The Mekong River Delta between Thailand and Vietnam is a study in enormous contradictions. It harbors a very rural lifestyle for most of its residents, yet has a high population density. The region has a rich ecosystem with diverse flora and fauna, yet produces more of one crop, rice, than Korea and Japan together. And it is not just flat and muddy: its west and north are mountainous and sport a rugged terrain.
Yet this rich area is threatened. Climate change is wreaking havoc, as drought and floods are projected to increase in the coming decade. A reduction in the wetlands not only affect wildlife, but can also threaten the livelihood of the 20 million people who live on the Vietnam side of the Delta. Working with Coca-Cola, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has targeted the Mekong as one of six river basins for conservation initiatives.
In part the Mekong Delta has suffered because of the Vietnam government’s insistence on centralized control of the country’s economic activities. Directives had come from Ho Chi Minh City without little, if any, input of local officials in the Mekong. The WWF, with Coke’s support, was able to work with local officials and businesses to implement statutes that allowed for eco-system based land and resource management. The results now offer economic opportunity for locals: 80% of the Mekong’s population depend on the region’s natural resources for clean water, food, and raw materials needed to make a living in the region—and they can do so while mitigating their impact on the local environment.
To that end, WWF, Coke, and local businesses succeeded in removing over 400 meters of internal dykes scattered throughout the Mekong, which made a huge difference in improving the river’s flow and connectivity. With better water quality saw the revival of not only some local animal species, but a growth in local, sustainable industries that help residents build wealth.
One such way that locals could pair economic opportunity with the responsible management of local resources is in the rattan trade. Working with the WWF, local businesses in Vietnam and upstream in Laos and Cambodia were able to boost the production of rattan, a fiber that grows easily and replenishes quickly. While providing jobs, rattan production has sparked the promotion of responsible forest management and certification, while increasing contact with suppliers who want to export finished rattan products.
By assisting efforts to gain more local control, more Mekong residents feel they now have a stake in their land, where countless families have lived for generations. The WWF’s efforts have allowed locals to conserve local ecosystems in part by harvesting materials responsibly, safeguarding their way of life while providing for their families.