Recent research has confirmed the significant potential of livestock to provide a sustainable income for rural smallholder households in reducing poverty and food insecurity in Cambodia. However, the decreasing national population of large ruminants has contributed to significant recent increases in cattle prices, and if economic gain through beef productivity is to be achieved, supply and disease risk constraints need to be addressed.
Currently, most livestock smallholder farmers have limited knowledge of livestock husbandry and health and there is almost no knowledge of biosecurity at a farmer or village level.
The aim of the project is to develop and test a village-level biosecurity system in Cambodia to address priority constraints to improved livestock productivity. The research builds on successes of previous projects of (AH/2005/086 and AH/2006/159) in which where a series of mainly knowledge-based disease prevention and production interventions were developed and implemented, then assessed by comparing ‘High with Low’ intervention villages.
The first year has been a success, with implementation milestones achieved.
The inception meeting on 5 May 2015 in Phnom Penh included 45 participants comprising His Excellency Oum Kimsir (Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries), Dr Seng Mom (Vice Director, Royal University of Agriculture), Dr Geoff Smith (University of New England) and other members of the project team of AH/2010/046 (‘Domestic and international market development for high value cattle and beef in South-East Cambodia’, Beef4Market or B4M), Mr Paul Keogh (Counsellor, Development Cooperation, Australian Embassy) and Dr Mike Nunn (ACIAR Research Program Manager for Animal Health. Other participants included the Provincial Directors of Agriculture and Chiefs of Animal Health and Production Offices from Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum and Takeo. The meeting outlined the objectives and planned activities for the project and confirmed the selection criteria and locations for the 16 planned project sites (at the district level).
A core research and extension team within the Department of Animal Health and Production (DAHP) was established under the leadership of Dr Suon Sothoeun. Following site visits that enabled stakeholder engagement at the village level, 16 project villages (termed ‘locations’) were confirmed and 25 smallholder farmers from each location (400 in total) recruited as project participants. Ethics approval was gained from the University of Sydney’s Animal and Human Research Committees.
All Year 1 training, intervention and survey activities have commenced. The first series of farmer training sessions was implemented in all 16 project locations, including forage plot development for improved cattle nutrition and biosecurity extension activities. Forage technology implementation provided an important project ‘entry’ intervention, building relationships and trust before the introduction of biosecurity interventions that focus on ruminant and poultry disease risk management. Training sessions were well-attended and involved women, highlighting the importance of women in day-to-day management of household livestock activities in Cambodian smallholder agricultural systems.
Due to an absence of forage seed production in Cambodia, seeds were imported from Thailand to ensure adopter farmers could develop their first forage plots during the 2015 wet season. In Year 1 a total of 165,900m2 (>2,300m2/adopter household) was planted. Administrative delays (project signing and funds transfer) meant a later than desired seed purchase is likely to have resulted in less than expected forage plantings in Year 1. Following severe regional drought in early to mid-2016, interest in forages has increased, particularly with farmers able to establish irrigation and with farmers wanting to make silage.
By mid-2016, three large surveys had been successfully implemented. The farmer knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) survey involved 240 farmers (15 from each location), and was completed ahead of schedule in July 2015. This information provides an important baseline measure of smallholder livestock farmers’ KAP, enabling comparisons of the expected impacts from future interventions. These data have been summarised with analysis and reporting nearing completion. A survey of 80 Village Animal Health Workers (VAHWs) was completed in early 2016 within two project districts to provide an update on current VAHW practices (cf a survey was conducted in 2008). Results will identify current challenges, threats and opportunities in managing this important animal health resource in Cambodia. The first large-scale longitudinal cattle survey has commenced, with approximately 1,600 cattle weighed, vaccinated and ear-tagged in addition to farmers being surveyed to record production data. Repeat measures of these animals and farmers over the project’s duration will provide important quantitative data on impacts.
By mid-2016, 10 (3 in 2015, 7 in 2016) University of Sydney students, supported by New Colombo Plan and AsiaBound scholarships, travelled to Cambodia to participate in project-aligned research activities. This has provided an important opportunity for Australian veterinary and animal science students interested in international agricultural and food security research to gain a unique experience. This initiative has also facilitated links with the Royal University of Agriculture (RUA), with several University of Sydney students working in the RUA veterinary clinic alongside Cambodian veterinary students.
In summary, the project has had a very successful Year 1, with activities predominantly aimed at establishing project sites, implementing project entry interventions (including vaccinations and forage), and conducting baseline surveys. This work has established a strong foundation for further project developments and the measurement of impacts from activities planned in Years 2 and 3. Dr Suon Sothoeun presented a project summary to the Cambodian Minister of Agriculture on 27 May 2016 that highlighted the importance of this project as offering a potential model for livestock biosecurity and productivity improvement for implementation at the village level.