Better Livelihoods from livestock in rural Laos

By Dr. Anne Drew

IMG_4347smallDr. Anne discussing body condition of a goat with Mr. Phok, one of the Village Veterinary Workers.

Sepon is a remote district in the extreme west of south-central Laos, just 40 km. from the Vietnam border. With my husband Thom, I’m here for 4 ½ months, assisting with a project called Resilient Livelihoods for the Poor(RLP), in which Vets Without Borders is partnered with Health Poverty Action, a British-based NGO that has worked in Laos for 23 years.
RLP in Sepon works with 400 extremely poor families in 25 ethnic-minority villages, to start them in income-generating enterprises of their own choosing. Nearly all of the families chose small livestock enterprises, and most of these chose goats. The goats are a hardy local variety, much prized for meat for special occasions, and excellent demand exists for them here and just across the border in Vietnam.
In my capacity as Animal Health and Nutrition Adviser, I’ve been assisting the Lao Livestock Health Adviser, Choummala, a graduate of the Veterinary program at the National University. Over my first 8 weeks we conducted an animal health survey in the project villages, evaluating the health and productivity status of the goats, pigs and poultry, in the second year of the project. We visited a random selection of households in each village and conducted a short interview, with questions about reproduction, disease and losses, and feeding. Then we examined the animals and collected fecal samples for quantification of parasite loads. We treated any sick or injured animals that we found as we went.
The goats obtain all of their feed by free-range browsing now in the dry season, but in the rainy season are sometimes kept in for cut-and carry feeding. Ill health and losses are often caused by parasitism, injuries, and sadly, theft. Young kid mortality is also high. These results highlight appropriate education and interventions to increase the success of the enterprises.

IMG_3978smallMs.  Choummala interviewing Ms. Huay about her goats as she works at the loom under her house.

Since mid-March we’ve been implementing an advertising and vaccination/deworming campaign in each project village. We call an evening meeting and after introductions, show 2 videos on the rationale for vaccinating and deworming livestock. These were produced in Lao by CARE International, but we had voiceover in Brou, the minority language, added. Discussion of the videos and personal experience follows, with prizes for participation. We’re also promoting the services of the three Village Veterinary Workers trained by the project, and explaining the need to charge for the service – so the activity will be sustainable. Then, starting early the next morning, we move through the village in 2 teams, treating animals at as many households as will accept the service. Starting early enables us to find the animals and the owners still at home, and avoids the intense heat in the middle of the day.

IMG_4158 1smallMr. Muey in Latuengnai, presenting his goat for examination.

Government counterparts from Livestock and Fisheries, Rural Development, Labour and Social Welfare, and Planning and Investment participate, so the work goes quickly. We vaccinate against devastating endemic diseases: goats for Foot and Mouth Disease, cattle and buffalo for Hemorrhagic Septicemia and FMD, pigs for classical swine fever, chickens for Newcastle, Fowl Cholera and Fowl Pox, ducks for Fowl Cholera and viral enteritis.

IMG_3310smallAnne and Thom (with assistants not shown) treating a septic goat with a maggot-infested wound.

A durable calendar noting important times for livestock care and sales and promoting the VVWs was produced, and one is given to every village household.Participation by project households has been excellent, as they are already aware of the procedures and benefits. Non-project livestock keepers are coming on-board in smaller numbers. As more families see and understand the benefits, we hope that every biannual campaign will see increased participation.

IMG_5105smallMs. Choummala recording vaccination/deworming date, and next treatment date, on a calendar promoting livestock health care.

IMG_5886smallThom restraining a young bull for vaccination.

IMG_4993smallThe vaccination team in Palongnai village, with VWB volunteers, 2 Village Vet Workers, Ms. Choummala, government counterparts, and the village goat group leaders on the right.

IMG_5853smallMr. Phon, one of the village Vet Workers, vaccinating a goat for FMD.