HO CHI MINH CITY, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) — Many farmers in Ca Mau, Vietnam's southernmost province which may see 30 percent of its land submerged by sea water in the future, have intentionally broken four seawater encroachment-preventing dykes, killing rice paddy fields.

In Ca Mau and some other rice-producing hubs in the Mekong delta provinces, many rice paddies have now been inundated with saltwater.

"We know that it is illegal to intentionally break the dykes, but we just want to breed prawns to escape poverty. We are as poor as a church mice if we only grow rice,"  Nguyen Thi Bi, 60, told Xinhua as she was standing on the edge of a rice field-turned-to-aquaculture pond in An Xuyen commune in Ca Mau city.

With over one hectare of rice paddies, Bi's family used to earn several hundred U.S. dollars from harvesting two crops a year. "But, when natural disasters strike, like this year's prolonged drought and saltwater encroachment, we are empty-handed," she said,  while feeding prawns and crabs.

Now, Bi's family has 0.3 hectares of aquaculture ponds made from agricultural land, which brings them several thousands of U.S.  dollars from four or five prawn and crab-raising crops a year.

In Khanh Hoi commune in the U Minh district of Ca Mau province,  wearing an old green, broad-brimmed hat, Phan Ngoc Lan was removing weeds, collecting rubbish and cleansing an inlet sluice hidden in a long road-cum-dyke, which prevents seawater encroachment and keeps freshwater for rice cultivation.

"When building this road-cum-dyke, farmers like us placed this inlet sluice and pipes inside to bring saltwater to fields to breed prawns," the middle-aged man with weather-beaten skin said, smiling.

Bien Bach commune in the Thoi Binh district of Ca Mau province,  meanwhile, has an area of 4,200 hectares, most of which are designed to only grow rice, but now, up to 3,500 hectares are being used by local farmers to both grow rice and raise prawns.

"We know that many farmers are breaking rules, but we have to ignore them, because the design is not suitable to climate change;  rice output and prices are low, and many residents are poor," a communal official told Xinhua.

According to the Ca Mau Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the province's farmers have intentionally converted nearly 2,700 hectares of rice-growing area into aquaculture ponds in the last three years. Now, every year, they grow one rice crop and then breed one prawn crop.

Similar situations are occurring in other Mekong Delta provinces. The combined rice-growing and prawn-raising areas in Kien Giang province's coastal districts annually increased output by an average of over 7 percent in the 2010-2015 period. Bac Lieu province currently has nearly 30,000 hectares of combined rice-growing and prawn-raising areas that are rapidly expanding in the four districts of Hong Dan, Phuoc Long, Gia Rai and Vinh Loi, said the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

A local agriculture expert, Prof. Vo Tong Xuan, rector of South Can Tho University, said that Mekong delta provinces should not set aside areas that are too big for rice growing. According to him, allowing people to both grow rice and breed prawns, crabs and other kinds of seafood will ensure national food security and help farmers get rich.

"I visited many foreign countries, and people there said they don't have to grow rice, just import Vietnamese rice at low prices.  They grow fruit trees or do other things to get rich," the professor noted.

Vietnam produced 45.2 million tons of rice from 7.8 million hectares of fields in 2015. Meanwhile, it exported 6.8 million tons of rice worth 2.9 billion U.S. dollars, up 7.7 percent in volume, but down 1.1 percent in value due to lower prices, according to Vietnam's General Statistics Office.
Now, Vietnam in general and the Mekong Delta, the country's biggest rice hub, are suffering from climate change. Vietnam is regarded as one of the countries most affected by climate change. Its Mekong Delta is one of the world's three most vulnerable deltas to rising sea levels, together with the Nile Delta in Egypt and the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh.

If the sea level rises by 1 meter, about 40 percent of the Mekong Delta area, 11 percent of the Red River Delta and 3 percent of coastal provinces will be inundated, and more than 20 percent of Ho Chi Minh City will be flooded. This will affect some 10 to 12 percent of Vietnam's population directly, according to Vietnam' s National Strategy on Climate Change.

Without effective synchronous solutions, some 30 percent of Ca Mau province's land area will be submerged by sea water in the future, the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said Monday.

To minimize climate change's effects, the province is focusing on raising public awareness about the issue, planting more coastal protection forests, assisting farmers in growing crops and breeding animals which easily adapt to climate change, and relocating residents in areas prone to floods and landslides. Each year, Ca Mau loses some 900 hectares of land, including over 120 hectares of coastal land, in landslides.

"Our houses don't fall into the sea or rivers due to landslides like our compatriots' elsewhere. Now, the sea water level is high,  but not high enough to make us swim to survive. But, to run away from poverty, we have to swim upstream, meaning breaking rules to overcome our difficulties," Phan Ngoc Lan said while sighing.