Mekong Delta smallholder farmers to receive COVID-19, drought, and saline intrusion support

September 22, 2020 | 21:23
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As drought and saltwater intrusion are threatening crops and the daily lives of many residents in the Mekong Delta region, a new programme has been kicked off to support 80,000 smallholder farmers in the region to overcome the challenges.
mekong delta smallholder farmers to receive covid 19 drought and saline intrusion support
Smallholder farmers in the Mekong Delta region suffer from severe drought and saltwater intrusion during the dry season, affecting rice, vegetable, and fruit production. Photo: VNA

Tran Huy No, a farmer in Tam Binh commune, Cai Lay district, Tien Giang province owns a 5,000-square-metre durian garden. However, half of the durian trees are dying due to saltwater intrusion this year. The lost durian crop, coupled with the COVID-19 outbreak has brought him unprecedented difficulties.

Meanwhile, Trinh Thi Moi, a farmer in My Hoa hamlet, Phuoc Lap ward, Tan Phuoc district, Tien Giang province said, “This year has been extremely unusual and unfortunate for our family as well as our neighbours. Salinity has hit my 4-hectare field, and as there are no signs of improvement, it will take a long time for my family to get back on our feet. Worse still, with the onset of COVID-19, my income has been far lower than last year, and this is also shared by my neighbours and other farmers in the area.”

No and Moi are among millions of Vietnamese farmers affected by crop losses due to drought and saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta region. The COVID-19 outbreak is putting additional socioeconomic pressure on vulnerable smallholder farmers.

In order to support the recovery of smallholder farmers whose livelihoods and welfare have been severely impacted by these dual challenges, Bayer Vietnam (Bayer) in collaboration with Grow Asia and National Agriculture Extension Center (NAEC), under the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), has kicked-off its global initiative “Better Farms, Better Lives” in Vietnam. The programme is implemented under the guidance of the MARD.

This programme aims to support 80,000 smallholder farmers in the country by providing free “Better Life Farming” care packages. These packages are tailored to farmers’ local needs and will include a combination of Bayer’s seeds, crop protection products, and the corresponding training materials.

“The main goal of the programme is to support smallholder farmers in the Mekong Delta to maintain and restore their production activities, respond effectively to adverse situations such as drought, saltwater intrusion, and COVID-19 pandemic in a sustainable way, and ensure that agricultural products can meet international food safety standards,” said Le Quoc Thanh, director of NAEC.

mekong delta smallholder farmers to receive covid 19 drought and saline intrusion support
Representatives from the Better Farms, Better Lives initiative

In collaboration with Grow Asia, a platform set up by ASEAN to connect agricultural stakeholders, this initiative seeks to expedite recovery in communities across seven provinces in the Mekong Delta and South East region, many of which have declared a state of emergency.

Specifically, the programme grants farmers access to technological solutions for plant protection and provides training sessions for 80,000 smallholders in the Mekong Delta (with a target of least 48 per cent of the beneficiaries being women) through the distribution and direct support of corn seeds (to 20,000 smallholders growing corn in two provinces of the Mekong Delta region including Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau).

The programme will also support farmers with plant protection products aimed to sustain the level of productivity in the event of drought and salinity (for 60,000 rice smallholder farmers in five provinces in the Southeast region including Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Kien Giang, and Ca Mau).

Additionally, the programme helps to improve the knowledge of agricultural extension trainers and farmers working in sustainable rice and corn cultivation through education and training to transfer both theoretical and practical knowledge of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), thereby driving production efficiency and enhancing the income and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the Mekong Delta. This initiative will focus particular attention on providing women smallholder farmers with the resources and knowledge they need to adequately cope with COVID-19, enabling them to better provide for themselves and their surrounding communities.

mekong delta smallholder farmers to receive covid 19 drought and saline intrusion support
Weraphon Charoenpanit, country head of Crop Science at Bayer Vietnam, shared the goal of the Better Farms, Better Lives initiative

According to Weraphon Charoenpanit, country commercial lead of the Crop Science division at Bayer Vietnam, smallholder farmers play a crucial role in ensuring food security for Vietnam, but the ongoing COVID-19 situation, as well as drought and saltwater intrusion, has impacted their ability to grow sufficient food for their families and communities.

"Bayer’s Better Farms, Better Lives initiative will provide immediate additional support to smallholder farmers in the form of agricultural input and consultative advice through the summer-autumn crop and beyond. By working together with the NAEC, the Department of International Cooperation and Grow Asia under the guidance of the MARD, we hope that this programme will not only contribute to the resilience of smallholder farmers but also ensure the stability and sustainability of Vietnam's agricultural sector,” Weraphon said.

Beyond the immediate response provided in the form of support packages, Bayer is working with its partners to put in place mid- and long-term plans to build up resilience in Vietnam‘s food production industry and ensure smallholder farmers are better prepared for the future.

"In the medium-term, there will be training on GAP, stewardship,, and COVID-19 safety measures to support smallholder farmers to improve their productivity, income, and welfare. In the long-term, we aim to help smallholder farmers achieve higher crop yields and use their farms as a source of sustainable income, rather than just a means to survive. What we implement today is aligned with our vision: 'Health for all, Hunger for none'," Weraphon added.

The NAEC will empower farmers by providing them with tools, digital technology, and training. They will support farmers from sowing to harvest with advice on crops, disease, and pest management, and will deliver virtual training to farmers to improve capacity-building through the use of modern agricultural technologies.

Speaking about the partnership, Nguyen Chi Hieu, the representative of Grow Asia in Vietnam and coordinator of the Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture in Vietnam (PSAV), said, “We are proud to be working with Bayer and our network of partners to deliver support to farming communities in this critical period. With Grow Asia’s multi-stakeholder partnership platform and Bayer’s expertise in cultivation advice and crop protection methods, we are confident that we can help address some of the challenges faced by Vietnamese farmers.”

“With the agricultural industry playing a huge role in Vietnam’s overall economic performance, this is very much a time for organizations and communities to come together and work collectively to achieve sustained recovery, and this program will be a leading example of such collaborative efforts to overcome difficult times via our public-private partnership (PPP) model with PSAV,” he noted.

With the new initiative, farmers are expected to relive some of burden. Tran Huy No from Tien Giang said that the program will help him to reduce damage and quickly recover from this year’s crop loss. He hope that the durian garden will begin to bear fruit next year.

Meanwhile, Trinh Thi Moi, also from Tien Giang, said that, “We are grateful and relieved to see that there are increasing efforts from the government and from influential organisations like Bayer and its collaborators to help our community. This aid will allow us to recover more quickly and continue to deliver quality farm produce for the benefit of the nation.”"

As part of its sustainability commitment, Bayer aims to support 100 million smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries by 2030. The immediate COVID-19 response through the Better Farms, Better Lives initiative complements Bayer’s ongoing smallholder support activities, which will aid smallholder farmers in mid-term recovery and build long-term resilience in Vietnam.

mekong delta smallholder farmers to receive covid 19 drought and saline intrusion support
Representatives from the Better Farms, Better Lives initiative sending gifts on behalf of the Local Agriculture Extension Center from different provinces.

By Thanh Van

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