Peter Windsor, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney
Siem Reap in northern Cambodia is one of the most familiar cities in SE Asia, with over 2 million visitors annually, due to proximity to one of the great wonders of the world, Angkor Wat and the temples of the Khmer Empire. The Angkor kingdom ruled the region from the 9th century, falling in the 15th century to become a vassal state ruled by neighbours. Cambodia became a protectorate of France in 1863, increasing in land area through reclamation of parts of the north and west from Thailand. Sadly, Cambodia is equally well-known for the genocidal regime of the Pol Pot Communist Party of Kampuchea that emerged in 1968 as the Khmer Rouge, seizing power and ruling over a bizarre attempt at agricultural reform led to widespread famine and the tragedy of the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979, with ~4 million people lost. The Khmer Rouge were eventually removed from power by Vietnam in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War in 1979, although continued a guerilla warfare until 1994. Today the Kingdom of Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with King Norodom Sihamoni as head of state, although the Prime Minister Hun Sen has now ruled for 32 years, over a population of almost 16 million people, of which ~80% live in rural areas and over 50% of employed people between the ages of 15-64 are engaged in the agricultural sector.
Angkor Wat is an immensely popular tourist destination in South-East Asia, as well as being an important cultural site for locals (Photo: J Young)
Our previous ACIAR-funded project in Cambodia (AH/2005/086, ‘Best Practice Health & Husbandry of Cattle, Cambodia) worked in the 3 southern provinces of Kampong Cham, Takeo and Kandal, establishing that because of persistent low returns from rice growing, smallholder farmers needed to diversify away from their dependence on rice and those with cattle that adopted high-yielding forage plantations, improved their livelihoods significantly through improved financial returns for beef cattle. Importantly, they had more time to establish additional enterprises, including the raising of chickens and pigs.
Cattle raised under traditional management practices are often used for agricultural work during rice planting and transport of produce (Photo: J Young)
Our new project (AH/2011/014, ‘Village-based Biosecurity for Livestock Disease Risk Management in Cambodia’) commenced in April 2015, and is a 3 year program that will test the best methods of establishing a preventative health system involving all species that addresses disease constraints to improved livestock productivity, ultimately enhancing smallholder livelihoods i.e. ‘healthier animals make healthier families’. Importantly, the new project extended the previous successes in Takeo and Kampong Cham, to the new south-eastern province of Tbong Khmum, and developed new project sites in Siem Reap in the north and Battambang in the north-west.
As our previous findings established that the most suitable ‘entry point’ for healthy cattle-raising was improving nutrition, the new project immediately began by establishing forage plantations (of Mulatto 2, Mombasa, Terenos and Stylo) in the project sites and by late 2016, a total of 292,600 square metres of forages were being cultivated in sites in the 5 provinces. Improved condition scores of cattle increased their value, an important achievement at a time when cattle prices declined approximately 30% due to the loss of the export trade to Vietnam (most likely a direct result of the Australian live export trade of feeder & slaughter cattle into Vietnam in recent years).
The project team inspecting the fenced off forages in Tbeng Lech in Bantey Srey district in Siem Reap of Mr Chuun Hean on 22/02/17 (Photo: P Windsor)
On a visit on February 21st 2017 to the project site in the village of Tbeng Lech in Bantey Srey district of Siem Reap province, 4 farms were visited where the forages were still thriving despite the severe evaporative heat of the mid-dry season. This was in part due to the occurrence of later than usual rains, but also the establishing of irrigation systems on all 4 farms to prolong the growing season and ensure the plantations survive until the expected onset of the monsoon in late May. The first farm visited had recently sold 3 of his 8 cows and invested in both a cattle-raising shed to commence a small feed lot when the rains return, plus a small but increasing poultry-raising enterprise, currently at 65 adult birds and 200 grower chicks, with an innovative styro-foam kerosene lamp egg incubation system enabling him to expand this enterprise. Two of the other 3 farms had diversified their enterprises in addition to growing forages for cattle, with one purchasing a valuable bull to provide stud services (at $10-15 per service fee), another expanding pig raising and vegetable growing, whilst the fourth farm had considerably expanded the forages, with an extensive irrigation system and fencing off of sites to prevent unwanted grazing.
The project team inspecting the forage plantations of Ms Buth & Ms Pros in Boeung Prey, Banan, Battambang province (Photo: P Windsor)
Of particular interest was that the 3rd round of FMD vaccination was occurring in Tbeng Lech during our visit. This village consists of 271 families, with about 110 cattle and 10 buffalo. Presentation of animals for vaccination and ear tagging had increased from 60% initially, to 70% at the 2nd round 6 months ago, and now over 80%. Increasing enthusiasm for vaccination is likely attributable to biosecurity training, although it is likely to have been motivated by a widespread FMD outbreak in Siem Reap province in January and February, involving 7 districts and including Bantey Srey, although not in Tbong Lech.
Official reports were that 651 large ruminants had been affected (including 12 buffalo) by FMD and that 19 had died (including 5 buffalo), although under-reporting is widely recognised as an issue for FMD control in Cambodia. The provincial and district offices of agriculture had administered 1,602 doses of trivalent FMD vaccine (O, A, Asia 1) to animals in villages surrounding where outbreaks occurred. It is hoped that the lessons of improved biosecurity and vaccination practices as a means to protecting more valuable better-fed cattle, has been understood by the villagers of Tbeng Lech and can be extended to other areas. During a training session in the village on the day following the FMD vaccination, very capably led by project extension specialist Ms Hok Chan Palleap, the 31 villagers in attendance (including 16 females) expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude to the MLR team (Windsor, Olmo and Alexander) for the project and the action learning that has been offered them through this ACIAR-funded project, supported by the Cambodian and Australian governments. As Cambodia rushes from the still recent tragic past (certainly in the minds of those born before 1975) towards a more prosperous future, it is projects like these that offer pathways for smallholder farmers to participate, albeit as relatively minor beneficiaries, in the economic transformation of their country and the South-East Asian region.
Farmer biosecurity training in Boeung Prey village in Banan district, Battambang Province, 23/02/17 (Photo: P Windsor)