Last week, close to one year after its launch meeting, the REVALTER project held its first annual meeting in Ba Vi dairy production area on the outskirts of Hanoi, Vietnam.
REVALTER is the French acronym for Multi-scale assessment of livestock development pathways in Vietnam. The project involves livestock production systems scientists, livestock economists, anthropologists and geographers from different French and Vietnamese agriculture-for-development research centres and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
The meeting was an opportunity for researchers scattered across three countries to meet physically after numerous videoconferences, to share the findings from the first year of this research project and to plan activities for its second year.
The project is going according to plan. In year 1 the research partners collected data on dairy and pig production systems in the three Vietnamese provinces under study. Year 2 will see this data analyzed to create sustainability typologies of the farms. More data collection will be done and analyzed to understand the value chains distributing the pork and dairy products from these farms. We also need to start thinking about a method to measure the sustainability of the dairy and pig systems at farm, landscape and value chain levels so as to collect this data in Year 3.
To help this process of identifying sustainability indicators, and to try to come up with indicators that will also be meaningful for the stakeholders involved in the chains, some of us decided to take the opportunity of this trip to Vietnam to visit study sites in the Southern peri-urban province of Dong Nai. We asked three different stakeholders of the pig value chains there: ‘What does sustainability mean to you’?
Nguyên Van Chiêu is a pig producer in Gia Tan II Commune, Thong Nhat District of Dong Nai Province. He was introduced to us by the District Office of Agriculture and Rural Development. Mr Chiêu is not a smallholder farmer: 500 sows and their piglets on 2.5 hectares of land tended by 12 labourers. His pig producing enterprise is nonetheless characteristic of the family agribusinesses raising pigs for the enormous consumer market of Dong Nai Province and neighbouring Ho Chi Minh City. Mr Chiêu’s view of sustainability was centered on his farm: “active management of sows, feeds and vaccination of the herd to keep the business going in the long-term”. If we refer to the three traditional pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental and social), Mr Chiêu thus clearly sees sustainability as an economic construct.
The two other chain stakeholders we visited had a radically different viewpoint focusing on the social pillar of sustainability. Lê Khanh Nhân is the Chief of the Quality Department at D&F: a state-owned pig and chicken slaughterhouse also manufacturing processed meat. When asked what sustainability meant for him and his business, his first answer was: ‘We must make sure that our products are safe and of good quality’. Other criteria spanned the environmental construct (abiding to provincial regulations on liquid waste processing and obtaining ISO14000 environmental certification to satisfy supermarket customers) and finally the economic profitability of the business. As for Bui Dinh Buoi, Director of the Thong Nhat District Office of Agriculture and Rural Development, sustainability was also primarily about food safety, followed by farmers’ incomes paying for farming costs, products being acceptable for consumers, government management of the whole chain for an equitable redistribution of incomes across the chain and environmental friendliness.
This is only a first exploration of what sustainability in the pig value chains of Dong Nai Province might mean for its various stakeholders, which will have to be deepened by a larger survey within the value chain. Nonetheless, it is useful for us researchers to have identified that, from the perspective of a pig farmer, pig processor and government official, the sustainability of pig value chains is predominantly linked to food safety. Economic considerations come second; the environmental aspect only comes third. This is a first step in constructing a valid and relevant questionnaire to study the sustainability of large-scale peri-urban pig farming systems in Southern Vietnam, which contribute to providing nutritious livestock products to the rural and urban poor.
Jo Cadilhon, Senior Agro-economist, Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program, ILRI