Three irrigation systems developed in Viet Nam’s Red River Delta with assistance from ADB and Agence Française de Développement (AFD) have helped improve the livelihood of farming communities.

Dinh Xuan Thoi, a 53-year-old farmer in Yen Mo district of Viet Nam’s northern province of Ninh Binh, remembers how his family of seven used to annually harvest only one meager crop of rice. Frequent floods and droughts prevented them from growing more crops.

“Life was very hard back then,” Thoi says. “Now we can have two big rice crops, plant maize and longan trees, and raise fish as a new trade. Things we never thought about before.”

“Our income from this trade has more than tripled. The quality of life in many households has significantly changed,” says Thoi who now has five sao of rice (one sao is equivalent to 360 square meters), one sao of maize, and three large fish ponds. “This is largely thanks to the Yen Dong lake upgrade subproject in the commune.”

Stopping the flood

A dike system was constructed to regulate the flow of water and stop the frequent flooding.

“The commune currently stands at the top of the district in terms of rice output, with 7.2 tons per hectare,” says Pham Trong Giap, vice-chairman of Yen Dong’s People’s Committee.

There are 31 subprojects under the Second Red River Basin Sector Project, which is improving agricultural production of poor communities in Viet Nam’s Red River Delta.

According to Ninh Binh’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Yen Dong lake subproject was initially aimed at curbing flooding and providing water for agricultural production. As it turned out, the dike has also made roads safer for traveling, promoted fishery development, and supplied water to a nearby water treatment facility, which is used by more than 1,400 households.

Before the dike was built, traveling between villages was not easy, as landslides often blocked the way.

“It was difficult even when the weather was fine,” Thoi says. “The road was sometimes covered with dust from gusts of wind, but it was worse when it rained and the road turned into a nightmarish slippery track.”

Now, motorbikes and even automobiles can use the dike, which is 4 meters wide.

“This subproject has benefited the commune’s more than 2,000 households with nearly 8,700 people,” Giap says. “It provides water for irrigating 1,250 hectares of agricultural land of Yen Dong and the nearby Yen Thai commune.”

Curbing salt-water inundation

About 3 kilometers from Yen Dong commune is Yen Thai commune, where the sluice-cum-bridge system over the Cau Hoi river is located. The river runs through Yen Mo district’s Yen Mac, Yen Lam and Yen Thai communes.

Built during 2007-2008, the $6.14 million system includes a sluice gate, rubber dam, concrete bridge, and a monitoring house. Installed with modern anti-flood valves, it helps prevent the seawater from flowing into the river. This has helped ensure sufficient water for agriculture in the district’s 11 communes, benefitting more than 67,000 people. Reducing salt water has also helped increase rice output for more than 20,000 households in Yen Mo district.

“Our rice output has grown from a meager 100 kilograms per sao to 200-250 kilograms per sao,” says 56-year-old farmer Mai Van Bay.

Solution to environmental pollution

In Thai Binh province in northern Viet Nam, the construction of the Tan De sluice gate has stopped heavy environmental pollution in Kien Giang river, which is the main channel of the irrigation system in the province’s southern area.

Located in Vu Thu district’s Tan Lap commune, the $5.34 million subproject includes a main sluice, a 1.6 kilometer canal, and three bridges. Built during 2008-2010, it aims to provide fresh water for 38,742 hectares of arable land and desalinize another 11,540 hectares of land. “The Tan De subproject is a decade-long dream of locals,” says 50-year-old Dang Van Lieu, a farmer from nearby Tam Quang commune, home to 1,750 households.

"The river’s fresh water has helped increase our rice output from 105 kg to 130 kg per hectare, and we can cultivate water melon, maize, and potatoes. Income from agricultural activities has grown by 30%."

Dang Van Lieu, farmer

Just 3 years ago, the river section in front of Lieu’s house was filled with rubbish and foul-smelling waste. “We had no choice but use dirty water for agriculture. Dirty water often caused skin and respiratory diseases,” he recalls.

Now, the river is quite clean as the sluice gate regulates the flow of water. Along the river, households like Lieu’s have installed water pumps to get river water for their daily washing and bathing activities. Many locals even swim in the river.

“The river’s fresh water has helped increase our rice output from 105 kg to 130 kg per hectare, and we can cultivate water melon, maize, and potatoes. Income from agricultural activities has grown by 30%,” Lieu says.

“It has been a miracle since the sluice was constructed. No pollution and a cleaner environment,” says 61-year-old farmer Tran Minh Duc. Like the Yen Dong lake upgrade in Ninh Binh, this subproject has enabled locals to raise fish and shrimp in man-made ponds with fresh water taken from the river. Many households also earn their living by fishing in the river.

This article is based on a longer piece originally published in Beyond Success: Impacts of ADB-AFD Cofinanced Projects in Viet Nam.