First Uganda Student Post of the Summer!

Well, us interns have been in Uganda for about a month now so we’re definitely long overdue for a blog entry! First off we’ll introduce ourselves. There is Sarah, who is going into her third year at the WCVM in Saskatchewan, and this is her second year working on the goat project. Brittany is also vet student from the WCVM who is going into her third year, and lastly there is Guylene (Lena) who is going into her fourth year at the FMV in Montreal.

Sarah was the first to arrive in Uganda, followed by Brittany and then Lena. We were also joined by Dr. Laura McDonald, a WCVM graduate who has been working with the goat project for five years now. She would be here with us for the first month helping us to get settled in and introduce us to any important contacts in Mbarara, where we’ll be stationed for the next three months.

Kyera community meeting
Kyera Community Meeting

In a nutshell, the Goat Pass-On Project strives to help the most impoverished women of rural Uganda – mainly widows and orphans – and we help them to start mini businesses by raising livestock. Through fundraising, us interns will raise money to purchase goats which we will “loan” to beneficiaries in hopes that they can keep them alive (sometimes much harder than you would think) and have them reproduce. To qualify to receive goats, villagers need to first invest in and build a goat pen following our recommendations, but we’ll go into this more closer to the pass-out. To pay back their loan, they must give one kid to another beneficiary in their community and also sell another kid and put the money they earned into a revolving fund. The revolving fund is essentially a community bank account that all the members in the community are required to pay into and can borrow money from, and pay back with interest. This fund is important for the success of the community because it gives people the opportunity to start another small business, invest in their children’s education, borrow if they need medical treatment, etc. The people in the community who are part of this group have meetings once a month to discuss how the revolving fund is doing, who’s ready to pass on or receive goats, organize and vote on loans, and so on. We also organize vaccine clinics, training days and a lot more that will come later in the summer.

Us interns work with 17 different rural communities in the Insingiro district surrounding Mbarara. The community groups where established by one of our partner organizations, Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (aka FAOC), who we have worked closely with in the past. Unfortunately, FAOC has sort of dissolved over the last year due a drop in funding, and at the moment they have no current projects. We will still be working with some of the staff this summer, which will provide them with a wage for the next couple months, but otherwise us interns will be guiding the project largely on our own this time.

team with joseph and other beneficiaries
Team with Joseph and Other Beneficiaries

The first few days in Mbarara consisted largely of reconnecting with the FAOC staff, particularly Vivian, Joseph and Francis, and they helped us begin organizing our summer. Vivian welcomed us back with a delicious feast of traditional food, and Joseph surprised us with homemade lunch on our first day in the field. It was so nice to receive such a warm welcome to the project. Other than a few formalities and getting settled in we have been going to each community and speaking with their chairperson and/or paravets. We wanted to let everyone know that we would be back for the summer and would be attending their next community meeting to assess any problems they’ve had over the last year, see how their goats were doing, and talk about upcoming vaccine clinics we’re planning.

After only a week on the project we traveled to Queen Elizabeth National Park for the weekend to work with Dr. Siefert, a vet who runs the Uganda Carnivore Program doing research and monitoring large carnivores including lions, leopards and hyenas. Dr. Siefert is originally from Germany, but has been living in Uganda for almost 40 years working endlessly in the QE park trying to protect the wildlife in the area. His prime focus has been on the dwindling lion population that has been a target of poachers, and poisonings by local farmers frustrated by the lions attacking their cattle. Dr. Siefert asked us if we could help him start up a goat pass-on project in three of the communities in the park. The purpose of the project here would be for different reasons other that female empowerment; the main focus would be working with the community to improve wildlife conservation efforts. If we can help them protect their livestock from the wild animals, hopefully they will stop harming the local wildlife. We spent the weekend with him visiting the communities and meeting the members, and assessing the land so we can tailor the project to their needs, as the environment is quite different from the ones we have been working with around Mbarara. One of the biggest challenges we will have to overcome is risk of dangerous wild animals attacking the goats, since leopards and lions live in the area. Also, the grass that is a staple of the goat diet here is also one of the favourites of the elephants, so we must plan to have the goats and the grasses well protected. We are taking all the information we gathered in the visits and are preparing a training day for a few select members of the community to help them get ready to receive goats in the following months.

Aside from the community visits, we spent our time following Dr. Siefert around the park trying to absorb every word he said, as he is a wealth of knowledge and incredibly inspiring to listen to. Our first night we all had dinner together, talking about everything from problems in the park, Ugandan politics, religion, and of course wildlife, that is, until our dinner was interrupted by a wild elephant running through the outdoor restaurant. African problems, eh?

As of now, we have spoken with all of the communities in Mbarara we are going to work with and are slowly making our way through each monthly community meeting. We use Joseph, one of the paravets, as our translator at the meetings, and we really couldn’t get any work done without him! He’s a wonderful man who believes in female empowerment and is a really good motivational speaker, so he’s great to have on the team.

Laura conducting community meeting
Laura Conducting a Community Meeting

A lot of the problems occurring are the exact same ones as last year (and according to Laura, are the same as every year prior). Thefts tend to be high in some communities, dog bites are still too frequent – both of which can be mostly avoided if the beneficiaries keep their goats in pens instead of letting them free graze. Two other major problems are goats dying from “sudden death” (aka clostridium) and having abortions due to brucella infection. Both of these are avoidable diseases, as they are two things we vaccinate for. Convincing communities to keep goats in pens and vaccinate them is a lot harder than one would think, as we have to change their long standing perspective on raising goats, but for those beneficiaries that listen to what we teach, the benefits are incredible. Some beneficiaries that have gone on to be community leaders and taken on political roles, are able to send their children to school and now live a much more comfortable life in good homes. The best part of each meeting is hearing the success stories of the members and it thrills us to hear how far so many people have come. Saphina is one of these success stories and she invited us into her home for tea made with fresh milk from one of the new cows she’s been able to purchase over the last year. She thanked us again and again and told us how the goat project drastically improved her life; she has a beautiful fenced-in home, lots of livestock, and a great job.

Saphina- most successfull beneficiary
Saphina, our most successful beneficiarySaphina's great goat pen
Saphina’s great goat pen

We have a much smaller team compared to last year, and as such and have limited resources, so we are trying to concentrate our efforts on the communities who are the most motivated and want to listen to our recommendations. Some groups still view the project as a handout and are uninterested in taking our advice, despite us emphasizing that this is a business opportunity and the goats are a loan. We can only help these people if they want to help themselves. As the saying goes, “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. But teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”Drawing blood for brucella testing
Drawing blood for brucella testing

Goats haven’t been the only animals we have been working with so far. Joseph has acquired two guard dogs since last year, so we offered to neuter the male to keep him from straying from home to mate. After a bit of a hunt through town we managed to scrape together enough instruments and medications to perform a crude neuter on the dog. The day we performed the surgery, Joseph had a neighbour who also wanted to have his dog neutered so as a team we completed two surgeries, out in the open air, on the Ugandan ground, with swarms of flies and a few children buzzing around.  Doing these surgeries gave us a great appreciation for all the surgical equipment and supplies we have available back home, and the lack of monitoring equipment definitely tested our skills.  As Laura says, “field surgery makes good surgeons!” And we’re pleased to say that both dogs are still alive and well.
Field surgery on Joseph's dog
Field surgery on Joseph’s dog

Well, we think this entry is getting long enough, and we promise to stay more on top of entries for the rest of the summer!


First Student Blog of the Summer for the Kenya Cow Project

We have all arrived safe and sound in the town of Mukurweini, where the Veterinarians Without Borders-Canada Smallholders Dairy Project partners with the Prince Edward Island NGO – Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF). Mukurweini is located in the Kenyan highlands, about three hours northwest from Nairobi. The land here is beautiful with its’ rolling hillsides, red earth, and abundant vegetation (picture included as words cannot do it justice). This year, three student interns are working with veterinarian and PhD student, Dr. Shauna Richards, on research projects on dairy cow welfare and nutrition. The student interns include Maggie from the University of Calgary, and Sarifa, also from the University of Calgary and myself (Mira) from the University of Saskatchewan. Our first week has been a great success; we settled into our home for the summer, had a tour of the milk processing facility, and began to visit farms enrolled in the research projects.

On our first day in Mukurweini, we got a tour of the milk processing facility.  The Wakulima Dairy was incredibly impressive, not only due to its excellent organization, but also with the realization that it came from such modest beginnings. The Wakulima Self-Help Group Dairy is a cooperative of many smallholder dairy farmers (farmers having one or two dairy cows) that work together to process and sell milk. The Wakulima Dairy has grown over the years through their partnership with FHF and now VWB-Canada. Started in 1990 with 35 farmers selling 100 litres of milk a day, the Wakulima Dairy now has over 6500 farmers selling 38,000 litres of milk a day. Twice everyday, milk is collected by trucks at collection points throughout Mukurweini where farmers bring small pails filled with a couple of litres of milk. Milk (maziwa in Swahili – this is an important word for us here!) is brought to the Wakulima Dairy processing facility where it is tested for quality, pasteurized, homogenized, packaged and then shipped to Nairobi. There are approximately 200 employees working at the dairy facility, and it is a major employer in this area.

The next day, we began to visit farms that are enrolled in the research study. Our goal is to visit five farms (shambas in Swahili), per day. Each farm is located on a hillside; the combination of the steep hills and abundant rainfall in the area can make it can be quite a challenge to get to the farms without slipping! But luckily, there have been no big falls yet! Each farm keeps their dairy cow (or two cows) in a small pen with a roof-covered stall for laying down. Both men and women take care of cows here, but women are the predominant caretakers. Farmers here practice zero-grazing, meaning they bring food to their cows instead of grazing them. This is due to the lack of available grazing land and to reduce the incidence of diseases spread by ticks. VWB-Canada and FHF has been promoting Napier grass as a good feed source for cows as it is high in protein. This grass can be found along most of the roadsides here, where it is planted specifically in certain plots by farmers, who then cut and carry it to their cows. Napier grass can grow to heights of over 2 metres, but as it increases past 1.5 meters, it loses a lot of its nutritional value. This is an important concept that we are working hard to educate farmers on in order to help them improve the nutrition of their animals.

At each farm, we do a thorough physical exam of the cow, and collect important information about the cow’s environment (e.g. can the cow lie down comfortably? Does the cow have access to water?). Shauna also conducts an interview with the help of our fabulous translator, Priscilla, to ask farmers about the health and diet of their cow. We also attach accelerometers to a leg of each cow. Accelerometers are small devices that record the position of whatever they are attached to in space; we can use them to see how much time the cow spends lying down or standing. When cows are comfortable, they spend more time laying down, which results in increased milk production. The data we are collecting on the behavior of individual cows helps us gain insight into how we can improve their environments to help improve their welfare and productivity.

The longevity of FHF’s working relationship with the Wakulima and partnership with VWB-Canada has led to improvements in stall designs, cow welfare, and nutrition. However, there is still much work to be done. Many of the cows we have seen do not have body weights that are adequate to support good milk production or pregnancies. Working with farmers to introduce better feeds, improve stall designs, and encourage better health management of their dairy cows is vital to improving livelihoods in this area, where the average household income is less than $1000/year. Even slight increases in milk production can provide a pathway out of poverty by allowing families to afford their children’s education, improve their sanitation facilities, and afford a more nutritional diet for themselves. Of course, all of this is easier said than done, which is why working with people is key. While it is easy to tell someone what the right thing to feed is, it is far more effective to work with them to understand their individual needs and challenges and find realistic solutions that are sustainable in the long term.

We are looking forward to this upcoming week! We will be pulling out the hammers, nails, and shovels to help farmers improve their cows’ stalls as well as continuing on with interviews and physical exams.

On a geeky veterinary student note, we have seen some really interesting diseases that are not common or unheard of in Canada. We went to a farm where a cow had ulcerative lesions on its mouth, suggestive of Foot and Mouth Disease, which is very common in this area. The cow was okay, but it was great for us to be able to see what this disease looks like in real life after having read so much about it in our studies.  And of course we have been practicing lots of California Mastitis Tests, a cheap and effective test to determine if cows have subclinical mastitis (an infection of the udder).

Picture captions:

“Napier grass”: Shauna teaching a farmer about the importance of cutting Napier grass short.Blog 1

“Group photo”: Mary is an extremely motivated and dedicated farmer, and it shows! From left to right: Maggie, Mira, Mary, Sarifa, and Priscilla.Blog 2

“Processing machine” This machine is where milk is pasteurized, homogenized, and then pasteurized again at the Wakulima Dairy.Blog 3

“Happy cows produce more milk!”Blog 4

“Transporting Napier grass to farm.”Blog 5

Zoonotic viruses in rural Lao: collaboration project between FoA, VWB and IPL

Circulation of zoonotic viruses remains largely unknown and under-investigated in rural Laos, although these viruses can have dramatic impact on human and animal health (e.g. SARS, Influenza and Ebola virus). This is why, together with the Institute Pasteur Laos (IPL), we decided to expand the on-going Animal Health Monitoring by testing the collected samples also for different viruses with zoonotic potential. Dr Maude Pauly from the Luxembourg Institute of Health joined the experienced local team (composed of 3rd and 4th year veterinary students, teachers from the Faculty of Agriculture and VWB team) during the sample collection in April 2015. Moreover, she gave lectures about laboratory analyses, risk factors for zoonotic diseases, and zoonotic viruses. A workshop was also organized for the staff of the Faculty of Agriculture at the IPL to provide basic laboratory skills. Dr Maude highly appreciated the motivation of the collaboration partners and of course also the beauty of the country and the kindness and hospitality of its population… and also loved the sympathetic and straightforward “Bo penh nyang”(i.e. “No problem” or “never mind”)-mentality and will certainly come back!

The first phase of the project was a great success and more collaboration projects are currently being launched aiming at surveilling emergence and prevalence of zoonotic viruses and at developing efficient intervention strategies in order to hopefully prevent epidemics in the region. This is of course an ambitious objective, but we are determined to combine efforts and experience to succeed!

Amphone and Bouachan, two graduated vet students, assisting Dr Maude Pauly in the labZoonotic 1


Amphone and Maude after a successful sampling visit

Zoontic 2

Two third year vet students, Lattana and Phouddavanh, practising blood smears in the labZoonotic 3

A third year vet student, Khamxaixong, taking a nasal swab from a cow while the farmer restrains the animalZoonotic 4





Rural Drug Vendors in Laos

Part of Vets without Borders’ work in Laos involves training Rural Drug Vendors (RDVs) to help access to pharmacy services in rural areas. We’d like to take some time to highlight our 2 fantastic RDVs, Mr. Sisavath and Mr. Ong.



VWB assisted 2 rural drug vendors (RDVs), Mr. Sisavath and Mr. Ong, to set up their shop for animal health-related drugs and equipment by providing economic support in the form of interest-free loans and co-financing. With this support, the 2 RDVs were able to purchase veterinary drugs and vaccines, a counter for storing and displaying their products, a fridge for storing temperature-sensitive vaccines, and an  advertisement sign to promote their business.Sisavath&PAHW_signingReceiptSisavath_drug_counter

In addition to this, the RDVs participated in trainings on basic bookkeeping and business skills development, drug stock management, and drug application. Now they are ready to run and improve their business and become sustainable beyond project support. Moreover, the RDVs are a key element for a functioning and sustainable community-based animal health service system, which VWB assisted to set up in 11 villages in Xaythany district.Sisavath_Sign

In addition to local livestock farmers, the main customers of the RDVs are the 27 primary animal health workers (PAHWs) in the target area. The PAHWs, which have also been trained by VWB and the Faculty of Agriculture, can now purchase the drugs and equipment needed for providing animal health services in their villages at the RDVs shops.

More work for Cricket farmers after the IFN visits

After the farmer exchange visit, where the participants of the Insect for Nutrition project (IFN) visited different cricket farms in Vientiane Capital province, they participated in a cricket farming training in their villages. The training was delivered by our local partners from Bolikhan District Agriculture and Forestry Office, who had been trained before by our team. Two students from the Faculty of Agriculture’s livestock department assisted in the training.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESTheory1

The training took place on the 16th and 17th of May in the 2 IFN project villages in Bolikhan district, Bolikhamxay province. In the first part, the participants learned about the life cycle of crickets, the rearing techniques at the different life cycle stages, and about the cage and its equipment. Due to the prior farmer exchange visit, the participants knew already a lot and were eager to show their knowledge, and actively contribute to the training.CageConstruction01SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In the 2nd part of the training, the participants constructed together with the trainers and the students 1 model cage. While the rough design and size of the cage was set by the project, the participants were free to find the best construction solution by themselves. There was a lot of discussion on which design would be the best! But, finally, the model cages in the 2 villages were constructed. In each village, the design was different, but the result were 2 excellent cricket production cages, which can serve the other participants as a guiding model.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In the final part of the training, the trainers showed how to burn rice husk and mix it with the right amount of water. In this rice husk mix, the crickets will lay their eggs. The correct preparation of the rice husk mix is crucial for the success of the coming production cycle. If the mix is too dry or too wet, the cricket eggs will be spoiled and a new generation of crickets will not hatch. As the trainers explained, an alternative to burned rice husk is saw dust.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

After the training, all participants start the construction of their cricket cages, and will start their own farming by the end of this month.

Lao cricket farmers participate in a Insect for Nutrition visit!

Following the Training of Trainers (ToT) of our local partners from Bolikhamxay province, 20 project participants of our Insect for Nutrition (IFN) project visited other crickets farmers in Vientiane Capital province as part of their training on cricket farming. Former experiences showed us that farmers learn best from other farmers – this was proven again during this exchange visit!

After arriving from Bolikhamxay on May 9th, the IFN participants visited 16 cricket farmers in Xaythany district, which have been running small backyard cricket farms with the support of VWB since 2014. The IFN guests were very excited to see the farms – none of them had seen a real cricket farm before. And as they will start soon farming their own crickets, they eagerly inspected the cages, the equipment, and the crickets, and had many questions to ask about cage construction, rearing, feeding and harvesting practices. And, as can be seen in the photos, our cricket farmers really enjoyed being in the centre of attention and to share their knowledge and experiences with the guests!

After this, we visited another cricket farm, which is located in the immediate vicinity of the Vientiane, and close to insect trading markets. From this farm, VWB had purchased the last batch of cricket eggs to restart the cricket production of the 16 cricket farmers from Xaythany district after the cold season. This farm operated on a little bit bigger scale with 6 cages and a total production output of  nearly 100kg per production cycle. Here the IFN participants, had the opportunity to observe a slightly different farming system, which made use of 2-story cages.

Finally, we closed off the visit with a small sightseeing tour to the Patuxay monument in Vientiane. For some participants it was the first time to the capital city!

The exchange visit was an excellent and exciting learning opportunity for all! Not only the IFN participants were able to get more insights into cricket farming, but also our local partners, who have joined the ToT, and will conduct the cricket farming training in Bolikhamxay, agreed that is was a great experience for them!

Cricket farming Training of Trainers and Farmer Exchange Visits

On May 7th, our local partners from the District Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO) in Bolikhan district, visited our office at the Faculty of Agriculture in Nabong, to participate in a Training of Trainers on cricket rearing. During the training, which was facilitated by Faculty member Ajarn Bounpheng, the DAFO officers learned how to train local farmers on setting up and managing a small scale cricket farm. Two agriculture students from the faculty joined the training as well, which is part of their project practicum with VWB. Together with the DAFO officers, they will train and support the participants of VWB’s Insect for Nutrition project in the neighbouring Bolikhmamxay province.

After the training at the faculty, the ToT participants visited together with the project manager, Thomas, a cricket farm for more practical learning experiences. They used the opportunity to ask the cricket farmer many questions about rearing techniques, feed, and cage equipment.

On the following day, the ToT participants developed together training materials and conducted a test training with Ajarn Bounpheng and Thomas. As a final part of their ToT, they will join a farmer-2-farmer exchange visit and see two more cricket farms.






On May8th, VWB conducted a business training for the Primary Animal Health Workers (PAHWs). The PAHWs learned basic bookkeeping skills, such as using a cash book, calculating the pricing of products and services, and keeping track of loans. These bookkeeping skills will help them to manage their business more effectively, increase their incomes, and improve animal health services in their villages. In the next training module, the PAHWs will learn how to use a cash flow plan, and how to promote and market their business.





Primary Animal Health Workers in Laos learn the importance of antibiotics

In Laos, the Primary Animal Health Workers’ (or PAHWs) favorite learning topic is pharmaceuticals because they know how important preventative and live-saving injections can be for farmers to be able to give to their animals.  Because prevention and disease management is so important, PAHWs need to know a lot about  the medical drugs the administer and also about the contra-indications and possible side effects of drugs.   Some farmers believe that antibiotics cannot be used in very young animals or that vaccines cannot be used in pregnant, so PAHWs work hard to educate the farmers about the the safety of vaccinations and some life-saving medicines so that they can care for their sick animals.

Last month, the VWB team in Laos had a PAHW training where all of those topics were covered. PAHWs were very enthusiastic in joining all sorts of activities, from plenary discussions, to group work, to individual presentations to card games.  Education saves both animal and human lives!





Vets without Borders’ work in Laos slated for future years and additional projects!

Isn’t signing a new Memorandum Of Understanding with the Lao government the best good way to celebrate Pii Mai Lao (Lao new year)??

That is what happened to Vets without Borders in Lao in early April!!

Faculty members and project staff gathered to listen to the project coordinator update on project advancement, were asked for their feedback.  It was discussed that sustainability of our activities was the most important discussion point.


To close this meeting, Pr Fongsamouth Southammavong, on behalf of the ministry of Education and Sport, and Dr Margot Camoin, on behalf of Vets without Borders, signed the MOU and shook hands. This MOU will allow Vets without Borders to continue to implement different projects in Laos.


A small pre-Pii Mai party was organized afterwards to celebrate this success !


Raising crickets during Laos’s cold season

In the cold season of Laos (December – March) the cricket production ceased.  When temperatures drop, cricket growth slows, and eventually stops if it stays too cold. This timing was a good opportunity to review  the last production cycles with the project participants and get some project feedback. Overall, the participants were happy with their production and thought the process was very easy. All farmers want to continue raising crickets with the beginning of the warmer season and as soon as fresh cricket eggs are available. The group leader is happy about this activity as the smaller children in her household love to eat crickets, and, since she started to farm them, they are now easily available.

The cricket project raised the interest of other people inside and outside the village. Again the group leader said that her daughter, who lives in another village has also started cricket farming after being given cricket eggs. The participants also reported that other families in the village started raising crickets on their own. Moreover, 1 new participant, also female, joined the project!

The temporary stop of the production also gave us the opportunity to check the condition of the cricket cages. We realized that many of the cages need to be repaired as the plywood has been affected by the weather. The joint decision was to look for a more suitable material than plywood and then, rebuild the cages and improve their design based on the previous experiences. To test new materials and an improved design, the project manager, Thomas, built a test cage.


The cage construction was reviewed with the participants to provide feedback and suggestions for further improvement, and to finally guide the reconstruction of the new cages. On March 12, the participants received the materials for the new cages. As can be seen on the photos, they were really excited and very eager to restart their production. Everyone also received a new batch of cricket eggs.

making boxes1
making boxes2
making boxes3
making boxes4

Cricket farming however, is not just about the farming practices- must research and collaboration is happening to discuss nutrition and how the successes of this pilot project can expand to other parts of Laos. In January 2015, the preparatory field activities for this research project started with a stakeholder meeting in Bolikhamxay province and the pre-selection of potential project villages. In the stakeholder meeting, the project partners, comprising of the VWB team, representatives of the Faculty of Agriculture (including the Vice Dean), nutritionists from the University of Health Sciences, and representatives of the District Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO), District Health Office and Women’s Union, discussed and reviewed the project conception, and agreed on the selection criteria for the pre-selection of potential project villages. In February, village consultation visits were conducted with the same team (plus the Dean of the University of Health Sciences, a senior nutritionist). Two villages with 10 households per village were selected (i.e. total of 20 households). In addition to this, 2 control villages were selected for the research. On March 20th, a test baseline survey was conducted with 15 households in Xaythany District, Vientiane Capital. The purpose of this activity was to test the developed questionnaires and improve them for the baseline survey in the project villages at the beginning of April. The baseline survey focuses on capturing the nutritional status of the research households, especially of women of child-bearing age and children under 5 years.  We look forward to continue this work and help to improve the nutrition and income of families in rural Laos!