The Mekong Delta is often referred to as the rice bowl of Vietnam, which in turn is one of Southeast Asia’s largest agricultural exporters.
In order to maintain such high levels of productivity, farmers have started to plant a third annual yield for their rice crops. This practice means that nutrients that used to return naturally to the soil between the two traditional crops no longer have a chance to, so farmers have turned to chemicals. They are also planting larger fields for bigger yields of other crops, with mass production of livestock and fish farming at close quarters.
Farmers in Vietnam have invested heavily in pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, antibiotics, and other agrochemicals to meet their production demands. Yet, while these agrochemicals and pesticides ensure reliable yields, they are making their way into the region’s water table, into the Mekong River and eventually into the ocean via Vietnam’s extensive network of irrigation canals.
Traces of these products are also being found in food produced in Vietnam, be it meat, fish, fruit, vegetables or staples like rice or potatoes.
This is having a terrible effect on the livelihoods and health of those living in the region and throughout Vietnam, and wreaking havoc on the natural environment.
Increased cases of food poisoning and cancer are rampant throughout Vietnam with official statistics showing that contaminated food is to be blamed for at least 35% of the new cases seen in hospitals.
This biggest concern is that Vietnam’s consumption and use of agrochemicals is actually on the rise, with around 100, 000 tonnes of chemicals imported annually, mainly from China. This begs the question of what price is Vietnam willing to pay for its productivity?
Roughly 2000 ducks wait to be injected with antibiotics on a farm outside Can Tho in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. All the steroids, hormones and antibiotics that are used end up directly in a lot of the food exported by or eaten in Vietnam. [image by: Gareth Bright]
A duck is injected with antibiotics on a farm outside Can Tho in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. With animals or fish living in such high concentrations, injections/medicines are needed regularly to prevent infection and the outbreak of diseases [image by: Gareth Bright]
A farm worker prepares a cocktail of agrochemicals to ensure high crop yields. The runoffs of these chemicals enter into Vietnam’s irrigation network and from there spreads downstream into the Mekong river [image by: Gareth Bright]
A group of farmers laugh and explain that they do not eat the food they grow to sell, that they infact have a separate crop for them and their families that are not grown with the use of agrochemicals [image by: Gareth Bright]
A female seller in a market in Can Tho makes sure her produce looks clean and fresh. Not only was this produce grown using agrochemicals it will be sprayed with water that is almost certainly contaminated by the agrochemical runoff that has made its way into the water table in the region [image by: Gareth Bright]
A farm worker sprays a potent cocktail of chemicals [image by: Gareth Bright]
A family of famers gather in their fields at the end of a hard days work. They cannot afford to take the risk that their crops will fail so they ensure successful harvest by using argochemicals [image by: Gareth Bright]
A man collects water from the contaminated Mekong River to full a water storage unit that will be used to provide water to the livestock on his farm [image by: Gareth Bright]
A man attempts to fish in a canal near a productive rice growing area near Can Tho in Vietnam. “There used to be many fish and clean water here, now there are sick fish and bad water” [image by: Gareth Bright]
A farmer sprays pesticides on his aquatic crops in the city of Can Tho [image by: Gareth Bright]
Fish jump from the water of an insland farm during the afternoon feeding. Throughout Vietnam’s Mekong delta, locals report drastic decreases in the numbers of fish being caught in the river, and some are abandoning the Mekong altogether to build more profitable fish farms further inland [image by: Gareth Bright]
Gareth Bright is a South African photographer based in South East Asia. You can find his work his recent work on the Mekong here.
A view of one of the last protected areas in the Mekong Delta. The water here remains somewhat clean but unless something drastic it done to stop the contamintation of the Mekong Delta this area as well as others are doomed [image by: Gareth Bright]