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Successes of the MLR student program in Laos and Cambodia

By April Mcelligott, Maddison Pearce and Brooke Gallagher

Edited by Professor Peter Windsor

An important contribution to the work of MLR in Laos and Cambodia has been the considerable contributions of both undergraduate and postgraduate students from Australia, Laos and Cambodia. The MLR leadership actively sought scholarships and other funding from several sources to support these students. In particular, successful ongoing applications to the New Colombo Plan provided through DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) enabled regular contributions from Australian undergraduate students to MLR. Importantly, this program enabled the MLR team to quickly recruit new staff when required and new PhD students when sub-projects requiring more input arose. The following blog is an example of how this program assisted both the host country Laos and the learning of bright young impending Australian graduates.

Throughout January and February 2019, three Honours students, from The University of Sydney visited Luang Prabang to collect data for their projects. The students were from relatively different backgrounds, with April studying for a Bachelor of Food and Agribusiness, and Brooke and Maddison undertaking the Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience degree. Throughout their 5 week stay in Laos, the students worked with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) and fellow PhD students of The University of Sydney, Nichola Calvani and Francesca Earp on ACIAR (Australian Center for International Agricultural Research) and DFAT-BPP (Business Partnership Platform) funded projects. This involved working closely with Lao project staff members and smallholder farmers in villages in the Luang Prabang city, district and province. Their report follows.

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Brooke holding a calf after the administration of a intestinal worming tablet, Xieng Khoung Province Lao PDR

The first week was spent acclimatising to the country and familiarising ourselves with relevant locations, including the diagnostic laboratory, local SK veterinary clinic, and the DLF office. This included assisting Nichola in conducting some of the laboratory components of her PhD and learning of the impacts of parasites in livestock and especially liver fluke (Fasciola gigantica) in large ruminants. Our role in the laboratory included running the faecal sedimentation technique that concentrates microscopic material and enables identification of liver fluke eggs. Other activities in the first week included data entry into Excel spreadsheets of the considerable survey responses from Farmer and Trader Surveys that had been conducted by Francesca and project staff. These surveys are an important tool to assess changes in farmer knowledge and practices, identify areas where there has been success from training and where additional interventions may be required. One recent observation was that in project 067 on village biosecurity, there has been considerable improvement of disease control knowledge from the training, but a decline in nutrition and reproductive knowledge as these topics were not the focus of the training. This supports the strategy that although training should involve all aspects of the production system, it needs to be delivered ‘step-by-step‘ to ensure adequate coverage.

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Cows belonging to three different farmers returning home at the end of the day, Luang Prabang Province, Lao PDR.

In the second week, Brooke and Nichola travelled to several villages in Xieng Khoung Province to collect faecal samples, tick specimens, body measurements and body condition scores of cattle. This was a great opportunity to gain an understanding of the husbandry practices within the villages whilst also gaining hands-on experience with livestock. During this trip Brooke experienced the local cuisine, eating a number of traditional dishes with the locals from the villages. April and Maddison remained in Luang Prabang during this time and continued with data entry for the Trader Survey Data. This was a challenge as the surveys were conducted and written in Laos, requiring careful translation.

In the third week, April and Maddison travelled to several villages in the Luang Prabang province to collect faecal samples, external parasites, and details of animals involved in the trials, such as age and pregnancy status. This opportunity enabled the learning of how best to handle cattle where few animal restraint facilities are available, such as using a ‘bleeding pole‘, and gain an understanding of how challenging this work is with the limited livestock facilities available in the villages. A major outcome from these trips was developing a greater appreciation of the smallholder farm management practices. Directly engaging with farmers and their families when visiting the villages was an excellent opportunity to learn of the constraints to production, their aspirations , and their appreciation of involvement in the research program.

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Project staff following a morning of sample collection for the AuBPP project activities

On the Friday of the third week we participated in a farmer training day in two villages in the Luang Prabang district. We assisted project staff in collecting blood samples from the livestock for a sero-survey for FMD (foot-and -mouth disease) and interviewed the farmers on their current practices. Our participation in this process enabled us to appreciate the different steps involved in gradually implementing improvements in farm management to increase productivity. We were very aware of how special it is to be welcomed into villages and able to interact with the farmers, their families and their livestock. This is an experience not available to a tourist visiting Laos and it is a wonderful that our time can be used to bring positive benefits to these remarkable people through participatory research.

The last two weeks were primarily spent completing data entry for knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) surveys conducted in 2015 and 2018, providing insights into progress made in farmer learning. We also assisted in the preparations for project officers Isabel MacPhillamy and Francesca to do a longer stint of field work with the Lao team in the villages. This involved organising the equipment they would need for blood and faecal sampling, as well as organising project shirts and information learning handbooks in Lao language to be donated to the farmers they were to work with. Again, this work was an opportunity to observe another aspect of what goes into successfully conducting these studies in a developing country. Working with local district staff enabled us to both develop our Lao language skills and interact with a variety of interesting people with various skills that were highly motivated to bring benefits to poor rural villages through mainly knowledge interventions.

April and Maddison medication calves in Luang Prabang Province, Lao PDR

When we weren’t in the field, office or laboratory we explored the local region, visiting the Lao Buffalo Dairy and the Kuang Si waterfall outside of Luang Prabang, as well as a number of temples. We also participated in pottery and cooking classes and frequently visited the night markets, particularly to try different foods, such as the coconut pancakes that Brooke took a particular liking to. The sunsets over the Mekong River and surrounding mountains never disappointed and whilst Luang Prabang became busier over the Chinese New Year period, the calm and generally easy-going pace was a pleasant change from the busy city of Sydney.

This trip significantly contributed to April, Brooke and Maddison’s honours projects. It was made possible through funding granted by the New Colombo Plan and the University of Sydney’s South East Asia Centre. We are very grateful for the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Lao culture and gain a firsthand understanding of the important role livestock animal management in improving the lives of rural smallholders and contributing to food security.

MLR contributions appreciated and how best to treat FMD?

Peter Windsor and Russell Bush

We are very grateful for the ongoing assistance of Dr Syseng Khounsy, Professor Peter Windsor, Associate Professor Russell Bush and Dr Sonevilay Nampanya, in helping us develop our veterinary curriculum, conduct training for staff and students, introduce new methods of teaching  and enable our participation in research projects.“

This statement was delivered by Dr Vannaphone Putthana, head of veterinary teaching at the Faculty of Agriculture at the National University of Laos (NUOL) in Nabong near Vientiane, prior to the presentation of certificates of appreciation to the MLR leadership team by the Dean of the Faculty (image 1). This occurred during the end of projects 067 and 068 review workshop in Luang Prabang on March 21st, 2019. Professor Windsor and Dr Syseng Khounsy had recently delivered a one day course at Nabong in ‘Animal Disease Investigation and Diagnostic Sampling‘ involving staff and DVM4 students (image 2). This was very well received and used case studies from published work conducted in the ACIAR-funded projects, to illustrate the step-by-step process of how the ‘veterinary detective‘ gathers evidence in a systematic manner, using: (1) case history and epidemiological searching; (2) clinical examination signposts; (3) pathological investigation to reveal the likely disease mechanisms (pathogenesis); and (4)  ancillary diagnostic aids to construct and test differential diagnoses. Our recent papers on Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), Orf virus (Scabby Mouth; image 3), Blackleg clostridial disease, and endoparasites in cattle, buffalo and goats in Laos, illustrate this process and provide excellent case study teaching material for NUOL & elsewhere.

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Image 1: A/Prof Russell Bush, Prof Peter Windsor, Dean Fongsamouth Southammavong, Dr Syseng Khounsy and Dr Vannaphone Putthana

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Image 2: Staff and students with Drs Peter Windsor and Syseng Khounsy at NUOL following ‘Disease Investigation and Diagnosis’ Training on March 18, 2019

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Image 3: Goat in Laos with extensive lesions on the lips typical of Scabby Mouth due to Orf virus infection

MLR has been working in SE Asia for well over a decade, running a major collaborative, applied research program, with funds from several sources, including ACIAR, DFAT, OIE and The Crawford Fund. This work is building the capacity of local government agencies, to enhance the livelihoods of rural families and especially women in Mekong countries, using livestock development to alleviate poverty. We commenced work in 2005 in Cambodia and Laos with SRA (short research activity) support from ACIAR, establishing the viability of a research program to assist smallholder farmers move from subsistence to a production focus. Our ‘Best Practice Health & Husbandry‘ projects supported by ACIAR funding, commenced in 2007 in Cambodia and 2008 in Laos, with both completed in 2012. Their success, built on forage plantations to improve nutrition and interest farmers in animal health interventions, led to further project development in both countries.

In the interim period between ACIAR projects in 2013 to 2015, we continued our work with support from ADB, focused on assisting teaching and learning capacities at NUOL in Laos and FMD surveillance in Cambodia. In 2015, we commenced our current ACIAR-funded biosecurity projects in Cambodia (just completed) and Laos (067), plus a beef development project in Laos (068). Both the Lao projects are currently under review for a possible extension. Following the resignation of Dr Sonevilay Nampanya who now works for FAO in Bangkok, we were pleased that our recent BAVBiosc(Hons) graduate Francesca Earp was keen to assist us with local Lao project support to  our Project Officer Isabel MacPhillamy. Both Franny and Isabel are now enrolled in part-time PhD programs to examine aspects of FMD control. The Lao work led in 2018, to a successful DFAT supported Business Partnership Platform (BPP) Round 2 application. Currently in its second year, this project is establishing the efficacy of innovative medicated feed products, provided by the Queensland based stock-feed company Four Seasons Pty Ltd, owned and managed by Mr Chick Olsson. The aim is to establish commercial viability evidence for delivery of medicated feed blocks to control parasitic diseases and enhance rumen efficiency through safe urea supplementation, improving beef production in SE Asia, potentially leading to a local block manufacturing facility being established in Laos. Current feedback from farmers via BPP PhD student Nichola Calvani, is the cattle love the blocks, the cows are easier to manage & ‘look beautiful’ (image 4), plus the farmers are very keen to buy the blocks.

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Image 4: Cows and calves benefitting in the dry season from nutrient block supplementation

FMD is recognised as the most important infectious disease constraint to the global trade of livestock and their products, particularly in developing countries where there are limited veterinary technical capacities to control disease. A major FMD epidemic occurred in the Mekong in 2009-2012, spreading to East Asia including Korea and Japan, although rigorous vaccination ensured our project sites were protected from disease outbreaks. The excess vaccine supplies from Japan and contributions from the Australian-funded STANDZ (Stop Transboundary Animal Disease) program, enabled a mass vaccination campaign involving 1.6million doses administered against FMD in northern Laos between 2012 and 2016. For a period between 2013 and 2017, clinical FMD was not detected in northern Laos and this was considered largely attributable to the suppressive actions of FMD vaccine in limiting disease expression and transmission. However, with cessation of vaccination, serological evidence has shown that FMD virus was circulating in 2017, with sporadic outbreaks of FMD commencing in 2018. This is in line with expectations that FMD epidemics usually occur every 5-7 year in the Mekong region and FMD control will require persistence with vaccination until widespread biosecurity can be achieved. Our study of the vaccination campaign is at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0950268818002443

An important challenge with clinical FMD is that poorly trained para-veterinary service providers in villages, especially in the Mekong, usually treat FMD with antibiotics. This causes widespread antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and food safety issues, plus is a major cost to farmer livelihoods. AMR is a major threat to the viability of human medical treatment with antimicrobials and there is an urgent need to minimise the inappropriate use of these products in animals. We are currently commencing trials to examine the efficacy of replacing antibiotics with the farmer-applied wound treatment formulation Tri-Solfen®. This product was developed in Australia in 2005 to address animal welfare issues during routine surgical husbandry of livestock. Our extensive pain management research supported the registration of the product for mulesing, tail docking & castration in sheep plus castration & dehorning in cattle (image 5). Over 100 millions lambs have now been treated following the successful adoption of the product by wool growers who noted the  profoundly positive clinical effects of treatment. Containing two local anaesthetics, cetrimide for antisepsis, adrenalin for haemostasis, & a gel that helps protect wounds during healing, the product was developed by Animal Ethics Pty Ltd, registered in 2012, & is distributed in Australia by Bayer Animal Health (image 6). This trial may lead to an exciting breakthrough innovation in the treatment of FMD, offering an alternative to using antimicrobials for FMD. It is affordable and easy to use, will likely greatly improve the comfort of FMD-affected animals through topical pain relief, is virucidal, hastens lesion recovery, and importantly, food safety issues are negligible. Watch this space.

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Image 5: Angus calf surgically castrated and treated with Tri-Solfen wound formulation

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Image 6: Tri-solfen

Successful Cambodian livestock biosecurity project nears completion

By Peter Windsor, Isabel MacPhillamy, Russell Bush

Before people looked at us like a poor family and thought that we are lazy but now they see we are trying to do better, and we have better relationships now”. Comment from a project farmer when asked about the skills and capacity improvements acquired from participation in this project.

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Farmers receiving forage seeds at the beginning of the project in 2015

The population in Cambodia is ~15.4 million people, with about 80% living in rural communities and over 50% employed in agriculture, especially rice production. With declining returns for rice, rural poverty remains high. Our ACIAR-funded research project AH/2012/014 ‘Village based biosecurity for livestock disease risk management in Cambodia’, has been a 3-year project with the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production, aimed at identifying how smallholder farmers can develop their farming systems to be more sustainable and importantly, biosecure. The project introduced and measured several interventions to motivate farmers to improve the value of their livestock and understand the importance of protecting them from devastating diseases,  including foot and mouth disease (FMD) and haemorrhagic septicaemia (HS) in cattle, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and Newcastle disease (ND) in poultry, and most recently, FMD and African swine fever (ASF) in pigs, as the latter scourge spreads through China and now into Vietnam.

From Left to Right: Project team members with a farmers forage plot in late 2016; A farmer collecting forage seedlings, mid 2017; project team with farmers collecting seedlings from a forage seedling bank mid 2017.

The project successfully introduced forages to improved livestock nutrition, vaccinations and farm biosecurity to prevent infectious diseases, and bovine reproduction training to better manage breeding as the uptake of artificial insemination in cattle increases. Farmer participants were from 16 project locations in Battambang, Siem Reap, Takeo, Tbong Khmum and Kampong Cham provinces, with data collected from a total of 2747 large ruminants (although 2 villages in Siem Reap withdrew due to flooding from a dam). The initial intervention of forage development led to 178 farmers growing 438,800m2 with plot sizes increasing to an average of 0.2ha per farm. This reduced the time spent feeding cattle from 5.8 to 2.4hours/day, enabling householders to focus on generating other income &/or education. Despite seasonal variations in forage availability, the average weight of the cattle increased consistently at each subsequent data collection across all provinces, as did the body condition score and prices received on sale. Weight increased by 90 grams with each additional estimated US$ of value. Income from livestock increased from US$768.5 in 2015 to US$1119.6 in 2018.

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Cattle receiving FMD and HS vaccinations as part of the project interventions and activities.

An important observation was the negative gross margins from rice growing, with declining rice income from US$572.2 in 2015 to US$366.3 in 2018. As a result, land used for rice production also decreased through the project. Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) surveys conducted at the beginning and end of the project indicated significant improvements in farmer knowledge. An increased focus on improving reproduction was noted and this is likely to improve awareness of the importance of biosecurity, disease control and improved nutrition to enhance breeding. Extension staff were pleased with a seasonal breeding calendar developed by the project. This encourages farmers to plan for calving earlier in the wet season, enabling a rising plane of nutrition to improve lactation, calf growth and cows to return to service, improving breeding efficiency.

 

Haryana cattle being fed forages – as the project progressed, more farmers began specifically feeding forages and building special animal housing. the photo on the left shows Mr and Mrs Sokny in front of their animal housing which also has an outdoor shaded area where the cattle are feeding from.

The project also focused on the role of paraveterinary services provided by Village Animal Health Workers (VAHWs) as these are an individual farmer located in most villages who received limited animal health training and appear motivated to treat rather than prevent or report disease. VAHW incomes did not improve significantly between 2015 and 2018 and 50% of the 2018 participants indicated that they felt that they need to earn more or seek other employment. Of concern was that VAWH frequently administer antibiotics despite their awareness that is inappropriate for viral diseases such as FMD and that this practice increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and potentially food safety concerns. As an analysis of FMD diagnoses identified concerns with the distribution of disease surveillance in Cambodia, with outbreaks in closer proximity to Phnom Penh more likely to be investigated, the current disease reporting system requires improvements. A potential solution through training of VAHWs in more effective disease prevention & vaccine delivery was identified as both a means of increasing their incomes and contributing to improved disease surveillance.

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Australian and Project team members in front of some of the project posters in 2016.

This research project has confirmed that healthy and productive livestock have become an increasingly important livelihood income stream for participating rural households in Cambodia and represent an important pathway from rural poverty for many families. We observed that increasingly, many farmers not directly involved in the project, were keen to adopt the introduced interventions, particularly as there were reduced returns from growing crops and especially rice, plus demand for beef animals remains strong. These research findings are important for the Government of Cambodia when formulating future agricultural policy as they demonstrate readily achievable gains in alleviation of poverty and food insecurity. As for the farmers participating in this project, many readily acknowledge they will be able to share their new skills and assist other farmers to improve their farming systems and this will directly translate to improved family livelihoods: see blog ‘Our children now go to university’. Improving rural livelihoods through livestock developments in Cambodia

Enhancing rural livelihoods in Laos by farmer training cross visits 

By Francesca Earp, edited by Peter Windsor

Long term research by its nature, often means there is a lack of obvious short-term outcomes, unless extension activities to share research findings with other farmers, are efficiently practiced. The recent Farmer Cross Visit in Laos was a firm reminder of how important these research projects are in improving farmer education and practices. The Farmer Cross Visit provided excellent opportunities for farmers to teach and learn about farm management and new on-farm interventions and activities that improve their livelihoods.

On the 15th of January 2019, the Luang Prabang field team and I travelled to Vientiane and joined over 50 farmers and district staff from our four project provinces, to observe some ‘Champion farms’ in action. The day was hosted by the Lao Quality Beef initiative  (LQBI) and consisted of talks by the members of the project team and the farmers, then a question and answer session, followed by tours of farms. The attendees were introduced to the importance of appropriate feeding, cattle housing and new technologies as ways to improve their farms productivity levels.

49897930_2278589732388469_8356186284019941376_nThe MLR team is very appreciative of the LQBI for collaborating on this excellent farmer activity (Photo: Kivor Phanthavong)

The LQBI commenced in 2017 and is an in-country project in partnership with the New Zealand Government. The project is aimed at improving beef production in Laos to ensure food security and improved productivity. The morning commenced with introductions of  each of the ‘Champion farmers’ and presentations on the project’s success thus far.

The morning workshop focused on cattle feeding, providing instructions on silage production and its uses, making hay out of unused rice straw, and the composition of diets using supplementation. Much of this information was novel to the farmers with most farms in Laos currently allowing cattle to free graze as their main form of feeding. This means that currently, growth performance of Lao cattle is predominantly derived from naturally occurring native grasses of variable and often low quantity and quality. With native grass species having a low nutritive value, the recommendations on appropriate cattle diet provided were particularly important. Over coming weeks, the dry season will continue to reduce the quality of pasture, causing declines in growth rates of beef cattle.  The attendees were provided with handbooks outlining the composition of new diets for cattle and were encouraged to use the diet plans on their own smallholder farms.

50623472_2278583905722385_3325490690783182848_nFarmers learning about silage production. In Laos silage is generally made and stored in tubs, rather than the big pits we are familiar with in Australia (Photo: Kivor Phanthavong)

Housing of cattle was another focus of the training, with housing methods and stocking rates within them demonstrated. A common problem within smallholder farms is the overstocking of cattle pens, compromising the growth rate of the animals. It was valuable for the farmers to tour the ‘champion farms’ and see the various housing methods used on the large, medium and small-scale champion farms. Within these housing facilities appropriate feeding and water apparatuses as well as use of cattle crushes were demonstrated and the attending farmers had opportunities to use cattle scales and the cattle crushes.

49938822_2278584889055620_7754533057444446208_nLearning about pen stocking density is important to maintain adequate health and hygiene (Photo: Kivor Phanthavong)

The cross visit also aimed to showcase new technologies available within the Laos agricultural scene, including the use of electric fences. These fences were seen on the medium and large-scale farms providing both perimeter and subdivision fencing. This is an important initiative as it provides divisions within the farms to improve pasture management and reduce the occurrence of co-grazing with neighboring farms. Refusing co-grazing with neighboring villages is an important biosecurity measure for disease mitigation as it limits the potential spread of important diseases. Reducing the risk of FMD in Laos has been an important focus of our projects, as was demonstrated by our recently published research: https://mekonglivestock.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/miller-et-al-2018.pdf.

Research has shown that ‘Farmer Cross Visits’ are a very effective strategy in agricultural extension in Laos. This strategy has been promoted regularly in our ‘Train the Trainer’ workshops funded through our ACIAR plus Crawford Fund and DFAT-BPP (Business Partnership Platform) supported projects on cattle production. In addition to forage production, silage, cattle nutrition and handling, we have been promoting disease control through biosecurity and vaccination, plus nutrient molasses block supplementation and parasite control. Applied participatory research & extension projects that use a combination of these strategies are proving powerful in changing farmers attitudes and practices from a traditional subsistence approach to a productivity focus. These projects allow farmers to ‘Learn by Doing’ as they measure the weight gains and observe the improved incomes from more efficiency livestock raising, resulting in enhanced family livelihoods.

The ‘Farmer Cross Visit’ day concluded with a question and answer session providing the farmers with opportunities to clarify issues and concerns with the practices they had observed and participated in. The farmers were very enthusiastic and appreciative of the learning provided. On days like this, we are reminded of the importance of the work we are doing and the collaborations between Lao, Australian and New Zealand institutions, including funding agencies such as ACIAR and DFAT, that support these contributions. The obvious improvements on the farms visited that are applying these interventions, in addition to the capabilities of the farmers to teach and learn from each other, made for an inspiring educational day. I was very proud to be involved.

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Some farm visits aren’t complete without at tree bridge crossing (Photo: Kivor Phanthavong)

Successful Bovine Reproduction Workshops held in Laos in November

Peter Windsor, Peter Alexander, Isabel MacPhillamy

The MLR group is highly motivated to finding novel research solutions that can improve the livelihoods of poor smallholder farming families in the Mekong, With the prolonged upward trajectory of demand for beef animals for transport to China and Vietnam, beef production has become far more profitable than many other smallholder rural enterprises, particularly traditional subsistence rice cultivation. It is estimated that over a million large ruminants per annum are now transported across the region and into China. Our Mekong Livestock Research team has been working closely with smallholder farmers in Laos and Cambodia, encouraging them to improve the nutrition, health, husbandry and management of their animals. This increases the financial returns to smallholder families from the trade of heavier animals of improved quality and quantity, in turn, improving the food security of rural families and contributing a stronger beef market for the growth of the national economies.

The Lao government has recently signed an agreement with China to supply 600,000 large ruminants annually. This is a substantial increase on the approximately 100,000 animals that are transported across the Mekong by boat in Borkeo from countries further west, then driven to the Chinese border through Luang Namtha province, as previously illustrated in one of our blogs. To meet this increasing demand, it will be important for Lao farmers to improve their bovine reproductive management skills.

To assist this, we have recently delivered training in bovine reproduction to senior veterinary students and staff at the National University of Laos at Nabong campus, and to government staff of Savannakhet Province plus animal science students at Savannakhet University. This was similar to previous workshops delivered in Luang Prabang Province and NUOL in 2010 and 2017. The training involved Peter Alexander from Bega Veterinary Hospital with Isabel MacPhillamy and Prof Peter Windsor, plus translations from Dr Vannaphone Putthana at NUOL and Dr Syseng Khounsy in Savannakhet. The training included basic learning in reproductive anatomy, physiology, husbandry, and reproductive diseases research, delivered as lectures and discussions, with practical classes involving both reproductive tissue and live animal breeding soundness examinations with pregnancy testing.

 

The workshop presented our previous studies that documented that in Laos, bovine reproductive parameters are poor with low level knowledge and skills of farmers and extension staff (Matsumoto et al. 2016) . The inter-calving interval, or time taken for rebreeding after a cow calves, has been measured at between 14.5-19 months for cattle and 26 months for buffalo. This is because for many Lao cattle, calving currently occurs at the onset of the dry season in November through January. When trying to feed a calf when there is minimal feed, a cow uses her own energy reserves and enters ‘anoestrus’ (when her reproductive cycle ceases). For a cow and farmer to be able to meet the 2.5x energy demand for lactation, the cow needs to either be bred so she calves in the early wet season, or fed from irrigated forages in the dry season so she can lactate but not lose too much weight. However, as lactating cows need to consume ~10-15% of their body weight with fresh forages daily, feeding for a dry season lactation is very demanding.

Our practical training classes emphasised the importance of closely monitoring the body condition score (BCS) and conducting breeding soundness examinations for cows (CBSE) and bulls (BBSE). Attendees learned that the BCS is measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very skinny and 5 being very fat or obese. Breeding cows perform best when the BCS is maintained around 2.5-3.5, although even well fed cows may lose between 1-1.5 units of the BCS when lactating. Animals that are being fattened for beef should be BCS 3.5-4. As cows that are above BCS of 4 may have trouble calving, excessive weight for a breeder should be avoided. A fat breeder is often a sign that the cow missed getting in calf or has lost her calf. Breeding soundness examinations of both bulls and cows should be done routinely before selecting which animals to retain in the herd and breed from. Animals that do not pass the breeding soundness exam should not be kept as they will be wasting the limited resources on a farm.

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Dr Peter Alexander assisting one of the students in Savannakhet to remove his rectal glove (Photo: Peter Windsor)

The attendees were introduced to the benefits of pregnancy testing as a useful step in improving the management of cattle reproduction. This training was very popular with the attendees, with both ‘empty’ and ‘gravid’ cows examined ‘per rectum’. This examination determines how many cows are pregnant and enables separation of non-pregnant cows. Cows that consistently do not get pregnant and return to heat after several attempts at breeding, should be culled. The pregnancy test is part of a reproductive examination to identify cows that are fertile and also, readily identifying if the bull(s) or AI services have not been adequate to ensure that most cows are in calf. If the bull is infertile it can be rapidly replaced. We emphasised that only individuals with many years’ experience are expected to successfully diagnose pregnancy in cows under 8 weeks pregnant. We also covered numerous additional topics in the training, including: Calving management, calf health and weaning; Heat detection; Artificial insemination; Bull selection; Dystocia management; and the reproductive diseases Neosporosis, Leptospirosis and BVD (Bovine Virus Diarrhoea) diagnosis and management.

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A student at the Nabong campus for the National University of Laos practicing pregnancy diagnosis via rectal palpation (Photo: Peter Windsor)

Considerable discussion was generated on the development of a Reproduction Calendar for Laos. A proposed reproduction calendar was provided as this is a useful tool for farmers to plan the mating of their cows. The calendar can be altered to suit the feed and farmer availability, but the crucial message is that cows need to calve when there is increasing high quality feed available that will persist for the next 3-4 months. This ensures the cow does not lose excessive body condition during lactation and will come into heat faster and will be able to successfully become pregnant sooner.

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The stunning sunset we were greeted by when we arrived in Savannakhet (Photo: Peter Windsor).

Following the Savannakhet visit, Drs Peter Alexander and Syseng Khounsy drove to Pakse to examine cattle production in southern Laos. This also included a visit to Wat Phou, the most northern temple of the historical Angkor Empire and older than the more famous temple of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap in Cambodia. The temple is one of the oldest archeological sites in Laos and involves a walk up steep steps to reach the top with some spectacular views.

The trip to Laos was completed with a workshop to update partners on the progress of the Australian Business Partnership Platform (AuBPP) project which involves USyd, the DLF, 4 Season Company and DFAT. This project officially commenced in October 2017, with a brief overview of the project provided in our annual newsletter. Trials with 8% urea blocks have recently been completed and a trial with triclabendazole medicated blocks is currently commencing to assess the efficacy of this approach to control liver fluke. At the start of the workshop, we visited one of our trial sites to allow our partners at Palladium and DFAT to gain a better understanding of the farming situation and interview farming families to more fully appreciate the potential impact that these block can have on smallholder livestock productivity and livelihoods. Our project partners at 4 Season Company have been busy scoping out potential factory sites in Vientiane as well as building relationships with local block ingredient suppliers, and we all hope to see the beginnings of local production in the coming years.

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DFAT and Palladium members talk with one the project farmers about the benefits of the blocks for her farm.

Small animal vetting, buffalo dairying and the vet students: shared times in Laos

By Arjuna Shumon Govindasamy and Jenny Liu
Edited by Isabel MacPhillamy and Peter Windsor

Arjuna and Jenny are both final year Veterinary students from the University of Sydney, who travelled to Laos in November 2018 to participate in professional practice rotations with the MLR team. For 3 weeks they assisted staff of the Department of Livestock and Fisheries team, the local SK veterinary clinic, and the Laos Buffalo Dairy.

Our first week in Laos involved seeing small animal practice at the local SK veterinary clinic, currently the only one in Luang Prabang and the surrounding northern provinces (most vet practices in Laos are located in Vientiane Capital). Here we predominantly performed routine health checks and vaccinations for locally owned companion animals, and assisted with a variety of medical cases, mainly presenting with gastrointestinal signs including lethargy, inappetence, vomiting and diarrhoea. Although vaccination and routine health care such as parasite control is being used by some owners, in most cases these practices were lacking. Working at the clinic provided us with the opportunity to discuss cases with owners and educate them on the importance of what we may consider routine health and management concepts in Australia. We were also fortunate to assist with several surgical cases whilst at the practice, such as routine desexing.

During this first week, Friday was ‘National Animal Vaccination Awareness Day’ and we  were involved in a large buffalo vaccination drive in one of the neighbouring villages, Hat Kho. Local farmers brought their buffalo to be vaccinated against Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (HS). This is an important disease of large ruminants in South-East Asia due to its high morbidity and mortality, especially for the buffalo that are one of the main livestock species owned in Laos. The unveiling of a recently finished irrigation project meant the day was both productive and celebratory! We were treated to a village feast for lunch, eating local food and participating in Lao dancing.

Arjuna and Jenny assisting farmers with vaccination using local large ruminant restraint bleeding poles

Following our time at the SK clinic, we were fortunate to assist with field research performed at two villages within the Luang Prabang province. This primarily involved collecting fresh faecal samples from cattle owned by four different farmers in both villages, and whilst in the field, ticks and other external parasites on cattle were also collected for future identification and investigation for blood parasites. The next week, we participated in faecal sedimentation of these samples to investigate the prevalence of liver flukes in the villages we surveyed. This was done as preliminary testing to identify and recruit villages, farmers and their animals, in a trial to examine the efficacy of medicated molasses nutrient blocks used for treating liver flukes. This was a wonderful opportunity to assist with important research that aims to positively affect the welfare and productivity of these animals and their owners. This opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries team and the villagers themselves was fantastic.

Photo 3

A bull resting in the rice fields of Paksy, a village in the Luang Prabang province where faecal samples were collected

Our final weeks were primarily spent assisting with husbandry and veterinary work at the first and only buffalo diary in Laos, owned and operated by an Australian couple. The Laos Buffalo Dairy effectively rents buffalo from village farmers for 6 months a year while they are in peak lactation, plus manage the husbandry and care of these animals while they are housed at the dairy. As a social enterprise, the dairy not only works with farmers to provide supplementary income and improve animal welfare standards, but  are also involved in the local communities,  providing English lessons and animal husbandry experience to Agriculture and Animal Studies students. They also instruct farmers on how to milk their own animals, providing a crucial protein  source for many families that sometimes suffer from malnutrition. Before the dairy was established, Lao villagers had never milked their buffalo, using them for draught and as a mobile ‘bank account‘.

photo 4

Arjuna bottle feeding a Murrah buffalo calf

At the Laos Buffalo Dairy we were involved in routine herd health checks, reproductive management and assisted with a variety of more unique cases, including correction of an umbilical hernia correction and even conducted a calf post-mortem. During our final week, we were involved in a vaccination day with Animal Science students from the local college, vaccinating the buffalo on the farm against Haemorrhagic Septicaemia and Foot and Mouth Disease and treating them with ivermectin to manage external and internal parasitism. Although there was a language barrier, we were fortunate to have several workers on the farm with quite a good level of English who were able to translate between us and the students, although this included many animated hand gestures! It was very fulfilling to watch the students gain confidence in skills such as subcutaneous and intramuscular injections, and by the end of the day they were professionals at vaccinations. Working with the Laos Buffalo Dairy team was exceptionally rewarding and projects like this that work closely with locals are helping improve animal and human experience in Laos. Did we mention, they produce delicious dairy products from their buffalo milk, such as cheese and ice cream that we were able to sample!

Arjuna and Jenny working with a buffalo in a crush at the Laos Buffalo Dairy – the calf is brought along to prevent distress in both the mother and the baby

Overall, our experience with the MLR group in Luang Prabang was extremely eye-opening and rewarding. We have both enjoyed our placement immensely and are beyond grateful for the time that we were able to spend here, the experiences that we have gained, and the new friends we have made.

photo 7

Jenny with some workers at the Laos Buffalo Dairy, from left to right: Chit, Saisamone, Jenny, Khamlee, Kaisone

Learning from conferences on Socioeconomics & Epidemiology in 2018

Peter Windsor, Peter Alexander, Isabel MacPhillamy & Jim Young

Members of the MLR team presented socioeconomic aspects of our work at several important conferences this year, including the ISSEAH (International Society for the Social Sciences & Economics of Animal Health) Conference in Montpellier in France in May, & ISVEE15 (15th International Symposium of Veterinary Epidemiology & Economics) in Chiang Mai in Thailand in November.

In Montpellier we demonstrated that despite incomplete disease diagnostic information, socioeconomic studies could provide valuable information on the financial impact of disease & the benefit to costs of control programs to inform policy. In this case, we documented the impact of a major outbreak of tropical Blackleg involving 3 villages in Savannakhet in Laos, that had occurred after flooding, presumably revealing clostridial spores dormant for 20yrs. Financial estimates from a FISQ study (Financial Impact Survey Questionnaire) of affected farmers enabled the impact of the outbreak to be assessed. This included losses from mortality, morbidity & the cost of treatments, enabling calculation of the benefits to costs of vaccination (with 2000 clostridial vaccine doses kindly donated by Zoetis Australia).

ISSEAH team

(L-R): Peter Windsor, Sonevilay Nampanya, Syseng Khounsy and Peter Alexander standing by the team’s scientific poster at the ISSEAH conference in Montpellier in May

In Chiang Mai we shared data that identified issues with the provision of veterinary services by paraveterinary staff (Village Animal Health Workers) with minimal animal health training. Surveys identified their focus has primarily been treating sick animals, often with antibiotics for diseases not involving bacterial infections, rather than provision of disease prevention through biosecurity, vaccination & surveillance activities. A revised business model for paraveterinary services is proposed. This requires increasing their focus on preventative medicine plus identifying possible incentives for their increased participation in disease surveillance & reporting.

poster.jpg

The MLR team’s scientific poster on display for the first poster session at ISVEE in November

In Chiang Mai, Isabel attended an interesting talk discussing the challenges of effective biosecurity training in developing countries. There is a need to address more tangible livestock issues such as nutrition, as the MLR team has been doing, before farmers will consider the benefits of adopting biosecurity. There is also a need to identify a threshold in their production parameters that enables farmers to realise the benefits of ongoing biosecurity. The concept of ‘scarcity’ & the cognitive taxes this imposes was discussed, as this affects the ability of an individual to make appropriate decisions, when they are generally preoccupied with ensuring there is enough food for the family and money to pay for education and medical emergencies. Development projects & governments should consider these issues when developing biosecurity training programs, ensuring more successful behavioural change. Of interest is that in a recent visit to Thai Dairy Farms as part of an FAO value chain workshop by previous Project Officer, Jim Young, it was found that Foot-and-Mouth (FMD) biosecurity awareness is increasing with farmers requesting the use of clean gumboots & footbaths when entering their properties. These farmers reported that they have been able to avoid previous FMD outbreaks through practicing regular FMD vaccination & biosecurity.

with navneet

Isabel and Peter W with fellow USyd Epidemiology researcher Navneet Dhand at ISVEE in November

We were pleased that our Lao PDR in-country leader Dr Syseng Khounsy was able to attend both of the above conferences as there was a focus at both on using research to inform policy, particularly for FMD & Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) control. In Chiang Mai, the recent epidemic of ASF (African Swine Fever) & the numerous outbreaks in China, presenting risks to Laos, featured. ASF still has no preventative vaccine or treatment available. Further, a potential new finding is that the disease may be circulating in a population well before mortality rates increase to be of concern & ASF virus can move quickly, carried by people travelling & through contaminated pork products. This highlights the need for ongoing biosecurity awareness & increased surveillance in Laos and other Mekong countries.

team with dr tata

Three of the MLR team, Peter W, Dr Syseng & Peter A, with Dr Tata from Indonesia at the ISSEAH Conference dinner in the Camargue region of France in May

 

In May this year, Dr Syseng accompanied Peters A & W on a post-conference tour of southern France to examine recent developments in the beef industry in Europe. This was considered of relevance as many new policies in food security are now being driven by the EU & associated agencies, including OIE & FAO. The tour included a visit to a beef farm adjacent to the Basdide village of Puycelsi, about an hour’s drive from Toulouse. This is an ancient walled village atop a small mountain, with strict government ordinances in place to retain its old world charm. The farm land below the battlement walls cannot be developed, to retain the medieval vista and forests around the village are preserved for seasonal hunting of wild boar & deer. Red squirrels are occasionally observed scampering across roads in the region. On the banks of the dam below the village, large beaver-like rodents, Ragondin, can be seen grazing or swimming in the early morning or evenings, having been introduced from South America & bred successfully.

Peter Alexander & Syseng Khounsy in Puycelsi

Peter A & Dr Syseng in Puycelsi, France in May.

The 140 hectare beef farm is in a 700mm annual rainfall area & located on undulating county with surrounding forest. Interestingly, the northern latitude that this southern French farm rests on, is equivalent in the southern hemisphere to a line through Tasmania. The farm is highly mechanised with excellent cattle handling facilities, including an hydraulic adjusting crush & race, plus large sheds for indoor cattle housing. The farm runs approximately 160 animals, with 80 housed indoors & fed a total mixed ration. Those outside are on pasture. Many of the breeding cows were outside & some were kept for up to 15 years. All were in excellent body condition. Silage is produced on the farm & the sheds contain bunkers of purchased feed. The mixed ration was formulated from lucerne & contained maize, touteau soya & touteau colza (rape). The animals on this ration were consuming approximately 12-15 kg per day. Cattle breeds on the farm included Solere, Aubrac, Blond Aquitaine, Limousine , Belgium Blue & Charolais, with many animals of mixed extraction. As this is a beef raising farm, fattened young bulls are sold at 12months of age for around €1200. It appeared that most of the animal health preventive measures were administered by the farm owner with minimal veterinary involvement. The cattle were drenched regularly for internal parasites & vaccinated against clostridial & respiratory disease.

Inspecting hydraulic cattle restraint equipment at a beef farm in France

Peter W inspecting hydraulic cattle restraint equipment at a beef farm in France

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to inspect this farm and compare it to the various beef operations in Australia and those developing in the Mekong. The amount and quality of machinery was on a much larger scale than that seen in Australia for a similar number of breeding animals, the return on sale for stock was significantly higher than in Australia or the Mekong, & there was little outward evidence of EU regulations stifling the farming operation. A striking observation was the significant difference in the body score of the stock being ~1.5-2/5 (or 2-3/8) units greater than those seen in Australia & Mekong countries, respectively. This experience demonstrated the importance observed in our MLR work, to initially focus on improving nutrition for cattle, as this initiates the husbandry processes that lead to improved rural livelihoods. This then stimulates interest in preventive health and biosecurity to manage disease risk, enabling livestock development in the Mekong to contribute to alleviation of rural poverty and increased community resilience.

An inquisitive well fed Aubrac cow

An inquisitive well fed Aubrac cow, France.

Working with smallholder farmers in SE Asia: financial motivations & gender issues

Peter Windsor, Isabel MacPhillamy

“Whilst only 20% of women identify as primary carers of smallholder large ruminant livestock in rural Laos, in 80% of families the financial decisions are made by female household members”.

This statement is derived from the work of our MLR team that aims to understand how to transition subsistence smallholder farmers from poverty to a more viable livelihood through livestock husbandry. The work is closely aligned with 2 ACIAR-funded projects in Laos and one completing shortly in Cambodia, where smallholder farmer motivations and gender inequity issues are routinely examined through various survey techniques, in addition to our traditional focus on improvements to cattle and buffalo husbandry, health and production. It has become increasingly important to ensure that all our collaborative initiatives promote gender equality and women’s empowerment wherever possible. We have routinely been asking survey questions about the different roles men, women and children have in caring for livestock, in doing other farm work, working off-farm and performing household duties and activities, including managing household/farm finances, in both Laos and Cambodia.

female farmers with cows

Female project farmers with their cattle in Cambodia.

As we have been monitoring the socioeconomic dimensions of smallholder farming families for some time now, we have recorded where our introduced interventions have changed these parameters. The introduction of forage systems and feed blocks, decreases the work load of ‘cut & carry’ feeding due to ease of supplying more readily available feed of improved quality. This creates more time for other work/activities and more easily managed cattle and buffalo. In our Cambodian villages we have seen a decrease in the time spent by children on cattle raising work, ensuring more time for schooling. In Laos where we are studying the efficacy of nutrient blocks, farmers are impressed by how much easier it is to muster cattle back to their villages for night time housing. This is due to the cattle seeking access to nutrient supplementation in molasses blocks. Importantly, in Cambodia we found that cattle raising was the most common source of on-farm income (85%), contributing USD1064 and representing the highest gross margin value recorded for all farm enterprises (89.33%). This compares with wet season and dry season rice returning a negative gross profit value of USD197.27 and USD90.60 on average per household, respectively. As cattle raising provides a superior income source due to higher returns and lower variable costs, it requires promotion with good extension programs, as a preferred livelihood activity by development agencies (Ashley et al. 2018).

forage

Team member Ms Phalleap having a laugh over new forages with one of our Cambodian project farmers.

There is often a lack of understanding by ‘outsiders’ of how much work is shared across the whole family and between families in rural Mekong smallholder communities. In our village visits we appreciate how everyone in a family is keen to learn of new ways to do things and improve their family livelihoods, plus share their learning with neighbours. Increasingly they recognise that better managed livestock is a more profitable endeavour than traditional rice/maize & other cropping  systems. We have conducted numerous surveys in Cambodia and Laos examining the impacts of our work, including the socioeconomic and gender aspects. Our papers describe our survey methodologies, using both closed and open-ended questions to encourage deeper conversations, allowing exploration of sensitive issues such as traditional & ethnic concerns, plus more rigorous discourse analysis of the replies. We have published information on the motivations required for improved disease control in the Mekong (Young et al. 2013). Our observations on gender issues in our project villages have appeared in our various peer reviewed papers, including: Nampanya et al 2016. and Nampanya et al. 2014.

SS with farmers

Cambodian team leader Dr Sotheoun discussing cattle production with project farmers.

The MLR team is gaining improved understanding of the issues involved in motivating smallholder farming families to embrace changes to the enterprise activities. Recent work has continued to gather data on the changing role of women in smallholder large ruminant husbandry, activities traditionally conducted by men and children. The most recent KAP data (knowledge, attitudes and practices surveys) in our projects from northern Laos, identified that in 2018, of the farmers interviewed (n=133), 25.6% were female and 74.4% were male, differing from a similar survey in 2015 (n=177), where 16.4% were female and 83.6% were male (P=0.036). This suggests that although women have traditionally been involved mainly with crop management and not usually associated with the general maintenance of large ruminants other than caring for sick animals, their involvement in large ruminants may be increasing. The role of other livestock species, especially poultry, goats and pigs, has contributed to diversification and spread of risk. This is often associated with resources being diverted away from cropping enterprises towards growing feed for livestock, increasing the number of animals and the income derived.

BPP

Australian MLR team with DFAT and Four Season Company during the 2017 Australian Business Partnership Platform brokering meeting in Vientiane.

Our previous studies identified that with increasing involvement of females in rural activities, there was an emerging necessity to incorporate both men and women in future education, extension and learning activities aimed at identifying interventions that increase production efficiencies of the Mekong livestock sector. It is likely that if agricultural inputs and resource control can continue to move towards a more balanced gender distribution, the benefits of livestock production education outcomes from our initiated knowledge-based interventions will continue to accrue and empower more women as rural livelihoods continue to improve from enhanced livestock husbandry, reducing food insecurity and improving rural community resilience.

dlf staff

Dr Syseng and Prof Windsor meet with with staff from the Department of Livestock and Fisheries in Luang Namtha in northern Laos.

World Food Day 16/10/18

To celebrate World Food Day the Australian Embassy in Cambodia and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has show-cased some of the achievements of the ‘Village-based biosecurity for livestock disease risk management  in Cambodia’ project. This project has been a collaboration between the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production Cambodia and the University of Sydney. The project has run since 2015 and will conclude at the end of 2018. All team members are extremely proud of the improvements our project farmers have been able to achieve during this time.

From the Australian Embassy, Cambodia’s facebook page 

“Today is World Food Day. And no, it is not just about eating (although please do!), but it is about global efforts to achieve #ZeroHunger in the world by 2030.

MLR team visits Sapporo in Japan for the World Buiatrics Congress & the city rocks

Authors: Peter Windsor, Isabel MacPhillamy & Luisa Olmo

Several members of the The Mekong Research Livestock (MLR) Team from The University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science (SSVS) attended the World Buiatrics Congress (WBC) in Sapporo, Hokkaido in northern Japan from August 20-September 1st, 2018. This conference, of mainly veterinarians and animal scientists, is concerned with progressing research and sharing information on the health of cattle and other ruminants. It occurs every 2 years in different locations around the world (previously Dublin in Ireland, Cairns in Australia, Santiago in Chile, Lisbon in Portugal etc), although this was the first time it has been held in Asia. The next will be in Madrid in 2020. As Isabel and Luisa chose to stay on in Japan after the conference had ended, they were caught in the tragic Typhoon Jebi and the Hokkaido earthquake that rocked the region.

As usual, Australia was very well represented at the WBC, including several presenters from the SSVS. Our MLR team presented four papers on our work in SE Asia in the ‘Tropical Diseases’ session, and another paper in the Antimicrobial Residues session, with three of these papers related to control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). In addition to our five MLR papers, there were two papers from ‘Team Pain’ by Peter White and Dom Van der Saag on improving welfare of livestock during aversive husbandry procedures, and several papers from the Microbiology Team of the Farm Animal & Veterinary Public Health Group at the Camden campus, including a plenary on Johne’s Disease by Richard Whittington.

welcome reception
USyd delegates Luisa Olmo, Dom van der Saag and Peter White with MLR friend Peter Alexander from the Bega and Cobargo Veterinary Hospital enjoy the food at the WBC Welcome Reception.

The Tropical Diseases session was opened by Isabel with a paper on the work conducted with Peter that was commissioned by The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), assessing the biosecurity knowledge and practices promoted by SEACFMD coordinators (Southeast Asian & China FMD program) and OIE 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 numerous public awareness messages on FMD need to be revised & renewed. In particular, efforts are required that promote the importance of improving biosecurity practices to ensure FMD control interventions, including vaccination, may eventually prove to be sustainable.

Isabel (L) and Luisa (R) presenting their talks

Peter then presented a paper that reviewed our work on the economics of infectious diseases and the benefits of vaccination, particularly for enzootic FMD, endemic Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (HS) and sporadic tropical Blackleg. This work has been funded through ACIAR (the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research), with major contributions from Jim Young who was present at the conference, and Sonevilay Nampanya. The paper concluded that there was a very strong evidence-basis for routine vaccination for FMD and HS in the Mekong region, preferably delivered every 6 months. Further, government policies should acknowledge that despite government-led programs to provide these interventions, they are often poorly delivered and encouraging private farmer investment in these vaccinations, plus implementation of improved biosecurity will enhance their sustainability and provide enormous production efficiencies and financial benefits to farmers and nations.

Peter then extended the theme of ‘Promotion of Animal Health Planning Programs in SE Asia’ by discussing our work with major parasite issues in the Mekong. In particular, Toxocariasis causing high calf mortality and Fascioliasis of adult cattle and buffalo causing production inefficiencies, are common in many parts of the Mekong and are poorly managed, despite the availability of anthelmintics to provide therapy and control. Part of the problem in the Mekong is the widespread low levels of animal management skills, and the lack of facilities for provision of routine animal health treatments.. In a collaborative project with the Australian feed company Four Seasons and funded by DFAT (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs) through the BPP (Business Partnership Platform), we have been conducting several trials in Laos with anthelmintic medicated molasses nutrient blocks. These have proven to be efficacious if care is taken to coordinate the correct number of blocks with the animal population, ensuring adequate dose rates of the anthelmintics are delivered, as published @ https://mekonglivestock.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/windsor-et-al-tbz.pdf. Even more promising has been the use of molasses blocks containing eight percent urea. This provides increased rumen nitrogen and facilitates improved production, particularly in the dry season when diets are mostly rice stubble or straw.

Luisa then presented her PhD work on infectious diseases of reproduction in cattle and buffalo in Laos.. She has consistently identified very high levels of seropositivity to the Apicomplexan protozoan parasite Neospora caninum in buffalo in the Mekong and discussed risk factors for this, including a need to improve hygiene with canine faeces and placental membranes at the village level. in order to disrupt transmission cycles She also found that serological titres to Leptospirosis were common in cattle and that further work investigating the zoonotic potential of this disease is required. Her work can be found in more detail in her published paper @ https://mekonglivestock.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/olmo-et-al-repor-diseases-laos_2017.pdf.

The final paper from the MLR team was by Isabel who presented sequential studies of KAP surveys (knowledge, attitudes and practices) of the para-veterinary service providers at the village level in Cambodia known as VAWHs (village animal health workers). The VAHW system was developed to meet the demand for vet services in countries where low capacity field services exist, initially based around provision of HS vaccination. Our field studies have consistently shown an emerging problem of the cost to farmers of inappropriate antimicrobial treatments of animals by VAHWs. This is especially so for FMD, a viral disease where there is no indication that antibiotics are of any use and are in fact contraindicated, due to antimicrobial resistance and food safety risks. Revised training programs for VAHWs are urgently needed to address this important issue.

There were over 1000 attendees at this conference from many parts of the world and information on a vast number of topics was presented. However, an important aspect of this particular conference is the regular ability to network with many colleagues from around the world from various institutions, including academia, international agencies, government and pharmaceutical companies. For many, this was the first visit to Japan and the quality of the food and drink available was considered outstanding by most participants. Conference cultural events were very enjoyable and the welcome and politeness of the Japanese hosts was infectious and much appreciated. Occasional stints of Karaoke made it a fun week, although nothing prepared us for the typhoon and earthquake that followed.

Jim (R) showing off some of the delicious meats on offer; MLR team, Team Pain and friends enjoying some Shabu shabu (a hotpot style meal) (middle); some of the amazing marbled meat Japanese restaurants have on offer

Waking up at 3am to the accommodation rocking like a boat was a surreal experience for Isabel, who has never experienced any tremors or earthquakes before. The magnitude 6.7 earthquake cut the power to the entire island, however no chaos ensued. The orderly and patriotic Japanese residents and workers were out in full force the following day, directing traffic and beginning the clean up mission. The hospitality and assistance shown by the volunteers at the Chitose evacuation centre was unbelievable. Many of these individuals did not sleep or see their families for days, ensuring that people had food, water and shelter. However, after three nights of sleeping on the floor Isabel was happy to get on a plane to Tokyo to continue the rest of journey home.