HO CHI MINH CITY: It didn’t take long for the deadly swine disease sweeping through Vietnam to scare Tran Van Chien into getting rid of his 6,000 hogs.
Just three months after the country first reported an outbreak of African swine fever, the pig farmer of 20 years has given up on a meat beloved by his country. Instead, he’s placing his future in chickens, cows and even ostriches, the giant flightless bird that’s an increasingly popular source of meat for steaks and noodle soup in the Southeast Asian country.
“I’ve had enough losses and headaches from pig farming,” said the 56-year-old Chien, owner of a farm in a suburban town in Hanoi. “No more hogs.”
Chien isn’t alone. In fact, Vietnam is encouraging a greater number of pig farmers to expand production to other livestock. With among the world’s highest consumption of pork per capita, Vietnam has seen the pig disease ravage its hog industry and the government has warned of significant economic damage ahead.
More than 1.7 million pigs have been culled since the disease was first reported in two northern provinces at the start of February. That’s even more than China, the world’s biggest pork producer with output 20 times the size of Vietnam’s, after nearly 10 months of suffering the virus.
In Dong Nai, known as Vietnam’s “pig capital” on account of the number of pig farms, the herd has slumped by 20% to 2 million heads so far this year. Many farmers there are now switching to raise ducks and chickens instead. And ostriches, which were first introduced to Vietnam in 1995, can now command three times the price of pork.
The country’s poultry population is expected to jump 7.1% this month compared with a year ago, while the cow herd is forecast to increase 2.9%, according to government data on Wednesday. In Dong Nai, the number of ducks being farmed doubled so far this year.
“Commercial duck farms in Dong Nai are mushrooming,” said Nguyen Kim Doan, deputy head of the province’s animal husbandry association. “With swine fever wrecking havoc across the country, a pork shortage crisis in Vietnam is around the corner.”
Pork has long been the protein of choice for the Vietnamese. As of last year, about 70% of all meat consumed in the country was pork, while chicken made up about 20%, followed by beef at less than 10%.
The country’s Premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc has called for the country to better balance its livestock industry, saying measures must be taken to develop other types of meats to ensure farmers’ livelihoods and food supply for the people. “It is highly important for the farm sector and localities, especially populous cities as Hanoi, to strike a balance in meat supply.”
Hanoi, the capital and second-largest pork producing region, plans to triple the number of cows it raises by 2025. Unless authorities boost the country’s consumption in beef, chicken and duck, Vietnam will likely run short of pork by year-end, according to the Hanoi Animal Husbandry Association.
Though plans to diversify away from pork are afoot, the government has also been asking businesses to stock up on healthy pigs and freeze them to avoid a price hike. The state may also instruct traders to import pork from countries unaffected by the disease, such as the US, Australia, South Korea and India, the trade ministry said.
That’s not enough to sway Chien. After suffering years of slumping pork prices due to a national oversupply, the risk of his hog herd being wiped out by disease was the last straw for the farmer who says he was already on the brink of bankruptcy. Earlier this month, he bought 20,000 chickens, 200 ostriches, and is waiting to house 30 cows.
“Low prices, epidemics and environmental contamination related to pig manure are all behind my decision to part with pigs after more than two decades,” Chien said. “I hope my new path will be more stable and can help me become free of debt.”