Rice plot trials

Challenges of Rice-Shrimp Farming in the Mekong Delta

A review of the ACIAR-funded Rice-Shrimp Project, led by A/Prof Jes Sammut, highlighted promising prospects for farmers.

In some areas of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, rice and shrimp are grown in rotation in the same farming system. Rice is grown on a raised platform during the wet season, and shrimp is cultivated in the water body surrounding the rice-growing platform during the dry season when water salinity is too high for rice production. In recent years, upstream abstraction of freshwater, river regulation, and climate variability have increased soil and water salinities making it difficult to farm rice in the wet season. Shrimp farming in the dry season is increasingly affected by disease outbreaks and sub-optimal water quality.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has funded a major project to test a new design for rice-shrimp farms, led by GWI's A/Prof Jes Sammut in collaboration with Dr Nguyen van Sang, the Vietnam-based Project Coordinator.The project team, reviewers, stakeholders and ACIAR representatives at the project meeting held recently at Can Tho University (Photo Credit: Can Tho University).

The team of experts has tested different salt-tolerant rice varieties and soil remediation methods, and measured physical, chemical and biological processes to understand and manage risk factors for rice and shrimp.

The team has also developed a Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) as a scaffold for the research, and as a tool to identify links between farming practices, environmental conditions and production outcomes. It has proven to be an effective research and planning resource for rice-shrimp farming in the Mekong Delta.

While severe drought during the first two years of the project caused challenges due to its impact on certain rice varieties, the project has helped to build greater understanding of nutrient pathways in the system and risk factors for rice and shrimp production.

"Our latest trials at Tan Bang Commune in Ca Mau Province have produced a successful rice crop whilst surrounding farms struggled. This has galvanised the support of farmers who want the research to continue so that better farm practices can be field-tested and then rolled out in the Mekong Delta where rice-shrimp farming is practiced," said A/Prof Sammut.

The project reviewers commended the team for the research achievements, and stakeholders spoke highly of the importance of the research for food and income security. "We still need to test and re-test some of the modified farming methods to be certain that we have practical and cost-effective options for farmers," he said.

The spirit of collaboration between the Vietnamese and Australian researchers, farmers and extension officers has been the backbone of this successful project.

A/Prof Jes Sammut

"We are working alongside the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vietnam to turn research findings into adoptable management practices. Our research is farmer-focussed and improving livelihoods is our overarching goal."

While UNSW is the Commissioned Agency, there are many other partners involved both from within Australia and Vietnam, including the Research Institute for Aquaculture 2 in Ho Chi Minh City—the principal partner agency in-country.

"We have a solid, multidisciplinary team made up of experts on soil, rice and shrimp production, water chemistry, aquaculture methods, shrimp health, farm design and economics across six agencies in Vietnam and Australia," said A/Prof Sammut.

Other major partners include Griffith University, Charles Sturt University, Can Tho University and the Cuu Long Rice Research Institute. Professor Michele Burford, Dr Jason Condon, Professor Le Quang Tri and Dr Cao Van Phung lead the teams from each of the collaborating agencies.

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