Nguyen Trung Kien made a life-changing decision last year to raise shrimp in the southernmost province of Ca Mau.
He turned his back on this paddy fields and dug a one hectare pond to raise freshwater shrimp. He believed that shrimp would be more lucrative than rice and would make all of his hard work worthwhile.
What he did not expect was the worst drought and saltwater intrusion in almost 100 years that have ravaged Vietnam since late last year and shown no signs of abating.
“We’ve lost everything. My family is not only completely broke but also burdened with a debt of more than VND100 million ($4,500),” Kien wept.
Ca Mau, 350km southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, has more than 52,000 hectares of shrimp farms, and the prolonged drought and salinity has cost the province a total of VND260 billion.
Local authorities are concerned that the affected area will double to 100,000 hectares if the historic natural disaster does not subside soon.
Inland shrimp ponds have dried up due to severe drought. Photo by VnExpress
“Earlier this year, I borrowed money from relatives to invest in two shrimp ponds with a slight hope that I could recoup some of my losses. All of sudden the severe drought hit, drying up water resources and leading to extensive saltwater intrusion. This has prevented the shrimp from thriving. I tried my best to hold on for about a month, but in the end I had to drain the pond and suffer the loss,” said Kien.
The shrimp farmer’s rags-to-riches aspirations have turned sour, and he is not the only one whose dreams have been shattered by the harsh weather phenomenon.
Thousands of shrimp farmers in Ca Mau Province’s Phu Tan District have experienced the same situation.
Just a few years ago, local shrimp farmer Lam Van Kha’s village was seen as “the land of (dong) billionaires” after several farmers completed their classic rags to riches journeys. But now those tales have become bitter reminders for many farmers who are completely broke and deep in debt. Some have even had to abandon their homelands as they had nothing left.
Khuong’s dream of becoming a millionaire turned out to be a bitter failure. He already had a one hectare shrimp farm, but he was keen to expand.
His family had to put up their land use certificates as collateral for bank loans and borrow money from family and friends to dig two new ponds. However, after farming them for just two years, they had to sell everything and leave their homeland.
“There is a saying: ‘Failure is the mother of success’, but this year we have failed to pick ourselves up. All our experience in shrimp farming is no match for this harsh weather,” said Tran Van Cua, who has two hectares of shrimp ponds that are surrounded by the idle equipment he has not even bothered to move.
Equipment lies deserted in the ponds or is sold to scrap dealers. Photo by VnExpress
“The prolonged drought, accompanied with extensive saltwater intrusion, large changes in temperatures from the day to night, and other environmental factors have had a serious impact on shrimp farming,” said Chau Cong Bang, deputy head of Ca Mau's Agriculture and Rural Development Department.
“Farmers are incurring average losses of VND5 million for every hectare of dead shrimp,” Bang added.
Experts forecast that in the case worst scenario when there is no rain before early next month, and the drought, along with falling groundwater levels, will increase salinity levels in inland areas by 40 - 55ppt (40,000 - 55,000 milligrams of salt per liter).
The southernmost province of Ca Mau is the latest victim but definitely not the only one.
As of May 17, the drought had affected eight provinces in the Mekong Delta, resulting in 81,413 hectares of dead shrimp, according to Vietnam's Directorate of Fisheries.
The El Nino phenomenon, which results in drier and hotter weather conditions than usual, is forecast to lose the deadly ferocity it has displayed this year by the end of June, and Vietnam is expecting normal weather patterns to return, said the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting.