Final Thoughts & Goodbyes

Text and photos by Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern, and by Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

Our project here in Mukurwe-ini has come to an end. It is bittersweet to be finishing our time here as we have had such a great summer. Filled with many amazing adventures and lots of good work, we feel very lucky to have been selected as interns this year. We are happy to have completed such a successful project and met so many amazing people. However, these last three months have flown by and we can’t believe the time has come to say goodbye. Through our youth project we gave seminars to nearly 400 people on 40 farms. 55% of the people who attended the seminars were women and 51% were youth. The 40 youth farmers we worked with saw improvements in their milk production, and the majority of them have become really engaged in getting more youth in the area interested in dairy farming.

Blog 9 - 1Image 1: Feeding a blind rhinoceros at the Ol Pejeta animal sanctuary was one of the many adventures that added to making our trip a memorable one!

We have high hopes for the future of this project in the coming years. The extension team at the Wakulima Dairy have been instrumental in helping us reach out to farmers, and we were lucky to have them join us on several farm visits. Through the help of a recent donor we were able to buy Mastrite (an udder wash and teat dip) for the youth farmers who excelled through our project. The hope is that their farms can be used as demo farms where the extension team can continue to hold seminars over the next year keeping the youth engaged until a new group of interns returns next summer.

Blog 9 - 2Image 2: Katy teaching about cow comfort at the last seminar of the project. 

The work we did on farms was truly rewarding for us. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from giving someone knowledge that will help them to create a sustainable and stable future. However, as much as we were rewarded through our teaching, we also found that each and every day contained a learning opportunity for us. On a personal level we both found that our communication skills improved a lot. Learning to interact with people who don’t share your language or culture can sometimes present challenges. However, with patience, a good sense of humor, and an excellent translator nearby; any language or cultural differences soon melt away. We also became much more proficient in our cow handling and milking skills. Without a chute system, convincing a temperamental dairy cow that you have her best interests at heart while you are trying to take her temperature can make for an interesting afternoon. With three months of practice, we have found we are much more practiced in the art of “cow whispering” and can milk with the best of them!

We also learnt a lot about the challenges of small scale dairy farming here in Kenya. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, dairy farming in Kenya is a full time job. Farmers have to be up at 5:00am for the first milking, spend the morning getting their children to school, complete all the necessary chores on the farm, and gather forage for their cow before the next milking around noon. They often also have another job that they then go to, or have to tend to the many other animals or crops present on their farm. Working these types of hours can be discouraging when you are getting a poor milk return from your cow. However, the Kenyan farmers we have worked with are some of the hardest working people we have ever met. This mixed with their passion for dairy farming and interest in improving is bound to help them see improvements in the future. Especially if programs like ours continue to help educate farmers in the small changes they can make to see large returns in milk production.

Blog 9 - 3Image 3: One thing we will definitely miss about Kenya is all of the delicious fresh fruit!

On a broader scale we also learned about working in international development. The youth project was based on the premise of One Health. Creating a healthier future for communities, by creating solutions for animal, human and environmental health. This project really showed us how making simple changes on a small scale can make a big impact in a community. By improving the welfare of single cows on small scale dairy farms, you can improve monthly income for an entire family. When the education that helped make that change is spread through the community, you start to see economic stability spread throughout the area. The partnership with the Wakulima Dairy was formed over 20 years ago. Small improvements to single farms may have seemed relatively inconsequential then, but now the Wakulima is a booming dairy that processes 35,000 kg of milk every single day. With over 6,000 farmers it has helped make Mukurwe-ini a great place to live for Kenyan farmers. It truly shows that small changes with the right goals can make big difference to families and communities in developing areas.

As with any project in a developing country, we could not have made these last three months happen without the help of many people. This project would not have been successful without the help of the staff at the Wakulima Dairy, especially their extension team. The extension team selected our 40 youth farmers, helped us coordinate getting project supplies, and assisted in ensuring our seminars run smoothly. We are so thankful to have them and Gerald Kariuki, ex-coordinator of the Dairy, helping us with any issues we faced that seemed a little over our heads.

Blog 9 - 4 (1)Image 4: Posing with the staff of the Wakulima Dairy at our farewell party. The support of these people was instrumental in making our project a success. 

Our team in the field consists of our translator Priscilla Muthoni, and our driver Ephraim Mutahi. We are so thankful to them. Without their help many farmers would not be able to understand us, and we wouldn’t have been able to navigate to the many different villages we travelled to. Together we have shared many laughs, and got to know each other well. They have become our Kenyan family and our days were made brighter by working alongside them.


Blog 9 - 5Image 5: Katy, Ephraim, Priscilla, and Julia with our trusty transportation “The Hustler”. Without these two, our work would have been a lot less fun, and a lot less productive!

We are very thankful for those who have made our stay in Kenya feel like a home away from home. Samuel Karanja is our wonderful chef who ensures we are well fed during the busy work week. In addition to experiencing his amazing meals, his friendship and company allowed us to feel as comfortable and as safe as possible. We are truly happy and thankful for his work. We also must thank Ruth Wathiha, a wonderful woman that hand-washes our laundry. She is very kind, sweet, and a loving mother of two boys. Her work for us is almost invaluable, as we work long days and get quite dirty on farms. We very much appreciate her work and the warmth with which she welcomed us to Kenya.

Blog 9 - 6Image 6: Julia, Samuel, and Katy on Julia’s last day in Mukurwe-ini. We are sad to say goodbye to Samuel’s amazing cooking and good company!

Blog 9 - 7Image 7: Julia, Priscilla, Ruth, and Katy. These women are inspirational both in their work and home lives. Their families are lucky to have such amazing women taking care of them, and we feel privileged to know them.

We would not have been able to travel to Kenya and participate in this service project without the support of the following charitable organizations: Veterinarians Without Borders Canada, Farmers Helping Farmers and The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre. We are thankful for their partnership and support in facilitating the growth of student veterinarians, like ourselves, and One Health initiatives in developing countries. Finally, thank you to all of our friends, family, and donors that have supported our project during the last three amazing months. Please know that this project was more than we could have hoped for, and that your support helped make real change for the families we worked with here in Kenya. It is with hope that we look to the future and say not Kwaheri (goodbye) to Kenya, but instead Tutaonana (see you soon)!

Blog 9 - 8Image 8: Thank you to everyone who supported us on our journey to and time in Kenya! It wouldn’t have been possible without each and every one of you.

The Ex Lewa Dairy Co-op

Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern
Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

This week we had a change of scenery and spent three days in the region of Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms in the area. The community began as a settlement project back in the 1970s. Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers have been visiting and doing work with the Ex Lewa Dairy Co-Op and their farmers since 2010.  Currently, the Ex Lewa dairy has 300 members actively selling milk and they collect an average of 1600 L of milk per day which is sold to the larger Meru Central Dairy. The Ex Lewa Dairy is much smaller compared to the developed dairy operation we are used to working with in Mukurwe-ini. Though there are fewer farmers in Ex Lewa, the practice of producing milk as a source of income is growing. They have great potential in being able to profit from dairy farming since farmers have large plots of land, therefore the ability to grow good quality forages for their cows and even make silage for the dry seasons.

Blog 8 - image 1Image 1: The vast fields for farming in Ex Lewa contrasted the dense green hills in Mukurwe-ini.

Blog 8 - image 2Image 2: Julia discussing mastitis prevention and cow comfort with Leah translating during an on-farm seminar.

We spent our days in Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms, making small improvements to cow stalls, and holding seminars for interested farmers. Most farmers in Ex Lewa are grazing their dairy cows, which presents management challenges and animal welfare concerns. We centered our seminars on the benefits of changing to a zero-grazing system. Zero-grazing systems allow the farmer to control the environment of the cows. They can ensure that the stall is kept clean and comfortable, preventing mastitis and increasing milk production. They can also ensure that the cows are given ready access to high quality forage, and are offered free choice water. Cows that are out grazing during the day have an inconsistent diet and water access is limited. The farmers here are doing well with the system they have but by making the switch they would see a big increase in their milk production. We were very impressed by the interest farmers have expressed in dairy farming. They are obviously very active in trying to improve their milk production and so by implementing some of the small changes we recommended they are likely to see large benefits.

Blog 8 - image 3Image 3: Julia discussing the minor changes farmers can make to their cows’ resting stall to improve cow comfort. In the photo, she is demonstrating the “knee test.” We ask farmers to fall to their knees within the stall to test if the stall base is too hard (knees get hurt) or too dirty (knees get wet).

Blog 8 - image 4Image 4: We made changes to this cow stall. First, we removed end boards to ensure enough head lunge space for the cow. Then, we adjusted the neck rail based on the cow’s height and position within the stall to prevent the cow from passing too much waste at the back of the stall. And finally we ensured the stall base, had soft tilled soil with straw bedding on top of it, to provide cleanliness and comfort for when the cow is resting.

Blog 8 - image 5Image 5: A group photo after a successful seminar! We also distributed dairy handbooks to the newest members of the Ex Lewa Dairy.

We billeted at a dairy farmer’s home, her name is Mercy Makena. She has a very warm and welcoming home. What made us very happy to learn is how well she is managing her cows. She is very knowledgeable about many of the topics we discuss on our on-farm seminars. She works very hard to make sure her cows have access to water and forage all the time. We made minor changes to her cows’ resting stalls by removing end boards and adjusting the neckrail, and after one day she informed us the cows were seen resting more throughout the day! This made us very happy to hear and she was very grateful for our work and recommendations. We even recommended her as a demo farm to the chairman of the dairy, as she will make a good role model for other farmers in the area. With only two cows she is an excellent example of how good care of two cows can be much more profitable than mediocre care of many cows. One morning we saw how much she is excelling when we took her milk to the local milk collection site about 1 km away. All the farmers in the village take milk to the same collection point so we met many of the farmers in the area. Mercy was among the top sellers in terms of kg/cow/day. Her hospitality and love for dairy farming has made our stay in Ex Lewa a great experience, as well as increasing our love for Kenyan food!

Blog 8 - image 7Image 6: One morning, Katy and I walked the full milk can to the collection site. This is one of the ten milk collection sites for the dairy. While waiting for the milk truck, we greeted other children and farmers bringing their morning haul to the collection site.

Blog 8 - image 6Image 7: In these photos, milk is being weighed, recorded and then pooled into larger cans.

Blog 8 - image 8Image 8: Mercy Makena, our lovely billet host, dedicated mother of two girls, and passionate dairy farmer!

Fridays with Feddy

By Shauna Thomas,  VWB intern and OVC veterinary student.

Feddy Nambooze, widowed at 32 years old without even a high school degree and five children to look after. For any woman across the globe this sounds like a terrible situation, made worse in countries where widows are stigmatized and out casted from society as failures. The unfortunate reality in Uganda is that this situation is far from the exception to the rule; one could go so far as to say it is normal. In our time here in Isingrio district, Uganda, we have met countless widows who have worked unfathomably hard to provide for their family, and fight against the stigma so unjustly cast upon them. From the moment we met Feddy, we could tell she was something special and every encounter since then has only grown our respect and adoration for her. Fortunate for us, she invited us to her home one Friday night to talk and spend the night as her guests. A captivating women, humble by spirit and hardworking by nature, this is her story……

Photo 1Feddy Nambooze, 60 years old.

Although modern day Ugandan society is still highly oppressive to women, it has made moves in a positive direction. Thirty years ago, however, Feddy, a 14 year old girl having just completed grade seven, was coming home to the reality that she would no longer attend school no matter her drive or desire to learn. A family of 9 children, five girls and four boys, her father (as most men at the time) felt that it was a waste of money to educate girls and only the boys would complete high school.  At the age of 20, Feddy was married with one child on the way. After 12 short years and five daughters, her husband passed away leaving her widowed and the sole provider for her children. At the time, her family was living in a town called Ibumbo in a house built the local way. Made out of mud, sticks and grasses, her two room house would leak and wash away when it rained. When asked about her mindset at the time she admitted it was hard to feel anything positive, saying it was “the worst time of her life”. Thankfully, she persevered and was able to move herself and her children to her current location in a village named Kyabutoto.

All too happy to move on from talking about that time in her life, Feddy described to us in detail the steps she took to get from a bare, hilly plot of land to the concrete, decorated house she has now. To begin, she innovatively decided to dig up the hills to use the clay for bricks and to flatten the land at the same time. At this time her family had built another temporary local grass house until they could afford anything more. As an early member of the women’s group in Kyabutoto, she was one of the first people to be a recipient of the goat pass on project (2006). She explained how she sold the initial goats to pay for her daughters’ school fees, as many of our beneficiaries do. What has separated her from many others in the project is her forward-thinking. Using her group’s revolving fund (microfinance scheme), she invested in four more goats, selling and buying as needed after this. Although many people in Canada may interpret this investment strategy as the obvious/logical next step; it is not often the first choice made by women in rural Uganda. For people who live so day-to-day due to extremely limited funds and resources, the idea of taking out loans and investing in something long-term like goatherds is a challenging concept. This initiative allowed her to have enough money (although nothing extra), to support all five of her daughters through high school and then each into a trade (tailoring, salon etc). The way she spoke about putting her daughters through school was very matter-of-fact; for her, education was not a question, it was fundamental to a successful life.

Photo 3Feddy’s house to the left with the Isingiro district in the distance.

By this point in the conversation I had already lost count of the number of times she spoke of and emphasized how thankful she was to have been a goat recipient from the VWB pass on project.  From the start of her goat rearing time she had one goal: to have a home with electricity. She explained how room-by-room from 2006 to today she built the beautiful three-room concrete home we were sitting in. We were fortunate to get to take this walk down memory lane with Feddy, seeing her facial expressions and tone of voice change as she recounted her successes as well as her shortcomings. Especially notable was the look of pride she emitted when she pointed us to the light bulb in the ceiling and said all her hard work had paid off.

As a humble person by nature, it was harder than expected to get Feddy to talk about all of her training and current positions. The key to that box was when she pulled out a notebook and we started asking specific questions about the notes she has written and instructions in the book.  The secret to it was that she clearly didn’t want to talk about herself, but if asked about what she did for other people or the work a group she led was doing, she had endless things to say. A great leader is someone who is confident in themselves but focused on the greater good of a group. A list of the leadership position Feddy holds follows: Kyabutoto chairperson and Paravet, Nyamuanga secondary school board member, Parish co-ordinator, PTA representative, Village health team worker, Kakona health center nutrition facilitator, social worker trained in child protection and most recently a councellor for Kaberebere Town Council. All of these responsibilities she has on top of being the sole provider for herself and Rosette, the grandchild she looks after. It took me a few moments to pick my jaw off the floor after hearing just how many roles of responsibility she holds. Prior to this, I just believed she was a hardworking woman with some serious drive and a good head on her shoulders; when really she is the female version of Superman! Maybe a tad dramatic but when you see first hand how someone has worked so hard from the ground up all the way up to the top, you can’t help but be heavily inspired.

Photo 4Genuine conversations, genuine smiles.

Flipping through her training books, we stumbled across a chart with traits listed and a scale of 1(best) to 5 (worst) beside them. Feddy explained how every night she sits down and rates herself on each of the traits. She reflected that, “You can’t be 100% at everything, but you can certainly try.” We were shocked to see how low she had ranked herself in many categories such as empathy, confidence and availability. Thinking about it now, It has became clear that this is part of the key to her successes; never being completely satisfied forces her to seek education when possible, seize every opportunity given and continually expand her horizons. Alternatively, she says her key to success is always putting into practice what you learn, for many of us this is easier said than done. This 60-year old woman, without so much as a high school degree, is my definition of a life-long learner.  Throughout the entire conversation with Feddy, I was searching for her to slip some word or phrase that would capture her personality and move any reader the way she has inspired me. In reality, this wasn’t possible. To try to capture someone; their struggles, their triumphs, their complexities, in a few words strung together would only take away from their story. As we were wrapping up to leave Feddy’s, her youngest daughter (a 20-year-old named Claire), piped in that the only role model she ever needs is her mother. It struck me then that someone dosen’t have to be well known to accomplish great things, something as simple as being a single person’s role model is one of the greatest legacies you can leave. So many strong women across the world are examples of these everyday unsung leaders. A simple conversation on a Friday evening allowed me to meet one of these very special women, and her name happens to be Feddy.

Photo 2Feddy’s list of qualities and her ranking of herself in her reflection journal.


Seminars and Sunshine

By Julia Nguyen

The week began on a foggy morning, with grey skies and cooler temperatures. Later that day it became so hot that the only relief was to find shade. This type of weather was a common occurrence the whole week. We only had one farm seminar scheduled that Monday afternoon. The morning was spent travelling to pick up 800 of the total 1600 Calliandra seedlings we plan to give farmers. At every farm seminar, in addition to a dairy farming handbook we give out three seedlings to each farmer that attends and 10 seedlings to our host farmer. Calliandra is a high protein fodder shrub that farmers are able to harvest tofeed their cows, providing an inexpensive source of protein and energy. Research done by the World Agroforestry group has shown that Calliandra is cost effective and well suited to the agro-ecologic zone we work in, making it a good choice to recommend to farmers here. On a side note Shauna would like to thank her dad Allan Richards for donating the funds to buy all 1600 Calliandra seedlings for the farmers – “Thanks Dad!”
Blog4 - Image 1 (1)Calliandra shrub (left)
The rest of the week was spent conducting on-farm seminars. Each seminar takes about two hours but some visits go longer. The longer seminars are thanks to some farmers being so engaged and having so many more questions about topics related to, or unrelated to our seminar topics. The questions and bouts of discussion are a good sign for us to know that the farmers are listening and want to learn more about dairy cow management. On Tuesday, our afternoon seminar visit was longer than expected because after the seminar had ended, three lively female dairy farmers had more questions to ask Shauna. Their discussion was so energized that at one point all three farmers were talking at once, and over each other, and Shauna in the corner smiling cheerfully waiting to chime in.
The common stand out points of discussion among farmers is realizing that they should improve their current feeding practices and understanding the concept of standing heat. Farmers often think the best sign to breed their cow is when she is mounting other cows. Though mounting other cows may indicate the cow is in heat it is not the best sign for breeding, if the cow stands still to be mounted by another cow and does not walk away, it is the more reliable sign that she is ready to be bred. For farmers that have only one dairy cow, we emphasize good observation of all other signs of heat and record keeping skills to watch and time when best to breed their cow.Overall, the rest of this week’s seminars went well. We often gave a red “My Veterinarian is Without Borders” bandana to our host farmer and a couple of them used them on their heads immediately! So far we have visited 27 out of our 40 farms, and completed all three project visits on eight farms.
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The main topics of our seminars are: cow nutrition, reproduction, mastitis prevention and cow comfort/hygiene.

Blog4 - image 4We were also able to visit two more primary schools this week to teach about zoonotic disease and dog bite prevention. We visited Tamabaya Primary school and Karaguririo Primary School.
For the weekend we headed to Meru were we hosted by Jennifer Murogocho. We visited the board members at the Dairy Co-op in Ex Lewa, and the Ngare Ndare forest. Jennifer is a long standing friend and partner with Farmers Helping Farmers and she was very sweet and welcoming to her home. As a member of the Meru assembly she was busy with the Deputy President’s visit to Meru this weekend, which brought excitement and funding to local schools.
The Dairy Co-op in Ex Lewa has been partnered with Farmers Helping Farmers for over two years, and is a much smaller dairy then the Wakulima Dairy that we are currently working with. The Ex-Lewa Dairy has around 300-400 members actively selling milk, compared to the Wakulima with over 6000 members. Since volunteers have worked with Ex-Lewa this past January and February, their milk production has increased from 600 kg to 1,500 kg per day! It was amazing to hear about the small changes the veterinarians and farmers have recommended already being implemented and making such an impact in the community. Their ambition to grow and willingness to improve the livelihood of their members is impressive.
Ex-Lewa Dairy is adjacent to the Ngare Ndare forest, so after our visit with them we headed out there with Salome, Charles, and Zablon (FHF employee, Jennifer’s brother, and park ranger respectively). We were able to relax by swimming at three waterfalls, lounging in the sunshine, seeing great views on the canopy walk and seeing a small family of elephants drink from the stream!

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Katy, Julia and Shauna enjoying some summer time weather (although it is technically winter in Kenya)!







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We saw this Masai giraffe (among other animals) as we drove out from Ngare Ndare forest through the Lewa conservancy.

Getting Started with Wakulima Dairy

By Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy Group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families.

We have safely arrived in Mukurwe-ini with all of our luggage! Arriving at 3am in Nairobi the streets were very quiet. This was sharply contrasted 6 hours later as we ran some last minute errands in the city. The streets were bustling with people, motorbikes, and cars. As we were running on very little sleep it was nice to get out of the busy city for a change of pace. We stopped at the Starbucks Hotel in Karatina for a lunch of chapati, a Kenyan specialty fried flat bread. Upon arriving at our house we were presently whisked off for dinner at Gerald Kariuki’s house. Gerald is the recently retired coordinator of the Wakulima Dairy group. He is helping facilitate our work with them as well as many other Farmers Helping Farmers projects. We were very grateful for the delicious meal served, followed by chai, tea, and fruit. The chai tea is plentiful here and I imagine we will have had a lot of it by the end of the summer.

Kenya - 1The next day we organized some of our work materials, and met with some of the Wakulima dairy employees we will be working with. The dairy is quite impressive. Having started in 1980 with only 35 farmers producing about 36 kg of milk per day, today it is a busy cooperative of over 6000 farmers producing nearly 50 000 kg of milk per day. Both pasteurized milk and yogurt are sold from the facility and they are constantly looking for ways to expand further. We were impressed by the efficiency of the operation as we moved through from milk receiving and testing to pasteurization, packaging, and shipping.  At left Julia (left) and I are all dressed up for our tour of the dairy.

In our project we will be working with youth farmers of the Wakulima Dairy. We will be visiting 40 farms three times each over the course of our 3 month stay. The service project is based on research by Dr. Shauna Richards on cow comfort, hygiene, nutrition, and disease prevention on small scale farms. At each farm we will be helping them to alter their stalls to make them more comfortable for the cows. The more cows rest the more milk they make. We also help them to keep their stalls clean and go over milking practices to help prevent mastitis. We will help them improve their feeding practices to ensure that nutrition is optimized for milk production. On our final visit we will help the farmers teach a seminar to other youth farmers in the area so that they can also benefit from these practises. The hope is that in the future this new group will work together to continuously improve their dairy farming.

So far we have completed eight of our farm visits. The farmers have been very welcoming and eager to learn. Our team consists of myself, fellow intern Julia Nguyen, Shauna, Priscilla (our translator), and Ephraim (our driver and stall constructor extraordinaire). We have had lots of fun getting to know each other so far and I am excited for the rest of the summer!

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One of the milk trucks that delivers maziwa (milk in Swahili) from the Wakulima dairy. Their brand name is “Royal Fresh”.



Samuel, our amazing chef, purchasing vegetables for dinner at the market in Mukurwe-ini.


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Julia, Shauna, and Pricilla enjoying the sun after one of our first days of farm work.


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Taking a little break at one of our first farm visits.






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This was the first cow we got to see immediately enjoy the comforts of its new and improved stall.


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Julia ensuring all the calves are getting their fair share of Napier grass.

Ban San Tor: The Cricket Farming Village

By Emma Dobson

Emma Dobson is a nutritionist interning with VWB/VSF Canada in Laos.

This month two members from VWB/VSF’s micro livestock team in Laos visited Thailand to see how this neighboring country farms crickets. Thailand has already been farming crickets for nearly twenty years, and around 20,000 farmers raise crickets for human consumption. In contrast, cricket farming in Laos is very new and had almost no producers before 2010. The village to see was Ban San Tor in Khon Kaen province, located in the north east of the country, which boasts sixty-six farmers producing crickets. The scale of these farms is much larger than anything we’ve seen in Laos, with many farmers operating dozens of large cages. This village is serious about crickets, not only because you see a giant cricket statue at the front entrance- they are also producing 15 tonnes of the insect every month, enough to make crickets their main source of income.

VWB’s Laos micro livestock team (Thomas Weigel and Emma Dobson) at the entrance to the village. 

One farmer in the village began his operation ten years back by collecting crickets in the wild to place in captivity. Since then, he has expanded his farm and now earns about $2,000 USD a month through the sale of crickets. Cricket farming in this drought-prone area is ideal, as crickets require relatively little water compared to other livestock. One of the major advantages mentioned by farmers was that the operation does not take up a great deal of time, often only 30 minutes to 1 hour a day to maintain the cages. Farmers also like that they can stay at home to work, and one older man stated that it was a suitable activity for elderly persons such as himself. Initially these farmers had difficulty accessing markets to sell their crickets, however things have changed and there are now several buyers who regularly come to the village to purchase the insects.


Inside one of the farms. This building was half of one man’s operation. Originally used for pigs, it was converted to cricket cages a few years ago.

Various villages in the area have taken up cricket farming, with some establishing cooperatives that include cold storage facilities. Ban San Tor had formerly established a cooperative, but found that co-op activities sometimes took more time than the farming itself. Although they are not officially part of a cooperative, this community works together by exchanging not only knowledge, but also their cricket eggs to prevent inbreeding. All farmers sell their crickets to buyers for the same price, and the average income for a farmer will be about 565 USD/month, above average for Thailand and a respectable amount to live off of considering the cost of living. However, feeding the crickets continues to be an expensive endeavor, with almost all of the production costs coming from the purchase of commercial cricket feed. A less costly alternative has the potential to greatly improve the profit margins for these farmers.


These farmers use commercial cricket feed from CP company –convenient and nutritionally complete, but very expensive.

Looking to the future, these farmers believe cricket farming will continue to develop in Thailand if the government maintains their support of farming activities. They are currently providing assistance to those starting up cricket farms, supporting producer cooperatives, and sending food safety inspectors to farms. As these Thai farmers continue to expand their production, some hope to export processed cricket products to other countries. Western countries are becoming increasingly curious when it comes to eating insects, giving these farmers a potential opportunity to expand distribution. But to make this easier, they first need some help from the government in establishing food safety regulations.

It was truly impressive to see a whole village involved in cricket farming. The future looks bright for these entrepreneurs, especially if the industry continues to receive government support. We’re left wondering whether a similar model would be acceptable or possible in Laos, and whether or not we should move towards supporting larger scale production. But for now, we’ll continue to evaluate the potential of small-scale cricket farms here in Laos.

Cricket Farming Knowledge Spreads to Khammouan Province

By Emma Dobson

Emma Dobson is a volunteer in Laos with Veterinarians without Borders/Vètèrinaires sans Frontiérs Canada

Last week 20 farmers from seven villages in Xaybouathong district, Khammouan province had the chance to experience cricket farming first hand. Through a project with Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF), farmers interested in starting their own cricket farms made the journey north to learn more about this opportunity through a hands on learning experience. The hosts for the day were the villages of Phonthong and Naoh in Bolikhamxay province, who have been participating in a cricket-farming project with VWB since April 2015.

The day began at Phonthong with a welcome and some brief introductions. Next, it was time to see the insects in action. The first stop was a home that had been incubating cricket eggs. Farmers learned how to store the eggs, when they were ready to hatch, and what materials are best for eggs to be laid in. The next stop was a home with a cage of young crickets. Here, farmers learned about cage setups, pest control methods, proper watering techniques, and different foods crickets can be fed. As they approached the third home, cricket songs could be heard for the first time. This final stop in the village had a cage full of the sound-producing adults. Here, farmers learned about the final stages of production, harvesting techniques, and had any final questions answered. After a delicious lunch together in Phonthong (which included crickets), the farmers said their thanks and goodbyes and were off to the next village.

Farmers learning about eggs and the initial stages of cricket production.

In Naoh, farmers had a similar experience with the chance to visit three more cricket cages in various stages of development. At one home they were even able to see the egg laying take place. Many farmers came away from the visit eager to begin their own operation, with several of them inquiring about acquiring cricket eggs. After more thanks and goodbyes, the visiting farmers made the long drive back to their homes in the south.

Visiting six different set-ups in two different villages, farmers saw different approaches and techniques, and could ask the host farmers what was successful and what was not. Farmers from both host villages were keen to share their knowledge, and the visit gave them a chance to show what they had accomplished.


Farmers getting a close look inside a cricket cage.

Joining the farmers on this tour were four government officials from the Thakhek Provincial Agricultural and Forestry Office (PAFO), as well as two trainers from the Extension and Cooperative Department of the Boulikanxai District Agricultural and Forestry Office (DAFO). The following day these groups met at the Boulikanxai DAFO office where the trainers provided a session on how to prepare farmers to raise crickets. Topics included life cycle of crickets, cage design and construction, rearing and harvesting techniques, and well as effective ways of delivering the training to farmers. The hope is that with the help of AVSF, these government officials will conduct training sessions on cricket production to the farmers from Xaybouathong to help them begin their own cricket farms.


Government officials from Thakhek learning how to train cricket farmers.

Overall, the farmer-to-farmer exchange visit and training of trainers was a huge success. All participants came away from it with new knowledge and hands on experiences. We wish these farmers well in starting up their own cricket farms!

Cricket Farmers Demonstrate their Progress

HELVETAS Visits Cricket Farmers
VWB’s 16 female cricket farmers in Xaythany District were happy to receive a guest from HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, Ms. Elizabeth Vochten, who is Technical Advisor to the “Integrated Upland Development” project in Laos’ Northern province of Xiangkhouang. As cricket farming is one of the project’s livelihoods activities, Elizabeth came to learn from our cricket farmers about their rearing techniques and also share her experiences with them.
The cricket farmers welcomed Elizabeth together with Thomas (VWB) in their village office, where a very lively discussion followed. The women told Elizabeth how they farm their crickets, how they eat them, and also about the cricket-based products, which they had developed in cooperation with the Faculty of Agriculture. When they reported about difficulties to access markets to sell their produce, Elizabeth encouraged them to use their strength as a producer group in actively finding sales opportunities. She told the farmers how a weaving group in Xiangkhouang has successfully managed to sell their products in Vientiane, which is a 20-hour trip away from their home village.



Elizabeth and Thomas discuss with cricket farmers in their village office

 Following the discussion in the village office, the cricket farmers were proud to show Elizabeth their cricket cages.
 Cricket farmers show their cages
In one of the cages, we discovered that a lizard had sneaked in. After a few seconds, the cricket farmer skilfully caught the unwanted visitor. Judging by the big belly, the lizard had a giant feast on the crickets.
cricket 3
 Cricket farmer catches lizard in cage
After having seen the cricket cages, Elizabeth asked the women whether they would be interested to participate in a farmer-to-farmer exchange visit, meet the cricket farmers in Xiangkhouang, share their experiences with them and also show them how to produce cricket chili paste and cricket chips.Despite the long journey, which they would have to take, the women immediately agreed and were very excited about this opportunity to visit another part of the country and share their knowledge. We will keep you posted when this visit will happen!

2015 Student Intern Program

The application process for the Vets without Borders Student Program for the Summer of 2015 is now underway!  In this program, veterinary students who are committed to global animal and human health are selected to work in several countries around the world. Students work with local and international veterinary teams on location-specific projects for three months.  Participants will have a unique opportunity to gain sills and knowledge about global public health issues.


You can intern in Tanzania and improve poultry production and help raise the income of farmers and fight poverty. Poultry farmers in Tanzania rely on the egg and poultry economy for their livelihoods. VWB has a partnership with local agriculture colleges and students will have several opportunities for learning about the challenges that local farmers face with their livestock.   A large portion of the time will be spent monitoring and updating the vaccination program and coordinating with local stakeholders.


In Kenya, students will collaborate with Kenyan veterinarians and students on research and clinical activities that benefit the the dairy farmer communities.  Dairy farmers in Kenya are primarily women, and students will learn about how enhancing the productivity of the cows directly contributes to improved financial status and quality of life. Students will be involved with animal handling, sample collection, and project data collection.


Students interning in Uganda will work on a sustainable agriculture and goat production projects that improve the economic viability for widows and orphans. Students will assist in the development of microfinance resources and helping to train paravets.   Many days will be spent vaccinating goats and evaluating and treating their overall health.


Interns that place in Laos will work in the administrative sphere of the veterinary education for the project villages. Some clinical and practical work will take place with the poultry and livestock projects, but the overall experience will be building experience with international development projects and supporting the roles of vets in developing countries.  Visits to the local villages for monitoring and communications will be integral.

We look forward to training the next generation of animal health workers so that they are better prepared to address the complex health issues and work in cross-disciplinary settings!

Read our website to find out more and continue HERE for the application form. Remember, the deadline is November 10th!

A selection of photos from the 2014 Student Program:


Picture 6

Walking to our next farm. It was a reallllly hot day!


Preparing to vaccinate

A successful VWB Golf Tournament!

We are happy to report a very successful Second Annual Golf Tournament for fundraising for Vets without Borders!  60 participants joined the tournament, and even more joined the group for dinner. This year, a whopping $9,500 was raised for VWB programs!

Weather is always the issue when running a Golf Tournament and this year it was even more so as Ontario experienced a very different summer than usual with lots of torrential rain, high winds, and cooler than normal days – not the hot steamy summer we are used to.  However, September 14th turned out to be spectacular in more ways than one. The day was sunny, cool, and perfect for golf.

We had Scotia Bank employees handling registration and selling passports for $20 a piece which gave the Golfer the opportunity to participate in the four hole in one prizes and the putting contest. Erin Fraser handling the charge card payments, and  Katie Clow, marshaled the eight volunteers who were sitting on the hole in one holes, hopefully to witness a hole in one for the Golfer to claim a large prize ranging from $10,000 cash to $20,000 towards a vehicle.   There were other jobs official photographer which went to Simon McLatter, with Cindy McLure and Linda Dancey selling tickets for a draw for one of two Aeroplan certificates for 25,000 points.

The food supplied by  the Golf course garnered rave reviews, for both lunch and dinner. In attendance at the dinner we had  David Waltner Toews, Past President, Enid Stiles, President,  Erin Fraser, Managing Director, Roger Thomson, director, and Alden Hadwen representing Aeroplan,  everyone had a  fun packed day, delicious dinner,  prize distribution  and a few speeches were made culminating in all guests on their way home by 7:45pm.

The course has been booked for next year on September 13th, for the Third Annual Tournament in 2015!

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