Sun, Aug 13, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Rice to riches: Vietnam’s shrimp farmers fish for fortunes

Saltwater seeping into the Mekong Delta changed the fortunes of local rice farmers, who started cultivating high-priced shrimp instead of the staple crop, which the government is now trying to protect

By Jenny Vaughan  /  AFP, SOC TRANG, Vietnam

The strategy is in part to ensure the region can grow enough rice to feed the country, a historic pillar of the communist government’s centrally planned economy.

However, as the country has embraced market reforms, the lure of exporting shrimp has become increasingly attractive.

This year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc called for shrimp exports to reach US$10 billion by 2025, a jump from US$3 billion last year.

In parallel, export earnings from rice have steadily declined since 2011, bringing in US$2.2 billion last year.

“They’re trying to thread a needle between making money off of exports and economic development, but also not sacrificing long-term food security,” Cornell University doctoral researcher Tim Gorman said.

As a result, policies both encourage the quick cash generated by shrimp farms and protect the long-term future of the rice crop.

That can seem contradictory or haphazard to farmers.

In some areas, the government is urging farmers to grow rice half the year and harvest shrimp for the other half — a hard sell to farmers like Thach Ngoc Cuong who are eager to abandon rice.

He has two plots in Soc Trang Province, one contains freshwater for rice, the other is salty for the prized crustaceans.

“I would be very happy if we could raise shrimp on the rice side,” he said.

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