Authors: Peter Windsor & Jim Young
The Mekong Research Livestock Team from The University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science presented 4 papers on FMD in Laos, Cambodia & beyond, at the 2017 GFRA (Global Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Alliance) Scientific Meeting held on the 25-27th of October in Incheon near Seoul, Korea.
Photo: From left: Prof Peter Windsor, Jim Young, Corissa Miller and Dr Sonevilay Nampanya.
The team contributed 2 papers to the session on ‘FMD viral ecology & epidemiology’. Firstly, Corissa Miller presented work from her MVPHMgt research project in a paper entitled ‘Risk Factors for endemic and emerging FMD viruses on smallholder farms in Lao PDR’ where she identified that quarantine for 2 weeks of animals entering the village was protective of infection and that farmers using communal grazing had 5.5 times the odds of having FMD in the animals. This was followed by a presentation from the recently completed PhD of Jim Young entitled ‘Investigation of smallholder farmer biosecurity and implications for sustainable FMD control in Cambodia.’ Jim identified the lack of basic biosecurity practices in Cambodian villages from a baseline study of KAP (knowledge, attitudes & practices) of smallholder farmers (n=240) and that cattle incomes were related to region, numbers of calves born, forage area, vaccination and numbers of cattle purchased.
Photo: Corissa Miller presenting her research findings on Day 1.
In the next session on socioeconomics of FMD in endemic and non-endemic settings, Sonevilay Nampanya presented a paper on the ‘Socioeconomic impact of the FMD vaccination project implemented in northern and central Lao PDR’. This study examined the changes in livelihoods & income from livestock of smallholders in several provinces in a potential FMD-free zone between 2012 and 2016, when 1.6m doses of vaccine were provided by the Australian STANDZ (Stop Transboundary Animal Disease & Zoonoses) program & the Japanese Trust Fund to the Lao Department of Livestock & Fisheries to administer strategically. Although it was found that only 62% of the susceptible bovine population was vaccinated and no cases of FMD were reported after 2013, this study showed the dramatic differences in mean annual household incomes between regions (>$5000 versus ~$1200), that FMD vaccination was generally well regarded by farmers, and the project may have provided a satisfactory level of protection to suppress the disease from being recognised in the targeted zone. This was followed by Peter Windsor presenting a paper entitled ‘Was biosecurity awareness more important than vaccination of pigs for FMD control in the Philippines?’ that promoted the importance of improving biosecurity practices to ensure FMD control interventions are sustainable. This included recent findings on ways to improve KAP of smallholders in Lao & Cambodian villages & data collected recently from SEACFMD (Southeast Asian & China FMD program) coordinators and OIE (World Animal Health Organisation) delegates on their current biosecurity programs at the householder, village, commercial and national levels. It was concluded that biosecurity practices in FMD endemic countries is generally poor and that public awareness messages on FMD need to be revised & renewed.
There were over 200 attendees at this conference from many parts of the world and it was particularly pleasing to see work conducted in endemic countries in Africa, Asia and the middle east where the FMD virus populations are emerging as increasingly dynamic. It appears that the rapidly changing trading patterns of animals and their products has increased the complexity of managing the disease, particularly because of the challenge of ‘vaccine matching’ to the newly emerging serogroups and their topotypes in the endemic countries. The final session on research gaps was of particular interest where the frustrations of current vaccine efficacy & understanding of virus movement were discussed amongst the many issues raised in the presentations during this conference including the themes introduced by the MLR on biosecurity & the importance of public awareness programs involving all stakeholders in the ruminant & porcine value chains in FMD endemic countries. The MLR team greatly enjoyed this very focused program that shared the latest research on this most enigmatically important threat to global food security.
Presentations from the conference will become available shortly at the GFRA website: https://www.ars.usda.gov/GFRA/presentations.htm
Photo: The GFRA Organizing Committee (including Corissa, far left) being acknowledged at the close of the very successful meeting.
Sharing knowledge and understanding of important livestock parasites and their control at the 26th WAAVP conference in Malaysia, September 2017
Dr Sonevilay Nampanya, Ms Luisa Olmo and Ms Nichola Calvani
Edited by Prof Peter Windsor & A/Prof Russell Bush
The Mekong Livestock Research (MLR) team has been working on livestock parasites and their control in smallholder large ruminant production systems for many years, progressing our understanding on their prevalence and impact on smallholder livestock health and production. Of the numerous important livestock parasites in the Mekong, the team has particularly focused on Fasciola gigantica (Fascioliasis), Toxocara viturlorum (Toxocariasis), and most recently, the reproductive protozoan parasite Neospora caninum.
Three of our MLR team, Dr Sonevilay Nampanya and PhD students Luisa Olmo and Nichola Calvani, were selected for oral presentations at the 26th World Association for the Advancement of Veterinary Parasitology (WAAVP) conference, Kula Lumpur, Malaysia, Sept 4-8, 2017. This is the largest veterinary parasitology conference in the world, held every two years to provide opportunities for parasitologists and animal health researchers to learn and share their recent findings in parasitology. The three MLR presenting members included:
- Dr. Sonevilay Nampanya presenting on the control of SE Asian liver fluke, Fasciola gigantica, by use of the innovative and successful approach of including the flukicide triclabendazole in anthelmintic-medicated molasses blocks (Figure 1). Sonevilay and the other MLR team members were impressed with the depth of information presented at the conference, including information on the parasites of bees, pets, livestock and wildlife. There were also many research topics presented on Fasciola hepatica and developments in drug resistance, although there was very limited information on Fasciola gigantica and large ruminant smallholder production systems. This encourages us to keep working on our current research to fill the gaps in scientific knowledge that can assist smallholder farmers to find more sustainable methods of parasitic control, such as use of improved diagnostics and use of novel approaches to administration of anthelmintics, including medicated block technology.
Figure 1. Dr. Nampanya on stage delivering his presentation on the innovative and successful approach of including the flukicide triclabendazole in anthelmintic-medicated molasses blocks.
- Ms Luisa Olmo presenting on seroprevalence investigations of the protozoal pathogen Neospora caninum, potentially a major cause of abortion in cattle and buffalo in Lao PDR (Figure 2). Luisa reflected on the occurrence of globally important pathogens causing abortions and reproductive wastage in large ruminants throughout the Mekong. Despite the limited information available, it is suspected that bovine abortion occurs in Laos, particularly as measurements of large ruminant reproductive performance indicate that extended inter-calving intervals of about 15 months in cattle and >20 months in buffalo are occurring. In 2016, Luisa shared cattle and buffalo sera with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at the City University of Hong Kong for analysis for reproductive pathogens, and antibodies against Neospora caninum were found in almost 70% of the buffalo samples. This apicomplexan protozoan parasite can be maintained in cattle and buffalo species through transplacental transfer to the foetus, potentially causing fatal pathology. Cattle and buffalo can also be infected or re-infected by co-rearing of bovines with canines that are shedding the protozoan oocysts in their faeces, resulting in reproductive wastage. When presenting serology work at an international science conference, context is important and Luisa commenced by describing the smallholder farming system in the Mekong where the household is focused on food security, growing rice and cash-crops, with cattle and buffalo husbandry occurring as a subsistence activity. Luisa explained why epidemiological investigations to develop strategies for smallholder farmers to break the parasitic cycle are required. At the conference Luisa was able to meet our collaborator from Hong Kong, Professor Michael Reichel to discuss current and future research prospects. The MLR team are now conducting further serological and epidemiological surveys aimed at determining risk factors for Neosporosis that can inform preventative interventions.
Figure 2. Luisa Olmo, MLR PhD Student, presenting results of the first Neospora caninum seroprevalence investigation conducted in Lao PDR
- Ms.Nichola Calvani, presenting research findings on improving the diagnosis of Fasciolosis using molecular techniques (Figure 3). Nichola’s paper was titled “scrambled eggs” and describes a sample preparation workflow for the molecular detection of Fasciola spp. eggs in faecal samples that is highly sensitive and capable of detecting a single liver fluke egg. The work was recently published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, with one of Nichola’s images selected for the September issue cover. The workflow will enable highly sensitive and species-specific detection of Fasciola eggs in faecal samples during MLR PhD work on Fasciolosis in the Mekong, where this parasite has been shown as an important cause of decreased production in large ruminants. As the parasite requires an aquatic snail as an intermediate host, rice paddy’s along the Mekong are areas of high risk to both ruminants and potentially people. Fasciolosis is considered a major zoonotic threat, with 91 million people considered at risk of infection around the world each year. The new diagnostic approach was well-received at the WAAAP in Malaysia and provides an opportunity for the MLR team to contribute capacity building in Laos and Cambodia by improving the technical skills of laboratory staff in our partner countries.
At the 26th WAAP, Sonevilay, Luisa, Nichola took every opportunity available to at the conference to network with other researchers working in their field. Nichola is subsequently in the process of organising a month-long research exchange in Europe next year where she anticipates learn new skills that will directly relate to her work on liver fluke in large ruminants in Cambodia and Laos.
Figure 3. Nichola Calvani and Luisa Olmo at the 26th International Conference of the WAAVP in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
All 3 MLR team members successfully delivered their presentations and drew attention to the work of our team, receiving comments and suggestions that may enable improved our research outcomes. They also had the opportunity to discuss and learn from experts on numerous important livestock parasites and gain perspectives on food safety and parasitic contamination from all over the world. The MLR work on improved diagnostic tests and parasite control presented by Sonevilay, Luisa and Nichola is leading to published papers that will document the improved likely knowledge of both liver fluke and Neosporosis epidemiology and control in the Mekong region and beyond, inevitably benefiting the livelihoods of smallholder farmers through improved livestock production efficiency.
Prepared by Dr. Suon Sothoeun, Project leader ACIAR project AH/2011/014
The livestock project “Village-Based Biosecurity for Livestock Disease Risk Management in Cambodia, ACIAR, AH/2011/014” commenced in 2015 and continuing until 2018, was developed following the success and recommendations from the project “Best practice health and husbandry of cattle, Cambodia, ACIAR, AH/2005/086”, conducted from 2007 to 2012. A feature of project AH/20005/086 was the high levels of adoption of tropical forage plantations to improve the nutrition of cattle and leading to improved rural livelihoods through time-saved in feeding cattle and improved financial returns when selling cattle with improved condition scores. Both projects received funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) through the Australian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and are implemented by the Cambodian General Directorate of Animal Health and Production (GDAHP) in collaboration with The University of Sydney.
In the AH/2011/014 research project, the focus is to extend the research on improvement of animal health and production beyond just cattle and buffalo activities, through interventions that stimulate farmer interest in improved biosecurity for all their livestock species. This project is investigating a whole of village approach to improved animal raising, including nutrition, breeding, husbandry, disease prevention and control, and management of cattle, poultry and pigs, whilst encouraging the farmers to raise the animals commercially.
Previous research has identified the importance of champion farmers in extending the research findings from these projects. Below is the history of a primary school teacher and champion farmer Mr Chhea Ben, who lives in Sen Ouk village, Kus commune, Tramkak district, Takeo province, with his wife, Mrs. Sam Sodany, and their two children. The family have been successfully raising cattle commercially and has earned a reasonable income from this activity every year since 2011. Through income earned from cattle raising , Mr. Chhea Ben’s family has improved their lifestyle. He has also become a ‘famous farmer‘ based on his success in growing forages and raising cattle, including his importation of superior Brahman genetics. This provides an example for other farmers who can observe that successful cattle raising can generate superior incomes, improve living standards and enable rural families to stay in their villages and not have to go to other countries to find work.
In 2003, Mr. Chhea Ben and his family lived in a small wood house. Mr. Chhea Ben’s income was based on his teacher’s salary of 220,000 riels per month (USD 55.00). In addition to his teaching, he engaged in agriculture:
- owned 1.2 ha of rice paddy;
- planted 0.4 ha of Taro;
- raised 3 local breed cows a calf);
- Had some chickens.
Picture 1. Mr. Chhea Ben, his wife Mrs. Sodany and two children (2008)
In 2008, the ‘Best practice health and husbandry of cattle, Cambodia, ACIAR, AH/2005/086’ project started in Chheng Toung commune in Tramkak district, Takeo province. The project introduced and encouraged farmers to plant forage. The project provided 4 types of forage seed: 1/Brachiaria brizantha–Marandu, 2/Brachiaria hybrid-Mulato 2, 3/Paspalum atratum–Terenos and 4/Stylo 184. This project also provided training on forage cultivation techniques. Mr. Chhea Ben contacted a farmer in the project in Chheng Toung commune in Tramkak district and asked for forage seed to test himself for planting and feeding to his cattle. Knowing the farmer interest on forage cultivation, the project started to visit his house and supported him the establishment of forage. The decision to provide forage seeds and technical advice to this farmer outside the project was made to extend the activities to another place.
Picture 2. Shortage of feed during dry season 2007
Picture 3. Forage grass during wet season 2008
Picture 4. Visit forage plot in Takeo province 2008
In 2008, Mr Chhea Ben planted 0.5ha of forages and raised 10 head local cattle including 7 cows and 3 male calves.
In 2011, Mr Chhea Ben had 8 cattle (changed from local cattle to crossbred cattle) including 7 cows. He started to build a cattle pen (10m x 8m) including a water trough and he put netting around the cattle pen to protect from insects. All the cattle were kept in a pen and provided cut-carry forages 3 times per day from the 0.5ha forage plot. In 2011, the income from cattle raising was 18,271,000 riels (4,456 USD) and Mr Chhea Ben was the 1st winner entitled as the best champion farmer for Cattle Raising during the Annual Farmer conference, organised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Picture 5. Field Visit by His Excellency Dr. Chan Sarun, former Minister of MAFF, Senior Minister and Deputy Council for Restoring and Development Agriculture and Rural Development
Picture 6. Field visit led by Dr Suon Sothoeun, project leader, currently Deputy Director General, General Directorate of Animal Health and Production and Dr Werner Stur, ACIAR and Dr Peter Windsor, project co-leader
Picture 7. Field visit to Mr Chhai Ben’s forage plot
Picture 8. Project sign board, ACIAR, AH/2005/086
Income from cattle raising and forage selling
From 2008 to 2016 Mr. Chhea Ben sold 36 head of cattle (4 head per year) and earned 18,271,000 riels (USD 34,200). He also earned money from leasing his bull for breeding and earned USD 2,250 (300 head). Total income from cattle was USD 36,450. The average annual income was USD 3951. During 5 years from 2012 to 2016, total income from selling forage seedlings was 2,100 USD per year. In 2017, Mr. Chhea Ben had 2 hectare of forage and sold 4 cattle for 5000 USD and earned 4000 USD from selling forage seedlings and grass.
Picture 9. Mr. Chhea Ben’s crossbred cattle
Observation changes on Good Animal Husbandry Practice of Mr. Chhea Ben:
Change from local cattle breed and free-grazing to crossbred cattle, forage feeding, cattle housing, biosecurity and good management.
In the last 10 years from 2008 until 2017, Mr. Chhea Ben and his family have improved their living standard and now have a good reputation in Cambodia. He is a champion cattle farmer, forage seedling distributor, advisor on forage planting to other farmers throughout Cambodia and his farm is good field visit site.
Picture 10. Forage nursery for selling
Picture 11. 1 seedling costs 30 – 50 riels
Picture 12. Mr. Chhea Ben, his family and their new house
Australian students experience smallholder cattle farmer productivity research and extension in Cambodia
Authors: Holly Harrison, Holly Laurence & Rhiannon Phillips
Editors: Peter Windsor & Isabel MacPhillamy
During June and July 2017, the authors, Rhiannon and the Two Holly‘s, all final year Honours students from the Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience degree (BAVBioSci) in The Sydney School of Veterinary Science at The University of Sydney (USYD), travelled to Cambodia to conduct applied research projects within the larger ACIAR-funded project “Village-based biosecurity for livestock disease risk management in Cambodia”. The students were based in the capital city Phnom Penh working with the local partners in the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production (GDAHP) and collaborating with project team members from both the GDAHP and the University of Sydney.
Each student was tasked to prepare a survey that aimed to explore with smallholding farming families, several different aspects of their farm production system. The Honours project topics included: cattle reproductive health; vaccine usage, availability and storage; and gross margin budget analysis of interventions used to improve livestock productivity. Under the guidance of the GDAHP team members, the students travelled to project village sites in the provinces of Takeo and Tbong Khmum, where they met with 12 smallholder farmers and their families, inspecting their livestock-raising facilities and conducting interviews to gather information for their research. This was achieved with the help of a local team GDAHP members Phallaep and Vitou as translators plus USYD PhD student Katherine Ashley who has developed reasonable fluency in Khmer language during her thesis work.
The local farmers were enthusiastic and graciously offered their help, plus samples of their produce, including coconuts, grapefruit, mangosteen and peanuts. Of course this all was well accepted by the hungry students keen to broaden their experience of Khmer cuisine. In addition to appreciation all of the fresh produce, the students thoroughly enjoyed meeting the farming families and learning details of the constraints to smallholder production in Cambodia. It was clearly apparent that livestock have an important socioeconomic role in Cambodian rural livelihoods and cattle in particular have been increasingly important with low return to rice production and other commodities. Forage growing for the feeding of livestock was found to be far more beneficial than the growing of rice and other crops, including cassava and most vegetables.
Figure 1. Project participants at the cattle reproduction workshop learning thoracic auscultation with a stethoscope to examine cattle.
One of the highlights for the students was being able to interact with the village children and spend time learning about the rural society, culture, education and history in Cambodia. Many of the older farmers experienced the ‘ground zero‘ history of the ‘Pol Pot time‘ during the disastrous genocidal Kampuchean Khmer Rouge (KKR) revolution of 1975-1978. However, there were many smiling faces when the students tested their newly acquired fledgling Khmer language skills and particularly when Holly Harrison gave some of the children Koala toys delivered all the way from Australia!
Figure 2. Farmers in Sen Ouk village collecting forage seedlings to improve cattle nutrition and reproduction.
The research team visited two businesses that supplied veterinary medicines and vaccinations to smallholder farmers and their information enabled Holly Laurence to assess the availability of these products within Cambodian rural communities as part of her research. Much needs to be done to ensure a satisfactory ‘cold chain‘ can be developed in rural Cambodia that can deliver efficacious livestock vaccination, particularly for endemic Foot-and-Mouth Disease. Rhiannon was fortunate to be able to stay on for a week and attend a cattle reproduction workshop for 25 participants, hosted by the GDAHP courtesy of HE Dr Sen Sovann and in-country ACIAR project leader Dr Suon Sothoeun. The workshop was conducted by the Australian team of Professor Peter Windsor, Bega Veterinary Practitioner Peter Alexander, and USYD PhD student Luisa Olmo who is examining cattle reproductive health. The first day addressed reproductive anatomy and physiology, measurement of reproductive outcomes, and work on understanding constraints to reproductive efficiency. The second day was practical training at the Tamao Breeding Station in Takeo where participants were trained in clinical examination, body conditions scoring and pregnancy testing. The next day the research team visited the Sen Ouk village project site in Takeo for a project meeting with a grateful and enthusiastic group of farmers involved in the distribution of forage seedlings to improve cattle nutrition.
This reproduction workshop was for Provincial and District officers working in animal health and production, encountering the challenges of working with farmers expecting cows to regularly deliver calves from low condition score Haryana and Indigenous crossbred cattle in rural Cambodia. Previous work by the USYD-GDAHP research team established that Cambodian cattle have a mean inter-calving interval of 20months (in Australian beef cattle the target is 12months). This low reproductive efficiency is considered mainly due to endemic nutritional anoestrous in Cambodian cattle provided with poor nutrient availability from the largely ‘cut and carry‘ feeding system in widespread use, particularly in the wet season. Rhiannon presented her preliminary findings for a draft calving calendar that encourages alignment of calving with seasonal availability of a rising plane of nutrition when energy demands of lactating cattle are 2.5x those of dry (non-pregnant) cattle. The calendar was very well received and useful feedback was provided, enabling Rhiannon and the team to progress her work and understanding. As some attendees have commenced artificial insemination activities in response to demand for better quality cattle, future training is planned that will address problems of advanced reproductive technology in cattle.
In conclusions, the BAVBioSci Hons students, supported by New Colombo Plan mobility grant funding, enjoyed learning about the Cambodian smallholder productions system and participating in research that is improving the livelihoods of the rural poor in this most interesting of countries. They also appreciated the rich culture and history of the Khmer population, both during their work and in ‘down-time‘, visiting many historic locations, including the spectacular temples of Angkor Wat and the strangely dark and sobering monuments of the KKR killing fields. Like many visitors to Cambodia, these contrasting experiences are challenging and informative, although unlike most tourists, the Hons students gained much deeper insights into rural Cambodian life that enabled them to connect and communicate with famers for a much richer experience of Cambodia.
Figure 3. BAvBioSc Hons students Holly‘s and Rhiannon with Phaleap (far left) visiting project site villages in Cambodia.
Authors: Cameron Grundy and Georgia Andrews (reviewed by Isabel MacPhilamy & Peter Windsor)
Cameron and Georgia were in Laos for four weeks in June/July this year as part of their final year rotations in Public Practice rotations, obtaining hands-on experience of the challenges faced by the veterinary personnel and extension workers involved in smallholder livestock development activities in northern Laos. In addition to contributing to management of a variety of interesting companion animal cases at the SK Vet Clinic in Luang Prabang, including a case of suspected rabies, they were particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in serological monitoring activities evaluating the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) Vaccination project, a program involving strategic administration of over 1.6 million vaccines into large ruminants in northern provinces between 2012 to 2016, aimed ultimately at developing an FMD-free zone with vaccination in northern Laos. Cameron and Georgia visited the local farming communities of Vang Vieng, a town known as popular tourist destination in northern Laos on the Nam Song River and surrounded by picturesque mountains. These communities had recently participated in the FMD vaccination program, and were now having the immunity of their cattle and buffalo tested. This allows researchers to determine to level and duration of immunity provided by vaccination in the local Lao bovine species and breeds. They submitted the following blog.
“To test for immunity to FMD following vaccination, the team needed to obtain blood samples, an activity that made us extremely grateful for the farm facilities we have in Australia. As most livestock farmers in Laos are ‘smallholder farmers’, generally owning less than 10 head of cattle/buffalo, the finances available to purchase conventional cattle crushes are absent. Nevertheless the teams and farmers are quite resourceful in their ways of restraining their cattle. Some may say even better than a few hobby farmers many Australia cattle vets have had to deal with! In most cases the animals were restrained between a tree and a metal ‘bleeding pole’ that works in a similar fashion to the head bail in a crush. Tail jacks are then implemented to restrain the back end of the animal. While this system may still pose a slight danger to the person collecting blood, it generally works quite well and the pole can easily be moved between farmers and villages, so is very cost effective. Ideally, as cattle production and incomes increase it would be great if each village could afford to have communal cattle crushes, as long as appropriate biosecurity measures are established to prevent risks of disease transmission. After the blood is collected the samples were stored until the serum was separated and frozen for later analysis in the government veterinary laboratory in Vientiane.
Image 1. Cameron jugular bleeding a cow in northern Laos to enable post-vaccine serological monitoring for FMD antibodies; note the use of a wooden bleeding pole enabling restraint of the cow.
This field trip was a great opportunity to witness the conditions involved in both animal health activities and those of the smallholder farmers. We were able to see where the cattle and buffalo are grazed and housed, with current risks of disease transmission that are faced by many smallholder farmers, clearly observed. FMD is caused by the highly contagious FMD virus, with multiple circulating serotypes which need to be established so that the correct vaccine is used when implementing vaccination campaigns. In the developed world during an FMD outbreak, many affected animals have traditionally been slaughtered in effort to contain outbreaks. In the developing countries such as in Laos, the slaughter of animals does not occur as cattle representing the household “bank” and governments cannot afford paying farmers compensation for the loss of their animals. All of these factors highlight the need for increased biosecurity practices, vaccination programs and public awareness campaigns targeting FMD.
Image 2. Cameron and Georgia examining a canine patient at the SK Vet Clinic in Luang Prabang in Laos during their final year BVSc Public Practice rotation
The importance of disease prevention was further highlighted when we were invited to participate in an Australian Centre for International Research (ACIAR) led goat production and marketing workshop held at the Department of Agriculture and Forestry Office in Luang Prabang. This workshop involved participants from University of New England, University of Sydney, National Agriculture and Forestry Institute, National University of Laos, and the Lao Department of Agriculture and Forestry, along with representatives from NGOs and Agroforestry. The workshop was aimed at identifying areas within the current goat production systems that require research, including identifying the current markets that are being accessed by goat traders both within the country and in neighbouring Vietnam (it is believed that currently about 3,000 goats a month are sent to Vietnam from Laos). This was a great experience for us to witness the collaborative efforts required in resolving current production issues facing the emerging Lao goat industry. These experience as enabled us to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by the Lao animal health sector and the enormous efforts that are required to create a more food secure country with improved rural livelihoods for some of the poorest people in the SE Asian region. Importantly, we observed how veterinary and animal scientists working in academic institutions with and supported by organisations such as ACIAR, OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) and NGOs, can contribute significantly to the development of rural communities and help combat regional poverty.”
Image 3. Georgia jugular bleeding a cow near Vang Vieng in Laos to enable serological examination for antibodies FMD following vaccination, using a wooden bleeding pole.
“We conclude this with a big thank you to our Lao government hosts and the MLR team for having us this past month, plus the Australian government for financial support for us through the New Colombo Plan. We’ve had a really amazing and enjoyable time in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, with special thanks to Phiwanh who has been amazing, looking over us at the clinic everyday. We can’t wait to tell students in the year below what a great place Laos. Hopefully you can get many more students here in coming years to experience the important work done by the DLF & USYD with assistance from ACIAR, in addition to the work of other agencies in helping improve Lao smallholder livelihoods.”
Prof Em Peter Windsor, 17/06/17
On Thursday June 15th, 2017, members of the MLR team from the Lao DLF (Dr Syseng Khounsy) and USYD (Drs Peter Windsor and Sonevilay Nampanya, with project coordinator Isabel MacPhillamey & PhD student Luisa Olmo), crossed the Nim river by ferry (Figure 1) and visited an interesting ‘cattle bank’ enterprise in Boungpao village, Toulakhom District, approximately 60km from Vientiane capital. This occurred during a field trip to inspect the local manufacture by Mr Vanthanouvong, of 6 mechanical forage ‘choppers’ ordered by the in-country Lao project leadership. The cost of each chopper is USD190 for use with a hand tractor, or USD310 if required with a motor. These devices are considered essential for improving the utilisation of high fibre forages (e.g. Napier and Guinea grasses) for cattle fattening and potentially silage production (Figure 2). The choppers will be provided to our 4 collaborating provinces (LPB, XK, XB, SAV) & 2 universities (NUOL & SavU) by our research project on development of a biosecure beef marketing system for Laos (ACIAR/2012/068).
Figure 1. MLR team on ferry crossing river to village (from left: Peter Windsor, Luisa Olmo, Isabel MacPhilamey & Syseng Khounsy)
This ‘cattle bank’ is a private enterprise initiative of the Phonesack company, supported by high level Lao government officials. This village enterprise involves 60 local farmers, and has been in operation for almost 3 years (reputedly similar operations are occuring in other locations). Each farmer needs to have at least 5 cows and is expected to grow forage to enable fattening by grass-fed feed-lotting (Figure 3). The co-operative enterprise provides an extra ‘crossbred’ cow (Brahman x Indigenous breed) ‘on loan’, with the first calf returned to the co-operative, the 2nd retained by the farmer, the third passed to another farmer, and the cow and all further calves then considered to be owned by the farmer. Matings are arranged by payment for service using superior bulls owned by several of the farmers in the village. All cattle in the enterprise are vaccinated regularly for Foot-and-Mouth Disease and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia.
Figure 2. Mr Touay Vanthanouvong demonstrating use of one the 6 forage choppers currently being prepared for ACIAR project AH/2012/068
With the wet season now commencing and increasing available forage for feeding, the cattle in the inspected feed-lot appeared to be flourishing and the owners interviewed were pleased with the initiative. However, the history of ‘cattle banks’ have not always been positive and whether this initiative proves to be sustainable, particularly with the obligations of the ‘calf return’ process, remains to be seen. With the current market demand for beef in Vientiane exceeding local supply, the current situation for expansion and improved efficiency of beef cattle production in Laos appears strong, despite the significant increase in cattle numbers into the region in recent years, particularly from Australian live cattle exports into Vietnam, Cambodia and potentially China.
Figure 3. Sonevilay Nampanya, Mr Touay Vanthanouvong & Syseng Khounsy observing cattle in forage feed-lot fed chopped fresh forages
Whilst these are positive developments for the livelihoods of many smallholder and semi-commercial Lao farmers, the expansion of the Lao cattle trade also raises some important issues that need to be managed. In particular, increasing live trade leads to significant increases in the risks of transmission of infectious and non-infectious diseases respectively. The principles and practices of animal biosecurity plus improvement of the current veterinary surveillance system and veterinary and animal science training capacity in Laos, is becoming increasingly important for Lao livestock farmers and other stakeholders, including policy makers.
Luisa Olmo, PhD candidate, The University of Sydney
Building the knowledge of local people in developing countries rather than providing once-off cash hand-outs is the new-age cornerstone to aid-work and agricultural development that we should all be proud of. While the concept of increasing local knowledge sounds very pretty, in practice, it is a demanding, creative, and at times a bizarre process that eventually leads to change. A recent visit to Laos and Cambodia allowed me to be yet again reminded of some of great quirks to international agricultural research. I am now starting my second year of PhD research at the University of Sydney which focuses on improving the efficiency of reproduction in cattle and buffalo in smallholder farmers in Cambodia and Laos. This is our proactive approach to address the food security perfect storm being brewed by rapid swelling of the developing population and increasing waves of protein consumption. This will require increased production of animal sourced protein and the only way to achieve this sustainably is to promote efficient market-driven beef supply.
Domestic animals can only reproduce when all their needs have been met and this is why it is often the most difficult outcome to achieve improvement. Despite recent gains in nutrient availability through forage technology and animal health through vaccine administration, reproductive improvement relies on smallholders strategically positioning these gains in line with the reproductive cycle. This is why the project held specifically a ‘reproductive workshop’ involving agricultural staff held in the spiritual and beautiful city of Luang Prabang, Laos, in February of 2017.
Our team prepared in Sydney initially, and my job was to track down pregnancy testing gloves and lubricant. While most supplies can be tracked down in-country, our team has learnt you can never be too prepared. To my surprise, I found that you can bring 3 litres of lubricant to Asia without raising any eyebrows at customs. Day 1 of the workshop entailed bovine reproductive expert Dr Peter Alexander delivering a run-down of reproductive physiology which was translated by Dr Sonevilay Nampanya, whose strong technical knowledge as a University of Sydney PhD graduate and Lao-national was truly beneficial to the dissemination of knowledge. The entire group broke for lunch together at a small local noodle shop where we all competed in ritualistic staining of our soups the reddest with chilli sauce as a humorous demonstration of our characters.
Image 1: (From left to right) Luisa Olmo, Dr Sonevilay Nampanya, Dr Syseng Khounsy, Professor Peter Windsor and Dr Peter Alexander breaking for lunch at local noddle shop
An after-lunch makeshift pregnancy examination of buffalo reproductive tracts at varying stages of gestation provided a welcomed change of pace. The activity is to try and distinguish the parts of the reproductive tract just by feeling. A piece of butcher’s paper is used to hide the reproductive tracts and Peter Alexander guides everyone through the tracts one-by-one.
Image 2 and 3: Peter Windsor and Peter Alexander leading group examination of buffalo reproductive tracts
Not unusual to the Lao staff is an early morning start the next day at a local buffalo farm. Buffalo are led into a makeshift cattle crush constructed by the team the previous day. The gloves and lube are whipped out and everyone is given a chance to test for pregnancy, many for their first time. One of the great perks of working in reproduction is that it is a naturally a fun topic and the excitement is visible on everyone faces.
Image 4: Excited DLF staff with Luisa Olmo preparing for pregnancy testing
Image 5: Dr Nampanya guiding a district staff member through pregnancy testing
We return to the conference room for a group discussion where we hash out potential reproductive interventions to assist farmers improve efficiency of reproduction. A passionate discussion leads to the identification of a list of skills that farmers need, an image of the ‘model Lao beef farmer’ and a list of practices required for controlled breeding management. It is a long and grueling process but finally we have what we all came for, a better idea of what is needed by local farmers and district staff to promote efficient market-driven beef supply.
At the end of the day our approach to teaching is the KISS principle (“Keep it simple, stupid”). Clear, simple messages backed up with hands on activities and plenty of coffee breaks to allow the Australian and Lao team to develop personal relationships. In my opinion, building capacity of in-country staff is the only way to ensure that change transcends the lifetime of development projects. Over-complicated messages quite literally get lost in translation. However when all else fails in Laos, at least you can rely on the booming coffee industry to provide ‘turbo’ Dao coffee satchels which at least provide the guise of engagement.
Acknowledgement: This research activity is funded by the Australian Centre of International Agricultural Research and this support is gratefully acknowledged.