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Mangrove Planting Efforts Expanded to Include Shrimp Farms in the Mekong Delta

Mangrove forests protect against floods and storms, offer homes for wild animals and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is essential for combating global climate change. First appearing during the reign of the dinosaurs, these superhero trees have long thrived on Vietnam’s coast, particularly in the Mekong Delta. 

While human development has made a literal dent in these forests, thankfully people are becoming increasingly aware of mangroves’ importance. Organizations empowered to not only protect the mangrove forests that remain but also plant new ones have thus proliferated in Vietnam. For example, MangLub, a social enterprise sponsored by SK Innovation, and owned by Dreamsharing has been planting saplings in Trà Vinh Province since 2019. Their ambitious goal to plant 10 million mangrove trees over a ten-year span is progressing with an expansion to shrimp farms recently launched.

Shrimp farming is one of the Mekong Delta’s most important industries, with annual production steadily increasing every year. While economically beneficial for rural communities, the industry can have devastating impacts on the land. Conventional farming methods rely on chemical-laden artificial food that leaches into the soil, carbon-spewing motors to aerate the water and plastic liners and covers that frequently end up polluting the environment. Incredibly, just as our answers knew, our beloved mangrove trees are a traditional solution.

As natural pillars of the coastal ecosystem, mangrove trees attract the plankton and other small critters that shrimp feed on, making them the perfect environment for raising the lucrative crustaceans. Meanwhile, their protective limb, leaf and root canopies remove the need for destructive plastic covers and liners. And the same photosynthesis cycles that remove carbon from the planet result in oxygen naturally being added to water, which removes the need for exhaust-emitting aeration machines.

These are all great for the environment, but transitioning from artificial ponds to natural, mangrove-filled ones for raising shrimps requires saplings and the time and energy to plant them. This is where MangLub enters. They will provide farmers with young mangrove trees, cover the cost of workers to plant them and take care of them for four years. Moreover, because they don’t require the purchase of food, aeration motors or plastic covers, the farmers don’t need to take out bank loans which endanger the long-term profitability of their land. 

Making the project financially attractive to local farmers is not the whole story, however. Trust must be established. In response to personal fears or shyness and previous experiences with other organizations, MangLub must convince farmers that the project will persist for the foreseeable future. As a social enterprise committed to making a profit itself, MangLub was able to convince farmers that they are committed to being present for the long term. In return, the farmers agreed to operate the natural mangrove model for at least 10 years and are obligated to re-plant the same amount and type of trees they remove after that.

The project is a resounding success so far. 30 hectares of shrimp farms have already been registered with MangLub for the 2024 planting season in Trà Vinh. Rhizhophora Apiculata, a mangrove variety particularly well-adapted to salinity-rich waters, will soon be planted across several districts in the Mekong Delta. 

While the shrimp farming expansion gets off to a great start, MangLub’s commitment to reforesting areas not used for agriculture continues to grow as well. Efforts are now underway not only in Trà Vinh but also Vĩnh Long and Sóc Trăng with 41 additional hectares of mangrove slated for planting. And importantly, the number of interested partners and collaborators is increasing. Clients such as the Bel Vietnam, the producer of Laughing Cow, and Haskoning VN are supporting expansions while provinces are reaching out directly for MangLub’s assistance.

Industrial shrimp farming is a recent development as not-so-distant generations once raised shrimp naturally amongst mangrove trees. It seems that the way forward to a clean and healthy future will involve returning to these traditional methods. Indeed, one can hope that a trip to the delta in years to come will feel more like going back in time when it comes to an abundance of mangrove forests.