Rice to riches: Viet­nam shrimp farm­ers fish for for­tunes

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

SOC TRANG , Viet­nam:

With a flashy gold watch and a chunky match­ing ring, Tang Van Cuol looks a far cry from the av­er­age Viet­namese farmer as he slings back a shot of rice wine and boasts about his pro­jected earn­ings. Af­ter years scratch­ing a liv­ing grow­ing rice and onions or farm­ing ducks, the 54-year-old says his life was trans­formed in 2000 — by shrimp.

The Mekong Delta, long renowned as the “rice bowl of Viet­nam”, is now also home to a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar shrimp in­dus­try and bur­geon­ing num­bers of farm­ers are build­ing for­tunes from the small crus­taceans. “Rais­ing shrimp can bring so much in­come, noth­ing can com­pare,” Cuol says over lunch with friends, a healthy spread of rice, salad, pork and-of course shrimp. This year he ex­pects to make one bil­lion dong, or around $44,000 — an enor­mous sum in the delta, where rice farm­ers make around $100 a month. The shrimp bonanza be­gan in the 1990s when ris­ing sea-lev­els seeped salt­wa­ter into the Mekong Delta.

It has surged in par­al­lel with de­mand from the US and Euro­pean Union. Savvy locals were swift to spot the chang­ing con­di­tions were ripe for shrimp farm­ing.

The wealth has trans­formed Cuol’s part of Soc Trang prov­ince: mo­tor­bikes have re­placed bi­cy­cles on newly-paved roads dot­ted with multi-storey con­crete homes unimag­in­able just a gen­er­a­tion ago.

Cuol owns sev­eral mo­tor­bikes, funded his daugh­ter’s wed­ding and claims an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of an­tiques “worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dong.”

Cri­sis is loom­ing

But en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists warn that the bounty from in­ten­sive shrimp farm­ing may be short-lived. To­day pol­lu­tion and dis­ease fre­quently lay waste to crus­tacean har­vests. But a wider cri­sis is loom­ing caused by the oblit­er­a­tion of mangrove forests to make way for farms, ex­pos­ing the area to lash­ings from storms and fur­ther rises in sea-level linked to cli­mate change. “This is not sus­tain­able,” said An­drew Wy­att, Mekong Delta Pro­gram Man­ager at the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN). The IUCN is en­cour­ag­ing farm­ers to pre­serve man­groves and stop us­ing harm­ful chem­i­cals so their shrimp can be cer­ti­fied as or­ganic, earn­ing a five to 10 per­cent pre­mium in the process. Yet shrimp farm­ers say the fi­nan­cial re­wards are too great to ig­nore.

Just like his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, Tang Van Tuoi strug­gled as a rice farmer. He slept un­der a roof fash­ioned from co­conut palms, earn­ing just enough to sup­port his fam­ily. But when salt­wa­ter started creep­ing into his rice fields-he saw an op­por­tu­nity and started har­vest­ing shrimp. “Now ev­ery­thing is de­vel­oped, we have ve­hi­cles, roads, things have changed mas­sively,” he told AFP from his pol­ished liv­ing room, where a flatscreen TV hangs over a wood fur­ni­ture set. Even in a bad year, he can earn more than he did as a rice farmer. In a good year he can rake in up­wards of $40,000. — AFP

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