With a population of 90,549,390 inhabitants, Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the 14th most populous country in the world, and is densely populated with 259 inhabitants per km2. The most densely populated areas are in the low-lying deltas of the Mekong River in the South, and the Red River in the North. Millions of people live in areas that are prone to flooding, which makes Vietnam a hotspot for the impact of climate change, and most notably, sea-level rise.
The research in Vietnam covered the Hung Thanh Commune in the upper delta of the Mekong River. At about 150 km inland, it is an area that is part of the commercial rice production region of the delta which experiences annual flooding and peak flood levels usually from September through November annually. In this area, fishing is a secondary income source, especially during the flood season. The research findings show that over the past 20-30 years, the total amount of annual rainfall has increased; the rainy season starts earlier and lasts longer than before. In addition, rainfall has become less predictable, and the occurrence of extreme weather events─like storms, heavy winds that blow rice plants down, thunder and lightning that impede people from doing their work─has increased. Floods caused by the changing rainfall patterns are a major threat to people’s lives.
Households in the Hung Thanh Commune are highly dependent on agricultural production. Wet rice is the main crop with two annual harvest cycles. The PRA session on cropping patterns and expert interviews revealed that before the mid 1990s, people in the commune had only one rice harvest per year. Since the late 1990s the government has invested heavily in the development of irrigation in the area, the introduction of new rice varieties, and the application of modern farming techniques. The crop period has been shortened to three months, which enables several rice crops a year and higher production. The first crop (Dong Xuan crop) starts in November and is harvested in February, while the second crop (He Thu) is grown from March to June. July to November is the flood period so less farming occurs during this period. In some parts of the commune a third crop (Thu Dong) can be grown due to a recently constructed farm dyke system which prevents fields from being flooded and helps to irrigate farm land during the dry season. Farmers who grow a third crop have different timing for planting and harvesting rice: the first crop (Dong Xuan) is planted in October and harvested in January; the second (He Thu) is planted in late January and harvested in April; and the third (Thu Dong) is done from April to July).
According to the local experts, food shortage is not common in the Hung Thanh Commune. The commune is located in the prime rice producing area of Vietnam. For those who have farming land, the two-crop farming system provides sufficient food for consumption and sale. For those who are landless, there are alternative economic activities, like farm labour, fishing and trading, which generate money to buy food. The local experts further emphasized that besides having enough of the staple food, rice, people also have access to a high quality and nutritious diet because of the availability of vegetables and fish in the commune. However, contrary to the expert interviews and PRA sessions, the findings from the household survey indicate that a sizeable group of households regularly face problems accessing food. Almost half of the respondents had experienced food shortage in the last 12 months and almost 1 on 4 in the past 7 days.
In expert interviews and PRA sessions, some concern was raised about the settlement of migrants from outside the commune. Landlessness is an increasing problem, and the so-called Xâm Canh or ‘invasive farmers’, compete with local residents over the ownership of farmland. Similarly, those who settle in Hung Thanh to sell their farm labour compete with local labourers over employment opportunities, which are at the same time decreasing due to mechanization.
Most people who migrate from Hung Thanh Commune are male and single. Most migrate temporarily for economic reasons. Half of the household members with migration experience were current migrants. Migration for education was most common in the third research village, which also had the highest proportion of current and non-seasonal migrants (i.e. people who migrate for periods of more than 6 months).