The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has instructed central provinces to plant rice varieties that are drought resistant and have shorter maturing periods in this year's summer-autumn crop.

The summer-autumn rice crop, which lasts until September, is the main rice crop of the central region. However, the region faces a water shortage for this crop because of the ongoing drought.

The ministry's Plant Cultivation Department estimates that the Central Highlands of Tay Nguyen and central provinces will plant about 400,000 ha of rice for the summer-autumn crop.

Bui Minh Tang, director of the National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting, said the current drought in the central region is still severe, especially in south-central provinces.

Water flow in most rivers in the central region has reduced by 65 percent compared to previous years, he said.

As a result, most irrigation reservoirs in central provinces stretching from Thanh Hoa to Quang Ngai only have about half their capacity filled.

Some provinces like Quang Nam and Ninh Thuan are likely to reduce their rice cultivation area by 2,000-4,400 ha for the summer-autumn crop because of the water shortage.

The situation of drought in Binh Dinh province is said to be more severe. Officials say the water in Binh Dinh's reservoirs, rivers and canals can only irrigate about 31,500 ha of the province's 49,000 ha of rice fields.

The Binh Dinh People's Committee has supported each farming household with 1-6 million VND to drill a well and irrigate their crops. They estimate that one well can help irrigate 4 ha to 10 ha of rice fields.

Binh Dinh has also provided financial support for rice farmers switching to other crops that are more drought resistant.

The National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting expects the central region to have heavy rains at the end of July or early August.

To deal with the situation, the ministry's Irrigation Department has requested provinces to review water volumes at irrigation facilities and plan "reasonable" releases.

The department has also advised provinces to dredge rivers and canals and ensure thrifty use of water.

To mitigate losses caused by the drought, the Plant Cultivation Department has asked provinces to restructure their rice cultivation areas.

Areas that do not have enough water to irrigate rice should see if they can cultivate cash crops like corn, peanuts or red chilli, it said.

It has asked the provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien – Hue, which usually experience flooding at the end of August, to rearrange cultivation schedule so that their summer-autumn crop can be harvested by September 5.-VNA