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Viet Nam is an amazing country, in theory Communist, but where free enterprise flourishes, writes Suart Lumb for TheFishSite.

On the way to visit a 2000 sow pig unit you pass through villages, where a subsistence farmer is delighted to show off his two sows.

Many Westerners have come unstuck by assuming that because a Western business model works well in Europe it will work well in Asia.

However, David Serene, former CEO of the Ho Chi Minh City based Anova group, which is a leading manufacturer of veterinary and aquaculture medicinal products, has no such illusions and knows that with care and over time Western business techniques can be beneficially applied to Asian livestock production.

David was born in France , trained as a vet there and is a graduate of the Stanford and Harvard Business Schools. David has held senior management positions in Thailand and S.Africa before moving to Ho Chi Minh City.

The Anova group has a turnover of $100 million and has a warehouse site in the port area to conveniently accommodate raw materials brought in by boat.

The company has moved into other aspects of agribusiness.

According to Mr Serene the company has to diversify - just being a veterinary products company is simply not good enough - other big multinationals will move in and grab market share, as has happened in many other countries.

The major European supermarket chains have moved into Vietnam but nevertheless apply the same criteria to Vietnamese farm products as they would to European ones, namely consistency , traceability and sustainability.

The supply chains are very different, with the average size of Vietnamese pig farms and productivity being so much less than European ones plus mental attitudes are poles apart - a pig farmer will only buy 1ml of a drug - why not 100ml? Well, the pig may not be alive tomorrow!

Viet Nam has a massive fish industry and Anova has recently entered into a joint venture with EWOS, which is proving very successful.

EWOS is a Norwegian, now worldwide company with 50 years experience producing fish feed, initially for the salmon industry and now for Pangasius catfish. For example, EWOS is using its experience in fish nutrition to establish the nutrient requirements of Pangasius.

Adopting Norwegian feeding techniques is another area where Norway can help Vietnam, whereby automated feeding several times a day can usefully replace twice daily hand feeding.

Mr Serene added that the Vietnamese producers sell catfish purely on price.

Competition can be cutthroat which results in cost cutting and hence quality suffers. Quality control is lacking. For example glazing of fish (coating of fish in ice) is very variable and has weight implications and again this must be standardized as the supermarkets,as with pigmeat, demand consistency, traceability and sustainability.

Hence, Anova is going into processing to have more control over the end product.

David Serene has helped Anova start on a long and exciting journey -it will take a while, but as Chairman Mao famously once said,to climb a high mountain you do it slowly, one step at a time…

December 2011

Chris Haris

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