Environmental Change, Agricultural Sustainability, and Economic Development in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam

Environmental Change, Agricultural Sustainability, and Economic Development in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam
Can Tho University, Can Tho, Vietnam
March 25-27, 2010

The Mekong Delta of Vietnam is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.  The Mekong River fans out over an area of about 40,000 sq kilometers and over the course of many millennia has produced a region of fertile alluvial soils and constant flows of energy.  Today about a fourth of the Delta is under rice cultivation, making this area one of the premier rice granaries in the world.  The Delta has always proven a difficult environment to manipulate, however, and because of population pressures, increasing acidification of soils, and changes in the Mekong’s flow, environmental problems have intensified.   The changing way in which the region has been linked to larger flows of commodities and capital over time has also had an impact on the region: For example, its re-emergence in recent decades as a major rice-exporting area has linked it inextricably to global markets and their vicissitudes.  And most recently, the potential for sea level increases because of global warming has added a new threat.  Because most of the region is on average only a few meters above sea level and because any increase of sea level will change the complex relationship between tides and down-river water flow, the Mekong Delta is one of the areas in the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  A meter increase in sea level could displace millions of people and profoundly affect the productive capacity of agricultural lands in the Delta – and would at the same time,
according to a recent Oxfam report, affect Vietnam’s overall development goals.
In 2000, Vietnam produced only 0.35% of the world’s greenhouse gases, one of the lowest contributions in the world, so larger environmental justice issues are at stake as well.  How governmental policy and resident populations will adapt to climate change as well as several other emerging or ongoing environmental and economic problems in the Delta – and what policy makers can learn from history and from similar experiences on river deltas elsewhere in the world – will be the foci of this conference.
Emphasis will be on papers that consider the social, cultural, and historical context and implications of agricultural practices and technology in the Mekong Delta. All paper presentations will be in English.  The conference will include a field trip to rice growing areas in the Delta.  Possible paper topics can address:

- Climate change and Delta agriculture
- Community resilience and environmental adaptation
- History of environmental interactions and of agriculture in the Delta
- The comparative study of river delta agriculture
- Aquaculture and Mekong Delta agriculture
- Adaptation strategies for soil acidification
- Adaptive plant breeding
- Perceptions of environmental change
- Strategies for cross-cultural technology transfer
- Industrial food production in the Mekong Delta
- Local, national, and global rice markets and Mekong Delta agriculture
- Logistics and commodity chains
- Institutions and infrastructure
- Human capital and labor force issues

This two-day symposium and the follow-up field trip will provide an excellent opportunity for international and local scholars, scientists, and practitioners
to exchange information on the history of agriculture and environmental problems in the Mekong Delta; to share the latest research findings and achievements in developing strategies for sustainable agriculture and climate change adaptation in the Delta; to analyze Delta agriculture in a larger historical and cultural context; and to identify future demands and enhance research collaborations for mitigating and adapting to environmental problems and developing sustainable agriculture in the Mekong Delta.
The conference will be sponsored by Can Tho University and by the Office of International Affairs and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The conference will convene at Can Tho University (CTU) in Can Tho City, in the heart of the Mekong Delta. The university is the major education and research center in the Mekong Delta and is located in the central urban center of the region. 

Further information about Can Tho can be found on the website http://www.cantho.gov.vn/wps/portal/en. 
Participants can find accommodations in hotels with a full range of prices in Can Tho; assistance with bookings can be provided. Can Tho is approximately 4-5 hours by road from the Ho Chi Minh City international airport. Transportation from HCMC to Can Tho will be provided for
international participants.

The deadline for proposals is November 1, 2009.  Proposals should include a 300-word abstract, a 2-page c.v., and contact information.  Papers of
participants will be due on March 1, 2010.   Proposals can be sent as an attachment to an email and should be sent to Professor Mart Stewart, Department of History, Western Washington University at [email protected] and to Dr. Nguyen Hieu Trung, Dean, College of Environment and Natural Resources, Can Tho University at: [email protected]