Hydropower, Human Nutrition and Livelihoods

field work, Tonle Sap Lake Cambodia

20190118_CAMBODIA FISH C OF E_05797 copy.jpg

The massive Mekong River connects China, Burma, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam. Monsoon rains control surface water availability and seasonal flooding, which in turn support rice production for export and fishery productivity. More than 60 million people in the MRB depend on wild-caught fish and small-scale rice production for their livelihoods. Massive changes on the river, including active and planned hydropower development, are at once crucial to the region’s economic prosperity and a threat to the fisheries and agriculture that depend on the natural floods. 

Our goal is to develop a full understanding of how food quantity and quality are connected and influenced by upstream hydropower development and climate change in a critical rice growing area – the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Rice production is a crucial subsistence and economic activity. In seasonally inundated areas like the Tonle Sap, rice growing depends on wet-season flooding, which has and will continue to be dramatically altered by hydropower development in the Mekong River Basin. Comprehensive water management modeling and forecasts of changes in rice production (quantity and quality) under new hydrology are critical components of food security and water resource decision-making. To address our goal, we are interviewing farmers about field management decisions and seasonal cropping patterns, tracking rice yields, and measuring contaminant and micronutrient content of soil and rice grain collected from different locations through the Tonle Sap basin during different cropping seasons. These data will be used to develop a rice production and nutrient model for the Tonle Sap that we will use to investigate how forecasted hydropower-influenced flood patterns and future climate conditions will alter rice quantity and quality.

Our efforts are part of a larger multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary effort to sustain the socioecological Food- Energy-Water Systems in the lower Mekong River Basin. The project is beautifully described (with both words on photos) in this immersive piece titled, “Fueled by Floods.”

Funding: National Science Foundation, Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems

people currently involved with project:

Yasmine Farhat

Gordon Holtgrieve (UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences)

Soo-Hyung Kim (UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences)

Becca Neumann