How sustainable rice farming in Vietnam is increasing revenue while reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Co-authored by Joe Rudek, Lead Senior Scientist and Trần Thu Hà, VLCRP Director

October 2013 028 (003)v2

Example of Vietnam Low Carbon Rice Project (VLCRP) sampling site. Greenhouse gas was sampled using a static chamber placed in the rice paddy. Note water depth sampling tube in foreground, left of center, and square quadrat marker, just above center, where rice plant characteristics were measured over the course of the crop season. Image Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Joe Rudek

Rice production in Vietnam has increased significantly over the last few decades such that enough rice is produced there not only to supply Vietnam’s needs but also to support a major export industry.

About half the rice in Vietnam is grown in the Mekong Delta, at the southern end of the country; The water-rich Mekong Delta with its tropical climate is well suited to rice production in flooded paddies. However, flooded rice paddies also result in substantial emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Rice grown in the Mekong Delta alone is responsible for about 8 to 9% of the Vietnam’s total GHG emissions, according to the Vietnam 2014 Biennial Report to the UNFCCC and this is a conservative estimate.

For the past several years, EDF has been working with agricultural experts from Can Tho University, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), Extension System officials, and farmers in two provinces (Ag Giang and Kien Giang) to pilot a sustainable low carbon rice farming system known as 1 Must, 6 Reductions (1M6R) which is a modification and advancement of a Vietnamese government recommendation. The 1 Must factor in this system is the use of certified rice seed. The 6 Reduction factors are water use, fertilizer, pesticides, seed density, harvest loss and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Vietnam Low Carbon Rice Project (VLCRP) partners developed the specifics for the 1M6R package of practices and piloted them over a two-year period in the two provinces. The pilots showed that 1M6R reduced input costs, increased yield, increased plant vitality (important to survival during late season storms) and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Net revenue was increased by as much as 60% as a result. Not surprisingly, farmers are readily adopting the new set of practices.

The sustainable farming system reduced input costs, increased yield, increased plant vitality, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

An important part of VLCRP was interaction with farmers, organization of farmer groups and efforts to improve opportunities for women. Adult learning techniques were employed and agricultural experts in the partnership met with farmers, organized into groups, throughout the crop seasons to train them in the 1M6R techniques and in record keeping via daily diaries.  Farmer leaders were trained so they could teach their peers. This approach has allowed the proliferation of the 1M6R techniques beyond the project boundaries.

One of the most challenging scientific aspects of VLCRP was the measurement of GHG emissions. Gas samples were drawn from static chambers placed in the rice paddies and transported to a lab at Can Tho University for analysis. Most important to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the use of alternative wetting and drying (AWD) of the soils and reductions in nitrogen fertilizer. The interruption of flooding to allow the soil to dry and become re-oxygenated is key to the reduction of methane emissions. However, this practice can increase nitrous oxide emissions, an even more potent greenhouse gas than methane. The reduction in nitrogen fertilizer (among other factors) is key to minimizing nitrous oxide emissions.

The completion of the 1M6R pilot research which was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (formerly known as Australian AID), has been documented in a project summary and a set of project proceedings, which are being prepared for submission to peer reviewed journals. The findings offer Vietnamese farmers a means to increase revenue while greatly reducing the environmental footprint and GHG emissions of their rice production.

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