Vietnam’s dairy industry boasts great potential for development thanks to increasing demand while the country still imports up to 70 percent of milk products, reports Dan Tri online newspaper.

Milk consumption in the country is somewhat of a new practice compared to western countries. The country's growth rate in this sector has been roughly 20 percent annually in recent years.

The number of dairy cows in the country increased from 11.000 in 1990, to 167.000 in 2012. Domestic milk production reached 381,000 tonnes last year.

There were only a few small-sized milk companies in the country before 1990, but the number of enterprises that take part in the market has reached 25, producing around 12,000 tonnes of milk per year, along with hundreds of importers and distributors.

Milk consumption has quintupled to 15 litres per person per year, compared to 1995.

Many experts have stated that Vietnam’s diary industry has been on par with the world market in terms of application of milk processing technology but it is in desperate need of other resources.

“The lack of fresh milk has been the biggest challenge to Vietnam’s dairy industry, as domestic fresh milk production meets only 30 percent of demand,” said Vu Van Tam, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development at the Vietnam Diary Dialogue – Towards Sustainable Development.

The quality of domestically made milk products has also been a lingering concern because of the nature of the small farms and lack of modern and environmentally friendly husbandry techniques.

Vietnam is on the list of 20 biggest milk importers in the world, importing average 1.2 million tonnes of milk per year, mainly processed and condensed milk and ice cream. As much as 70 percent of the liquid milk products in the country is made made from imported powered milk.

In order to improve the situation and foster sustainable development, the country targets to stimulate domestic milk production by raising more cows and intensifying the application of advanced technology to increase milk productivity.

“Vietnam has set a target to raise the number of cows from current 170,000 to 500,000 by 2020 in order to produce one billion litres of milk. Even if the target is realised, supply would only meet 40 percent of the demand, as consumption will continue to rise,” said Nguyen Xuan Duong, Deputy Director of the ministry’s Animal Husbandry Department.

However, fulfilling the target remains a challenge. Su Thanh Phong, from Hanoi University of Agriculture, said the country should encourage breeding large herds of cows, as current size of an average of three to five cows per household and the targeted size of ten to fifteen cows per household in the time to come may not ensure sustainable production.

Meanwhile, an official from Fresh Studio, a Dutch agricultural consultancy firm, said that to realise the target of producing one billion litres of milk by 2020, Vietnam needs to produce an additional 60 million litres of milk per year. To this end it requires the collaboration of all stakeholders.

The official also emphasised the necessity of ensuring food safety and hygiene in milk production and quality.-VNA