Published: 6 Mar 2019
International research from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is drastically improving the quality of life for animals and the people who care for them in Central Vietnam.
Women and children are often the primary caregivers for cattle and can spend up to eight hours a day tending to the animals and walking them to communal grazing areas.
By implementing new management practices, TIA researchers have reduced this time to just one hour a day, allowing children to spend more time in school and women to have opportunities outside the family farm.
The four-year project focused on improving animal nutrition, reducing environmental impacts from overgrazing and understanding consumer behaviour to increase productivity.
TIA researcher, Dr Rowan Smith said one of the biggest challenges for Vietnamese farmers is a scarcity of resources and lack of access to commercial grazing lands.
“There are no fences, or even paddocks. This means the animals need to be led to food sources and kept off other crops. Often it is children and women who are walking the animals for up to eight hours a day.
“As the number of animals increase, communal grazing areas get overgrazed and animals decline in body condition.
“To address this, we worked with local farmers to improve previously ad hoc stall-feeding systems to house the cattle and introduced new varieties of tropical grasses that could be grown close to the stall shelters.
“During the rainy season forages can become waterlogged. We tested seven different grass varieties for waterlogging tolerance and made recommendations to smallholders on which species to grow under differing conditions.”
The team also explored how farmers could incorporate leftover crops residues into cattle rations. These changes improved animal nutrition and saved farmers time and money.
“In real terms, it reduced the time that was spent tending to animals from 8 hours a day, to one hour a day,” Dr Smith said.
“The impact of this was huge. Not only did it mean the cattle were getting quality feed, but in some instances, it meant that kids could attend school and women undertake other activities, instead of tending to the animals all day.”
Backed by social research, the team extended the reach of their work by assisting smallholders to form cattle clubs and creating ‘farmer champions’ to engage with more farmers across in districts in Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Dak Lak provinces.
“Our team looked at why some cattle clubs work, and why others don’t. Using these insights, we established a model for the ideal setup,” Dr Smith said.
The project helped smallholders establish three cattle clubs, consisting of 10-20 members in each and organised cross visits with clubs in other areas.
On-farm demonstrations, ‘farmer champions’ and ‘train the trainer’ approaches were also a key part of the extension activities.
“Our research on adoption showed us that, similar to here in Tasmania, the farmer to farmer approach is really strong and effective,” Dr Smith said.
“We hope that this approach will ensure our work has lasting impacts.”
The project was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).