Photo: A treatment team comprised of officers from the Laos Department of Livestock and Fisheries, local farmers and Managing Director of Australian agribusiness, 4 Season Co., Chick Olsson.
The Business Partnerships Platform brings together partners with a common objective to solve development challenges.
In Laos, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australian agribusiness 4 Season Co., The University of Sydney (USYD) and the Laos Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) are working together to improve farmer livelihoods. The partnership is testing the efficacy of a range of nutrient and parasite control blocks to improve the marketability of smallholder cattle and buffalo. During a recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) the partners worked together to manage the outbreak, realising an additional benefit of working in partnership.
Developing relationships through a BPP partnership
The BPP partnership in Laos is 18 months into its two-year initiative to improve farmer livelihoods. The partners bring complementary skills and experience to give farmers greater access to medicated feed blocks to improve livestock health, and farmer livelihoods.
For 4 Season, the potential sale of these blocks represents the opportunity to expand to a new market, building on the work of the Mekong Livestock Research team from USYD and the DLF in conducting research to improve livestock health, production and profitability. The BPP expanded the efficacy trials of the medicated feed blocks in rural communities, addressing parasitic diseases and seasonal feed deficits. For DFAT, the partnership is an opportunity to draw on the wealth of knowledge, ideas and resources that the private sector offers, and provide critical catalytic funding and advocacy support to find solutions to development challenges in Laos.
Early results show farming families have been able to increase and protect the value of their investments, their cattle.
Mr Home, a farmer from outside Luang Prabang, said:
“When the project started, I had four or five cows and six buffalo. I sold my buffalo to buy more cattle and I now have 15 animals. My cows are now strong and fat, with no disease, so they are worth more money than before.”
Responding to a foot-and-mouth outbreak
Foot-and-mouth (FMD) is a devastating disease. It is highly contagious, causes fatalities in young livestock, severe illness, loss of productivity in adult animals, and restrictions on their sale. It is also often reported late, reducing the opportunities for treatment. For smallholder farming families, this has major repercussions in loss of livestock and income. Laos, as a major thoroughfare for cross-border livestock movement, is particularly susceptible to FMD disease outbreaks.
In Luang Prabang province in northern Laos, an FMD outbreak occurred in April 2019. Responding to FMD outbreaks is a role for the DLF, separate to the BPP initiative. However, the relationship established through the BPP had earned the confidence and trust of the DLF and local communities. When the outbreak occurred, USYD already had necessary approvals and imported the wound formulation Tri-Solfen (Medical Ethics Pty Ltd, Australia) for trial in an FMD outbreak. The USYD team had extensive research experience with this product developed for pain relief during husbandry interventions and had identified the likelihood of benefits in FMD. Having the product available in Laos, as well as USYD staff on the ground to quickly raise the alert, enabled the prompt care and treatment of 136 FMD affected cattle and buffalo.
Photo: Treated buffalo returning to the farm.
The ongoing availability of a treatment spray for FMD increases Laos’ ability to manage FMD outbreaks in the future.
Following the successful treatment of the affected animals, the Laos veterinary authorities proceeded with registration of Tri-Solfen as a treatment spray for FMD and supplies have been delivered for use in future outbreaks. The ongoing availability of a treatment spray for FMD increases Laos’ ability to manage FMD outbreaks in the future.
While the BPP initiative focuses on the distribution and long-term research into medicated feed blocks, the short and long-term consequences of outbreaks like FMD and ongoing disease management practices on farms are closely linked.
Emeritus Professor Peter Windsor from the University of Sydney, an expert in cattle health and production, said:
“In subsistence farming systems the value of livestock has previously been relatively low and animal health is generally poorly understood. It’s when we can help shift smallholder farming from subsistence to small to medium beef operations that livestock take on real value and farmers are more willing to invest in controlling disease.”
The relationships forged through BPP partnerships can create additional benefits and opportunities for all partners. The discovery that Tri-Solfen is of benefit to animals in FMD outbreaks is an example of this added benefit, and one that has great potential to meet a development challenge in Laos and beyond, where there is an increasing need to better protect animals and their owners from the impacts of diseases.
Read more about the partnership.