Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Better breeds, feeds and disease management - improving pig production in Lao PDR

ACIAR research is helping smallholder pig farmers in northern Lao PDR improve their livelihoods, through reducing pig mortality and lifting productivity.

Livestock are one of the main sources of income for rural farmers in Laos; for example, smallholders in Sophoun village in Phongsalay province make almost 35% of their cash from pigs. Thanks to this project, these farmers are now aware of the importance of better breeds, feed and disease management to help their animals prosper and grow.

Mixed-bred pig in well-constructed pen (photo: Emma Zalcman)

The project team has worked with farmers to trial interventions such as growing improved-breed pigs, vaccinating against classical swine fever, deworming, providing supplementary forage and improving housing (e.g. well ventilated with an ad lib water supply).

Results show that such interventions can achieve over double the average daily weight gain when compared with indigenous breeds raised in traditional free-range systems. In addition, the pigs’ mortality rate dropped and the number of pigs sold increased. Farmers noticed that although making these changes didn’t substantially change their workload, the income generated improved, and they are now enthusiastic to grow more pigs this way.

This research is also addressing issues of human health. As in many developing countries, free-ranging animals in Laos living closely with people results in some villagers contracting zoonotic diseases (diseases that can affect both humans and animals). This project found that zoonotic worms in pigs are particularly common in some Lao villages. These include Taenia solium, a tapeworm that can cause significant brain damage in people, and several gastrointestinal worms. When present in people, gastrointestinal worms consume vital nutrients and contribute to a range of nutritional deficiencies, which can be especially detrimental to children.

Animals and people living close together presents a
zoonotic disease risk (photo: Emma Zalcman)
The project team, which includes staff from the Lao Ministry of Health and the Department of Livestock, embarked on a mass drug administration to treat the worms in pigs and people in one village, Om Phalong. Two rounds of treatment have been completed and early monitoring suggests that the number of worms present amongst villagers and pigs has significantly decreased. Several villagers that were interviewed have reported feeling much better.

Ongoing monitoring will further assess health and nutrition benefits. The team is also investigating other risk factors that may contribute to the high levels of worm infection, including the cultural practice of consuming raw pork.

A feature of this project has been the strong collaboration between people from multiple disciplines in Australia and Laos, including veterinary scientists, agricultural scientists, medical doctors/public health professionals, microbiologists and laboratory technicians, anthropologists, economists, field staff and extension staff. 

Improving pig production will not only help many smallholder farmers, but also provide better opportunities for Laos to meet domestic market and export demands.

By Dr Wendy Henderson (ACIAR Communications) and Emma Zalcman (Graduate Officer) 

More information:
ACIAR project AH/2009/001 Increased productivity and reduced risk in pig production and market. Component 1: animal and human health, led by CSIRO AAHL. Collaborating institutions include Murdoch University (Australia), the Ministry of Health (Laos), the Wellcome Trust Fund Research Unit at Mahosot Hospital (Laos) and the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (Laos).

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