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Water Management for Rice Production in Vietnam

Vietnam has a long history of rice domestication and development compared to many Asian countries. Nowadays rice remains still a staple food crop in the country, ranking among the first 5 most important food crops worldwide together with maize, wheat, cassava and sweet potato. For rice production, water is an irreplaceable factor of key importance. Rice plants need to be watered enough during the whole growth duration. Long time ago, rains were the only irrigation water resource. Nowadays, irrigation systems have been developed, and rice production can be practiced in two-three crop seasons annually in most locations despites of uneven distribution of rainfalls between regions and seasons.

Le Manh Hung

Director, Institute of Water Resource Research




Vietnam has a long history of rice domestication and development compared to many Asian countries. Nowadays rice remains still a staple food crop in the country, ranking among the first 5 most important food crops worldwide together with maize, wheat, cassava and sweet potato. For rice production, water is an irreplaceable factor of key importance. Rice plants need to be watered enough during the whole growth duration. Long time ago, rains were the only irrigation water resource. Nowadays, irrigation systems have been developed, and rice production can be practiced in two-three crop seasons annually in most locations despites of uneven distribution of rainfalls between regions and seasons.

Throughout the growth duration, rice plants need to be provided with enough water. Therefore canal systems have been built for irrigating rice paddies. On the other hand, for protecting paddies alongside big rivers from floods, long time ago Vietnamese already built dike systems. Red river delta and Mekong river delta are the biggest rice producers in Vietnam, representing 67% and 70% of the country’s total rice area and rice production, respectively. Irrigation and dike systems are symbols of water rice civilization, and results of the long history of Vietnamese agriculture.

Certainly, water management is of great importance, not only for rice production but also for the whole agriculture and other people activities. This was stressed in a Vietnamese proverb “nhất nước, nhì phân, tam cần, tứ giống-water first, fertilizers second, labour third and quality seeds fourth”. It was also emphasized by president Ho Chi Minh in a speak to his people: “In Vietnamese language “motherland” is also called “đat nuoc” (land & water). This implies that land and water make the motherland (To quoc). Lands with enough water for crop irrigation can bring great profits to motherland to make it powerful and its people wealthy. Water can bring benefits but can also cause disasters. Too much water may result in floods while shortage of water can cause drought problems. Our duty is to manage water resources effectively to make it harmonious with land in order to bring us the most benefits for our motherland construction and development”.

Water management requires great financial inputs, mainly from the national budget. Both the Communist party and the government of Vietnam has been paid great attention to developing water management systems. Inputs have been spent for capacity building (foundation of a college, and different high schools for crop irrigation and water management), for conduction of different R&D activities by a number of research institutions and for building/improving irrigation and dike systems. This, together with great achievements in other aspects such as crop varietal improvement, fertilization, crop protection etc., has resulted in speedily increased rice production contributing to the country's poverty alleviation and make it the second world's biggest rice exporters.

Two research stations were established in the 2 biggest rice production areas of Vietnam to conduct relevant researches: one in Thuong Tin, Ha Noi (Red river delta) and one in Tan My Chanh, Tien Giang (Cuu Long river delta). Researches were conducted to define the most appropriate irrigation regimes for different rice varieties, including traditional, and approved and non-approved newly developed and introduced ones (such as varieties MB 16, MB 129 developed by Vietnam Agricultural Science Institute and drought tolerant varieties CH1, CH3). Research results demonstrate that application of  can help reduce not only the quantity of water spent for rice paddies but also formation of methane (CH4). This is of special importance in nowadays circumstance of increasing water source shortage and climatic change problems.

Researches on the drainage of rain water from paddies were also conducted for defining drainage coefficient for rice according to the coefficient 14TCN 60-88, so that rice plants can best survive submergence. Nowadays, climatic changes and application of new high yielding varieties have resulted in increased drainage coefficient and increased inputs required for drainage.

Rice plants are very susceptible to saline water; the water salinity must below 10/00. Saline tolerance of rice plants can change during their growth period. Therefore researches were also conducted to define appropriate canal systems for maintaining soil alluvium and for preventing sea water invasion.

For abnormal lands (with salinity and/or aluminous problems) researches were conducted for developing scientific basis for land improving for rice production. In Cuu Long river delta we have successfully applied some approaches for improving aluminous lands. New irrigation technologies using ACADA and GIS have also been applied. Participatory irrigation management (PIM) has also been developed.

During last years cooperation with international organizations and with other nations have significantly facilitated Vietnam to assess advanced technologies and to obtain valuable supports for developing water resource management.




Crop irrigation has been paid attention to since long time ago in Vietnam. In the 18th decade of the last century irrigation canals were already built, such as canal Vinh Te for rice irrigation in An Giang and Kien Giang provinces, and the canal connecting Ma and Ba Hao rivers through the mountain Dong Co in Thanh Hoa province. Before 1945, in the country a total of 13 irrigation water management (IWM) systems were built, mainly in the midland, red river delta and central coastal areas, which covered 324,000 ha in term of irrigation and 77,000 ha in term of drainage. Then, in Red river delta, lands were mainly planted to single rice crop with the average yield of 1.2 ton/ha. Dike systems were also built long time ago, in Tran dynasty. However they were not regularly improved, and thus could be often damaged and hence floods often occurred. In 1945, dike systems were damaged in 79 places and this caused severe floods in large areas.

Since 1954, and especially after 1975, large inputs have been spent for water management and crop irrigation. The Institute of Water Resources Management and Electricity was founded in 1959 which in 1963 was divided into 2 individual institutions: Water Resource University and Institute of water Resource Research. Research station for saline lands was established in Hai Phong in 1964.

During the 20-year period, from 1955-1975, despites of the war, the government already spent great inputs and attention to crop irrigation. Big canal systems were built to cover large area of rice in Red river delta, such as canal and pump systems in Bac Hung Hai, Nam Dinh, Ha Nam and central coastal areas. A total of over 1,200 IWM systems were built in this period, among them 80 are considered big. The irrigation capacity increased 2.4 folds and drainage capacity increased 3 folds. The total rice area covered by the irrigation systems in northern Vietnam increased from 1.04 to 1.89 million ha representing 85% of the total rice area in the region. In northern mountainous provinces, rice area covered by irrigation systems increased 3.4  folds. This resulted in the increase of rice production with 1.44% and rice yield increased from 1.76 to 2.23 ton/ha. Dike systems in the North were also improved during this time period. In Hanoi the dike system could resist the water level of up to 13.4 m, (1.4 m higher compared to that in 1945).

 During 1976-1985, despites of economic difficulties, the government continued to spent inputs for irrigation water management. Over 2.700 systems were built to supply irrigation water for 2.34 million ha and to drain rain water for over 400.000 ha. Dike systems in the North continued to be improved, and the main dike systems become almost "safe".  

Since the economic innovation in 1986, over 2.300 IWM systems have been built to irrigate over 1 million more hectare and to drain 610.000 more ha of rice. In 2009, in the whole country, a total of 113 lakes were constructed for IWM, each with the capacity of over 10 million cubic meters, including Dau Tieng lake (1.580 mil. m3), Phu Ninh lake (344 mil. m3), Ke Go lake (425 mil. m3), Ayun Ha lake (253 mil. m3), Cam Son lake (338 mil m3) and Nui Coc lake (175mil/ m3). Over 2.000 pump stations with the total capacity of 550 MW and many canal systems were also built to irrigate over 7,52 million hectare of rice,  300,000 hectares of other crops, and to drain 1,71 million ha.  Dike systems were further improved. In Mekong river delta over 20.000 km of dikes were built to prevent sea water invasion and protect fresh water for irrigation of 0.77 million ha and for improving 1.6 million ha of aluminous lands.

In this period IWM programs/projects were conducted with significant achievements, such as Hanoi dike project and projects for improving irrigation systems in central coastal and high lands: Hong Đai (Cao Bang), Đo Luong, Nam Nghe An, Bai Thuong (Thanh Hoa), Linh Cam, song Rac (Ha Tinh); Nam Thach Han,  Truc Kinh (Quang Tri), Quao river area (Binh Thuan), Thach Nham (Quang Ngai), Ayun ha (Gia Lai), Quan Lo-Phung Hiep, Nam Mang Thit, O Mon-Xa No.

In mountainous areas, together with poverty alleviation programs, IWM has also obtained great inputs from the government. On average, each year 30-40 canal/pump systems were built.

Concreteness is the next step towards irrigation water saving and improved efficiency of crop irrigation/drainage. In some locations the land areas occupied by irrigation/drainage systems reduced with 50-70% and electricity required for their functioning decreased with 12-42%. After 10 years, over 14.500 km of irrigation canals were concreted.




 The most obvious achievement in IWM was its contribution to increased rice area in Cuu Long river delta to 3.97 million ha in 2000 (1.39 million ha higher compared to 1990). In the three provinces of Long An, Dong Thap and Tien Giang, a total rice area increased to 1.103 million ha in 1997. In the southwest, above 50,000 ha of virgin lands were reclaimed for rice cultivation, and 150,000 ha of aluminous lands were improved. In Soc Trang, Bac Lieu and Can Tho, 532,000 ha were protected from sea water invasion. The Nam Măng Thít system helped protect 225.682 ha from sea water invasion, including 171,626 ha of crop production. In Ca Mau, Soc Trang and Bac Lieu the construction of dike systems resulted in the increase of rice area with some hundreds thousand hectares.  

Cropping pattern were also improved. More land areas can be planted to double and triple rice crops, and average rice yield significantly increased.

The total rice production increased from16 million tones in 1986 to 19.2 million tones in 1990, 24.9 million tones in 1995, 32.5 million tones in 2000 and 38.7 million tones in 2008. The country therefore has become the second biggest rice exporter in the world.   

The big IWM systems like those in Hoa Binh, Tri An, Thac Ba, Thac Mo, Ialy, Ham Thuan, Đa Mi, Đai Ninh, Vinh Son, Song Hinh, Son La, Tuyen Quang have great values in water management and in flood control.  Other IWM systems have contributed to the development of eco-tourism sites as well as environmental protection, such as lakes of Suoi Hai, Đong Mo-Ngai Son, Dau Tieng,  Nui Coc, Đai Lai.

IWM contributed to formation of new resident settlement sites, reduction of shifting agriculture and thereby reduction of forest destruction and promoting sustainable agriculture. Vietnam therefore is recognized to have high speed of poverty alleviation.

Nevertheless there are still about 1.3 million ha of agricultural lands uncovered by irrigation systems, mainly in Cuu Long river delta, and in severe dry areas along the central coast, in central highlands and high northern mountainous provinces. In total, about 1.7 million ha can be invaded by sea water. This required urgent inputs to solve flooding/drought and salinity problems, especially when the threats of climatic change increase. 

There are also weaknesses to overcome, such as week cooperation with other Mekong nations for floods forecast, and lack of advanced technologies for forecasting of water levels in other rivers and etc.




Recently, climatic conditions in Vietnam changed a lot by unpredicted manners. Natural disasters occurred often and caused great damages. During 1997-2007, on overage, each year natural disasters caused death of 734 persons and material loss equaling 1.3% of GDP. It is estimated that if sea water level increases with 1 meter, 10.8% of the total population will be affected,  and rice production will reduce with 20%. The following are proposed solutions/directions in IWM to help mitigate the impacts of climatic change:

  •  Conductions of researches towards improved irrigation/drainage efficiency and improved cropping patterns and agricultural production;
  •  Up to 2010 the agricultural land area covered by IWM to reach 11.4 million ha, including 4.1 million ha of rice land; and the total rice growing area to reach 7.6 million ha;
  •  Effective control of floods; formation of residence areas in appropriate locations in Cuu long river delta; improvement of coastal dikes;
  •  Effective and sustainable use of water resources; prevention of water pollution
  •  Capacity building in water set evaluation, construction and management of IWM systems, water resource management, and forecast of natural disasters and extreme climatic changes.



Vietnam will remain still an economically agricultural country with rice as the staple food crop. The country population growth will continue to cause pressure  on agricultural production to meet food security requirements. Estimated, in 2010 the total population will reach 98.6 million people, and will require 38.5 millions tones of rice, while land area for rice production will reduce with 50.000 ha annually. Especially in Cuu Long river delta the reduction in rice lands will reach 175.000 ha each year. The water resources will also be reduced. To meet the objectives of agricultural land use up set up for 2010-2030 the followings will need to be obtained in the IWM:


Northern mountainous region

In this region rice lands are dispersed in valleys between mountains

Further improvement of IWM systems for rice irrigation

 Construction of new systems for exploitation of new land for rice production towards permanent re-settlement of emigrants from hydro-electric regeneration plant construction sites in Sơn La, Tuyên Quang, Lai Châu, Huổi Quảng, Bản Chác etc.;

Conduction of surveys and studies towards flood forecast for venerable areas and to propose solutions for mitigating flood effects.


Red river delta

Conduction of studies for effective management of combined water reserving lakes of Son la, Hoa Binh, Thai Ha and Tuyen Quang  towards flood control and rice irrigation

Further improvement/concreteness of IWM systems for effective use of irrigation water and drainage of rain water towards improved rice production

Further improvement of dike systems along Hong and Thai Binh rivers to be able to resist the water level of up to 13.4 m in Hanoi and 7.2 m in Pha Lai; definition of appropriate areas for freshet divergence

Improvement of coastal dike systems to protect vulnerable areas such as Hai Hau, Nam Dinh from sea water invasion

 Protection of river water from pollution through effective management of waste water sources and construction sides along such rivers as Cau, Nhue and Day.


North central coastal region

Further construction of damps, culverts, drainage canals on Len river in Thanh Hoa, Nghen river in Ha Tinh and Thao Long river in Thua Thien-Hue

Completing the construction and effective use of combined water reserving lakes of Cua Dat, Ta Trach, Binh Dien and Binh Dinh; further construction of small and medium lakes

Further improvement of IWM systems and effective control of construction sites along rivers for water protection.


South central coastal region

Further improvement/concreteness of existing IWM systems such as Thach Nham, Tan An-Dap Da and Lai Giong towards effective use of irrigation water and drainage of rain water

Construction of small and medium IWM systems in mountainous and difficult areas in order to supply water for crop irrigation and also for people life towards permanent  resident settlement and reduction of shifting agriculture and forest destruction

Construction of big systems for effective use of water resources and environment protection in such areas as A Vuong (Vu Gia river), Tranh river (Vu Gia - Thu Bon), Dac Drinh (Tra Khuc river), Dong Mot (Lai Giang river), Dinh Binh (Kone river), Song Tro (Cai Nha Trang river), Ba Ha (Ba river) and Ea Krong Ru (Cai Ning Hoa river)

Application of advanced irrigation techniques for water saving

Conduction of surveys and studies towards flood forecast for venerable areas along Thu Bon, Ba, Cai Nha Trang, Tra Khuc, Ban Thach rivers and to propose solutions for mitigating the flood effects.


Central highlands

Construction of big systems for effective use of water resources along Krong Buc ha, Krong-Pach Thuong, Ea Mo, Ea Thun, Ea Mla rivers to irrigate crops

Control of floods for double rice cropping lands in Lac-Buon, Cat Tien-Da Hoai- Da Te areas

Construction of small and medium IWM systems to supply water for crop irrigation and also for people life in re-settlement areas and for areas with difficult conditions for improving crop production.


Southeast region

Many locations in this region are facing serious problems of crop irrigation, water shortage, such as Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan, where annual rainfall is lowest in the country. 

Development of solutions for supplying fresh water for Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and Ba Ria- Vung Tau; prevention of sea water invasion to Sai Gon river

Protection of urban areas and industrial zones from floods; protection of water from pollution; in particular attention should be paid to control floods in Ho Chi Minh city.

Construction and effective use of combined water management systems to supply  water for both crop production and people life, and for flood control and prevention of sea water invasion.

Construction of small and medium IWM systems for both crop irrigation and people life such as Song Trau lake, Song Sat Lake (in Ninh Thuan), Song Dinh lake (in Binh Thuan), Da Den-Tam Bo (in Ba Ria- Vung Tau). Suoi Ca, Phuoc Thai, Thien Tan (in Dong Nai), Dong Xoai, Loc Giang, Rung and Dong Phu (in Binh Phuoc), Tan Hung  and Tay Ninh (In Tay Ning), Ben Thanh (in Ho Chi Minh city).


Cuu Long river delta

Improvement and protection of dike systems for control of sea water invasion; construction of pump stations in appropriate locations

Construction of canal systems for supply of fresh water for saline land areas in Ca Mau, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang, Tra Vinh and Ben Tre; development of appropriate cropping an and aquaculture systems for each location in order to improve the saline soils; construction of sea water invasion control systems for Vam Co and Cai Lon rivers.

For frequently flooded areas:

  •  Areas flooded above 1 meter: Improving canals and river systems for better drainage of flooding water
  •  Areas flooded under 1 meter: Improving of pond edges and other facilities for effective control of floods for crop production around the year

Conduction of surveys and studies to develop effective protection approaches of Tien and Hau river edges.




This is of increasing importance in the conditions of increasing problems of climatic changes and rapid development of industrialization

Formation of a water resource management system and development of policies governing the management of water resources and of IWM systems

Enhancement of the government role in water resource management through providing local authorities with appropriate rights and mandates; raising capacity for people in charge and improving appropriate facilities

Strengthening capacity of scientists concerned and applying advanced technologies in construction and operation of IWM systems

Strengthening capacity for forecasting weather and other natural condition changes.




Át lát công trình Thuỷ lợi ở Việt Nam  (Bộ Nông nghiệp &PTNN -2003).

Chiến lược Phát triển Thuỷ lợi đến năm 2020 (http://www.agroviet.gov.vn

Đề án xây dựng kế hoạch phòng tránh, khắc phục hậu quả thiên tai, ứng phó giảm nhẹ tác động tiêu cực do biến đổi khí hậu (Bộ NN&PTNT- 2008).

Niên giám thống kê 2007 (NXB Thống kê- 2008).

Niên giám thống kê 2008 (NXB Thống kê-2009).

Số liệu thống kê Nông-Lâm nghiệp, Thuỷ sản Việt Nam (1975-2000).

         Số liệu tổng hợp của Viện Khoa học Thuỷ lợi Việt Nam (2009).

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