Vietnam reconsiders methane-emitting rice amid local weather disaster

Mekong Delta, Vietnam – At the United Nations COP26 summit in Scotland, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh joined 109 nations in pledging to scale back methane emissions by 30 % by 2030.

To meet the dedication, the Southeast Asian nation might want to take a look at rice – one of many nation’s key exports and a staple meals – but in addition the second largest contributor to greenhouse fuel emissions amongst foodstuffs after beef.

The coronary heart of Vietnam’s rice manufacturing lies within the nation’s Mekong Delta area often known as the “rice bowl” of the nation. More than 50 % of the nation’s whole rice and 95 % of its exports are grown right here, in an space roughly the dimensions of the Netherlands.

But rice farming within the Mekong faces a double problem – not solely is the crop a supply of emissions however rising sea ranges linked to local weather change, in addition to man-made components, are making the grain more and more troublesome to develop within the low-lying area.

Tran Dung Nhan grew up on a rice farm in Tra Vinh Province on the coast of the southern Mekong Delta.

Droughts, floods, rising sea ranges, and the intrusion of salt within the freshwater he wants for his paddy fields have eaten away on the meagre revenue he as soon as loved.

The household farm used to have the ability to produce three crops per 12 months. Now, they wrestle to supply even one – and even then, the yield is unpredictable.

“I can clearly see the effects of climate change on our fields. The water is getting saltier, our soil is more dry and barren,” the 31 12 months previous advised Al Jazeera. “Life here in the Mekong Delta, especially the coasts, is very tough and it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Rice is a staple meals for folks in Vietnam and likewise a significant export, however it is usually a contributor to the emissions which might be fuelling the local weather disaster [Govi Snell/Al Jazeera]

Distinct from different grains, rice is grown in a flooded subject.

As the water lays stagnant on the floor, there isn’t any change of air between the soil and the ambiance, which suggests methane-producing micro organism can thrive.

When launched into the air, the fuel is greater than 25 instances stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping warmth within the ambiance.

Bjoern Ole Sander, the Vietnam nation consultant for the International Rice Research Institute, says rice farming contributes considerably to methane emissions worldwide. In Vietnam, the quantity of fuel launched from the crop is even larger than the worldwide common.

“Globally, it is about 1.3 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, which seems small, but all civil aviation emissions are just about 2 percent,” he mentioned. “Of all the greenhouse gases that Vietnam produces 15 percent is from rice, so it’s a significant source and definitely something that then also has been recognised within global programmes of mitigation.”

No longer ‘rice first’

At the top of the Vietnam War in 1975, the newly reunified nation was one of many poorest on the planet and meals was scarce.

A sequence of financial reforms often known as Doi Moi, and a government-led “rice-first” coverage kick-started rice farming, boosting incomes. By 2020, Vietnam was the second-largest exporter of rice on the planet, delivery 3.9 million tons abroad final 12 months.

But because the Mekong area shifts away from intensive rice cultivation, it isn’t but recognized how the farmers themselves shall be affected.

Like Nhan, many are already affected by the deterioration of the Mekong’s atmosphere.

Farmers within the Mekong Delta have suffered rising cases of drought and flooding, whereas seawater is intruding additional into the low-lying area [File: Kham/Reuters]

Dang Kieu Nhan, director of the Mekong Delta Development Research Unit at Can Tho University, says farmers have been badly affected by the unstable climate patterns within the area.

“El Niños have occurred more frequently and severely in recent years,” he mentioned, referring to the local weather sample wherein uncommon warming of the jap Pacific Ocean leads to droughts in Southeast Asia. “In 2016 and 2020 there were two cases causing extreme droughts and side effects… The lower the Mekong River reaches and the higher the sea level rises, the further salt intrusion goes inland in the Mekong Delta.”

The 2020 drought led to record-breaking ranges of salt intrusion.

Approximately 33,000 hectares (81,545 acres) of rice had been broken through the drought and 70,000 households didn’t have sufficient water to develop rice or to satisfy their on a regular basis wants.

The environmental stress has inspired the Vietnamese authorities to develop options to the “rice first” coverage, and it’s now encouraging folks to develop fruit or arrange fish and seafood farms.

By 2030, the federal government hopes to have decreased the dimensions of land underneath rice cultivation within the Delta by 300,000 hectares (741,315 acres), 20 % lower than the 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) planted this 12 months.

​”Mentioning the Mekong Delta earlier than, folks would first take into consideration rice, however not now,” Nhan mentioned. “The government policy changed dramatically since 2017, and we cannot consider rice as [being] first any more.”

Limited choices for farmers

Despite the federal government’s shifting priorities, Bernard Kervyn, director of the charity Mekong Plus, says rice farmers have restricted choices and an unsure future.

“The prospects for the Mekong Delta are not good. People say in 20 or 30 years it might be flooded and not suitable for people to live there any more,” he advised Al Jazeera. “It’s a shared responsibility, but for the farmers of course there are not many alternative options available. It is hard for them to say okay we will grow less intensively, we will grow less crops; How can they do that?”

On the bottom, researchers and farmers are experimenting with new manufacturing methods to sort out the environmental challenges in addition to to scale back the crop’s emissions.

Researchers are experimenting with new manufacturing methods that may mitigate the local weather results of the crop [File: Kham/Reuters]

Sander of the Rice Research Institute says one notably engaging mitigation method is the alternate wetting and drying methodology. If carried out accurately, it could actually cut back methane producing micro organism by roughly 50 %. On high of that, it has the additional benefit of lowering the quantity of water wanted with out affecting yields.

To apply the method, farmers enable the water degree to drop under the floor by between 10 and 15 centimetres (four and 6 inches). Once the water degree has fallen, the soil may be irrigated once more and fields are alternated in moist and dry cycles.

“You can cut methane emissions in half… If you remove that water layer, you allow the exchange of air between soil and atmosphere, then the methane is oxidised and the bacteria doesn’t grow any more and methane emissions are strongly reduced,” Sander mentioned.

Financial help wanted

According to Vietnam’s nationally decided contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement, the nation intends to make use of the alternate wetting and drying methodology on a complete of 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) of rice land nationwide.

Although efficient at lowering methane, the system won’t work for all farmers. For these within the decrease Mekong, the place saltwater intrusion is the largest concern, paddy fields want a big provide of freshwater to maintain the salinity at bay.

Nhan of Can Tho University says extra additionally must be carried out to assist farmers successfully implement the brand new method.

“Doing so needs more intervention from local agricultural agencies and government to organise farmers, to connect farmers with services, and to build more irrigation infrastructure,” he mentioned.

Another side of Vietnam’s rice discount technique encourages farmers to deal with creating different meals sources like seafood. But whereas some farmers have seen their rice crops broken by intrusion, they discover that the water supply remains to be not salty sufficient for aquaculture.

In the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang, 64-year-old farmer Ut Khuong says that whereas rising rice has turn out to be unpredictable due to the saltwater, he’s unable to farm prawns.

“The field’s salt level changes every year and you cannot predict it… We can’t have a shrimp farm because the water here is not salty enough,” he advised Al Jazeera. “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what jobs we are going to change to yet.”

To assist farmers cope with the complicated results of local weather change and human causes resulting in environmental degradation within the Mekong, Nhan says more cash and a holistic approach are wanted.

Rice farmers are additionally being inspired to get into aquaculture, farming prawns and shrimp within the more and more salty water [File: Julian Abram Wainwright/EPA]

He factors to a current initiative in An Giang Province the place the Australian authorities offered $650 million for sustainable financial improvement tasks within the Mekong province.

The cash went in direction of constructing reservoirs, infrastructure for irrigation and transportation, constructing cooperation amongst farmers, in addition to stimulating different financial actions, and bettering sectors like well being and training. Although such a various answer is expensive, Nhan believes such initiatives are wanted extra broadly within the Mekong Delta.

“Compared to other regions in Vietnam people here play a very big role that the government placed them in to produce food for people in Vietnam,” he mentioned.

Struggling on the forefront of local weather change, the farmers themselves would welcome the help.

“Being a farmer is a hard-working job that requires knowledge, experience, and patience, as well as the urge to keep updating the new methods and techniques of planting,” farmer Ong Ba Muoi advised Al Jazeera. “I hope the government will also support more of our farmers in agricultural production.”