmental organization based in Switzerland, estimates that more than half of the country’s mangrove natural forests, which protect against coastal erosion and storm surges, they have been cleaned to make way for shrimp ponds. .
Aquaculture experts have highlighted the lack of regulatory oversight of the explosion on small shrimp farms, with questions about everything from the raw material used in feed to how they manage their effluents.
There are particular concerns about the use of antibiotics to treat diseases in shrimp populations. Antibiotics can seep into the effluent, which is usually dumped, untreated or improperly treated, into the surrounding waterways, increasing the risk of chemical contamination in the immediate environment and the harmful effects of the food chain. .
“While discussing overfishing and prey … the insidious nature of invisible pollutants is not taken into account,” said Matt Landos, an Australian veterinary scientist specializing in aquatic animal health. “Still, they are clearly present and the levels are negative for fishing productivity.”
In addition, rising salinity and rising seawater levels that brought about the change in the first place could end up devastating the Delta.
An increase of 0.7 to 1 meter (2.3-3.3 feet) would put about 40 percent of the region underwater, according to Le Anh Tuan, a professor at the College of Environment and Natural Resources of Can Tho University.
“The downward trend will continue over the next few years and some parts of the rice fields will have to become aquaculture farms, fruit farms and other crops,” Tuan added.
Shrimp producers say they already have worrying problems accelerating salinity levels.
“We have to dig the wells deeper to get fresh water,” Thuy added. “We are very concerned that, due to rising sea water levels, our farms will one day be submerged.”