Laos: How Nichola has poverty licked

Poverty buster: Medicated lick blocks drive Laos cattle productivity


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ANIMAL HEALTH: PhD student Nichola Calvani is using molasses lick blocks containing an anthelmintic to help improve the health of the cattle herd in Laos.

ANIMAL HEALTH: PhD student Nichola Calvani is using molasses lick blocks containing an anthelmintic to help improve the health of the cattle herd in Laos.

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Medicated lick blocks are proving a way of addressing poverty in South East Asian countries.

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AN Australian molasses lick block, that includes an anthelmintic to control internal parasites, is helping to boost both livestock production and improve human livelihoods in Laos.

Supplied by the Brisbane-based 4 Season Company, the medicated block forms the basis of trial work being carried out by The University of Sydney in conjunction with the Lao Department of Livestock and Fisheries in a direct effort to alleviate rural poverty. 

The anthelmintic is being used to control live fluke, a parasitic flatworm that is a major problem in the landlocked South East Asian country.

Laos cattle consuming a molasses lick block, that includes an anthelmintic.

Laos cattle consuming a molasses lick block, that includes an anthelmintic.

PhD student Nichola Calvani, who already holds a degree in animal and veterinary bioscience, said the work aimed to improve production outcomes by meeting the nutritional demands of livestock while controlling internal parasites.

“There are also the follow-on effects of improving animal welfare and reducing environmental impacts through reduced carbon emissions,” Ms Calvani said.

Laos is recognised as one of the poorest countries in South East Asia with an average income of about A$6.50/day. About 80 per cent of the population practices subsistence agriculture, which is dominated by rice production.

PhD student Nichola Calvani (centre back) with research assistant Francesca Earp (in pink) is managing a trial to control liver fluke in the Laos cattle herd.

PhD student Nichola Calvani (centre back) with research assistant Francesca Earp (in pink) is managing a trial to control liver fluke in the Laos cattle herd.

Equal to the size of about Victoria, the landlocked country has an estimated 1.6 million cattle and 775,000 buffalo.

Ms Calvani said liver fluke was is endemic in Laos, which had a wet and dry season climate similar to northern Australia.

“In Australia we have the temperate liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica, while in Laos they have the tropical species, Fasciola gigantica,” Ms Calvani said.

Livestock handling facilities in Laos are generally rudimentary.

Livestock handling facilities in Laos are generally rudimentary.

“These parasites thrive in Laos where aquatic rice production, coupled with the use of large ruminants for draught and manure, make for an ideal habitat.

“This parasite can also infect humans, the prevalence of which in Laos is currently unknown.

“It’s important work. 90 million people around the world, mostly women and children, are considered at risk.”

PhD student Nichola Calvani with a Yellow Cattle calf.

PhD student Nichola Calvani with a Yellow Cattle calf.

“While parasite control is available for purchase there, a lack of understanding of parasitism and their human and animal health impacts mean that control is rarely practiced.”

Ms Calvani said she hoped that the results of the trial work would encourage farmers to become more engaged in targeted parasite control.

“We’re looking for increased production outcomes alongside the associated animal health benefits,” she said.

The bulk of the Laos cattle herd are Yellow Cattle.

The bulk of the Laos cattle herd are Yellow Cattle.

4 Season Company managing director Chick Olsson said there was an enormous potential to improve the performance of the livestock industry in Laos.

“The advantages Laos has is a very reliable wet season and a very large rice industry,” Mr Olsson said.

“Where the gains are to be made is in converting the abundance of dry feed into higher protein resource through nutritional supplements during the dry season.

Laos cattle grazing in rice fields.

Laos cattle grazing in rice fields.

“But first there is a real need to get on top of animal health and particularly liver fluke, and that’s where the anthelmintic comes into play.

“It’s certainly an ambitious goal, but its also very achievable.” 

Ms Calvani has been involved in the work since 2015, and now manages a trial program. Her PhD is being overseen by Associate Professor in Livestock Production, Russell Bush, and Professor of Veterinary and Molecular Parasitology, Jan Slapeta.

The trial involves 38 farms across two provinces in northern Laos with 216 of their 552 cattle sampled each month.

The work was initiated and continues to be managed through the relationship between Mr Olsson, Dr Syseng Khounsy from the Lao Department of Livestock and Fisheries, and Professor Emeritus Peter Windsor from the Sydney School of Veterinary Science, at the University of Sydney.

Initially supported by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research through Mike Nunn, the project officially became part of Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Business Partnership Platform in 2017.

The institutional collaboration aims at both building capacity of Lao livestock extension workers and researchers for the benefit of smallholder farmers through development of a business and scientific partnership between Laos and Australia.

- Mark Phelps traveled as a guest of 4 Season Company to Laos.

RELATED STORY: ‘Foot and mouth disease: South East Asian outbreaks continue’.

RELATED STORY: ‘How Australia is helping the Laos cattle herd’.

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