Applying high-tech and innovative production processes is the only way forward for Vietnam's livestock sector.
Vietnam’s dairy industry started 40 years ago and few people would have believed at that time that green meadows and herds of healthy cows would be found in the heart of north-central Nghe An province, which experiences a hot, dry and at times extreme climate. The TH Group and its TH True Milk project in Nghia Dan district, however, overcame the hurdles and are doing well.
The project shows that Vietnam is more than capable of developing dairy farming on a large scale, creating products of international standard. This can only be done, though, by investing in high-tech applications and innovative production process. The number of businesses applying high technology in animal husbandry remains at quite a low level and are typically large corporations such as Hoang Anh Gia Lai, Vissan, and the TH Group. Given that the livestock sector will be perhaps the sector most affected by the many free trade agreements (FTAs) Vietnam has signed or will sign, the issue of applying high-tech and innovative production process is key to the sector’s survival.
During the most recent visit by a Vietnamese business delegation to the Netherlands under the agricultural cooperation program of the two governments, signed in 2014, representatives from the Vietnam Meat Industries Company (Vissan), the Golden Gate JSC, and the Hifood Company expressed their admiration of the high technology and modern production processes found in the Dutch livestock sector. They believe cooperation with leading countries in agricultural development such as the Netherlands is a means for Vietnam to develop its livestock sector in the future.
“The Netherlands has always focused on producing in chains, starting with good genetic resources, which are carefully selected from the beginning until the farm and finally to the people. Farmers, businesses, and the government coordinate closely to ensure the best product. Manufacturers always guarantee that the quality of their products exported outside of Europe are of the same quality as those sold in the domestic market and in Europe. Therefore, the agricultural products of the Netherlands are of high quality and the country has always been one of the world’s leaders in the export of agricultural products.”
Mr. Elzo Kannekens, Deputy Chief Veterinarian at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Economic Affairs
The Netherlands is known as a knowledge-based economy. Water rolling over its countryside and even into its cities has been constant threat for centuries. Although 60 per cent of the country is prone to flooding, the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Dykes and ingenious waterways protect the low-lying country and its inhabitants. Despite the high population density and the threat of flooding, the Netherlands is one of the world’s largest exporters of animal products thanks to its long tradition of ingenuity and innovation.
High technology is the foundation of the development of agriculture in the country. Centuries of livestock husbandry experience mean the Netherlands has a vast store of knowledge on animal diseases, which together with its strong tradition of research and technology has enabled it to improve its methods of control. This knowledge involves close cooperation between government, research and education, protecting human and animal health.
The Netherlands’ long history of intensive livestock farming has resulted in a robust system of controls and guarantees, in which farmers and the government are closely involved. A well-oiled machine provides guarantees that other countries can also rely on. The high level of consumer confidence in Dutch products is evidence of the effectiveness of this system. It’s not without reason that the Netherlands is one of the largest exporters of animals and animal products in the world.
Lessons for Vietnam
Although the size of the Netherlands is eight times smaller than Vietnam and its population is five times less, the country has always held the position of world leader in the export of agricultural products. Vietnam’s agricultural sector, meanwhile, has not really developed, with agricultural exports actually falling sharply in recent times.
High-tech development is the only path forward, but one of the difficulties for Vietnam now is the lack of land for large-scale production applying high-technology. According to figures, there are 9 million ha of land for agricultural production, 1 million ha of water area for fisheries, and 8 million hectares of commercial forests. The land areas is scattered, however, and owned by 15 million farming households, making it difficult to introduce large-scale production with high-tech applications. “Technology needs money to be invested, while the most difficult thing is bringing land together,” one Vietnamese livestock investor said.
For his part, Mr. Van Duc Muoi, General Director of Vissan, believes it is not simple to invest in cattle and poultry livestock with high technology in Vietnam. The country must import almost everything it needs in all stages, from the high-yield Mulato grass from Australia to veterinary medicines, feed such as corn and soybean, breeding equipment, and farming techniques and technologies from Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel and the US.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, implements changes in every part of the chain, recognizing that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A holistic approach is the only way to make a sector truly sustainable or to elevate it to a higher level. A prime example is the veal produced by the VanDrie Group, which is in high demand internationally.
According to Mr. Paul Beltman, Sales Manager at Ekro, the world’s largest veal producer and part of the VanDrie Group, the company provides every essential piece of information about its veal, including what feed the calves are given and the measures the company takes in terms of animal welfare and compliance with hygiene regulations and transportation. “All these points are monitored by independent bodies,” he said. “By applying its own Safety Guard quality system, the VanDrie Group can provide guarantees for the entire chain, for example regarding the meat’s quality and origin.”
“The large number of corporations investing in livestock over recent years is a good sign. The approach of some in the selection of good breeds and the application of high technologies certainly reduces production costs and allows them to compete with imported products. However, if Vietnam relies only on these corporations its livestock sector is unlikely to reach a turning point in the future. The government should therefore adopt policies to attract and encourage local businesses to invest in the livestock sector, and in particular encourage them to apply high technology.”
Mr. Nguyen Thanh Son, Head of the Department of Livestock Production at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
Because there is control in all phases, traceability of livestock products in the Netherlands is implemented quite easily. Traceability systems are applied in all production processes. “The code attached to the ear of each calf is noted on the veal produced, allowing for origin to be confirmed,” Mr. Beltman said.
There are two main agencies involved in the Dutch knowledge system: the Central Veterinary Institute (CVI) and the Animal and Health Service (GD). Veterinarians play an important role as they visit farms in person. Farmers also have a large degree of knowledge and understanding and are generally well educated.
“Private veterinarians visit each farm each month,” said Mr. Elzo Kannekens, Deputy Chief Veterinarian under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. “During the visit, the veterinarian and the farmer look at the health of the animals. Whenever they discover disease, they immediately notify relevant authorities. Animals are always being monitored to determine their health status.”
In Vietnam, conversely, links between government, businesses, and research institutions remain poor. “The greatest drawback of the livestock sector is quality, and in order to resolve this it is necessary that all stakeholders be involved,” said Mr. Nguyen Thanh Son, Head of the Department of Livestock Production at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Management from the central to local level needs to be strengthened in order to create the right conditions for enterprises and organizations in the livestock sector, especially as regards high-tech application.”
Improving production processes, applying high technology, as well as technology in traceability, and creating more value-added products are among the important lessons Vietnam needs to learn from countries with advanced agriculture industries, such as the Netherlands. There is still hope that Vietnam’s livestock industry can boom in the future, but only with serious investment in the research and application of high technology can it survive the effects of FTAs and have more projects like TH True Milk.