With about 30 million pigs, pig production in Vietnam ranks approximately fifth internationally. However, production is mainly organized in small farms with a maximum of three to four sows. And while larger pig farms are beginning to appear, a lack of safety standards is a problem; last year, more than 4 million pigs from the Dong Nai province had to be slaughtered as a result of an outbreak of blue ear disease.
Benoit Glon believes he has a solution. He is the president of Benefiq, a family-owned French firm. According to him, the idea behind Benefiq is to use the knowledge of the Glon Sanders Group (founded by his grandfather), together with local and global resources, to build a secure pig production infrastructure in Vietnam, beginning with a partnership with Proconco, one of Vietnam’s leading feed manufacturers.
In Vietnam, the animal production market is growing quickly, both in aquaculture and in animal production (specifically pig and poultry). But at the moment, the challenge is to switch from very small production units and backyard production to efficient farming that is secure and traceable.
“We want to transfer our knowledge from the French feed and animal production company built by my family, Glon Sanders Group, to the realm of Vietnamese pig production,” Benoit Glon said. “We plan to build this enterprise with partners such as Henaff (pork products) and French firms that manufacture machinery that is used in animal production. And we can include other partners. Our plan is to build a secure and competitive Vietnamese food chain and limit imports. Back in Brittany we have a strong presence in pig and pork production, so that is our first focus.”
At present, Benefiq only employs seven people because it prefers to call on experts from back in Brittany. “We have no production to directly manage here,” Benoit Glon said. “Rather, we are supporting development – development of either Brittany companies or Vietnamese companies. Our plan is not to become a food industry giant; instead, we want to become a partner of food industry giants.”
Focus on nutrition
Benefiq’s first step in its Vietnam project was to get grounded in nutrition. Last year Benefiq signed an agreement with Proconco, one of the leaders in feed production in Vietnam, regarding feed formulation. Feed formulation is basic to security and efficiency for all feed: aquaculture, poultry, pig and ruminants.
However, feed formulation was only the beginning. Benefiq also faces strict standards for sourcing and feed production as well.
“We are required to not only meet government standards, but also standards set by big producers. We’ve signed our first agreement – with Vissan, a leader of pork meat and products here in South Vietnam. They want to build an independent company and design a more 'international' range of pork products to meet the demand here,” Benoit Glon said.
Successful history in Vietnam
Meeting strict standards is not a big concern for Glon. Twelve years ago, the Glon Sanders Group invested in a pork breeding facility in Vietnam that has been extremely efficient. “During last year’s outbreak of blue ear disease, this farm was the only one not affected in the entire province. I think this shows that our technical expertise will make us successful here.”
However, challenges remain. In the 12 years since the Glon Sanders Group set up its breeding facility, a village has grown up around the once-isolated facility. Now, small houses with one or two pigs in the backyards present a risk factor for the facility.
The importance of genetics in the food chain has not been lost on Vietnamese authorities. Through Benefiq, authorities have asked for the support of the Glon Sanders Group in building a new farm that is isolated, utilizes best building techniques, and provides a production environment that is optimized to work within Vietnam’s climate.
Construction of the farm began at the end of 2011. However, a ceremonial ground breaking already took place earlier in 2011 in the presence of the Vietnamese vice premier minister; this, according to Benoit Glon, shows the importance of the project to Vietnamese authorities.
“We haven’t chosen the genetic pattern yet because we don’t want to be a market for one-shot companies,” Benoit Glon said. “The Vietnamese market deserves actors who are going to invest energy and the means to be a part of it and that will develop products adapted to its needs.”
The political ramifications of the project are always clear to Benoit Glon. As the project is developed, there are connections to national and regional authorities. Those in office must show results; Vietnam plans to enter the World Trade Organization within a year. At that point Vietnam’s farms’ only safeguard will be their efficiency.
Building the farm
The next step in Benefiq’s project will be building the farm. This will include security obligations (isolation to avoid contamination), efficient management (group management) and demonstrated high productivity.
Originally, the project estimate was for 300,000 pigs, or the capacity of one slaughterhouse. However, authorities are now setting their sights higher, speaking of 1, 5 and even 6 million pigs. According to Benoit Glon, the companies involved will not own the animals but will support a network which will in turn build a national food chain.
However, before other international companies become involved, Vietnamese authorities want the opportunity to develop their own food chain. This should help the country avoid being dependant on international companies down the road.
Since Vietnam doesn’t have enough farming surface, sourcing raw material is a big problem; the country depends on importation and must verify the quality of raw materials as well as the price. “We plan to work in two directions. First we will work with Cambodia, which is traditionally connected to Vietnam and a producer of raw materials. However, we also need to work on a second axis because Asian production will not be enough to answer growth demands and is not required to do so by big companies; everyone here is used to living with a market that is out of balance. We want to find a level of price stability. Why not through contracts between South American producers and Vietnamese feed producers?” Benoit Glon said.
“We don’t spend our time talking about the small details of life; instead we speak of the basic need of the population,” Benoit Glon concluded. “That is why it is so important to organize a secure food chain from farm to slaughterhouse and through to distribution.”