The National Assembly’s Economic Committee recently agreed with the government’s proposal to reduce the area under paddy by 270,000 hectares to 3.76 million hectares by 2020.
Another 400,000 ha of land in places where seawater is salinizes rivers during the dry season will be used for other crops, but could revert to growing paddy if required.
More land could instead be used for other crops, animal husbandry, and aquaculture, which offer farmers bigger profits, said Vo Tong Xuan, a rice expert. Vietnam exports 7-8 million tons of rice a year, or a third of its total output.
Xuan said Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of the grain, but intensive rice cultivation, particularly with a shift to growing three crops a year, is taking a toll on farmers and the ecosystem.
Due to the huge supply, rice prices are too low, and so many farmers are poor, he said.
A major famine in 1945 and food shortages in the post-war years led to the government adopting a “rice first” policy.
This now generates far more of the crop than needed to feed Vietnam’s 90 million population and has spawned a thriving export industry.
Experts said another reason for the planned shift from rice to other crops and aquaculture is that the weather no longer suits paddy cultivation in the Mekong Delta.
The water level in the Mekong River has fallen to its lowest levels since 1926, leading to the worst drought and salinity in the low-lying farming region, which is home to more than 20 million people.