"El Niño" event in Viet Nam: Agriculture, food security and livelihood needs assessment in response to drought and salt water intrusion

Executive summary

Against the backdrop of the worst drought in Viet Nam in 90 years - attributed to the El Niño weather event, 52 out of the 63 provinces (83 percent) have been affected by drought and 18 provinces have declared state of emergencies, as of June 2016. Coupled with impacts from the drought, in coastal areas saltwater intrusion has extended up to 90 kilometres (km) inland in some areas, leaving river water too salty for human or animal consumption or to irrigate crops and continue fishfarming production.

The recently concluded 2016 main winter/spring paddy crop, which accounts for 45 percent of annual production nationwide, was negatively affected by limited irrigation availability, following a generally weak rainy season in 2015 associated with El Niño and resulting in intensified salt-water intrusion. The Mekong River Delta, which accounts for half of winter/spring paddy output nationally, recorded the highest losses with official figures in May 2016 from the MARD pointing to a production reduction of 1.1 million tonnes year-onyear to 10 million tonnes. Although 2016 paddy production will exceed domestic requirements at national level, as the country is a net exporter of rice, in some areas the implication of these losses will be reflected at household and national levels.

In addition, 477 113 hectares (ha) of agricultural land as of June 2016 have been damaged (rice, maize, vegetables, fruits and other perennial and annual crops). According to data released by the MARD, the worst affected households in the country have lost between 30 and 70 percent or above of their annual paddy yields and in some provinces this is as high as 90 percent. More than 3 810 animals have died and many more have migrated towards areas where water is more accessible. In addition, more than 81 000 ha of shrimp breeding areas, especially across Mekong Delta provinces, have been damaged.

In order to further assess damage and losses in the agriculture and sub-sectors as well as estimate the impact on people’s livelihoods, especially those of vulnerable groups (i.e. women and ethnic minorities), as well as come up with necessary response interventions, a more in-depth FAO-driven assessment was carried out in May 2016.

The assessment was conducted in the three worst affected regions, the Central Highlands, South Central and Mekong Delta under the overall leadership of FAO, with support from MARD, particularly the departments of Crop Production, Livestock Production as well as Natural Disaster Prevention and Control, Viet Nam Administration of Fishery (Dfish), provincial DARDs and in partnership with the WFP, UN Women and the Viet Nam Women’s Union.

This report’s findings mainly reflect the situation in assessed areas, although additional national data and information was also used and illustrated as part of this document.

The assessment results show that in the Central Highlands, the greatest damage was reported and observed on perennial cash crop plantations such as coffee and pepper, whereas in South Central and Mekong Delta provinces rice, vegetable and pulses production sustained the main losses, considered staple and cash crops. Damage to perennial crops will require a complete replenishment of the destroyed plantations and high costs of new investment that not all farmers can meet. During the three years it will take perennial crops such as coffee to become productive again, farmers will need to identify new livelihood activities to procure food and cash to support families and avoid further engagement in negative copying mechanisms and depletion of assets.

On the other hand, in the South Central and Mekong Delta regions a greater diversification of income sources and livelihood activities was found (i.e. rice together with aquaculture production, combination of staple crop and cash production such as pulses, vegetables and fruit trees), in addition to more access to water for irrigation. This has resulted in fewer impacts on livelihoods of people affected in the assessed areas.

An increase in requests for casual labour was observed, especially in the Central Highlands and South Central regions. However due to the scarcity of water, few largescale farms were able to continue agriculture practices and provide job opportunities.

Deaths to animals, especially chickens and ducks, were reported across all assessed regions, as animals are unable to survive the heat and lack of drinking water. The drought has resulted in less pasture land and increased animal malnutrition, especially among cattle herds, that has resulted in a large number of reported sicknesses. The implication of these animal losses, particularly in the case of poultry, will have repercussions on the capacity of people to generate income, especially women who are considered more likely to engage in this type of animal rearing.

The aquaculture sector was also impacted on, especially in the Mekong Delta and to a less extent the South Central region. The lack of freshwater to continue aquaculture activities, coupled with saltwater intrusion, has mainly affected shrimp production.

Scarcity of water for irrigation, animal as well as human consumption was also reported across all assessed regions resulting in the use of extra money by the affected population to access necessary water.

Many people also reported having invested large amounts of capital or borrowed money to dig wells, which sometimes did not result in availability of water as underground water reserves were depleted.
As a result of the decreased availability of cash, household purchasing power for food at markets has been weakened among the worst-affected households.

With relatively stable food markets within reach, most households have been frequently adopting negative coping strategies, such as limiting meal portions and borrowing or buying food on credit to maintain acceptable food consumption. The current level of household food access could deteriorate at a faster rate if the drought’s impacts continue to drain households’ limited financial and food resources at hand.

Despite prolonged Government assistance to the worst affected communities since the beginning of the drought in late 2015, the assessment captured evidence that further support is needed to restore the population’s capacity to produce income and food.

Hence, short and medium/long-term recovery and resilience-building interventions are required.
A combination of mechanisms such as cash and vouchers, food or cash for work as well as targeted inkind assistance - especially in the most remote areas, are recommended. The recommendation to adopt cash and voucher interventions is based on the results of the market assessment and interviews conducted with local vendors, who reported the availability of food commodities, agricultural inputs and animal feed across all three regions visited.

In line with this, the most urgent interventions (until December 2016) should mainly focus on the provision of agricultural inputs (i.e. seeds and fertilizers) to start and boost agriculture production during the current monsoon season. In most assessed areas, rains have already started or are about to start. In addition, the provision of seedlings to restore perennial plantations should be prioritized.

Restocking of vaccinated small animals, especially poultry together with feed, is also envisaged. For the aquaculture sector, provision of fingerlings, fish feed and other inputs are necessary. Access to low interest rate bank and Government loans could also benefit many affected households.

Moreover, provision of food assistance should be considered, especially for vulnerable population groups living in remote areas facing market accessibility problems.

Medium/long-term interventions should enhance the capacity of farmers and animal keepers to generate higher productivity and reduce post-harvest losses. Solutions to increase access to irrigation and mechanization as well as accessibility and marketability of animal, aquaculture and agricultural products should be also provided. Other interventions such as restructuring crop production towards climate smart agriculture practices and conducting more in-depth studies into saltwater intrusion impacts are suggested to build more resilient communities.