Introduction

The Mekong River Delta (MRD) is the largest rice producing area and one of the most densely populated areas of Vietnam. However, farming is very risky because it is climate dependant. The variation of climate from year to year leads to a considerable variability in crop production. Water deficiency and water excess associated with seasonal climate variability have a significant consequence on rice production.

To secure food production in the region, it is therefore necessary to assist the farming system with seasonal climate information available from various sources. Preliminary research findings showed that there is a significant influence of ENSO phenomena on climate parameters in Vietnam (Nguyen and Ngo 2002). Bearing this in mind, this pilot study was undertaken with the following objectives: (1) to examine the relationship between ENSO indices and rainfall and temperature in the MRD, (2) to set up a demonstrative climate forecast communication to commune levels, (3) to use crop simulation to assist decision-makers.

Case studies in Long An province were conducted for the dissemination of climate forecasts and rice crop simulation. Long An province is located in the MRD, with the growing area of about 482 000 ha, of which more than 433 000 ha are under rice paddies. The main agricultural crops include rice (the main crop), sugarcane and peanut, which are secondary crops in the rice-based cropping system. The strong dependence of agriculture on the weather creates a large variability in crop yields. Also, climate variation can bring about a significant change in cropping patterns. Depending on water availability, there can be up to 2 to 3 rice crops annually. Significant parts of the province are in marginally low land, which can be affected by saline water from the sea in March-April (the dry season) and by flood in September-October (the rainy season). It is very important to have reliable seasonal forecasting in order to help farmers arrange the cropping patterns and timing so that they can make the full use of early rains and avoid early flooding.

Two communes of Long An province were selected as each is affected by a specific climate related condition. These are Thanh Phu commune of Ben Luc district, which represents salinity affected areas in the early stage of the rainy season (May-June) and Tan Lap commune of Tan Thanh district, which is affected by annual flooding during high water season (September-November).

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