There has been dramatic progress in addressing poverty in southern Asia in recent years (FAO, 2009) although the region still contains the highest prevalence of underweight people in the world. It is estimated that 46% of all children under 5 are underweight with the prevalence of underweight children in rural areas almost double that of children in urban areas in the developing world. This includes children in the Mekong region, particularly in Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) where the progress that has been made is considered insufficient to meet the target of halving under-five mortality (FAO, 2009). In the Southeast Asian region there have been significant changes in dietary patterns, with meat consumption more than doubling in the last 20 years (Pingali, 2007). This changing dietary preference has led to increased movement of livestock, particularly large ruminants for meat consumption, increasing the risk of transmission of transboundary diseases, particularly Foot and Mouth disease (FMD). Cambodia and Lao PDR are strategically placed to capitalise on this growing demand for beef and buffalo meat. This developing market presents an opportunity for rural smallholder farmers in Cambodia and Lao PDR, with the more efficient use and trade of large ruminants both locally and into neighboring countries helping to address rural poverty (Wilson, 2007; Miller and Photakoun, 2008).
In addition to FMD, there are significant constraints to large ruminant production in these two countries. These include: endemic diseases; poor husbandry and management practices; lack of financial skills of farmers, poorly trained field staff; inadequate resources and difficulty of access, particularly in the northern provinces of Lao PDR where many villages are remote and 80% of the land is mountainous (Windsor, 2006; Wilson, 2007; Miller and Photakoun, 2008). International development agencies have recognized the need for development aid for this region and have provided funds to support a large Livestock Development Project in northern Lao PDR (Windsor, 2011). This project aims to use participatory action research to enhance farmer learning and adoption rates of interventions that address constraints to large ruminant production; this approach has been shown to provide significant benefits to production and households (Keen et al, 2005; Millar et al. 2005). The training of the mainly inexperienced regional livestock extension workers to disseminate knowledge and skills to farmers is required to build the capacity of the DLF and the district staff to assist farmers in improving cattle and buffalo production in northern Lao PDR (Khounsy et al, 2010).
Applied research is required to identify which of the many potential interventions can best improve large ruminant production. As this rural development initiative is more appropriately considered an attempt to assist in significant social change in rural communities from the current smallholder subsistence approach to large ruminants, being mainly as a store of wealth and draft power, to a more intensive disease-free production-focused system, a deep understanding of the large ruminant production systems in the region is considered essential. In 2006 the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) commissioned The University of Sydney (UOS) to conduct a short research activity (SRA) to identify research priorities for the development for the beef industry in Cambodia and Lao PDR (Windsor, 2008). The SRA examined previously unpublished survey work on the northern Lao PDR smallholder farming systems (W Stur and J Miller, personal communication) and conducted surveys in 3 provinces in each country (Cambodia and Lao PDR) on farmer attitudes to change and their knowledge of health and husbandry. The SRA examined both the economic drivers for large ruminant production and the question of farmer receptivity to project interventions. Through numerous meetings, field visits and workshops, the SRA confirmed that momentum for change was building as a consequence of the increasing adoption of forage technology by smallholder farmers, enabling large ruminant fattening for the expanding demand for better quality red meat in the region. Increasing returns from this trade has provoked interest by early adopter farmers in animal health risk management to protect the increasing value of their emerging large ruminant enterprise. It was identified that this presented an opportunity to address biosecurity needs that may assist transboundary disease control at both the village level and through the supply chain, particularly for FMD. Engaging farmers in these initiatives through assisting them enhance their large ruminant productivity was considered essential. The SRA provided a more informed strategy for project development, defining a role for ACIAR research as assisting the definition of 'best practice' interventions that can potentially be 'scaled out' through existing livestock development projects for enhancing large ruminant production systems in each country.
The SRA process led to a large ruminant health and husbandry research project proposal for each country, based around similar methodology. A 3-year longitudinal survey of morbidity, mortality and productivity parameters will measure changes to productivity as a suite of interventions is introduced. Project AH2005/086 commenced in July 2007 in southern Cambodia, with the in-country project team led by Dr Suon Sothoeun based in Phnom Penh. Two research sites were established in each of the provinces of Kandal, Kampong Cham and Takeo. Project AH2006/159 commenced in May 2008 in northern Lao PDR, with the in-country project team led by Dr Syseng Khounsey based in Luang Prabang. Two research sites were established in each of the provinces of Luang Prabang, Houaphan and Xieng Khuang. These projects aim to identify which of the many potential interventions are able to be adopted by farmers to improve large ruminant productivity, including strategies to enhance animal health, nutrition, reproduction management and marketing. This paper briefly reports on preliminary findings from these strategies and outlines the role of participatory workshops in capacity building for improved cattle and buffalo production and health, particularly with respect to FMD and the development and testing of village-level biosecurity interventions.
FMD is the most significant global transboundary livestock disease, with major economic impacts on trade and food security due to ease of spread between countries compromising international trade in livestock and their products (Rweyemamu et al., 2008). FMD also has major social impacts in developing countries, particularly in southeastern Asia, with impacts at both village and national levels (Khounsy et al., 2008). At the village level, FMD has negative impacts by significantly reducing the value of large ruminants for sale, loss of draft power, reduction of weight with lower local consumption of meat and significantly as a reduction in income security as large ruminants are a major store of wealth. FMD is endemic in Cambodia and Lao PDR with major outbreaks occurring commonly, particularly in recently recognised 'hotspots' where recurrent outbreaks are recognized, such as Xieng Khuang in Lao PDR (Rast et al, 2010, Windsor et al, 2010a, 2010b). Plans for the eventual global eradication of FMD (Rweyemamu et al., 2008) require a concentration of effort on FMD eradication in the Mekong region and a roadmap for the regional eradication of FMD has been developed by the SEACFMD initiative (R Abila personal communication). The successful eradication of a porcinophilic strain of FMD Type O virus (Cathay topotype) from the Philippines that was first detected in 1994 potentially offers valuable lessons for the SEACFMD initiative.
The Philippines is now applying for FMD-free certification, with no cases recorded since 2005. The strategies used in implementation of a disease surveillance buffer zone in the Bicol region of southern Luzon in the first (1996-1998) and second phases (1999-2000) of the national plan for the control and eradication of FMD in the Philippines have been recently reviewed (Windsor et al, 2011). Innovations that enhanced quarantine, surveillance, vaccination and public awareness programs were aimed at delivering an emergency transboundary disease preparedness and response system in the Bicol region. Recorded annual outbreaks of FMD in the Bicol region between January 1995 through October 1999 and were confined to pigs, with 53, 59, 10 and 7 outbreaks noted in each year respectively. The eventual reduction in cases and absence of transmission to islands beyond Bicol indicate that the surveillance zone successfully controlled the southern spread of the outbreak and enabled efforts to be focused on the outbreaks occurring in central Luzon. However, numerous problems in implementing animal movement controls and quarantine, strategic vaccination and passive surveillance were identified. Failures in compliance with quarantine measures at infected premises, low prevalence of seropositive animals following vaccination (20% with positive titres at 2-3 weeks post vaccination) and identification of undetected infection by a 2 stage random sampling serosurvey, indicated the difficulty of implementing a more effective emergency disease management response.
On reflection, perhaps the strategy considered most effective in contributing to the eventual success of the Bicol surveillance zone was the extensive Public Awareness (PA) program. Of the strategies used in PA, the extensive 'school on the air' (SOA) farmer radio programs that improved pubic knowledge of disease risks, were possibly most effective in the prevention of if not the elimination of FMD in Bicol. The SOA program targeted biosecurity and hygiene and 'graduated' 2161 of 3926 enrolled smallholder pig farmers in key villages in the 7 provinces of the Bicol region. The SOA led to widespread uptake of simple biosecurity measures such as the cooking of swill (food scraps include meat juices) prior to its being fed to pigs. Of note was that whilst the biosecurity measures of the SOA were very welcome by the smallholder pig farmers, they SOA participants repeatedly requested more information on how to improve productivity by other measures, such as nutrition, control of other diseases and improved marketing. It is suggested that these lessons from this successful FMD control and eradication strategy are important and may be of relevance to the current moves towards more effective management of FMD outbreaks in other countries in Southeast Asia (Windsor et al, 2010c).
The ACIAR 'best practice' large ruminant health and husbandry projects in Lao PDR and Cambodia aim to address the following four criteria:
1. Establish disease limitations
2. Trial interventions to prevent diseases (including biosecurity) and improve production
3. Assess farmer knowledge of large ruminant health, husbandry & marketing
4. Identify opportunities to improve the cattle and buffalo supply chain and identify drivers for change
Nutrition: The projects are delivering new information from many aspects of the large ruminant production system. Energy deficiency is seen as the single most limiting factor to productivity as there is generally limited to nil knowledge of nutritional and energy needs of animals in different stages of the production cycle. This is a particular problem in Cambodia where the high numbers of large framed Haryana cattle have higher metabolisable energy needs for maintenance compared to indigenous cattle. Low body conditions scores (BCS) are prevalent. Energy is often limiting in both the dry and wet season in Cambodia due to the dominance of rice production and the need to tether animals with provision of only limited free grazing. For this reason and the saving of labour by provision of forage supplementation, uptake of forage plantings has been impressive in the Cambodian 'high intervention' sites with ample evidence of scaling out of plantations from both the efforts of DAHP and apparently by spontaneous development of a market for forages. In Lao PDR, the low BCS issue is most prominent in Buffalo and is perhaps to be expected considering the very low frame scores of indigenous cattle in northern Lao PDR. However, in both countries there is minimal knowledge of the energy requirements for maintenance, growth, reproduction and lactation or for the volumes of forage required to meet these energy needs.
Parasitism. In addition to nutritional deficiency, we have growing evidence that endemic parasitism is also a contributor to the low BCS problem. Studies on parasitic disease have confirmed that Toxocara vitulorum is of importance to calf survival and growth, particularly in Lao PDR, where an extensive survey identified that 77% of villages (n=50) have infected calves. The prevalence of infection based on presence of eggs in faeces was 23% of calves (n=886), with only 8% of calves having been treated (this was ineffective in 17% of calves). In addition to inadequate nutrition, a high prevalence of low BCSs in buffalo may be a reflection of widespread hepatic disease. A recent abattoir survey in Luang Prabang identified that 49% (n=50) of animals at slaughter were infected by Fasciola gigantica (unpublished findings) and the disease occurs in all the northern Lao provinces where samples have been collected. Fasciolosis was found to be present only in the Kandal project site in Cambodia, a province where the disease has been studied previously and abattoir surveillance confirmed as useful survey approach (Sothoeun et al, 2006). Both grazing management and strategic anthelmintic options have been identified in Cambodia, including the cutting of forage above 10cm to prevent consumption of infective metecercarie, and animal treatment at the end of the dry season when snail populations have concentrated in residual ponds increasing the risk of exposure of grazing animals (Sothoeun 2007).
Reproduction. Reproductive husbandry appears to be generally reasonable in Cambodia where the majority of smallholders use two Haryana crossbred bullocks for draft purposes and retain other animals for breeding and wealth store. Castration, heat detection and arranged mating with a selected bull are done routinely, although data is required on caving rates and inter-calving intervals as the high prevalence of poor BCS and occurrence of calving throughout the year suggest reproductive performance may be sub-optimal. In northern Lao PDR, the majority of large ruminants are free-grazed in 'common' areas with no castration or bull selection and there is significant potential to improve reproductive efficiency through management interventions, such as castration, bull selection and separation of male and females. Of potential concern is that a recent abattoir survey in Luang Prabang found 75% (n=23) of female buffalo were pregnant (94% in the second or last trimester) suggesting that human consumption of the buffalo foetus may be selecting fertile females for destruction. Efforts in both countries to introduce cow and bull breeding soundness including condition scoring, bull selection, restricted joining to superior bulls, plus timing of calving to coincide with optimum feed availability (e.g. wet season) and marketing demand are considered potential interventions.
Marketing. In both countries, smallholder producers have limited knowledge of marketing of large ruminants or apparently the value of their animals. Workshops involving traders and producers in estimating live-weights and relating these to BCS and animal sale prices have proven very popular. Similar work has the potential to empower farmers if knowledge of market needs can translate to better targeting of markets e.g. fat animals for export or local slaughter, stores for breeding or fattening for the local trade. Values based on BCS rather than general appearance, or real 'meat yield' involving a measured dressing percentage is desirable, as is sale by groups of farmers that can better meet demand.
Extension. To enable research findings to be scaled out usually requires participatory approaches to extension and cross visits have been found to be powerful in promoting the uptake of forage technology between project sites. Other approaches such as digital stories are under consideration for assisting farmers in implementation of additional interventions. It is important that the impact of these is measured and knowledge surveys at the start, middle and end of the project are being conducted to gauge the degree of learning will provide data in addition to the objective data from the longitudinal surveys on health and production parameters. The knowledge surveys will be particularly important in determining the uptake of biosecurity interventions.
In early 2009 an outbreak of FMD (O serotype, south east Asia strain) involving cattle and buffalo occurred in the Pek District of the north-eastern province of Xieng Khuang (XK), involving all 111 villages in that district. We surveyed 4 villages all within close proximity, where as part of our project, all the eligible large ruminants (over 6 months of age) in one and just over half the population in the other village had recently been vaccinated (31 days and 9 days respectively prior to detection of index case) with trivalent inactivated FMD vaccine (O, A, Asia1). No vaccination had occurred in the two other villages. The data identified 612 animals in the 2 vaccinated villages and 721 animals in the 2 unvaccinated villages, with FMD morbidity rates of 1% (fully vaccinated), 7.9% (partially vaccinated) and 61% and 74.3% in the unvaccinated villages respectively (Table 1). Estimates of potential financial losses incurred indicated that significant opportunity costs accrued by failing to vaccinate large ruminants in areas where the risk of FMD incursion was high. This cost was considerably reduced by vaccinating half the eligible population but was still 17x that of vaccinating all eligible large ruminants. We concluded that the proximity of vaccination to the onset of the FMD outbreak suggests that vaccination in the face of an outbreak may be a useful strategy for controlling future outbreaks of FMD in the region (Rast et al, 2010).
A village-level biosecurity program was developed in a workshop for LDP trainees in Luang Prabang in July 2009. The workshop was designed to 'train the trainers' in how to develop a biosecurity plan, using a participatory approach to identify risks and devise a checklist of measures to prevent incursion of disease, including
This process should empower farmers with group participation in identifying risk factors, then group discussion of issues, leading to broad large ruminant owner understanding and agreement on interventions to use. The key intervention is a shared plan, with agreement on resources required, such as posters, case studies (digital) and perhaps a broader district or provincial strategy: (e.g. School On the Air). The ultimate test of the PA program is an ability to prevent disease without vaccination.
A participatory 'train the trainer' program consisting of 7 workshops in 2009 through 2010 in northern Laos for livestock extension workers to improve their capacity to enhance smallholder cattle and buffalo production in northern Lao PDR is described. This workshop series was enabled by additional funding obtained from the Australian Crawford Fund. Several of the workshops were also delivered in Cambodia. The program is aimed at enabling the 'trainers' to improve farmer learning of the 'best practice' interventions introduced during the research project. The training involves 26 regional and provincial livestock officers who are being up skilled in nutrition, animal health and biosecurity, reproduction and marketing. The introduction of forage plots and silage is offering a much needed feed resource and providing labour savings for farmers. A girth tape to measure live-weight gain and assist farmers in estimation of values of their sale animals was developed and is being validated, using approximately 6,500 animal girth measurements and live-weights. Marketing training involved participants visually estimating body condition score and liveweight and establishing the difference between estimated and actual liveweight as well as any difference in animal value. Empowering farmers with the knowledge to better feed, prevent disease, maximise reproduction and then market their animals, is expected to provide significant benefits through improved household incomes.
The project is providing significant research training opportunities. Funds have been allocated to the Royal Academy of Cambodia to support three Cambodian PhD students, studying aspects of HS, FMD and applied nutrition, respectively. Three PhD candidates are enrolled at the UOS: John Stratton is studying methods to improve the provision of veterinary services and FMD vaccination in Cambodia (Stratton et al, 2010), Luzia Rast studying parasites of economic significance in northern Lao PDR, and Sonevilay Nampanya has commenced a PhD program to advance the work he commenced in his BAVBiosc Hons degree project on biosecurity. Both John and Sonevilay were supported by the AB-CRC. Recently, MVPHMgt student James Young has commenced a 'half way point' analysis of the health and productivity data from the longitudinal studies in both countries. Both projects have attracted numerous requests for participation of final year students in the BVSc and BAVBiosc degrees and broad range of training opportunities have been provided to over 20 students.
At the completion of 3yrs (Lao PDR) and 4yrs (Cambodia) of the projects, the key benefits of the projects at this stage in workshops with villagers include the following three priorities:
In Cambodia, there has been a very significant impact of the introduction of forages, possibly because of the year round need to fill the gross energy deficiency. Spontaneous scale out is apparently occurring and has greatly impressed the in-country project leadership in the Ministry of Agriculture. The progress in Lao PDR is less consistent with greater variation between provinces in adoption of interventions, as predicted from the great variation in knowledge between provinces as determined in the knowledge surveys (Nampany et al, 2010; Nampanya et al, 2011). Apart from the delay in commencement of the project in Lao PDR, one of the major differences between the two countries is that in Cambodia an established central team with previous experience in delivering ACIAR research is responsible for the conduct of the project in collaboration with provincial and district officers. In Laos PDR the provincial and district staff are responsible for the conduct of the project and as many are very inexperienced junior officers, the training program has been essential to their progress.
The eradication of FMD in the Mekong is likely to be very difficult for a number of reasons, including:
This situation suggests that in addition to improving the availability and strategic use of vaccination, a 'bottom-up' approach to disease control is needed that can facilitate adaptive change in the behavior of livestock owners and other stakeholders to reduce the risk of disease. Key steps include:
The rational for the above is that village level biosecurity is necessary to protect the increasing risks to productivity & income that are occurring with the increasing trade in animals and products in the region as demand for red meat grows rapidly.
With porous borders and widespread informal trade of animals in the region, international transboundary disease control and eradication in the Mekong River countries will be difficult to achieve, particularly if it is mainly reliant on vaccination and a 'top-down' institutional approach. In lieu of large and established industry stakeholders to partner with governments in leadership of FMD control programs, engaging smallholder farmers in a 'bottom-up' approach to assist international disease control objectives is desirable. Research is occurring that investigates the feasibility of this approach (Windsor 1011) but preliminary findings indicate that widespread adoption of a village-level biosecurity system to enhance the effectiveness of vaccination is a potentially important strategy for meeting the aim of OIE to facilitate eradication of FMD in the region by 2020.
This work involves a small team of dedicated scientists in Australia, Laos and Cambodia who are entirely responsible for the positive momentum that these projects have established and whose names can be found on the publications below. Financial support from ACIAR, the AB-CRC and The Crawford Fund is gratefully acknowledged, as is the contributions from team members in Cambodia, Laos and Australia, particularly the numerous students who have committed themselves to this work and the many farmers and traders that are involved.