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Vietnam's cash cows - building on beef

Forage is cut and carried to the pens twice-a-day (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Forage is cut and carried to the pens twice-a-day
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Ngo Van Hung is poised to quit his job as a builder in Ea Kar, a rural district in Vietnam's Central Highlands. Around six years ago he was employed on the first of a series of contracts building new houses in the village of Chu Cuc, a community of smallholder farmers. The houses were large, stone constructions, replacing smaller wooden ones. By the time he had built 20 new houses in the village, Hung knew the farmers' secret, a livestock system that was earning them thousands of dollars. Not surprisingly, he now plans to try it for himself.

Until recently, livestock husbandry in this part of Vietnam - situated 600m above sea level on the Dak Lak plateau - was not very productive. Animals were intermittently sold to supply cash for weddings or large purchases, and were otherwise left free to graze on native pasture and crop residues.

In 2000, researchers from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in partnership with Vietnam's Tay Nguyen University (TNU) and with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), looked for ways to revitalise the region's livestock sector. They assessed farmers' needs, tested different kinds of improved forages that had been selected during earlier work in Southeast Asia and, most importantly, developed improved management strategies with farmers. The partnership continued during a subsequent project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and led to the development and adoption of a new livestock system in villages such as Chu Cuc.

Cut-and-carry

While Chu Cuc used to be coffee land - part of the Government's drive to become a major Robusta exporter - the soils there are poor and coffee prices were often unpredictable. "Sometimes it would cost us more to produce and pick the coffee than what we would get for it at market," says farmer Wang Van Ting, who switched to the new livestock system in 2006.

The system hinges on confining cattle in pens and providing them with high quality feed (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
The system hinges on confining cattle in pens and providing them with high quality feed
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The system hinges on confining cattle in pens and providing them with high quality feed. Farmers are encouraged to plant part of their cropland with nutritious forages suited to the area, such as varieties of elephant and Napier grass, brachiaria and stylo. They are also advised to invest in more productive crossbreeds that respond better to the improved nutrition.

Forage is cut and carried to the pens twice-a-day as part of an intensive fattening programme that lasts around six months per animal. Cattle-fattening farmer clubs then assist individual members to contact traders and obtain information about developments in the market. Enjoying his new house, Ting says that he earns so much from his cattle that the Government no longer classifies him as poor. The legacy of coffee lives on though: a reservoir built to irrigate Chu Cuc's coffee plantations now supports dry-season forage cultivation.

Ripple effects

According to Truong Tan Khanh, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Animal Science and Animal Health at TNU, over 500 farmers are now using the intensive cattle fattening system in Ea Kar, with those in Chu Cuc hosting exchanges of interested farmers from further afield. Despite its success so far, however, Khanh says the project needs to expand to involve more marginalised farmers from the country's many ethnic minority groups.

Drawing on lessons learned in places like Chu Cuc, the new CIAT-led Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Livestock Project (CLVLP) - also funded by IFAD, and officially launched in 2012 - is now working to promote the adaptation and adoption of improved livestock production systems in the region. As well as extending suitable forage and livestock husbandry practices, the four-year project is also taking a broader, value chain approach, to ensure improved smallholder livestock production results in better returns at market.

Farmers are encouraged to plant part of their cropland with nutritious forages (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Farmers are encouraged to plant part of their cropland with nutritious forages
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

"The aim is to transform livestock from a cash reserve into a productive asset, drawing on the successes in places like Chu Cuc," explains CIAT's CLVLP coordinator, Adrian Bolliger. "We don't want to introduce livestock where animals haven't been kept before, but rather improve systems where farmers already have animals."

Back in Chu Cuc, builder Ngo Van Hung says that switching careers to livestock production will mean he can work half the hours for double the money, while being his own boss and being able to put money aside for his family. And even if ultimately he doesn't become a livestock farmer, it seems a good time to be a builder in Ea Kar too.

Written by: Neil Palmer, CIAT

Date published: May 2013

 

Have your say

An excellent way to improve house-hold income (and possibly ... (posted by: Dr. Kiran Shah)

Nice to see adoptive approach of livestock production. I'ld... (posted by: Dr. Sharif Ahmed Chowdhury)

Way to go for smallholder cattle farmers. In Kenya smallhold... (posted by: Kinyua Muriuki)

 

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