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Assessing competitiveness of smallholder pig farming in the changing landscape of Northwest Vietnam

 

Pig raising can offer significant opportunities for improved livelihoods for many households in North West (NW) Vietnam, one of the poorest and most remote regions in the country (Huyen et al, 2016). Traditionally, pigs are a key component of agricultural systems in this region and are fed with wild leaves and crop residues to produce a product at a low cost yet of perceived high quality. In recent years, intensified production systems have evolved with the introduction of new pig breeds and hybrid maize varieties grown as animal feed. This has led to maize becoming a dominant crop in these mountainous areas, grown on steep slopes and in monoculture, leading to considerable soil erosion and a decline in soil fertility (Nguyen et al., 2016). This research aims at identifying major constraints and opportunities in the improved integration of pig and maize production, to improve smallholders’ income while making the system more environmentally sustainable by investigating more diverse and profitable crop rotations as well as improvements to soil fertility through cycling of nutrients and organic matter. The results will form the basis for more in-depth research on the most promising options.

As a starting point, a broad systematic literature review of peer reviewed publications and grey literature on maize and pig production in Vietnam in general and in NW in particular was implemented. This was followed by a collection of primary data in March 2017 from 4 communes in Son La and Hoa Binh provinces. These provinces were selected because they have the largest area of maize and population of pigs in NW. Hoa Binh is also a study site of SafePORK, another ACIAR initiative to support safer pork production. Within each province, we selected one commune with low and one with high market access. Data were collected using four different tools: i) Value chain mapping with local stakeholders; ii) Key informant interviews on value chains; iii) Focus groups discussions with farmers; and iv) Individual interviews with farmers. A total of 165 actors were interviewed, with between 39 to 44 actors in each of the four communes.

Pork remains an important animal-source food in the Vietnamese diet. Demand for pork has increased over time, largely attributed to population growth and rising income (Nga et al., 2015). There is also an increasing demand for higher quality pig products in urban centres, including for ‘naturally raised’ pigs (Gautier et al., 2009; Lapar and Toan, 2010). However, so far pig production in the study area seems to be slow in responding to such opportunities. Results from the field work show that the integrated maize–pig system is widely practiced by farmers in the four communes. The main advantages of this system over a specialised pig farm relying on purchased concentrates were listed as (i) better control over timely availability and quality, as maize feed is available on farm; (ii) reduced feed costs by avoiding transport and transactions; and (iii) potentially producing a product for supplying a niche meat market for perceived high quality pigs and/or meeting the demand for “naturally raised” pork based on non-commercial feeds. Yet, several disadvantages were also identified during the survey, including: (i) high labour demand of maize production; (ii) difficulties in maize storage, prevalence of aflatoxins in maize; (iii) higher fat content of pork produced with maize-dominated feed; (iv) longer production cycle of pigs fed predominantly with maize compared to balanced commercial feed. The study results highlighted the difficulties the smallholders in these communes have in regard to accessing inputs and services as well as more profitable markets for their pig products. Various options for value chain improvements such as producer groups (Huyen et. Al. 2016), contract farming (Lapar et al. 2007) and a “preferred trader” system (Scholl et al. 2016) were discussed with the value chain stakeholders. They agreed that collective action allows smallholders to access lucrative markets. However, these organizations tend to deteriorate once external support is withdrawn. On the other hand, contract farming has by design a strong private sector component and tends to be economically sustainable, but often fails to integrate small scale farmers in more remote locations.

In conclusion, this study has looked at mechanisms to support the improved integration of pig and maize activities to improve smallholders’ income while making the system more environmentally sustainable by looking at alternative feed production and feeding strategies. With the main farming systems in NW Vietnam still being traditional smallholder production, pig producers in this region can take advantage of their relatively ‘natural’ production practices that have been increasingly valued by specific types of consumers in specific markets. To be able to support such evolution and given the existing maize-pig integration advantages, more research is needed on alternative farm–produced feeds, for example forage legumes, which may complement maize, both for more sustainable feed production and more balanced diets. For these systems to impact household income through better market integration, new institutional arrangements to link pig farmers to markets are required both for inputs and services including extension, as well as for output markets. Because the strategies for improving market access, which have been successful in other locations and were discussed in this study, show various constraints, new strategies have to be explored. A possible combination of some of the discussed approaches, for example a preferred trader system linked to a specialty outlet in provincial and regional towns, organized around producer groups, appears to be worthwhile for investigation. Finally, to show that traditionally raised pigs can also provide safe pork, linkages to SafePORK are foreseen.