Skip to Main Navigation

Greening Viet Nam's Rice Bowl: A Mekong Delta Success Story

Le Dong Phuong's rough hands grip the worn handle of the sluice gate. Her eyes wrinkle as she eases it open, letting water flow into the dry field. "Rice thrives on water," she says softly, her voice filled with experience from many harvests.

Now, Phuong and other farmers throughout Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta are using that water more efficiently as part of IDA-financed project to support sustainable rice production, reduce methane emission, while improving yields, grain quality and farmers profitability. IDA – the International Development Association – is the World Bank’s resource window for low-income countries.

For generations, Vietnamese farmers had used to overuse water in their fields to grow rice. This age-old practice is not suitable now given striking climate change impacts on Mekong Delta and reduced water availability. Overuse of water for irrigation also carries a hidden cost. It emits more methane – a greenhouse gas that over a 20-year span is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Rice farming accounts for three-quarters of the Viet Nam agricultural sector's annual methane emissions.

Beyond methane, an overreliance on nonorganic fertilizers and pesticides to boost production has raised costs, undermined food safety, and strained the environment. Climate change exacerbates these challenges, silently altering once-fertile landscapes.

But a green transformation is taking root. Pioneering farmers in the Mekong Delta are starting to embrace "high-quality, low-emission rice", an innovative approach that helps boost profits, cut emissions, and reduce environmental pollution caused by excessive use of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.

The Viet Nam Sustainable Agriculture Transformation Project (VnSAT) equipped hundreds of thousands of farmers like Phuong with the knowledge and resources to adopt sustainable rice farming techniques during 2015-2022. These approaches focused on improving water management and reducing seeding rates and applications of agrochemicals--without sacrificing yields. And instead of constantly flooding the fields, the Alternate Wetting and Drying technique allows the fields dry out because the rice plants' roots still have enough from the initial flooding.

Initially skeptical, Phuong and other members of her cooperative questioned the new methods. "It is different from what we learned from our parents and were doing", she says. "We used to sow seeds densely as we believed that more plants would result in higher yields and more harvests."

Multiple visits to demonstration farms, which showcased the sustainable farming practices, eventually convinced her.

"Seeing is believing," she reflected. "You really can grow the same amount of rice with fewer seeds."

Changing how farmers work took more than just teaching them new methods. It required building a support system, including infrastructure like roads and pumps, and helping farmers sell their crops.

Ultimately, farmers need to see a clear economic benefit from adopting these sustainable practices,” explained Cao Thang Binh, the project’s team leader for the World Bank.

For farmers, this means securing customers willing to pay more for higher quality rice.

Acting as a convener, the project connected farmers with agribusiness firms, streamlining the previously fragmented supply chain. This intervention proved particularly beneficial for farmers growing high-quality rice, notably the ST25 fragrant rice variety, named the world’s best rice at The Rice Trader World Rice Conference in 2023. These farmers, who comprise roughly half of the project's supported area, entered contract farming arrangements with major agribusiness firms, thereby securing market stability.

We’re excited to be part of the green agriculture transformation,” said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Ngoc, Director of “My Field”, a program launched by Viet Nam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to market high-quality rice produced under the VnSAT. “With more people wanting sustainable rice, we are happy to source more from the participating cooperatives. Half of our rice sales in 2021 came from these farms.

Agribusinesses play an important role promoting safe, low-carbon, and high-quality rice the supply chains in Viet Nam. International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private-sector-focused member of the World Bank Group – has been working with agribusiness players in the country such as Tan Long Group, to implement sustainable farming practices. These efforts will help lower production costs and reduce post-harvest loss.

A mobile application has also been introduced to rice farmers in the Mekong Delta, which guides them on sustainable farming through localized agronomical notifications. Farmers’ diaries recorded in the app can be used for climate impact assessments and carbon credit verification, facilitating adoption of sustainable and low-carbon rice production practices.

 “We aim to develop a sustainable rice production strategy to realize our goal of supplying up to five million tons of green, safe, and high-quality rice – accounting for 20% of the total rice output of the Mekong Delta region – within the next ten years by promoting a sustainable supply chain linkage with farmers and cooperatives in our raw material areas,” said Truong Sy Ba, Chairman of Tan Long Group. The company is working with IFC, the private-sector-focused member of the World Bank Group, to realize this goal.

Farmers are seeing the economic benefits. In the seven years since the project started in 2015, Mekong Delta farmers working across 185,000 hectares of land reduced their use of inputs by up to 50% and increased their earnings by 30% on average. Importantly, their sustainable farming practices have helped cut approximately 1.5 million tons of CO2e emissions each year.

Inspired by the project’s success, the Vietnamese government, with the World Bank Group as a trusted partner, has pledged to scale up the project, aiming to cover an additional 1 million hectares and reduce greenhouse gas emission by up to 10 million tons of CO2e by 2030 in the Mekong Delta, the rice bowl of Viet Nam. Potential new World Bank financial support to scale up VnSAT will be paired with results-based carbon financing of emissions reduction from the Transformative Carbon Asset Facility (TCAF) to reward farmers for their emission reduction achievements.

"It's exciting to see so many farmers embracing this change," said Binh. "Once they experience the benefits, they're more likely to continue these practices."

Phuong notices growing interest from her neighbors. "People are realizing what yields better income," she said. "They've been asking about our way of growing rice and will likely join next time."


    loader image


    loader image