Despite recent urbanization and development, the Mekong Delta is still primarily agricultural and rural. Two-thirds of the land (2.6 million hectares) are used for agricultural production – the highest percentage of any region in the country and about one quarter of the total agricultural land of Vietnam.
Sometimes referred to as Vietnam’s “rice basket,” the Mekong Delta produces approximately 55% of the country’s rice. The most productive areas are along the big river arms from the border to Cambodia, where three harvests of rice are possible. The region’s fertility is a key reason why the Mekong Delta is the world’s second largest rice exporter.
The inland areas northeast of the Hau River (between HCMC and Can Tho) are also used for higher-value fruit production and horticulture. This region produces oranges, tangerines, bananas, coconuts and mango. Roughly 1.5 million tons of each of those fruits are produced here each year.
On average, landholdings in the Mekong Delta are larger than in other parts of the country but agriculture is still mostly based on small-scale production by a large number of smallholders. As job opportunities open up in cities and industrial zones, however, smallholders are leaving the countryside and selling their land to larger farms, bringing opportunities for investment and more efficient production.
Aquaculture is also common. Most of the coastal areas and the large parts of Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, Kien Giang, and Soc Trang are used for brackish aquaculture, mainly shrimp. The area used for freshwater aquaculture is smaller. Some traditional aquaculture farms are located on the main river arms, but three-quarters of pangasius production, the most important fresh-water aquaculture product, takes place in ponds in the provinces of Dong Thap, Can Tho and An Giang.
The Mekong Delta also has several national parks and roughly 320,000 hectares of forest area. Some of the largest parks include U Minh Thuong in Kien Giang and U Minh Ha in Ca Mau. These parks include large portions of swamp forest with Malaleuca trees. A large part of the mangrove forests on the coastline have been depleted because of shrimp farming, cutting for firewood and erosion from the sea. Along the coast, in particular in Ca Mau and Kien Giang provinces, there are still mangrove forests, which are also currently being rehabilitated with the support of ICMP.