From Four to Nine cows – the story of Son Na by Son Le Trung, National Secretariat Specialist, WGA-Viet Nam

December 22, 2016

Son Na- their home and the impending threat on their livelihood
This is the story of Mrs. Huynh Thi Son Na and her husband, Mr. Yet Folla. Both of Khmer ethnicity, they live in a far-flung and poor area called Thuan Hung commune, My Tu district in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang. This is about 300 km from Ho Chi Minh City.
My Tu District is dominantly populated by Khmer ethnic minority. Their traditional livelihood is dairy cow production. Currently, the dairy cowherd of the district number about 3,000 cows, and is owned by about 1,000 small households. Dairy production has been low and unstable, resulting in low incomes for the farmers. Poverty incidence is high; and literacy rate is low. Many of them only speak Khmer language and not speak Vietnamese.

Climate change is impacting negatively the Mekong Delta and the livelihoods of this Khmer ethnic group. Sea level rising is gradually narrowing the cultivation area for both grass planting and rice field. Less grassland means less food to feed the cow herds. Vietnamese scientists warn that the dairy cow production in My Tu District could be in danger of extinction.
This would be disastrous to Khmer families like Son N. They only know one profession, and that is dairy farming.

ADB-MARD support
To partly mitigate the negative impacts and help them, the Institute of Animal Science of the Southern Viet Nam (IASVN) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) implemented a one-year subproject through a letter of agreement between MARD and ADB. The fund enabled IASVN to introduce to the Khmer dairy farmers the:
• Management of breeds, reproduction and expenses.
• Grass production and processing
• Processing and preservation of available local agricultural by-products (rice-straw, by-products of corn, sugarcane, groundnut or cassava) by treating with urea, ensiling with molasses, etc.
• Implementing regulations of hygiene for dairy cows and housing.
• Building the biogas system for manure processing in dairy production and using it for cropping pattern.
Mrs. Son Na’s household was selected as one of three demonstration farms for improving the capacity of dairy cow production. Within a year, experts and project team from IASVN provided technical and financial support.

Grateful Son Na
Son Na never expected positive results in just a year of support. Milk yield increased by about 20%. She attributed the better yield to the new nutrition and tending practices.
Rice straw, an abundant agriculture byproduct in the delta, provided cheap input source for feeds. Through the IASVN, Son Na and other farmers were taught to ferment the rice straw with urea and lime. The fermented rice straw, which is softer, contains more protein that supplement the nutrition needs of the cows. These induce higher milking yield. Farmers would have good sources of feeds even during the dry season. Instead of the usual practice of burning the rice straw, the cowherd owners buy the rice straw, and thus reduce the emission of greenhouse gas to the environment.

Son Na’s cows: from 4 to 9 cows
More milk means better incomes to Son Na. With just 4 cows at the start of being a demo farmer, she now has 9 cows. The subproject also enabled Son Na to develop a biogas system using the cow’s manure. This reduced their cost of energy by as much as VND 200,000 ($10) per month. Son Na has also contributed to lessening environmental pollution from the smell of manure, and preventing the spread of infectious diseases carried by flies and insects that are attracted to cow’s manure.

Cow’s incomes and education of kids
With better income from the dairy cow farm, Son Na’s family has better chances of breaking the poverty cycle for the children. Their children can go to school, become educated, and have better income opportunities. Her eldest daughter, Yet Thi Bich Hoa, is now a student on food processing in Soc Trang Technical College. The household is saving for their son who wants to study in a university in Ho Chi Minh City in the near future. Mr. Hai added that, “the capacity building on use of agricultural products for dairy cow Khmer farmers is one of most impressive that our institute has carried out since our establishment. It is even more meaningful taking into account that the target groups are poor ethnic women. During the implementation, we faced so many difficulties but now I am sure you all can feel that the farmers recognized positive aspects we bring to them. Achieved indicators are quite high, for example, up to 70% of households now adopt the urea-treatment from zero when we first came. The project really delivered. Huynh Thi Son Na and her husband helped us a lot in developing and maintaining the pilot farm for training”.

Invigorated IASVN
Even after the subproject’s completion date, IASVN continuous to monitor the post-project and is hoping that further support can be provided to improve other aspects in the pilot model, including the introduction of best international practices on nutrition management, reproductive health and environment protection and improving their market channels.
ADB intends to provide additional support to the Khmer households on these aspects.

Note: In this story, “$” refers to US dollars.
VND = Viet Nam Dong.