Helping Vietnam modernise irrigation for high-value crops

A team of Australian irrigation experts visited Vietnam in March to provide technical guidance on two new initiatives implemented as a result of the Water Efficiency Improvement in Drought Affected Provinces (WEIDAP) program – a US$120 million Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded project being assisted by the Australian Water Partnership (AWP).

After Vietnam suffered a severe drought in 2014–2016, increasingly modernised irrigation supply systems are now helping to provide a sustainable water supply to the high-value agriculture crops in the recovering Central Highland and South Central Coastal Regions of Binh Thuan, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Khanh Hoa, and Ninh Thuan.

In 2016, officials from Vietnam and the ADB visited Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin as part of Asia-Australia Water Learning Week to see practical examples of Australia’s extensive expertise in modern irrigation systems.

In response to the Vietnam Government and ADB’s request for assistance, AWP began providing support to the WEIDAP program in 2017 through three key components: improving the delivery of irrigation management services, modernising selected irrigation management systems, and improving on-farm water management practices. Support included a scoping study and targeted study tours and workshops.

The irrigation experts – Mr Rob Rendell, Principal Consultant, RMCG; Ms Ailsa Willis, Engineer Assets and Planning, Lower Murray Water (LMW); and Mr Rob Hughes, former Operations Manager, Central Irrigation Trust (CIT) – had the opportunity to see practical examples of Vietnam implementing modern irrigation systems based on lessons learned from the Australian experience.

The first example was established in a region of approximately 100 farmers growing high-value crops over 100 ha which are irrigated through a canal/drainage system operated by a local farmer cooperative in the Lâm Đồng Province. Currently, water is pumped nightly into the joint canal/drainage system from which farmers re-pump into their own sprinkler or drip systems to irrigate crops. This system is being replaced by a pressurised pipeline system that directly pumps water to the farms without the need for farmer pumps, thus saving water and providing a more cost-effective service to the farmer.

The pilot project—jointly funded by ADB and IDH— will be one of the first modernised irrigation supply systems to apply ‘water charging’ principles as required by the new Vietnam Irrigation Water Law. AWP supported RMCG to provide design and policy advice on water charging manuals for this pilot.

Glasshouse of flowers that will be supplied by the new scheme through the Don Duong project (Ms Duong of IDH (left) and Mr Vung, Deputy Director of the Provincial Project Management Unit.
A new pump house being built next to the old pump house

The second example, an ADB-funded project located in Dak Lak province called Cu M’Gar, was implemented after a local official from the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development utilised lessons from the Asia-Australia Learning Week. The new and improved system covering 3,000 ha incorporates variable speed pumps, direct pressurised connections to farm systems, real-time water measurements and the avoidance of “header” tanks—representing a significant change in a country which was previously unfamiliar with such systems.

Rob Hughes (background) and Aisla Willis (foreground) demonstrating good construction techniques for pipe laying and pump house design on the Cu M’Gar project.

Mr Rendell said that it was exciting to see how small strategic inputs provided by Australia through AWP over a sustained period is starting to yield results, saying, “these modern systems will provide a higher level of service, a more sustainable energy cost, optimise water use and increase regional production, benefiting all people in the community. These systems will become the example on which other future systems will be based.”

AWP and its Partners will continue to support these two schemes through remote correspondence and hope to host officials on a visit to Australia’s Riverland and Sunraysia, which Mr Rendell identified as world-class examples of modernised systems applicable to Vietnam and the WEIDAP program. In later stages, they will offer advice on water pricing, conjunctive use of groundwater, operation and maintenance of the schemes as they develop.

“RMCG is proud to have worked with AWP and many valued partners involved in this project to share Australian expertise including Jacobs, Central Irrigation Trust, Lower Murray Water, New South Wales State Water, Blackwatch Consulting, Colleambally Irrigation, and the numerous other partners who have supported study tours,” says Mr Rendell.

Feature image: Lily buds in a greenhouse in Vietnam. Credit: Adobe Stock / tienduc
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