In many deltas of the world, rural populations are highly dependent on agriculture [1
]. However, farmers often do not earn enough income for a sustainable livelihood [4
]. In light of global food crises, agricultural intensification has emerged over the decades as a key strategy to meet growing food demand. However, intensification of agriculture can lead to environmental damage. The concept of “livelihood sustainability” concerns the ability to cope with and recover from stresses and shocks such as those caused by climate change and environmental pressure [8
]. Indeed, the world has seen a dramatic increase in stresses linked to the climate and environment, such as land and water pollution, land subsidence and riverbank erosion. These have exacerbated the tenuousness of the livelihoods of many rural populations [2
]. The impacts of environmental pressure merit investigation, and adaptive alternatives should be urgently explored to achieve more diversified agricultural production systems that are more resilient, less vulnerable and more environmentally sustainable [2
Many studies have assessed the vulnerability and sustainability of livelihoods under the impacts of climate change and environmental pressure [15
]. Zhao et al. [16
] evaluated the livelihood sustainability of towns in Shenzha, China under various disaster contexts using a sustainable framework. The results showed a great disparity of sustainable livelihoods among the three vulnerability groups. In another study, Su et al. [17
] applied a mixed method that integrated livelihood capital index (LCI) to analyze the livelihood capital and strategy of different household types in response to seasonal fluctuations in tourism in Nanning, Guangxi of China. Furthermore, the study of Liu et al. [18
] elaborated the influence of farm household livelihood assets on livelihood strategies in Zunyi City of China, then evaluated different farm household livelihood assets in coping with risks and shocks. We found that livelihood capital index and livelihood vulnerability index (LCI and LVI) have been used as one of the appropriated methods to evaluate livelihood sustainability and vulnerability under various changes such as climate and environmental pressure.
The Vietnam Mekong Delta (VMD) is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change [12
]. The impacts of climate change—primarily, increasing temperatures and more frequent rainfall—paired with socioeconomic developments, will likely significantly affect the VMD’s hydrological regime. Temperatures across the delta rose by 1.3–1.4 °C between 1986 and 2014, and could rise another 1.9–3.5 °C by 2099 [22
]. Additionally, recent climate change impact assessments found that large-scale, high dike structures have substantially increased the risk of flooding in the delta over the coming decades [4
]. Simultaneously, hydropower production is rapidly expanding in the Mekong region, with an ever-increasing number of hydropower reservoirs being planned and under construction in the delta’s upstream reaches [24
]. Reservoir operations have raised concerns about flow regime modifications [24
], and an array of other secondary, yet critical, impacts on the environment [28
], sediment dynamics [29
], fishery resources [19
], riverbank erosion [4
] and water pollution from intensified agricultural production [5
The majority of small-scale VMD farmers consider rice their primary source of income [33
]. Following the national renovation policy in 1986, rice production was intensified, and areas under double and triple rice cropping were progressively expanded with greater privatization and commercialization of agriculture from the early 1990s [34
]. Across the upper delta floodplains, communities built dikes to protect their fields during the flood season, thus making a third rice crop viable. This enabled many farmers to switch from two to three rice crops annually. Water management infrastructures were built throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, bringing continued expansion of intensive double and triple rice cropping, particularly after 2004 [35
]. Yet, stakeholders are increasingly questioning the trade-offs between dike construction for triple rice production and farmers’ livelihood sustainability. A particular concern is whether the strategy of rice intensification is in fact a sustainable livelihood option for delta farmers in the long term.
An Giang, one of the provinces of the VMD floodplains, is an example of the pattern of rice intensification from double to triple cropping [4
]. Since 2002, the government has upgraded dike systems here, increasing the number of high dikes to facilitate triple rice production. Large parts of the upper and central deltas are now protected by these dikes [35
]. Since the initiation of the rice intensification policy, up to 2015, An Giang’s area under triple rice cultivation grew from 2591 ha to 150,000 ha [36
], remaining at that level through 2019, according to [37
]. The expansion of triple rice production has had substantial social and environmental consequences in An Giang province [6
]. First, labor demand has been on the decline for many years, due to the mechanization of rice production. Second, in flood-prone zones, previously open-access fisheries are closed off by high dikes during the flood season, eliminating a source of income and subsistence for poor and landless inhabitants [38
]. Third, continuous cultivation of three rice crops per year has had harmful effects on the environment, particularly in regard to soil fertility [38
]. Lands continually cropped to rice do not benefit from an influx of fertile sediment brought by floodwaters; the consequence is exhausted soils with diminishing returns [6
]. Many triple rice farmers are indeed seeing diminishing returns, leading to concerns about livelihood sustainability across the province.
Little is known about rice farmers’ own perspectives on the influences of climate change and environmental pressure on their farming operations and the future. Particularly, vulnerability assessments and information about changes in livelihood sustainability over the past five years are scarce. The current study sought to fill this gap. Using a sustainable livelihood framework [39
], we examined five types of capital—social, financial, human, natural and physical—and two aspects of climate change, according to the definition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Our aim was to assess the vulnerability of triple rice farmers’ livelihoods under the influence of climate change and environmental pressure. We hypothesized that triple rice farmers’ livelihoods were not sustainable in economic and environmental terms. Moreover, we expected many farmers to have taken steps to adapt their farming operations in the face of climate change and environmental pressure. To gain information from farmers, we developed a structured questionnaire which we then used to interview 300 rice farmers in three districts of An Giang province of the VMD.
2. Study Area
An Giang province has an area of 3536.7 km2
and ranks fourth in terms of size among the VMD’s 13 provinces (Figure 1
). It is bordered to the east by Dong Thap province, and to the north and northwest by Kandal and Takeo provinces of Cambodia with a nearly 104 km-long border. To the southwest, An Giang borders on Kien Giang province, and to the south it borders Can Tho city.
The province is located in the delta’s upstream floodplain, giving it the advantages of abundant surface water and fertile soils, thanks to the alluvium conveyed by floodwaters. Besides, the state has long invested in irrigation systems and flood control works here, making the province a suitable location for agricultural development. In the past three decades, the province has emphasized advanced production methods, especially intensified rice production, aquaculture and fruit tree planting. This has led to rapid socio-economic development. The rice area of the province in 2018 was some 623,000 ha, but it accounted for 16% of the annual rice production of the VMD and 8.8% of Vietnam’s rice production [37
]. Besides rice cultivation, the growing fish industry, mainly pangasius and catfish, have made the province a center for catfish export and the freshwater fishing industry [40
However, An Giang faces many obstacles in the context of climate change. Temperatures are rising and extreme flooding is increasingly frequent, as are droughts, riverbank landslides, saltwater intrusion and storms. In addition, development of hydroelectric dams in the upper reaches of the delta have modified flood regimes and sedimentation loads [19
]. In the 2011–2016 period, economic losses due to natural disasters here amounted to some USD 64 million (VND 1463 billion). Damages due to flooding, thunderstorms and storms totaled USD 42 million (VND 932 billion), and landslides caused USD 18 million in damages (VND 407 billion). In 2018 alone, economic losses due to natural disasters were some USD 9 million (VND 198 billion) [37
]. Before large-scale dam construction, most of An Giang province was subject to a natural flooding regime. Fields were drained so floodwaters could enter, flushing alum and depositing fertile sediment on fields, also bringing in wild fish to refresh aquatic resources in ponds and lakes. After the extreme floods of 2000 destroyed property and crops, strongly impacting the lives of delta residents, high dikes were built for protection as well as to provide footing for main roads. Construction of high dikes also allowed for cultivation of three rice crops annually [41
]. Simultaneously, many reservoirs and dams were put into operation to store water upstream. Severe flooding has thus been rare in recent years. These changes have introduced a new setting for the province’s socio-economic development and rural farmers’ livelihoods.
This study provides evidence on the vulnerability of triple rice farmers on the upper floodplains of the Vietnam Mekong Delta (VMD). We combined the livelihood vulnerability index (LVI) approach with LVI-IPCC analysis to assess the sustainability of farmers’ livelihoods in three districts of An Giang province under the impacts of climate change and environmental pressure. Most of the farmers we interviewed had observed changes in the key components studied over the past five years, and they had serious concerns regarding the continuation of such changes into the future. The findings of the current study suggest three main recommendations.
First, triple rice farmers should diversify their livelihoods in agricultural production. The triple rice monocrop is particularly susceptible to climate change and environmental pressure. We advise farmers to seek more diversified livelihood strategies in the short to long term. To this end, farmers will need to actively collaborate with scientists and local government officials to gather relevant knowledge and apply it in practice.
Second, our exposure indexes show that triple rice farmers are especially hard hit by the changing climate and environmental pressure. These farmers need urgent and dedicated support from government and the scientific establishment to not only increase their rice-production based income, but also to quickly adapt to the changes under way, for example, by introducing changes in cropping patterns, water saving technologies and improved rice varieties.
Finally, farmers’ concerns regarding increasing temperatures, worsening water pollution and shortages of fertile sediment supply need to be taken seriously by all levels of government active in policymaking for the delta and its floodplains. Farmers have already put great effort into adaption measures to adjust to climate change and environmental pressure. However, the strategies within their grasp, particularly, increasing production inputs and investing more labor time, are not sustainable.