Drought ruins large crops of coffee and rice in Central Highlands

By Nhat Ha, Bui Hong Nhung   March 28, 2016 | 07:13 pm GMT+7

The prolonged drought caused by the El Nino weather pattern has damaged thousands of hectares of coffee, rice and pepper in the Central Highlands.

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Arid fields in the Central Highlands. Photo: Nhat Ha

More than 28,000 families in the Central Highlands do not have enough water to drink and water crops, according to a report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The drought has resulted in more than 15,000 hectares of rice, 40,000 hectares of coffee and 2,200 hectares of pepper in the Central Highlands either to drop significantly in productivity or to fail completely. The total damage to commercial crops in the region is estimated to extend to 160,000 hectares by the end of March if the current dry conditions persist, the ministry predicted.

Hundreds of reservoirs in Central Highland provinces are down to about 30 percent to 40 percent of their capacity, with some even falling to as low as 10 percent. Dak Lak province has recorded 115 lakes that are now completely dry, and this number is expected to increase to 250 by the end of March.

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Cattle graze on the failed crops. Photo: Nhat Ha

Phung Van Thanh, a farmer in Chu Puh district, Gia Lai province, said he spent VND100 million ($4,500) to dig three additional wells, but his three hectares of coffee were gradually succumbing to the conditions because of water shortages. “Next month, if there is no rain, I will have to give up on my 10-year-old coffee plantation. This is the worst drought I have ever seen.”

Le Van Phuong, a pepper grower in Chu Puh district, faces the same dire situation. He said that pepper was a more valuable commodity than coffee, so his family and neighbors were doing everything they could to save their pepper crop.

“From the beginning of pepper season until now, I've always been on the edge. I had to dig the old well down a further 30 meters to search for water. There are days when I even stay up till midnight waiting for water.”

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A dried up stream in Gia Lai province, photo: Nhat Ha

Five Central Highland provinces have requested the government provide VND300 billion ($13.4 million) to upgrade 48 small irrigation projects. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has also asked for more than VND4,000 billion to invest in 16 key irrigation schemes.