Vietnam intends to triple the dairy cow population by 2020 in order to meet domestic demand for fresh milk, heard a recent conference on the country's dairy industry.

Vietnam presently has a total of 174,000 dairy cows, producing 420,000 tonnes of milk. However, production only served 30 percent of the domestic demand, said Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Vu Van Tam at a conference held on December 4.

Tam said 70 percent of domestic demand for milk had to be met with imports primarily made up of sterilised, reconstituted milk. Because of this, Vietnam remains one of the top 20 milk-importing countries. Last year, Vietnam spent around 841 USD million in importing milk .

In a bid to lower the country's dependence on foreign milk, the sector aims to have 500,000 dairy cows by 2020 and produce 1 million tonnes of milk per year, said Nguyen Xuan Duong, head of the agriculture ministry's Livestock Production Department.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Cong Tan said Vietnam had been disadvantaged in developing its own dairy sector, but technology had facilitated the industry's growth.

In the past 10 years, the growth rate of milk production has increased 10 percent due to new breedings and technology methods.

Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Quan said Vietnam needed to apply the world's latest technologies in addition to creating its own technologies.

Farmers' key role

At present, most dairy herds in Vietnam are developed on a piece meal basis, with 120,000 out of 173,000 cows raised in 19,000 households nationwide. With each household on average raising 5 cows, the sector aims to lift the number to between 10 and 15.

Su Thanh Long, a lecturer at the Ha Noi University of Agriculture, said consistency in milk quality across different households was difficult to ensure due to lack of appropriate feed.

Professor Nguyen Lan Hung, General Secretary of the Union of Biology Associations, added it was important to develop the dairy sectors while taking into account the important role of farmers.

Chairman of the Vietnam Livestock Association, Nguyen Dang Vang, said currently many household farming models were profitable, including those in Moc Chau town in Son La province.

"Raising livestock at the household scale is a sustainable way for developing agriculture. Vietnam's farmers in the dairy sector currently have the highest milk productivity rate in Southeast Asia," Vang said.

Agriculture leaders, however, urged dairy cow breeders to use advanced technology to increase livestock numbers, life the quality of fresh milk and improve productivity.

Secretary General of the Vietnam Dairy Producers' Association Trinh Quy Pho said the association encouraged dairy enterprises to co-operate with farmers to provide technical, logistical and commercial support in bring fresh milk from the cow to the market. This was a sustainable development trend, he said.

Head of the agriculture ministry's Livestock Production Department Duong, meanwhile, suggested establishing a national committee for oversight of the dairy sector.

"It would help both cow breeders and dairy factories achieve a win-win solution: cow breeders can sell milk profitably and dairy factories can buy milk at reasonable price," Duong said.-VNA