The Orange Cows project of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Trust started in 2007 and is aimed at improving smallholder farmers’ livelihoods by providing a breeding cow. A survey of the beneficiaries in four communes in Thua Thien-Hue province provided significant information on farming systems as well as an assessment of the progress of this project and its impact on households and communities.
The Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Trust (VVAOT) is a Hobart-based charity created in 2002 whose aim is to help those suffering from disabilities or health troubles caused by dioxins present in Agent Orange, and which remain in the soil and the food chain.
VVAOT raised money around to provide a breeding cow and training to families of victims living in remote communities near Hue in central Vietnam. The objective of the project is to improve these people’s livelihoods and make them more self-sufficient.
In April 2012, field visits and surveys with 116 households that were involved in this project were conducted by researchers from the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry (HUAF). This study was aimed at assessing the impact of the project so far and following up the beneficiaries and their cows to better understand their practices and needs.
The four communes that were surveyed are located in different agro-ecological zones: Hong Kim and Hong Quang are in the remote highlands, whereas Phong Xuan and Quang Loi are in the lowlands near Hue.
The beneficiaries of the projects are poor households involved in small-scale farming and grow fruits and vegetables for home consumption. Most are mixed crop-livestock systems where crop residues are used to feed animals and manure is used to fertilize the main crops, which include rice, maize, cassava and peanuts.
They raise small numbers of animals that include cattle, buffaloes, goats, pigs and poultry. Although income generation is mainly based on farming, in most families someone is involved in a non-agricultural activity (working for a factory or the local committee, selling goods at the local market, fishing, basket-making) or receives money from an external source, such as the governmental compensation for disability or a war veteran pension.
Cattle are local yellow or crossbred. Females are used for breeding whereas the majority of males are sold at maturity for meat. Almost all farmers practise night-stabling, and tether their cattle for grazing during the day. The quality of shelter varies as stalls are built by farmers with limited means.
Cattle feeding in the mountainous communes is mainly based on native grass grazed during the day or cut grass fed in the stall, sometimes complemented with maize leaves. In the lowlands where pastures often get flooded during the rainy season, farmers store and use crop residues like rice bran, cassava powder, rice straw and banana stalk. One third of the farmers also grow cultivated grass to feed their cattle.
Breeding involves natural mating with local yellow or Sindhi bulls in all communes but Phong Xuan, which is involved in an artificial insemination program using Brahman genetics. Most farmers have access to a vet, vaccination and parasite prevention, but disparities are found in terms of the use of vitamins and salt, which are provided mostly in the lowlands.
The most common diseases are diarrhoea and foot and mouth disease, which occur particularly in the highland communes.
Beneficiaries were selected by a voting process among villagers who signed an agreement with the local committee stating that they were not allowed to sell or slaughter the cow without commune permission, and they must give a calf to another local family affected by Agent Orange. Before the cows’ handovers, one day of training on feeding, breeding and health management was organised in all communes, and farmers in the highlands were also taught how to build a stall.
At the time of the survey (116 surveyed households):
Deaths are likely related to insufficient feeding and poor shelter combined with cold weather and disease, and occurred mainly in the highlands during cold months. Almost half of sales occurred in the commune of Quang Loi after a flood event.
Sales were due either to a lack of labour or inadequate feed resources, the farmer’s choice to exchange it for other livestock, or a need for emergency money (e.g. to build their house, send someone to the hospital, daily expenses, or to reimburse a loan). In terms of breeding, the survey found that:
Farmers who received a cow from this project waited a minimum of 15 months to have a calf and the average number of cattle per household is now two, except Quang Loi where the handover is very recent and only two calves have been born.
The majority of households were satisfied or very satisfied with the cow and 60% of farmers declared that their life had improved thanks to the project. Reasons include increased income, changed livelihood strategy, or increased livestock capital. Farmers were happy to know that people in other countries were willing to help them.
Among those who declared that their life was not improved, the main reason was the death of the cow or calves, or that no sales had yet occurred. The main challenges identified during the survey were:
Lack of experience and access to bulls could be improved by additional training sessions and formation of ‘cattle interest groups’ based on existing farmer networks, which could share the use of bulls.
The cows represent a capital good that can be sold if needed or kept for breeding. The project has been successful in terms of improving self-sufficiency and increasing the assets of these households. Although there is room for improvement in terms of commune selection, initial training and follow-up, the project has potential to benefit additional households.
Dr David Parsons, Camille Grentzinger, Dinh Van Dung, Nguyen Xuan Ba, Bruce Montgomery.
For more information contact Dr David Parsons