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Vietnam: taking a pig to market

Pigs are a vital part of rural life in Vietnam (Stevie Mann)
Pigs are a vital part of rural life in Vietnam
Stevie Mann

The rapid growth in demand for pork in Vietnam represents an opportunity for smallholders to improve their incomes. But limited access to improved breeds, inputs, veterinary services and markets has constrained smallholders from benefiting fully from market opportunities presented by this rising demand.

Recent pronouncements on government policy have also favoured the development of larger-scale, more commercialised production of pigs for supplying increasing domestic demand and ultimately for export as a means of transforming the livestock sector. To help achieve a more equitable strategy for livestock development, a collaborative research project is looking at ways in which the competitiveness of smallholder pig producers could be improved in the Vietnam market.

Pigs are a vital part of rural life in Vietnam with most farms keeping at least one pig for fattening for household consumption. The majority of smallholders use own-grown feed, including crop by-products or garden forages. Most households keep local breeds, or crossbreeds, which though low in genetic potential, are at least affordable for smallholders, relatively disease resistant and well-suited to local conditions.

Whilst the majority of smallholders are subsistence farmers, some pig keepers are more commercialised, keeping up to ten animals at a time for fattening and selling over a three-to-four month period. But even for bigger producers, feed costs are a major constraint to generating better productivity and incomes. Access to extension and veterinary services is also extremely limited, particularly in very rural areas.

Getting a better picture

To help inform policymakers and development agencies working in the livestock sector, a collaborative project led by ILRI* (International Livestock Research Institute) has mapped the supply chains for various Vietnamese markets for piglets and pork products. Through this, the researchers have determined that some more efficient smallholder units exist, which helps provide empirical evidence to support the development of the smallholder sector.

Traditional fresh meat markets are still highly favoured by urban consumers of pork (Nguyen Ngoc Toan)
Traditional fresh meat markets are still highly favoured by urban consumers of pork
Nguyen Ngoc Toan

But with an increase in demand for quality as well as quantity of pork in the Vietnamese market, the research has identified that the lack of access to inputs and good quality breeds is a major constraint for increasing productivity in smallholder systems. "Smallholders could play a much greater role in pork production but there is a need to generate appropriate technologies to maximise the potential of these systems, to improve the breeds and to provide better and more cost-efficient feed rations," says Lucy Lapar, ILRI scientist and project coordinator. "These are not very complicated technologies but the information needs to be provided to extension people for training farmers to utilise what is available."

Finding the right approach

Lapar acknowledges that public sector extension and veterinary services are often inadequate. "We have observed some of these services on veterinary advice, feed rations and market prices being provided by some input suppliers," she says. "If we can build on the incentives for these input suppliers to expand and sustain their clientele among smallholders and provide these services, then this provides a good foundation for stimulating access to inputs and services that will enhance productivity in smallholder systems."

Lapar concedes that it is easier for smallholder farms closer to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where access to urban fresh meat markets is easier. "It is much more challenging when farms are in very rural areas, where they are marginalised from all services and the demand for pork is very local," she explains. "We need to work out how do we help these people, how do we develop a market chain or commodity for urban markets, and what is the best way to make policymakers aware of these issues?"

Smallholders are key

The results generated from the various project studies are helping to provide advice and advocacy at provincial as well as at national government level. As part of the implementation of the livestock strategy, the government has established a working group and ILRI has been invited to join. "The implementing rules and regulations for the livestock development strategy have yet to be officially approved by the Minister," says Lapar, "but there is now some more explicit recognition of smallholders and their importance in the rural development strategy, which makes it more equitable."

Supermarkets are becoming increasingly important in Vietnam as a market for packaged meat (Nguyen Ngoc Toan)
Supermarkets are becoming increasingly important in Vietnam as a market for packaged meat
Nguyen Ngoc Toan

The ILRI project is due to end in March 2010 but current studies include looking at market transformation and how the food retail system might change as supermarkets become increasingly important in Vietnam. Traditional fresh meat markets are still very important but there is a need to provide evidence that they are not risky in terms of food standards and health and safety.

"The outcome of our most recent studies will be soon available, which we hope will contribute to the pro-poor policy debate here in Vietnam," concludes Lapar. "However, if smallholders are to respond to the ongoing changes in consumer demand and market requirements, continued research will be necessary for identifying viable options for smallholders to remain productive and effective players."

*Project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and is led by ILRI in collaboration with the Centre for Agricultural Policy - Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development (CAP-ISARD), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Oxfam, and University of Queensland

Date published: January 2010


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