Flood-based agriculture in the Upper Mekong Delta

Published: 29 July 2022
Last edited: 21 February 2023
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IUCN promoted and improved locally-practiced, flood-based (wetland) agriculture and livelihood models in the Vietnamese provinces of An Giang, Dong Thap and Long An. These practices were based on documented farmer knowledge and experience. Flood-based livelihoods were encouraged as a financially viable, low risk alternative to triple rice cropping (the dominant agricultural practice). They help enhance economic and climate resilience as well as conserve and restore the biodiversity found in Mekong Delta freshwater wetlands/floodplains. The intervention employed a Nature-based Solution and considered three systems - floating rice systems, lotus farming systems and rice aquaculture systems. In addition, due to increasing weather extremes, hybrid solutions were also explored (combination of dykes and floodplains). Hybrid models can better enable controlled flooding and adaptive approaches to overcome risks of drought and to manage the arrival and recession of floods to be more in tune with cropping needs. 


Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Flood management
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Standards/ certification
Sustainable livelihoods
Other theme
Nature-Based Solutions
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030
Target 3: Reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to GDP by 2030


Chợ Tháp Mười, Huyện Tháp Mười, Dong Thap 871400, Vietnam


Triple rice mono-cropping by poldering has been the dominant agricultural practice in the floodplains of the Mekong Delta. This practice caused significant losses of the seasonal floodplain in the Delta  as well as a decline of ecosystem functions, including reduced land fertility, declining flood resilience and decreased aquatic habitat and biodiversity. The negative impacts caused by increased flood risk also resulted in transboundary challenges between Vietnam and Cambodia. To address these challenges, the concept of flood-based agriculture as a Nature-based Solution emerged as part of a larger Programme of Work starting with the 2013 Mekong Delta Plan, which leveraged a number of projects that explored its feasibility. Initial studies of farmer initiatives and proof of concept in IUCN pilot sites were completed between 2015 and 2018. These fed into the design and implementation of similar projects in the region (e.g. those by the World Bank, IUCN and FAO).


primarily local farmers, government representatives

How do the building blocks interact?

The building blocks highlight a number of key insights that emerged from the assessment of the flood-based agriculture intervention in Vietnam against the criteria and indicators of the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutionsᵀᴹ. While they do not give a full picture of what can be considered a Nature-based Solution as all criteria in the Standard are of equal importance, they illustrate some of the factors that made the introduction of this new farming model successful and highlight important next steps to increase uptake and scale-up, and ensure financial sustainability.


The main positive impacts of employing flood-based agriculture in the Upper Mekong Delta include improved flood risk management through enhanced ecosystem functions of floodplains. The conservation or restoration of flood retention capacities supported aquifer recharge, a reduction in land subsidence and the conservation or restoration of aquatic habitat/biodiversity. Additional positive impacts include the possibility of wild fisheries, mitigation of river erosion through the re-establishment of natural hydrology of seasonal flooding and increased land fertility, including through sediment deposition due to the seasonal flooding.



In 2016, the Flood Retention Strategy for the Mekong Delta was proposed, which allows provinces to plan in a more coordinated manner across floodplains and to protect ecosystems. Flood-based livelihood models, such as lotus farming, floating rice systems and rice-aquaculture, are included in the Strategy as financially viable options for farmers.


Conversion to flood-based agricultural practices have numerous benefits for local farmers. Intensive lotus farming has already demonstrated that the increased storage of flood water (approx. 1,500 m³ per 1,000 m²) has increased the abundance of fish, crab and water birds. Moreover, there is no longer a need for chemical or pesticide use.   


The benefits of this Nature-based Solution have also been recognised by local farmers:


Mr Nguyen Ngoc Hon, an experienced lotus farmer from MyHoa commune, Thap Muoi District, said: “I strongly believe that the farmers in the high dyke areas will be willing to convert to lotus farming models if the profit from lotus is higher than rice cultivation, so the flood retention strategy is a feasible target. Of course, lotus farming can hold more water than rice cultivation. Therefore, it helps to regulate the environment better. I think the lotus models can adapt with climate change impacts because it can deal with floods and droughts as well. Planting lotus produces higher incomes while it is better for the environment!”

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Kristin Meyer International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

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