Feed the Future
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Ration Formulation Software Enhances Farmer Productivity, Decreases Emission Intensity and Trains Nutritionists in Vietnam

This post is written by Ermias Kebreab, Abbas Ahmadi (University of California, Davis) and Caitlin Corner-Dolloff (U.S. Department of Agriculture)

In Vietnam, feed costs are typically 70 percent of the total cost of dairy production. One of the biggest limitations to optimum productivity is knowledge of how to meet the cow’s nutrition requirement with available feed. This is especially true on smallholder farms, which make up about 60 percent of dairy operators in Vietnam. In addition, inefficient feeds can increase the cow’s greenhouse gas emission intensity (emission per liter of milk). Although milk production has increased over the past several years, from about 250,000 tons in 2008 to about 800,000 tons in 2016, currently only about 34 percent of Vietnam’s demand is being met. Therefore, ration formulation using appropriate feeds can increase dairy cow productivity, farmers’ incomes, and reduce the cow’s methane emission intensity and overall environmental impact. This challenge was exacerbated by Vietnam’s lack of feed ration software to enable its extension agents and farmers to simulate the benefits of premium feed components and guides them in decision making regarding potential purchase of high-quality feed and concentrates.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), with funding from the Department of State through the Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (ECLEDS) program, partnered with the University of California Davis (UC-Davis) and the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to strengthen national capacity to provide enhance feed ration recommendations that would support national low emission development goals for Vietnam’s dairy sector.

The partners’ first step was to adapt and enhance a UC Davis feed ration software by integrating over 1,000 different local and imported feeds and by-products and nutrient requirement for dairy and beef cattle. The software was made available in Vietnamese with easy to use graphical user interface (see figure). A new feed library was established through the partners’ collaborations with the Department of Livestock Production, the National Institute for Animal Science, and the Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA), who supported collection and nutritional analyses of local available feeds. The resulting new database was Vietnam’s first unified national feed library, which was publicly launched with open access for all extension officers, researchers, and farmers.

Ration formulation software in Vietnamese

Through this initiative, hundreds of extension agents received hands-on training in collaboration with the Vietnamese National Agricultural Extension Center and Department of Livestock Production. The training was assisted by a scientist from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Ho Chi Minh City who had previously received training at UC-Davis through the USDA FAS Borlaug Fellowship Program. In addition, under a parallel Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research project implemented by the University of Queensland 43 Vietnamese dairy producers/technicians in Moc Chau (12), Ha Nam (6), Ho Chi Minh City (16), Lam Dong (3), and Hanoi (6) were trained on the software. 

The sustainability of the program was further enhanced through the integration of the software training into the curriculum of undergraduate students at VNUA, where there were already two courses (animal feeds and feeding, and ruminant production) with 7 faculty members involved to train students on using the software. Over the past three years, approximately 4,000 students (60 percent female) have been trained through these VNUA courses. Due to ease of use and ongoing integration of local data, the software has already become an essentially standard tool for Vietnam’s dairy sector to enhance productivity and reduce environmental impact.

In its Nationally Determined Contribution plan for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, Vietnam committed to reducing 8 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to the business as usual levels with livestock feeding listed as part of the solution. Through the adoption and use of the dairy feed formulation software, Vietnamese scientists, extension agents, and dairy operators are learning about practical ruminant nutrition that benefits farmers and the dairy sector as a whole. There has also been an enhancement in Vietnam’s demand for improved cattle breeds and both local and imported high-quality feeds. This ongoing initiative will result in greater productivity of Vietnam’s dairy sector and reduce its environmental footprint in a manner that helps Vietnam achieve its ambitious goals for agricultural development and greenhouse gas emissions.

For questions, contact Dr. Ermias Kebreab ekebreab@ucdavis.edu

Additional contributors: Dr. Tong Xuan Chinh (DLP), Dr. Ha Thuy Hanh (NAEC), Prof Nguyen Xuan Trach (VNUA), Dr. Pham Kim Cuong (NIAS), Alex Chinh (USDA), Shiv Srikanth (DOS)

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