Dikes, rice, and fish: how rapid changes in land use and hydrology have transformed agriculture and subsistence living in the Mekong Delta


The recent development of high dikes to support rice production, upland crops, cattle rearing, and commercial aquaculture in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta has significantly diminished wild fish catch and aquatic animals that are important food sources for the poor. Changes to agro-ecological systems in An Giang Province during three periods are reviewed: before 1975, when a network of canals was established; during the Doi Moi policy reforms of the 1980s, when a rice-based farming system based on low or August dikes was introduced; and more recently, when a new farming system based on high dikes replaced the low dike system. This most recent transition occurred in parallel with the introduction of large-scale commercial aquaculture and the market economy. Under pressure from government targets and market forces, most farmers are now using the high dikes, fertilizers, pesticides, and pumping technology to produce three rice crops each year. However, the new production systems have severely reduced the habitat available to inland freshwater wild fish and other aquatic food resources. This has negatively impacted nutrition for many poor families who had depended on wild fish caught in the commons for much of their food and offers lessons for development of other tropical delta regions. This paper proposes a research agenda that would investigate the socioeconomic, nutritional, and water and energy use impacts of the changes in production systems that have occurred in rural communities in the Mekong Delta.

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Fig. 3

Change history

  • 25 November 2019

    The article which was recently published contained a minor error in Figure 2a. The author incorrectly provided the image during production process. The correct figure is given in this article.


  1. 1.

    Interviews undertaken in accordance with ANU human research ethics protocol approval (ID 2015/296)

  2. 2.

    The summer rice crop (vu he thu) is grown in early May and harvested in early August.

  3. 3.

    The winter–spring rice crop (vu dong xuan) is grown in November and harvested in early February.

  4. 4.

    Interviewees are anonymous in accordance with ANU human research ethics protocol approval (ID 2015/296).

  5. 5.

    Cho Moi is located in the south-eastern part of An Giang Province with a population of 34,481 people (16% of the province) and total land of 36,906 ha (in 2015) (Statistical Office of An Giang Province 2017).

  6. 6.

    In northern Vietnam, it is called an agricultural cooperative, but it is known as a production unit in southern Vietnam.

  7. 7.

    Directive No. 100 was issued in 1981 to contract with individual workers or farmers. The production unit provides seeds, irrigation, and fertilizer; prepares land; and controls diseases. Individuals are responsible for planting, tending, and harvesting.

  8. 8.

    The An Giang provincial government issued Decision No. 76/2007/QD-UBND on 21 November 2007 which regulates the calendar for sowing rice in An Giang Province. The aim is to control rice stunt disease by requiring each seasonal rice crop to be planted between particular dates.

  9. 9.

    The life cycle of a wooden cage is just 5 years. The estimated costs for digging 1 ha of fish pond (with a depth of 5 m) is VND 230 million (USD 10,000, current price in 2019). If farmers buy land, 1 ha of agricultural land in Chau Phu District is about VND 700 million (USD 31,000, current price in 2019).


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We thank Mr. Nguyen Trung Tin and his team who entered the hard copy data into Excel files, Mr. Pham Duy Tien and Mr. Vuong Huu Tieng for editing the dike map of An Giang Province, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of An Giang Province for sharing data on dike areas. We also thank officials and farmers in Cho Moi District who contributed valuable knowledge on rice intensification, the impacts of dikes, the history of farming systems, fish catch and other aquatic animals, and current challenges on rice farming inside the dike compartment. Finally, we give thanks to the Luc Hoffmann Institute for funding the “Navigating the Mekong Nexus: food-water-energy” research project. This paper is one of the outcomes of the project.

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Nguyen, V.K., Pittock, J. & Connell, D. Dikes, rice, and fish: how rapid changes in land use and hydrology have transformed agriculture and subsistence living in the Mekong Delta. Reg Environ Change 19, 2069–2077 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-019-01548-x

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  • Agriculture
  • Flood management
  • Impacts of dikes
  • Inland fisheries
  • Mekong Delta
  • Nutrition