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Improving smallholder farmer livelihoods in Takeo Province, Cambodia

By Professor Peter Windsor
It is October 14th, 2016 and our MLR Australian team (Bush, Young, Ashley & Windsor) accompanied by some of our Cambodian collaborators (Phalaep and Vitou) just got back into Phnom Penh from a field visit to a farming village project site to the south of here, near Takeo in Takeo Province in rural Cambodia.  There we inspected the excellent progress our local collaborators have made in our research project, with clear evidence that the assistance provided by the project to smallholder farmers has been improving their livelihoods through enhanced livestock health and production. We have been working in Cambodia and Laos for a decade now, exploring our thesis that perhaps the best way to address rural poverty and food insecurity in developing countries, is by the introduction of mainly knowledge-based interventions that enable livestock ‘keepers to become producers’, enhancing their livelihoods (image 1).
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Image 1: A young girl feeds forages to her family’s cattle.
This enables a more sustainable and resilient family financial base, providing new and diversified income opportunities to support families sufficiently and stop the social decline due to poverty. This is particularly visible here in southern Cambodia, where males often depart their communities to work as labourers in other countries, and younger females are trucked into the garment factories near Phnom Penh (image 2), or alternative employment in less desirable jobs, to provide an income source for their families.
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Image 2: Young women being transported for employement
Although our ‘project entry point’ in Cambodia is provision of forage technology to improve cattle feeding, we are now assisting other livestock enterprises, particularly through control of diseases (e.g. vaccination of poultry and pigs). With cattle, we have begun examining a new approach here by improving cattle nutrition and parasite control through the use of molasses-urea blocks (image 3).
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Image 3: Our research in Laos includes trialing molasses-urea and anthelimintic treated blocks to control internal parasites
These blocks have great potential to help manage the severe dry season nutritional deficiencies and provide parasite management in countries where there are no facilities for treatment of large ruminants and livestock husbandry knowledge is generally low (see blog on their use in Laos).
It is now the wet season here when the forages flourish, but the prolonged dry season this year with several months delay in arrival of the monsoon, has seen less forage production this year and farmers are yet to commence making silage for the dry season. With farms are still recovering from drought, the blocks may prove to be a great help in the next dry season and in planning for future droughts, which appears to be an emerging regional issue possibly associated with increasing climate variability. However, in less drought-affected areas such as Tbong Khmum, farmers are busily working together to create silage stores for feeding cattle in the dry (image 4) and grass feed-lotting of cattle has begun to provide a more consistent animal with higher body condition scores to the emerging local and regional beef markets (image 5).
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Image 4: Farmers demonstrate to their peers how they chop and prepare forages for silage
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Image 5: Farmers are investing in feeding bunkers to feed forages to fatten cattle prior to sale to market.

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