With more than 20 per cent of the population considered to live below the poverty line, and 15 per cent undernourished, agriculture provides food security and livelihoods for approximately 60 per cent of the Mekong River Basin’s population. Mekong countries strive to develop this sector, as there is a direct correlation between increasing agricultural yield and poverty reduction.
The diverse ecosystem of the Mekong River Basin means that some areas are conducive to high yields and others are limited by poor soil and water availability in the dry season. Due to water shortages in the dry season, agricultural productivity is low throughout Cambodia and Northeast Thailand and moderate in Lao PDR, as well as in the Central highlands of Viet Nam. Viet Nam’s Delta is the only area in the basin where farmers can harvest up to seven rice crops every two years.
Over 10 million hectares of cultivated land is dedicated to rice production. Rice is the most important crop in Asia, and rain-fed cultivation is the most prevalent irrigation method throughout the basin.
Rice paddy fields are not only a key source of subsistence food, but serve many other functions such as flood mitigation, soil erosion control, and fishery production. Cassava, sugar cane, soybean, and maize are grown in all Mekong countries, but these crops do not compare with rice in terms of production, yield, and significance as a local food source.
In order to maintain the balance needed to optimise yields, irrigation regulates water supply to crops in the wet season and supplements it during the dry season. Irrigation is the leading use of water in the Lower Mekong Basin, accounting for over 70 per cent, and the Mekong Delta utilises more than half of this activity. The total irrigated area in the basin is approximately 4 million hectares, and irrigated areas are expanding steadily in all four Member Countries. Most of the intensive agricultural farming occurs in Northeast Thailand and the Viet Nam Delta, and there is a definite trend toward commercialising agriculture in these areas..
In the past, agriculture has had a fairly low profile at the Mekong River Commission (MRC). However, the organisation has re-oriented its portfolio to focus on providing strategic advice, guidance, and analysis in support of sustainable development and management in the Lower Mekong Basin.
Much of the MRC's work in this area was carried out by the Agriculture and Irrigation Programme until the end of 2015. The Planning Division will undertake the work during the Strategic Plan 2016-2020.