Vietnamese pepper, coffee growers struggling with drought

Farmers in the Central Highlands and southeastern provinces are grappling to find water for their pepper and coffee farms as there is no sign of drought abating.

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A farmer waters his coffee farm in the Central Highlands region. Farmers in the Central Highlands and southeastern provinces are finding water for their pepper and coffee farms to ease the impact of prolonged drought on their farms -

The Vietnam Pepper Association (VPA) confirmed that drought has wreaked havoc on pepper farms in many provinces in the Central Highlands and southeastern regions and on Phu Quoc Island off mainland Kien Giang Province.

VPA did not provide an exact figure of the pepper acreage hit by the calamity but warned that the dry season has not peaked.

To support pepper farmers, the authority of Loc Ninh District in Binh Phuoc Province has joined hands with Loc Ninh Rubber Company to use 20 tankers to transport water to local people and pepper farms. However, this is just a situational solution as prolonged drought will cause water shortages to worsen in the coming months.

Pepper farms in Dong Nai Province are in the same boat.

According to the 2014 data of the Cultivation  Department, the pepper farming area nationwide totaled 85,600 hectares that year, including nearly 82,000 hectares in southern provinces.

The Central Highlands is the country’s largest pepper producing area with nearly 44,000 hectares, followed by the southeastern region with nearly 34,300 hectares. These two regions have been severely affected by drought this year.

Earlier, pepper prices declined after Vietnam said the pepper acreage had expanded to nearly 100,000 hectares, according to the department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, due to drought, after falling to VND130,000 per kilogram the price began to bounce back from mid-March to VND147,000-151,000 per kilo at present, up nearly VND20,000 per kilo compared to two weeks ago.

Drought has exacted a heavy toll on coffee farms in the regions.

Statistics of the ministry showed that by the end of March drought-triggered water shortages had hit 167,000 hectares of crops in the Central Highland, including 14,600 hectares of rice and nearly 153,000 hectares of coffee.

Nguyen Nam Hai, vice chairman of the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association (Vicofa) and general director of Vietnam National Coffee Corporation (Vinacafe), said water levels at many reservoirs in the Central Highlands provinces have fallen to 30-35% capacity and there will be a serious lack of water for coffee farms in the coming months.

About 250 reservoirs in the Central Highlands province of Daklak are forecast to dry up in early April. Water levels at reservoirs in Gia Lai Province have sunk to 10-15% capacity and reservoirs in Kon Tum Province to 30-50% capacity.

Damage will mount if it does not rain in the Central Highlands in the coming months, Hai said.

A kilo of coffee in the Central Highlands was sold at VND32,900-33,400 on March 31, up VND300 per kilo from Tuesday.

Despite water shortages and an output reduction of at least 20% as forecast by Vicofa, coffee prices in the coming months remain unpredictable. Hai said over the past years coffee prices have not changed based on supply and demand but they have been influenced by commodity hedge funds.

Drought, salinity hit households, orchards in Mekong Delta

Households and owners of orchards in the Mekong Delta have felt the increasing impact of drought and saltwater intrusion, while rice growers are now less anxious as the winter-spring rice crop has almost ended.

There would be a serious lack of fresh water for households and orchards in the region as drought and salinity are forecast to last until June this year, according to the Southern Irrigation Science Institute.

A report of the Department of Crop Production under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said the region has harvested rice on over 1.1 million out of 1.5 million hectares in the 2015-2016 winter-spring rice crop.

Regarding the summer-autumn and autumn-winter crops, the ministry has told provinces in the region to not sow paddy in the areas without enough water for irrigation. For coastal areas dependent on rain water, paddy will be sowed only when it rains, hopefully in the first half of June.

Paddy can be sown next month in the areas south of National Highway 1A, over 70 kilometers from the coast and not badly hit by drought and salinity like Vinh Long and Hau Giang provinces, and some parts of Tien Giang, Soc Trang and Tra Vinh provinces.

Alluvial areas having sufficient water along Tien and Hau rivers can sow paddy from this month till early next month, right after all rice fields of the winter-spring crop are harvested.

Nguyen Thien Phap, head of the irrigation unit of Tien Giang Province, expected that drought and saltwater intrusion would not cause further damage for rice farming there in the coming time, as all winter-spring rice has been harvested and farmers will only start the next crop when it rains.

Such a cultivation schedule, which is different from previous years, would impact roughly 500,000 hectares of rice, 30% of the region’s total, according to the ministry.

In the coming months, fresh water for daily use and orchards will remain scarce.

Nguyen Tien Dat, who sells fresh water to people in Ben Tre Province’s Binh Dai District, told the Daily that the lack of fresh water has worsened. As a result, he has to transport more water for sale to households in the province.

In early March, the ministry forecast around 155,000 households in the region lacked water and the number keeps rising.

According to Bui Thanh Liem, head of agriculture and rural development of Ben Tre Province’s Cho Lach District, many orchards have been impacted by saltwater intrusion.

Households that produce seedlings would suffer heavier damage, Liem said.

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