Every seventh month of the lunar calendar, the Mekong River surges and flows south, carrying rich alluvium and massive amounts of fish and shrimp to southern Vietnam.
Normally, this time of year – known locally as ‘floating season’ – is a busy time for fishermen, but climate change in recent years has led to water levels that rise more slowly and recede more quickly, resulting in a dwindling fish resource that has severely dampened the livelihoods of local fishermen.
Now, instead of heavily relying on the rich aquatic resources brought by the annual ‘floating season’ as they have done for decades, many residents throughout the region have begun raising fish and giant prawns right in their organic rice and vegetable paddies – ensuring a steady supply of both fish and produce all year long.
Among these farmers is Bui Tri Nhan, a resident of Hong Ngu City, Dong Thap Province, who has become well-known throughout the region for his fish and rice farming model.
Nhan’s 11-hectare paddy stretches along a narrow, soggy dyke brimming with lush rice plants.
It is here that he began farming rice, ca linh (cyprinid fish that thrive in parts of Southeast Asia), and giant freshwater prawns all at once in the same place.
So far, his gamble on the new farming model has paid off.
Fortune lies in man’s hands
While dwindling natural fish populations have hurt many fish famers, Nhan has benefited greatly thanks to higher demand and lower supply.
“I pocketed more than VND100 million (US$4,389) in profits from fish alone. This model is much more lucrative than rice farming,” Nhan said.
|Bui Tri Nhan (right) catches around 100 kilograms of crab and smaller fish each day. Photo: T.Nhon / Tuoi Tre
Nhan switched from growing just rice in his current hybrid model after learning about a series of programs initiated by the local administration on how to improve the lives of residents during the annual flood season.
After doing some research, he began improving soil quality on his land, building dykes, and raising about five million fingerlings.
Much of his success, he says, is due to his use of water pumped directly from rivers rich in nutrients that his fish can feed on.
“I don’t need any fish feed. I harvested my fish at the beginning of the flood season and sold them for a good price – about VND130,000 ($5.7) per kilogram,” he shared.
“After subtracting my initial costs, the money I earned from a 1.5-metric-ton batch of fish raised alongside giant freshwater prawns was pretty impressive.”
After removing the fish from the paddies, Nhan applies organic manure to his rice crops.
He typically grows three varieties at the same time so that he can choose the best strain for the following crops.
One month after sowing the seedlings, the aspiring farmer releases 100,000 giant freshwater prawns selected from a population of 300,000 into his paddy.
According to Nhan, the prawns are doing well and weigh about 10 grams each.
“The prawns thrive on ephemeral eggs and moss. This gives them a special taste,” Nhan said, adding he also winds up with crabs and other fish that wash into his paddies from a local river.
According to Nhan, these extra crabs and fish earn several hundred thousand dong (VND100,000= $4.4) each day.
Huynh Van The, a resident in Thuong Lac Commune, also located in Hong Ngu District, has a hybrid farming success story of his own.
The built a ditch system on a 10-hectare paddy to trap fish that washed in with the rising river at the beginning of the flood season.
He also grows rice and raises 50,000 lang fish (crystal-eyed catfish), which typically sell well on the local market.
The stressed that his success is due to his focus on keeping a balance between his rice crops and his fish population.
“The model guarantees a clean, organic, and sustainable supply of rice as the plants thrive mostly on fish feces and alluvium,” The explained.
“It is mostly about the taste of the fish. They survive well by eating riverweed and rice roots. It makes them taste great.”
|Huynh Van The with a pack of organic rice grown from his hybrid fish-rice farming model. Photo: T.Nhon / Tuoi Tre
This seasonal farmer reaped about four metric tons of crystal-eyed catfish last year, and sold them for VND85,000 ($3.7) per kilogram, much higher than the traditional two-crop farming.
Just like Nhan, The also had many fish from the river wash into his paddies, earning him about VND20,000-90,000 ($0.9-4) per kilogram.
His fish harvests alone reeled in more than VND200 million ($8,779).