Thursday, 30 May 2013

IN THE FIELD - Beefing up cattle in Vietnam

(in-country visits by ACIAR’s research program managers)

In March this year, ACIAR’s Livestock Production Systems manager, Dr Peter Horne, visited Daklak province in central Vietnam to scope the scene for new ACIAR livestock-related research. Peter says there is a fascinating transition happening in Daklak, and that ACIAR’s research is well timed and placed to make a real difference...

Over the past decade or so, there have been significant changes to cattle farming in central Vietnam, shifting towards production-oriented systems. More and more smallholder farmers are keeping improved cattle breeds, and fattening them in stalls using their own grown fodder plus additional supplements. Traders are organising cattle farmer clubs and a consistent supply of animals in return for incentive payments to do so. Almost all cattle are now going to domestic markets (rather than Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City), driven by rapid urbanisation and increasing incomes.

As part of a scoping visit for a new ACIAR project, I visited a few cattle farmers in Daklak province. One woman, Mrs Pham Thi Hai, stood out as a great example of this transition and of the role of cattle in livelihoods of the rural poor in this area, many of whom are transmigrants. Mrs Hai has a cow and calf, and she cuts forage to feed them every day. When the calf fattens up, she sells it and uses part of the money to pay for the schooling of her three children in the nearby city. She uses the rest to buy another calf or, if the price is right, a cow. It's her pathway to providing a future for her kids through education.

lady standing with calf in stall
Smallholder beef farmer Mrs Hai with her calf in Daklak province, Vietnam
(photograph by Peter Horne)

Mrs Hai said "Of all the things we do on our farm, the work I do feeding cattle provides the best returns for our labour, by far". 

Using new forage varieties planted near the house has drastically reduced the amount of time she has to spend each day searching for and cutting feed—from several hours to less than an hour. Feeding her cattle was a chore but has now become a pleasure, which she and her daughter do in odd bits of free time in the morning and afternoon. She loves her animals and they provide her with hope. Her farm is poor but her animals are well fed, mild natured and well cared for in a simple barn.

What really struck me about her was the drive she has to work through livestock to achieve her livelihood ambitions. That is a common story across all countries but she encapsulated it so well. The other element was how intelligently she managed the monetisation of a living asset. Typically this is a risk for farmers as cash disappears fast in traditional communities.

The new ACIAR project being developed is likely to be active in this area, and aims to help smallholder farmers like Mrs Hai to improve their livelihoods through better cattle management. 

(Written by Dr Peter Horne, Research Program Manager of Livestock Production Systems )

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