Public-private partnerships accelerate climate change adaptation in Viet Nam

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Public-private partnerships accelerate climate change adaptation in Viet Nam

The Mekong Delta, a fertile plain extending through southern Viet Nam, has always held a delicate balance between salt and fresh water at the point where the Mekong River meets the sea. But in recent years, saline intrusion – the encroachment of seawater into fresh water sources – has been increasing in frequency and severity.

It’s been attributed to several factors, including the construction of a dam upstream, riverbed mining, and the overextraction of groundwater. But, notably, a period of drought alone is enough to cause it. Now, with rising sea levels and more frequent droughts due to climate change, the residents of the Mekong Delta are ever more likely to encounter it – and to have to contend with its consequences.

For Mr Le Hoang Ro, a farmer in Tra Vinh province, saline encroachment nearly spelled the end of his livelihood. A few years ago, he lost more than half of his longan crop when salt water caused the flowers to drop before fruiting. More losses like these piled up over the next few years, leaving Mr Le struggling to feed and support his family.

In those days, Mr Le had no reliable way of telling if the water was too saline. “I relied on my own experience and traditional practices to check how salty the water was,” he says. “I just tasted the water or observed the wind direction. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”

Today, however, Mr Le is the proud owner of a flourishing poultry farm, as well as a coconut grove. Although his earnings can vary as the price of chicken fluctuates, they average around US$620 a quarter.

Thanks to the IFAD-funded AMD project, Mr Le has learned new farming methods, expanded his livestock business to 200 chickens and 100 ducks, and adopted environmentally friendly practices such as raising his chickens on biological padding (a bedding of fermented wood chips that can later be used as organic fertilizer) instead of harsh concrete surfaces. And he can now get a reliable salinity reading with just a swipe on his phone screen.

The AMD project, active between 2014 and 2020, aimed to help small-scale farmers in the Mekong Delta adapt to the changing climate and put in place measures to protect their livelihoods. One of its goals was to develop a salinity monitoring and forecasting system in the southern provinces of Ben Tre and Tra Vinh.

The water salinity readings provided by the Mekong app have been a game-changer for Mr Le (centre) and other small-scale farmers throughout the delta.

In 2018, the project partnered with Rynan Technologies, a Vietnamese start-up dedicated to making everyday industrial operations more efficient and sustainable, to establish a network of 21 automatic in-field monitoring buoys in Tra Vinh. The buoys provide real-time water quality data on a range of parameters, including salinity, alkalinity, pH and water levels. The data are gathered at an operations centre and then shared freely with farmers via a smartphone app called Mekong, managed by Rynan. As of September 2021, the app had been downloaded almost 11,000 times.

Using the Mekong app, Mr Le and his fellow farmers can access real-time data on salinity levels in their district. This enables them to act immediately.

“When I know the water salinity level is high, I first store water in my pond and then close the culvert to prevent salt water from entering my farm,” he explains.

Public-private partnerships like these are crucial for deploying new technologies that can help rural small-scale producers. While many private sector organizations possess technologies that would be an asset in the fight against climate change, they often lack experience with the administrative procedures and legal mechanisms needed to implement them in local contexts.

This is where innovative public sector and development projects like AMD can step in, offering their expertise to help private enterprises deliver their products where they’re needed most and get user buy-in so new models can be adopted and scaled up. Mr Le, for example, learned how to use the app with the help of commune-level government officials who walked him through the installation process.

Partnerships like these also have the potential to increase brand recognition and generate interest for private sector collaborators. “Thanks to the AMD project, people know what Rynan is doing,” says Mr Nguyen Thanh My, chairman of Rynan.

The partnership has also ensured that Mr Le will continue to get the data he needs even though the project has officially closed, as Rynan continues to maintain the app. And, inspired by the success in Tra Vinh, the company has partnered with several other regions in the delta to install more buoys, thereby expanding the monitoring system.

For the small-scale farmers of the Mekong Delta, the ability to monitor water salinity and to protect their crops and livestock has been critical to adapting to the effects of climate change and avoiding shocks to their livelihoods.

As Mr Hai, another farmer in Tra Vinh province, puts it: “Checking salinity levels is like people with hypertension monitoring their blood pressure. If you fail to do it in time, it will be too late.”

 

Learn more about IFAD’s work in Viet Nam.