Use of digital tools in sustainable rice production in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

 Jennifer Barnard, Ong Quoc Cuong, Trang Vu, and Katherine Nelson   |  

A review of the digital ecosystem in the rice value chain in Vietnam reports a few digital tools focused on rice production providing a variety of functions, including technical advisory, record keeping, and performance assessment.  A small proportion of the surveyed farmers use agriculture-specific digital apps for rice farming. However, 75% are willing or strongly willing to use mobile apps for farming needs indicating that either (i) farmers have limited access to rice apps, (ii) there is a gap between farmers’ needs and what the tools are offering, or (iii) the existing apps are not in the form that farmers are comfortable to use.

This report summarizes findings from a digital tools survey performed as part of the Inclusive Digital Tools Project of the Agroecological transitions for building resilient and inclusive agricultural and food systems (TRANSITIONS) program, which is funded by the European Commission through its Development of Smart Innovation through Research in Agriculture initiative and managed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The ATDT regional work in Vietnam focuses on research and engagement with digital tools for technical advice and performance assessment in sustainable rice production in the Mekong River Delta due to the high climate change impacts, climate-change mitigation potentials, and sustainability challenges.

Vietnam is the fourth-largest rice producer and the world’s second-largest rice exporter. Rice production contributes 3% to Vietnam’s GDP, as the country sells around 8 million tons of milled rice, accounting for one-fifth of worldwide trade volume (US$4 billion in rice export).

The delta encompasses over 40,500 square kilometers across 13 provinces. The Mekong Delta is the country’s largest source of rice. It accounts for up to 50% of overall rice output and more than 95% of total milled rice exports in Vietnam. Since the late 1990s, rice production in the Mekong Delta has intensified rapidly, resulting in an overreliance on agrochemicals to achieve higher yields, rising production costs, and environmental unsustainability.

Compared to other agricultural countries in the region, Vietnam ranked second (430 kg/ha) after China (503 kg/ha) in terms of fertilizer consumption, while other countries, such as India (166 kg/ha), Thailand (162 kg/ha), and the Philippines (157 kg/ha), consume relatively low amounts of fertilizers per hectare of arable land.

Each year, over 10 million tons of fertilizer are consumed in Vietnam, 80% of which are supplied by domestic factories. Approximately 61% of this amount is used to cultivate rice, and the rest to cultivate maize, coffee, sugarcane, fruits, and vegetables. The Vietnamese agricultural sector also uses large amounts of pesticides, despite integrated pest management programs implemented for many years.

Rice production is responsible for 15% of the country’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Vietnam, irrigated rice production emits 50% more carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) than the entire transportation sector, including airplanes, ships, cars, buses, trains, and motorcycles.

To reduce the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and to reduce GHG emissions from rice, the Vietnam Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development has encouraged farmers to apply a farming technology known as “1 Must Do, 5 Reductions” (1M5R).

The “one must” is to use certified seeds, and the “five reductions” are to reduce the seed rate, use of fertilizers and pesticides, water use, and post-harvest losses. This package includes benefits such as reducing production costs, increasing paddy yield, improving rice grain quality, enhancing farm profit, saving water and natural resources, reducing GHG emissions, and protecting the community’s health.

The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) is the first and only globally recognized sustainability standard specific to rice production. SRP promotes resource-use efficiency and climate change resilience in rice systems (both on-farm and throughout value chains) and pursues voluntary market transformation initiatives through sustainable production standards, indicators, incentive mechanisms, and outreach mechanisms to boost the wide-scale adoption of sustainable best practices throughout rice value chains.

According to a recent study by the Mobile Marketing Association, Vietnam is a mobile-first market, with nearly all internet users owning a smartphone and 75% using it as their preferred connection device. Mobile is also the primary digital platform in rural Vietnam. The market has over 51 million smartphones, representing over 80% of the population aged 15 years and older.

Nearly 90% of the rural population in Vietnam own mobile phones. While nearly 70% of those are smartphones, their use may be hindered due to limited 3G and 4G connections. Therefore, rural users predominantly use smartphones at home. Smartphones are used for a variety of purposes in rural areas, including communication, entertainment, and commerce.

It is reported that instant messaging apps are used 6-7 times per day (an average of 20 minutes per session); particularly, 90% of people who are on the Zalo app use it every day. Interestingly, childless women are more likely to buy mobile data and seem more familiar with using a smartphone compared to women with children. These statistics indicate that the ownership and use of smartphones in rural areas in Vietnam are quite extensive and can create favorable conditions for scaling the use of digital tools.

A review of the digital ecosystem in the rice value chain in Vietnam conducted by IRRI reports that there are a few, although not many, digital tools focused on rice production in Vietnam that provide a variety of functions including technical advisory, record keeping, and performance assessment.

A small proportion of the surveyed farmers use agriculture-specific digital apps for rice farming. However, 75% are willing or strongly willing to use mobile apps for farming needs indicating that either (i) farmers have limited access to rice apps, (ii) there is a gap between farmers’ needs and what the tools are offering, or (iii) the existing apps are not in the form that farmers are comfortable to use.

Another key finding from the surveys is that face-to-face interactions with field agents remain the most common and trusted methods for technical advice and performance assessment for farmers. While digital messaging tools assist these processes, they only complement and should not replace person-to-person exchange.

Information flows in digital formats are strongest for weather, crop variety, and market-related topics (47%, 30%, and 30% of farmers, respectively), followed by topics of plant protection (including pesticide use), fertilizer, climate change, and land preparation (24% – 28% for each topic). The topics of irrigation and drainage, harvest and post-harvest, and financial support are exchanged the least frequently (3% – 19% for each topic).

It is noteworthy that the majority of farmers who can access agricultural applications are male (more than 90%) because men are typically the ones who directly engage in rice farming in Mekong provinces. This suggests that an analysis of gender roles in agriculture production may be necessary to identify the areas where women are more involved to advise the development of gender-inclusive digital tools.

This information supports the ongoing implementation of the Agroecological TRANSITIONS program and ATDT project. The ATDT regional work in Vietnam will focus on research and engagement with digital tools for technical advice and performance assessment in sustainable rice production in the Mekong River Delta.

The ATDT Vietnam team has built relationships with key app developers in the area of SRP in the Mekong Delta. The next steps will be to:

  • Work with a digital tool developer in climate change and agroecology. Test and improve their tool with input from farmers and field agents in the Mekong Delta to ensure increased inclusivity and accessibility for farmers to transition to agroecological practices. Work with field agents to test the digital tool for use in a performance assessment of SRP. Design research studies on incentives for farmers to improve agroecological practices and to simulate market and non-market incentives.
  • Develop knowledge products and conduct training workshops with key stakeholders such as extension workers, government agents, and private sector actors. To enable more inclusive use of digital tools for climate-informed agroecological performance assessment to support farmer outcome assessment and co-design of practices (including farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing) in Mekong sites for rice supply chains.

Read the study:
Barnard J, Cuong OQ, Vu HT, Nelson KM. (2023). Use of digital tools in sustainable rice production in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Agroecological TRANSITIONS: Inclusive Digital Tools to Enable Climate-informed Agroecological Transitions (ATDT). Hanoi, Vietnam: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

2 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Marta Bogdanic November 30, 2023 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Hello, can I please get access to the study? Thank you, best regards, Marta

    • Alaric Santiaguel December 3, 2023 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      You may download the study at this link

Leave A Response