In Laos, a BPP partnership between Laos Buffalo Dairy (LBD), Northern Agriculture and Forestry College, Provincial Health Department Luang Prabang and the Australian Government has increased rural incomes, improved the health of buffalos and encouraged greater consumption of buffalo milk in Laotian diets.
Buffalo milk has some significant health and diet benefits over cow’s milk and can provide important nutritional value, especially in rural areas where many children are malnourished.
“Another important thing to remember about buffalo milk,” says Susie Martin, LBD chief executive officer, “is that it’s also really delicious.”
Laos Buffalo Dairy is the first of its kind in Laos to manufacture dairy products, such as milk and cheeses, from buffalo milk, and to operate on a unique “buffalo rental” business model. LBD rents female buffalos from their rural owners, giving farmers an additional source of income while LBD gathers the buffalo’s milk and works to improve its health. Buffalos are returned it to their owners when pregnant – from a bull chosen to improve genetics to reduce environmental impacts, increase milk and meat yield and further increase farmer’s incomes.
“A big part of the partnership has been to work with farmers to show that they can have a new income stream from an animal they already own – and particularly from female animals. Suddenly that animal becomes even more of an asset,” says Susie.
Through its BPP partnership, LBD aimed to fast track their breeding program, improve local buffalo genetics, implement a “Milk, Cook, Eat” nutrition program, and develop a range of export products for the Japanese market.
While challenges were anticipated when the partnership began in 2019, the frequency and scale of external challenges was unprecedented. In the space of 2.5 years the partnership faced not only COVID-19, but also severe drought, a petrol and inflation crisis and an outbreak of lumpy skin disease.
Delivering healthy buffalo and healthy food
While their well-laid plans required frequent adjustments to meet these challenges, LBD “got on with the job” – transporting buffalo during the challenging rainy season, recruiting village champions, and managing to exceed their breeding program’s targets.
By the end of the partnership, 6 villages and 56 households had joined the breeding program, totalling 119 buffalo, 69 new buffalo were calved, and another 21 buffalos were pregnant.
3 villages also joined the nutrition program, with 21 households actively milking their buffalo 1-2 times per week with an average yield of 300ml – slightly lower than expectations. The lessons from this will be incorporated as LBD develops paths to improve milking uptake and yield in future rounds.
Scaling up, branching out
What’s next for Laos Buffalo Dairy?
“So much!” Susie enthuses. “Milk is becoming more and more a part of the diet in Laos. Cheese and milk are definitely coming in, and we want to capitalize on that by getting more villages involved in the nutrition program and ramping up the rental program. We are also looking at implementing a project in Cambodia, and – now that borders are reopening – we can refocus on those export products again in the future.”
LBD will also continue its involvement in an impromptu new “partnership” that sprung up with another BPP partner in Laos – AgCoTech – who has developed a carbon offsetting program introducing mineral feeding blocks that reduce methane emissions from livestock and are made from 90% locally-sourced ingredients. LBD worked with AgCoTech to conduct a trial of the block’s impact on milk yields and AgCoTech has located the factory for the block’s manufacture on the LBD dairy site.
“Our BPP partnership helped us get involved with the AgCoTech project as well as providing important support during COVID-19 and the other external challenges we have faced,” explains Susie.
LBD’s BPP involvement also helped raise the organization’s profile and bring the “Milk, Cook, Eat” nutrition program to the attention of Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF) and World Bank (WB). The “Milk, Cook, Eat” initiative has now been scaled to include buffalo and goats to bolster PRF and WB’s ongoing nutrition programs in Northern Laos.
“We are so excited about growing what we have started here and taking LBD into the future.”