Bankable Nature Solutions: A Case Study

By Thomas Gomersall, Jean-Marc Champagne 20 January, 2021

WWF's Gomersall & Champagne share how the integrated rice & shrimp model helps farmers & the environment

Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems & accounts for 1/2 of rice production; yet it is vulnerable to climate change & human-induced saltwater intrusion
The integrated model creates a climate-resilient environment for farmers to produce rice & freshwater shrimps in rainy seasons & raise brackish-water shrimps in dry seasons
It can also contribute to restoring freshwater, compensate for subsidence plus raise individual farmer income by 3.5x; going forward, WWF expects to replicate it in other Asian river deltas

The article was first published by WWF HK in Medium in Sep 2020. Click here to view.

WWF’s new Bankable Nature Solutions (BNS) initiative mobilises private sector investment into sustainable development projects that not only build more climate-resilient ecosystems for people, nature and economies, but are also financially viable enough to be scaled up and replicated.

One BNS programme underway is the Mekong Delta Integrated Rice and Aquaculture Bankable Project; a collaboration between WWF-Hong Kong and WWF-Viet Nam, WWF-Netherlands and the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD).

BNS initiative mobilises private sector investment into sustainable development projects…


Home to over 450 fish species and 17 million people, the Mekong Delta in southern Viet Nam is one of the world’s most biodiverse and productive ecosystems. It produces half of Viet Nam’s rice, accounting for 90 per cent of its rice exports and 25 per cent of its GDP. However, it is extremely vulnerable to climate change-induced droughts that lead to freshwater scarcities and severe land subsidence, causing saltwater intrusion — sometimes up to 130 km inland — that renders soil infertile and poisons crops.

Mekong Delta accounts for half of the Viet Nam’s rice production…

…yet, it is extremely vulnerable to climate change-induced droughts…

…agri practices also threatens freshwater supplies

Current agricultural practices also threaten food security and the environment. Decades of government-mandated intensive rice monoculture, which relies heavily on fresh water and artificial pesticides and fertilisers, have made it increasingly difficult to grow sufficient rice, particularly in areas affected by saltwater intrusion. Rising pressure to grow rice year-round has led to excessive groundwater extraction, worsening subsidence and further threatening freshwater supplies.

For farmers facing saltwater intrusion, one alternative is to switch to aquaculture. Unfortunately, modern intensive aquaculture can lead to the destruction of mangrove forests to make way for farms that are typically based on dense fish and shrimp populations vulnerable to deadly disease outbreaks. Despite strong use of antibiotics, many aquaculture farms are only viable for a few years.


To create a climate-resilient landscape (in line with the Vietnamese government’s climate plan), from December 2020, the Mekong Delta Rice Project will begin a pilot study in Ca Mau province to convert 20 to 50 hectares of rice paddies into mixed rice-shrimp aquaculture ponds.

This will allow for the production of rice and freshwater shrimps during the rainy season and for raising brackish-water shrimps during the dry season and periods of saltwater intrusion, with techniques adapted according to changes in local conditions. Rice and shrimp will be responsibly produced under internationally recognised standards, allowing the latter to receive certification from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) that will increase its commercial viability.

The ponds produces rice & freshwater shrimps in rainy seasons & raises brackish-water shrimps in dry seasons…

…creating a climate-resilient landscape

Environmental Benefits

This project will adopt a ‘build with nature’ approach to address the root causes of systemic pressures on the landscape and improve its climate-resilience. According to Marcel Dupuis, WWF-Netherlands’ Senior Advisor for the DFCD, “there will be long-term benefits in food, water and climate, which will maximise the impact of the project’s potential.”

The project will contribute to restoring freshwater that’s vital during drought…

…plus compensate locally for subsidence

Limiting rice-growing to the rainy season will reduce the need to extract groundwater, which will contribute to restoring freshwater that’s vital during droughts. No pesticides, chemical fertilisers or antibiotics will be used. Instead, waste from naturally occurring shrimp species and sediments brought in by floodwaters will be used as fertilisers. The latter will also compensate locally for land subsidence. Using pre-existing rice paddies as shrimp ponds will remove the need to destroy mangrove forests and allow their regrowth, providing better protection from storms and more habitat for young fish and shrimp.

“This has the potential to be the best scalable project in Asia”

If successful, this project can be replicated beyond Ca Mau province to boost the wider and long-term climate-resilience of the whole landscape. “This has the potential, without doubt, to be the best scalable project in Asia,” says Stuart Beavis, WWF-Hong Kong’s Asia Regional Lead for the DFCD.


Thanks to growing international demand for sustainable shrimp, the project is expected to more than double its revenue and raise individual farmer income by 3.5 times, particularly after it receives ASC certification. Increased viability, sustainability and scalability have already boosted interest from private investors, with a major regional seafood supplier keen to sponsor it.

The project is expected to raise individual farmer income by 3.5x…

…& a shorter supply chain can ensure less $ goes to middlemen

To ensure farmers benefit from this increased income, the project will have a shorter supply chain compared to conventional shrimp enterprises so that less money goes to middlemen and more goes to farmers. It will also work with local co-operatives to strengthen farmers’ unions to give them greater negotiating power in the project, as well as provide better education and technical assistance for implementing it.

Going forward

Despite its potential, significant challenges to this project’s execution remain. Local farmers may be reluctant to take part due to unfamiliar techniques, technology and activities employed. The business and financial viability of the project as well as its ecological impacts will also need to be proven before scale-up.

To address these challenges, WWF will use its pilot study to measure the crop yields, income benefits and impacts on resilience and biodiversity of integrated agriculture versus those of conventional intensive rice farming and aquaculture. It has also assembled a team of academics and experts to analyse the quality of flood sediments and whether the micro-organisms living in them (which in turn influence productivity) are more diverse under an integrated agricultural model.

WWF is seeking private sector Vietnamese banks to fund & provide loans with competitive interest rates

To incentivise farmer participation, WWF is seeking private sector Vietnamese banks to fund and provide loans with competitive interest rates to cover the costs of equipment and rice paddy conversion. Capital from a private sector bank will also help to raise the project’s scalability because in addition to predictable revenue, scalability and replicability are key to attracting private-sector capital. This will also allow WWF to apply its techniques elsewhere in the Mekong Delta and in other Asian river deltas like the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.

Further Reading

  • Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus In Asia’s Large River Basins – The water-energy-food security nexus is complicated but as Maija Taka, Marko Keskinen & Olli Varis show, the tensions can be alleviated. Plus, they share 3 WEF cases in Asia’s largest river basins
  • Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: Is the food sector managing water risks? Who is leading and who is lagging? Jacob London from Ceres expands on their report’s key findings but beware – investors are asking more questions!
  • Future Of Farming: Learnings From China: With temperatures in China rising faster than the global average, droughts and floods are set to hit fertile regions hard but South Asia Fast Track’s Sourajit Aiyer thinks they are prepared – other countries take note
  • Role Of Businesses In Water Conservation – With the backdrop of Singapore’s industrial water challenges, Professor Asit Biswas & Dr Cecilia Tortajada show what Unilever & Nestle are doing on water management but also the behavioural challenges they face
  • Shrinking Plastics – Implications Of Tighter Regulations On The World Industry – Plastics are on the way out as governments put stricter laws in place. How should investors respond? WWF HK’s Rawle, Champagne & Hilton share from their latest report

More on Latest

  • The Rise Of Climate Positive FoodFrom startups to big food companies, Green Queen’s Sally Ho shows how they are dishing out guilt-free snacks for the planet, from carbon neutral to regenerative agriculture-backed
  • Cement’s Role In A Carbon-Neutral Future –  Energy Innovation’s Jeffrey Rissman shares how to achieve carbon-neutral for cement production by 2050 with the help of carbonation & potentially becoming a carbon-sequestering process
  • 8 Brands Called Out For Greenwashing 2020 Businesses are more active in caring about people & planet but some are just greenwashing to sell more products & services. Eco-Business’s Robin Hicks called out 8 of them
  • Dreaming Of A Regenerative Economy? Co-founder Dr. Simon J.D. Schillebeeckx explains how Handprint helps restore threatened ecosystems one micro purchase at a time by helping companies to integrate positive impact
  • Impact Of Urban Water Security On India’s Future Cities are projected to contribute USD5trn by 2024 to India’s GDP yet they face different levels of water stress. Kubernein Initiative’s Priyanka Bhide shares ways to address them
Thomas Gomersall
Author: Thomas Gomersall
Born and bred in Hong Kong, Thomas came to WWF-Hong Kong in September 2018 as a freelance writer for the Panda Blog. Drawing on his passion for writing and knowledge gained from years of volunteer experience in conservation, he frequently publishes pieces that he hopes will educate and inspire Hong Kong’s people to appreciate and protect the wealth of nature just on their doorstep. He also publishes pieces concerning global environmental issues including plastic pollution, deforestation, the illegal wildlife trade and environmental finance. Thomas currently holds an undergraduate and master’s degree in Ecology and Conservation Biology from the University of Sheffield.
Read more from Thomas Gomersall →
Jean-Marc Champagne
Author: Jean-Marc Champagne
Jean-Marc’s main focus is heading up WWF’s newly launched Bankable Nature Solutions initiative for Asia, which aims to originate and develop scalable bankable projects with conservation impact. He is also managing the Asia-Pacific portion of the origination facility for the €160 million Dutch Fund for Climate and Development. He was instrumental in launching the Climate Impact Asia Fund in January 2020 and is a member of its Investment Advisory Committee. He also advises institutional investors, lenders, and underwriters on the financial and economic risks and opportunities related to climate change and environmental issues. Prior to WWF, he spent 17 years in the financial industry advising institutional investors on equities and equity derivatives. He started his investment banking career in 1997 with Merrill Lynch in New York City and has been based in Hong Kong since 2004, working for BNP Paribas and Jefferies. He graduated from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.
Read more from Jean-Marc Champagne →