Vietnamese farmers cut down dying plants amid historic drought

Thanh Nien News

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Many lakes and streams in the Central Highlands have run dry. Photo credit: Cong An Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh Many lakes and streams in the Central Highlands have run dry. Photo credit: Cong An Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh

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Vo Lam Ba in Gia Lai Province has been busy removing all the plants on his black pepper plantation of more than 1.2 hectares. 
The field, which earned him more than US$10,000 last year, now looks dead.
Ba said he is going to grow corn and grass for cows, plants that have a better chance of survival during drought, to at least make some compensation for the loss.
Gia Lai has become the driest province in the Central Highlands, which is struggling to stay as Vietnam’s kingdom of coffee and pepper as severe droughts keep happening and worsening, according to media reports. 
Last year, the region’s farmers was hit by an unprecedented drought in a decade and local farmers lost tens of thousands of hectares.
But this year, “it is the harshest drought in history,” Tran Trung Thanh, deputy director of the Central Highlands’ hydrometeorology station, told news website VnExpress.
A report from the agriculture ministry said large areas of farming land in central and southern Vietnam are under a death spell as the country is going through the longest El Nino ever recorded.
No end in sight
More than 3,000 hectares of coffee and 2,200 hectares of pepper fields in the highlands have died.
The numbers can go up to a total of 160,000 hectares, which means a loss of at least VND500 billion (US$22.3 million). Drought is expected to become even more severe this month and last until the end of June, the ministry said.
More than 100 reservoirs and many lakes and streams in the region have run dry. Three of five provinces in the region, including Gia Lai, have officially declared a state of natural disaster.
Many farmers have dug as deep as 40 meters but still cannot find water.
“Drought has been so severe this year. It leaves us not enough water to drink, let alone to water out plants,” Ba said, as cited by VnExpress.
“It really hurt me when I had to clear my entire pepper field. But the trees would die anyway.”
Coffee and pepper are major export products. Vietnam is the world's biggest producer of pepper and robusta beans.
Ba said black pepper has helped thousands of people in the Central Highlands escape poverty.
He said planting corn is just a temporary solution. Once it rains, he will plant pepper again. A pepper field takes at least three years to bring in profits, according to locals.
The situation is worse for coffee farmers, as the crop needs more water.
Locals said each tree needs to be watered with 500 liters every two to three weeks during the dry season. But farmers said some areas have not even received a single drop this year.
Nguyen Thi Nga has had her entire coffee field chopped down.
“I could not stand seeing them all dead,” she said.

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