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Removing the "golden ring" of food security for the Mekong Delta

11:05 | 24/09/2022

VCN - The Mekong Delta - the largest agricultural production region in the country - is facing serious challenges in terms of climate and environment. Change cannot be delayed, but the problem is how to change to bring success. Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Director of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management Vietnam, has made many recommendations regarding this issue.

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Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Director of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management Vietnam.

As someone who has studied the economy of the Mekong Delta for many years, what are your opinions on agriculture in the Mekong Delta?

Agriculture is the most important dominant strength of the Mekong Delta. In the long term, agriculture will still play a crucial role in the economic structure of this region. The problem is that not all types of agriculture are good. For example, agriculture that abuses pesticides, degrades soil, and destroys water resources is not good. Looking at countries with developed agriculture, such as Japan and the Netherlands, their agriculture is very different from ours.

The problems of agriculture in the Mekong Delta are reflected in three downward spirals. The first round is economy. Although with the assigned mission to ensure food security, the land of the Mekong Delta must be kept for rice cultivation, the investment in infrastructure is also mainly to prevent salinity and keep sweet instead of modern infrastructures such as traffic and transportation. This makes the economic structure of the Mekong Delta lag and slows to change.

The second spiral is about society. When the economy does not develop, the young workers of the Mekong Delta will migrate, causing this place to have a shortage of knowledgeable, fast-learning workforce, along with an increased ageing rate. Moreover, without labour, the Mekong Delta will not be able to attract investors to come here to build factories. This, in turn, exacerbates the downward economic spiral.

The third spiral is climate change. Due to focusing too much on food security, cultivating two or three rice crops leads to abusing pesticides and chemical fertilizers to increase yield. As a result, the soil, water, and ecological environment are severely affected. In addition, dikes and dams were built, making the environment of the Mekong Delta increasingly cramped and polluted. Although figuratively speaking, water is the number one resource of the Mekong Delta, the strength of the Mekong Delta lies in the smoothness of the water flow. With such sluices, dams and dikes, the Mekong Delta is no longer flowing, and what was once a strength is now becoming a threat to the Mekong Delta.

These three vortexes intertwine and explain why the Mekong Delta is so rich in potential and once a dreamland for many people but is now facing colossal backwardness and migration.

How to change the agricultural picture of the Mekong Delta With such instability issues, sir?

It must reverse the above three spirals into an upward spiral. Otherwise it will drag the Mekong Delta down. As a result, the Mekong Delta not only "sinks" due to climate change causing sea level rise, but also "sinks" in terms of economy, education, health, culture, social welfare...

Because the outstanding strength of the Mekong Delta is agriculture, in order to reverse these three spirals, it is necessary to transform agriculture towards the four main goals of increasing income stably and sustainably for farmers; modernization of agriculture; developing the agricultural economy according to the market mechanism and develop agriculture in a sustainable, adaptive and natural way.

Transforming agriculture successfully, it is necessary to apply the achievements of the industrial revolution and information technology to agricultural production. If you know how to take advantage of these achievements, the productivity of agriculture in the Mekong Delta will have more room for growth. Along with that is the use of a circular economy model instead of the traditional linear economy.

He mentioned the role of ensuring food security as one of the main reasons hindering the economic development of the Mekong Delta. If the area and production of rice are reduced, how will the Mekong Delta economy be affected?

Taking on the mission of ensuring food security makes most of the land area of ​​the Mekong Delta kept for rice cultivation. This has helped Vietnam become the world's rice exporting power, but it has not brought economic prosperity to the region and the well-being of farmers. This is the tragedy of the Mekong Delta. When we look at the countries of the world, no country grows rice and is rich. A modern view of food security must be adopted to change this, emphasizing nutritional quality and food access, not just food production. At the same time, it is necessary to increase investment in connection transport infrastructure, increase the quality of human resources, and liberate the vitality of the agricultural sector. Unloading the burden of food security will help remove the "golden ring" that inhibits the development of the Mekong Delta.

From an economic and environmental perspective, maintaining rice production at the current high levels is unwise. There are at least five reasons for the decrease in rice area and production. Firstly, Vietnam is one of the world's top three rice exporting countries. Therefore, according to the law of supply and demand, the price will increase when the output decreases. However, of course, how much of an increase depends on the elasticity of demand relative to price.

Second, when we reduce rice production, Vietnam's rice grain will care for more, the quality will have the opportunity to improve, so that the export price of rice will also increase.

Third, in order to increase rice production, for a long time we have overused pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceutical chemicals, etc., making the soil polluted and degraded. Therefore, reducing rice production is a necessary condition to gradually restore the soil environment, water environment, and ecological balance of the Mekong Delta.

Fourth, rice production generates a lot of CO2. Vietnam has committed to bringing net emissions to zero by 2050, so reducing the rice area is also a necessary condition for this commitment.

Fifth, it should be added that according to the calculations of IPSARD (Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development) and the World Bank, even if Vietnam's rice area is reduced to only 3 million hectares, Vietnam is still enough to meet the needs of food for people and livestock, and has a surplus of about three million tons of rice for export.

Thank you very much!

By Nguyen Hien (recorded)/Quynh Lan