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on February 9, 2012

Vietnam’s pig farmers face productivity challenges

Increased pork demand is forcing the Vietnam pig sector to expand.

Vietnam is projected to have an on-farm pig inventory of almost 35 million in 2020, producing around 3.5 million metric tons of pig meat per year, according to Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, MARD.

Data from MARD presented at the 2011 Vietstock exhibition in Vietnam, indicates that national pork production of less than 1.5 million metric tons liveweight in 2000 had grown dramatically to 2.3 million tons in 2005 and approached 3 million tons for the first time in 2010.

In liveweight terms, a total of 2.9 million metric tons of pig meat was produced in 2011. MARD’s presentation equated this to 1.26 million tons carcase weight.

Vietnam’s growing pig industry
 MARD projects that the production of 3.5 million metric tons liveweight pig meat, or 2.77 million tons carcase weight, is possible for the Vietnam pig industry in 2015, rising by 2020 to 4.84 million tons liveweight (3.495 million tons carcase weight).

The ministry’s figures suggest that the total number of pigs on farms nationally will grow from 28.5 million in 2011 to 34.8 million in 2020. Sow numbers are projected to stabilize at around 4.8 million, compared with a current level of 4.4 million.

This implies an improvement in productivity for Vietnam’s pig farmers, by pointing to a ratio of almost 0.75 tons of pork produced per sow per year on average, compared with recent rates of only about 0.63 tons per sow/year.

Pig farms getting larger 
While there are still a huge number of “backyard” pig farmers all over Vietnam, many of the country’s units are getting bigger as mechanization gradually takes over from traditional manual labor.

Many of the big pig farms, which still tend to be fully, or partially state-owned, have imported purebred lines from Europe and North America to set up nucleus and multiplier sections to breed their own F1 parent gilts. In addition, several international companies that already export to the country are establishing their own nucleus and multiplication pig units on Vietnamese soil.

These genes are expected to gradually filter down the pyramids to commercial level and together with pig feeds that have been formulated to match the genetics will help boost production levels.

In addition, Charoen Pokphand Foods, which has a big presence in Vietnam with many integrated operations, has already initiated training courses for its partner pig farmers to help them increase productivity.

Imports threaten Vietnamese pig sector
 The dramatic expansion of the Vietnamese pig sector in recent years has been mainly to try to meet an astonishing rise in the demand for pork nationally.

Visitors to Vietstock were told that the average annual uptake of pig meat (in terms of liveweight) in 2000 was only around 15 kilograms per person, but that had doubled to 30 kg by 2007 and is now around 35 kg.

While locally produced pork failed to match the full requirement, tariff barriers gave pig producers some protection against imports. But Vietstock speakers warned that a new era of international trade agreements is opening the door for more pork to be imported, unless Vietnamese pig farmers raise their productivity and, therefore, their ability to compete.

Feed industry consultant, Philippe Serene, who used to head up one of Vietnam’s largest feed companies, pointed out that the local production of pork experienced a sharp increase over the past few years, with a rise of 11% in 2009, compared with 2008.

He explained that in the past, the local market had been protected by a custom tariff. But the rise in demand and new WTO international trade agreements, could force Vietnam to accept pork imports jeopardizing continued growth in local pig production.

The question now, commented Serene, was whether the Vietnamese government would take any action to protect local pig production against potentially large imports from countries with lower costs, such as the United States, China, Canada and Brazil.

This action could be in the form of subsidies or tariffs to curb imports, or official action to provide pig farmers with technical assistance to help them improve farm management, animal health and genetic performance.

Whatever happens, big changes are likely in Vietnamese pig production in the future.

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An example of a modern Vietnamese pig farm in Long Thanh, East Vietman.
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