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Melamine scandal hits local farmers   2008-10-10 - Viet Nam News

Waiting in front of a dairy milk agent in Phu Dong Commune in the capital city’s outlying district of Gia Lam, 45-year-old Vu Duc Dac looks dejected. The tanker that usually comes to buy his milk doesn’t seem to be coming today.

A cow farmer in Gia Lam District, Ha Noi keeps fresh milk in good condition.

Dac is one of many dairy farmers who are increasingly waiting in vain all day and night at Vu Van Thuc’s dairy milk agent, one of three in the commune, where the farmers wait for their turn to sell milk. A drop in business started one week ago after some milk products at the Hanoimilk Company, which included milk imported from China, were discovered to contain melamine.

Domestic consumers boycotted the company’s products, forcing Hanoimilk to reduce the volume of milk they purchased from cow breeders even though local supplies are thought to be safe.

Dac has three cows which can produce 60 litres of milk per day. Now he says he is forced to throw away milk that he can’t sell as local milk agents are unable to find customers.

"I don’t know what to do at home," says Dac. "I can’t hold back my tears when I see my wife drinking milk instead of eating rice."

There are more than 560 households breeding 1,300 cows in the commune, of which 700 cows produce 9-9.5 tonnes of milk each day. About 300 dairy households face financial difficulties after the scandal.

Chairman of Phu Dong Cow Breeding Co-operative Hoang Trong Nguyen says Hanoimilk previously bought 5 to 6.5 tonnes of milk per day, Vinamilk bought 1.5 tonnes and the remainder was bought by International Milk Joint Stock Company.

"After Hanoimilk reported that it was going to reduce the purchase of milk, things got very difficult as we don’t know where to sell our products," says Nguyen, adding that his co-operative had to throw away over 1 tonne of milk worth VND8 million (US$484). He asked for help from Vinamilk but its representative refused.

Director of Tien Son Milk Processing Factory To Viet Bac says her company only bought milk according to their contract. "We reported the situation of milk in Phu Dong Commune to the corporation, but it’s necessary to wait for the corporation’s plan," says Bac.

Milk agent Thuc says he has been in touch with many processing units but only some of them have agreed to buy local milk. "Almost all units said they needed to check the quality before buying it. We can wait for them but the milk is only safe for the first three days because we lack preservation facilities."

Bui Thi Linh, a mother of two, says her family has two cows supplying 40 litres of milk per day. She pays VND150,000 ($9) for feed including mash and grass, and earns about VND250,000 per day.

"My family’s finances are much better than several years ago when we were rice farmers. We can earn VND3 million per month from dairy milk while it was only VND750,000 for six months from rice cultivation," says Linh.

Linh has borrowed a loan of VND17 million (over $1,000) from the bank to buy cows, with an expectation to pay back the loan by next year.

"Now we can not sell much milk but we still have to feed the cows," she says. "If this situation lasts much longer, I will have to sell my cows for beef and find another job to earn money to pay back the bank."

Solution?

According to the Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Liverstock Breeding Department Hoang Kim Giao, the department has proposed milk processing units co-operate with breeders to survive the melamine scandal by buying all milk from local dairy farmers.

Giao confirms that milk in Phu Dong Commune is safe and has no melamine, adding that milk processing units should guide farmers in the best ways to produce safe milk.

"I think the ‘melamine storm’ is a challenge but a chance for people to be more professional in their business. The breeders will have to apply a quality breeding process, if they don’t follow it their products will be taken out of the market," says Giao.

Chairman of Hanoimilk’s Management Board Tran Dang Tuan says his company’s situation has not improved. All his staff have had their shifts cut.

Tuan says the company still keeps buying milk for cow breeders under contract but in fact the company was in danger of bankruptcy as the value of the unsold milk had risen to about VND30 billion (US$176,000).

The company has bought fresh milk from breeders in Quang Ninh, Hung Yen, Bac Ninh and Tuyen Quang provinces and Ba Vi Commune in former Ha Tay Province and Phu Dong Commune in Ha Noi, the last being one of areas to suffer the most from the melamine scandal.

"If customers come back to our products, we will continue developing our business with Phu Dong Commune, which has a climate suitable for cows," says Tuan.

Relevant sectors have tried to help breeders overcome the difficulties, which many were not ready for. The breeders are now the most vulnerable, as they are unable to publicise the safety of their products while relevant sectors have not built an adequate and timely information network to properly deal with the melamine scandal


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