SAPLING support transforming livelihoods through livestock farmer groups in northwest Vietnam

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    Judy Kimani
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The CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Animal Productivity for Livelihoods, Nutrition, and Gender Inclusion, known as SAPLING, was launched in Vietnam in 2022. It will run until the end of 2024 and aims to transform the livestock sector in Son La Province, located in northwest Vietnam. In the local Thai dialect, the initiative is called ‘Chăn-hênh,’ which means ‘good and better.’

A group of farmers in Na Sy Village calculates the production costs of their cattle herd (photo credit: ILRI/Thanh Lo).

Focusing on the challenges faced by ethnic minority communities, Chăn-hênh is implementing five intervention work packages (WP) : sustainable livestock productivity, safe and healthy consumption of livestock-derived foods, gender equity, competitive livestock value chains, and evidence-based decision-making.

A core component of Chăn-hênh‘s overall strategy to strengthen the pig and cattle value chains is the formation and/or support of farmer groups (FGs), including common interest groups, farmers clubs, and co-operatives. This includes helping the groups access input and output markets, being a forum for capacity development, and co-designing solutions to issues pertaining to pig and cattle farming.

In 2023, work package 4 (WP4) interventions on competitive livestock value chains brought about positive changes in Son La’s livestock sector. Outcomes included establishing new livestock common interest groups (CIGs), changing farmers’ perceptions, and integrating a gender lens, indicating SAPLING’s commitment to strengthening inclusive and sustainable livestock value chains.

Within the framework of WP4, Chăn-hênh assessed the effectiveness of nine existing FGs involved in pig and cattle production in Mai Son District. Only four FGs showed the willingness and suitability for collaboration. In October 2023, SAPLING successfully created six new CIGs with 89 members across various villages in Chieng Chung, Hat Lot, and Muong Bon communes in Mai Son District.

Changing farmers’ mindsets

In November 2023, WP4 conducted a needs assessment to understand farmers’ perspectives on livestock production and their motivations for joining FGs. The assessment found that farmers are most concerned about decreasing market prices, lack of control over prices, lack of financial capital, and the perception that FGs primarily serve the interests of local authorities and projects rather than the farmers themselves. Below are some of the discussion points from the farmer groups showing the farmer’s concerns about market prices and the role of FGs.

– Market prices of live animals have reduced by 50% compared to the last two years. The government and the project need to take action to help us sell our animals at a better price.

– Traders, slaughterhouses, and retailers take advantage of us by offering low prices for our animals but selling meat at higher prices.

– We lack the financial capital to invest in livestock production.

– FGs are only created to serve the interest of local authorities and projects. Consequently, farmers are not motivated to commit to these groups.

These issues need to be addressed to change farmers’ mindsets and make progress towards sustainable livestock value chains. As a first step, farmers were taught how market prices are determined by supply and demand. They learned that competition exists at various levels and that waiting for prices to rise is not a sustainable strategy.

Farmers were encouraged to actively manage production costs and embrace technological advancements in livestock farming to remain competitive. They were also advised to collaborate with other farmers to improve their connections with input and output markets. Farmers now understand the importance of FGs in improving their livelihoods and are committed to investing in these groups.

Changing farmers’ mindsets can be seen as a filtering process. Some groups started with many members but ended up with fewer, while others started with few members but later grew in size. Exceptionally, two groups decided to withdraw because they preferred to concentrate on crops instead of raising livestock, but the initiative ensured that they had enough information to make an informed decision.

Eventually, only eight FGs with around 120 members remained. Highly motivated to improve their livelihoods through livestock, these groups have the potential to inspire others in their community to adopt farming interventions and create a significant impact.

Integrating a gender lens

In SAPLING’s sites, most households are headed by men, with some exceptions where women take up the role due to divorce or the death of their husbands. There is a clear division of tasks between men and women in these households, and the household head represents the family in meetings. If the husband is unavailable, the wife will attend in his place, but two common reactions have been observed from women attending meetings: ‘I don’t care’ and ‘I care but could not persuade my husband’.

When supporting groups, gender equality must be considered by recognizing the roles of both men and women and assisting both spouses in planning for livestock production costs. This ensures that both partners are well-informed and decisions can be made together. While there were challenges with attendance at the first training session, participants started bringing their partners and children to subsequent sessions.

A mother and daughter in Me Village discuss their household’s production plan (photo credit: ILRI/Thanh Lo).

 Next steps and collaboration

‘During the training, we have been instructed on how to harvest grass at the optimal time for maximum nutritional value, using microbial enzymes to ferment grass as preserved feed, and handling livestock waste,’ says Tong Van Long, head of the livestock CIG in May Village, Chieng Chung Commune. ‘We also learned how to utilize agricultural by-products to optimize production materials and decrease production costs in livestock farming.’

“Establishing farmer groups aligns with the local desires and requirements for rural economic development. The main aim of support from Chăn-hênh is to help these groups advance economically, improve the lives of members, and increase their impact on the community so they can sustain themselves in the long term even after the project ends,says Thinh Nguyen, WP4’s local focal point in Vietnam.

SAPLING’s plans for the FGs in 2024 involve introducing circular economy practices, supporting capital development through village savings and loan association (VSLA) toolkits, and providing training on business plan development for women and men farmers. Circular economy practices aim to create a sustainable model toward gender equality for livestock production by utilizing agricultural by-products for animal feed and fertilizer.

SAPLING is one of 32 CGIAR initiatives designed to achieve a world with sustainable and resilient food, land, and water systems to deliver more diverse, healthy, safe, sufficient, and affordable diets and ensure improved livelihoods, gender equality, and social inclusion within planetary and regional environmental boundaries. In Vietnam, one of its seven focus countries (others are Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Tanzania, and Uganda), the initiative is coordinated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.

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