Mekong Delta shrimp farmers’ enthusiasm for working with mangroves is waning


Under a canopy of mangroves, Tran Van Thac's black tiger shrimps scuttle about the clean waters of their pond, devouring any organic matter they encounter. For years, 'integrated shrimp-mangrove' ponds like Thac's in the southern Vietnamese province of Ca Mau, on the Mekong Delta, have been praised for providing organic produce and stable yields at a low cost, while allowing mangroves to be preserved.

But this year, the harvest from Thac's 10-hectare pond is down. The 49-year-old farmer blames recent strange weather, which he says he hasn't experienced in his 30 years of shrimp farming. Unexpected rains during the December-May dry season have diluted the brackish water the shrimp need, and colder than usual temperatures have made it hard for them to survive.

"They have to hibernate in the mud for weeks," he says. "[They] hardly eat anything while suffocating in the freshwater. Most die before reaching maturity."

Thac is signed up to an organic programme with a major seafood producer, under which farmers are not allowed to add fertiliser, antibiotics, growth promoters or other chemicals to the water. "Our shrimp, crabs, fish and our mangroves rely 100% on the environment," he says. "And when it changes, it messes up everything and our hands are tied."

Sunny and alluvium-rich, Ca Mau province is home to Vietnam's largest area of mangrove forest, with 69,000 hectares of the climate change-combatting vegetation. Ca Mau is also the shrimp capital of the country, with more than 278,000 hectares of shrimp ponds.

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