FFrom ffun tto sserious bbusiness Ton Phat Director Tran Van Nga said before landing in the crocodile business, he and his family were involved in the seafood trading. He sometimes had a ton of fish and shrimp in excess because these species were so cheap and so abundant then.
Following a friend ’s advice, he bought several couples of pet crocodiles and fed them with the left-over fish. He grew them for 4-5 years. By that time the crocodiles were 1.7 - 1.8 m long but no one wanted to buy them. So he just used them to feast his friends onein a while.
His light-bulb moment comes when he saw some eggs in his croc farm. He decided to take a shot at the egg incubation and expanding the farm. However, crocodile farming was not so developed and not many people knew how to incubate the eggs, or if they knew, they would not share with others.
Artisans are making wallets, handbags, and belts from crocodile leathe
“There were some guys who incubated crocodile eggs for the city ’ s zoo. Every night, they burned incense. It looked really mystically what they did. But now I know why: they wanted to keep the temperature and moisture right,” Nga said So he went to Thailand to learn how to incubate the eggs.
After that, he spent most of the time at the Sai Gon library, study the crocodile farming manuals. He finally learned tricks with the diligence and creativity. However, it took him several years to achieve good hatch rate. If the moisture is too low, the egg shell will become too dry and cannot hatch. High temperature makes the eggs addle and low temperature will kill the embryo. So the right temperature ranges between 30-31 0 C while good moisture is 80-90%. In 1987, he kept only 100 crocodiles in his 2,000 m 2 farm.
Director Tran Van Nga holding a newly tanned crocodile skin
Ton Phat “B” grade waste water treatment system
When the crocodile population increased to 1,000 in 1992, the farm became too small so he had to move to Mui Con Tieu hamlet, Phuoc Hiep commune, Cu Chi district, about 60 km far from Ho Chi Minh City.
After 20 years of hard working, he now has a 7 hectares farm with 2,000 breeder and 10,000 commercial heads. He shipped about 15,000 juveniles (0.5 - 2 month old) and 100 MT of crocodile meat each year.
Nga said crocodile is easy to grow and not vulnerable to diseases, particularly ocular diseases, unless they are stocked at too high density. Doing the business for long time, he knows not only how to get good hatch rate but also how to treat the disease. Certainly, no one use the eye drops for crocodile. Instead, they immerse them in the medicated solution.
Crocodile under one year of age are unlikely to catch any disease. Those farmed for meat and skin need only two years to reach commercial size. However, it takes as long as 7 - 8 years to grow crocodiles into breeders. Only experienced farmers with large farming area and good financial resources would venture to rear the crocodile until they reach maturity and produce eggs. Challenge AAmerican tto oopen market
Ton Phat has its own tannery to tan crocodile skin and a leather manufacturing plant on site, which produce luxury goods, i.e. wallets, handbags, clothes, footwear, etc. from the skin of crocodiles, python, and marine fishes (seabass, ray). These products are shipped to Japan, France, Italy, Singapore, China, and South Africa.
The company also has a retailer shop in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City.
Several years ago, Ton Phat earned US$2 million each year. Since the global economic crisis in 2007, the annual revenue has
declined to US$400,000 -
500,000. In addition to high-quality leather and leather products, Ton Phat also supplies local specialty restaurants with over 100 MT of crocodile meat every year. According to Nga, crocodile meat used to be cheaper than pork.
However, it is the other way around now. At present, crocodile meat fetches VND70,000 - 80,000 per kilo. It looks like industrial chicken meat and can be fried, grilled, or cooked with curry.
Farmed crocodiles in Viet Nam have been recognized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and their skin-based products can be exported to many markets in the world. However, the US still bans these product imports, mostly because they afraid that they would not be able to compete with Viet Nam ’ s producers, even though the farmed crocodile in Viet Nam is Crocodylus siamensis, which is completely different from the Crocodylus acutusin the US.
“If Viet Nam ’s crocodile leather products land in the US, they would impact this market like what Pangasius did on the US’ catfish. Viet Nam ’s produce is much cheaper because the farming cost is very low. For example, a product made from the US’ farmed alligator can cost as much as US$1,000 while a similar product of Viet Nam is marketed at just US$300,” said Nga.
Nga also concerns about the unfair competition among local leather producers themselves. The waste water from tanneries contains various toxic chemicals as well as organic substance. It is therefore very costly to treat. As a result, price of products made by serious tanneries are much higher than those who discharge the untreated waste water into the surrounding environment.
Nga said his biggest wish is to create white-skin crocodile strains instead of the common black ones or at least to raise the spawning and growth rates of his crocodiles. While the wish is still beyond his reach, he now plans to fly to Italy and learn some more tanning techniques. “ Doing old things again and again is really boring me,” Nga said.