Article originally by Laos Buffalo Dairy

Here at the Dairy, we love nothing better than to be involved in innovative ideas that help us meet our aim to improve the rural prosperity, welfare, nutrition, and health of the local population, with a focus on buffalo farming, and childhood nutrition. So, today we welcome you to the wonderful world of AgCoTech, https://www.agcotechglobal.com/ and their unique medicated mineral block technology. The technology was developed and tested in partnership with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT), the Business Partnerships Platform (BPP) and The University of Sydney. These mineral blocks for livestock help reduce greenhouse gases and reduce poverty in smallholder farms in countries such as Laos.

We are excited to be involved in the work that AgCoTechdo so much so that we are planning to build their factory on the farm to produce the mineral blocks and help distribute the blocks to farmers with whom we work! Even better, AgCoTech is similar to LBD with its unique business model approach. Once the factory is operating it will be employing local team and the majority of the ingredients like molasses will be purchased from Laos farmers. Households will then be allocated blocks each year for free to distribute & improve the health of their livestock.  The carbon credits the subsequent reduction in emissions generate are then able to be sold providing the funds to keep producing and distributing the blocks!

 So, let’s start at the beginning. AgCo Tech created a product that uses innovative technology to improve animal nutrition and welfare and improves the quality and health of livestock. The mineral blocks also make positive environmental contributions by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and help develop better and more sustainable local livelihoods for local smallholder farmers. I think you can see that these shared aims make AgCo Tech a perfect match for us!

Emeritus Professor Peter Windsor at The University of Sydney robustly tested the mineral block technology as part of a research project undertaken in Laos and Cambodia between 2007-2020. The conclusions of that piece of research across the project sites were that a three-step intervention strategy needs to be put in place at a village level to optimise smallholder cattle production efficiency. Of, course for our work can also apply this to include buffalo farming.

 The three-step strategy is as follows:

Step 1 – Whole of village Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) & Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (HS) and parasite management.

Step 2 – Establish high-performance forage plantations.

Step 3 – Introduce high-quality nutrient molasses blocks.

 In last week’s blog post, we described how we implement the first two steps in villages, using Homphan village as a case study. You can read about our work in Hompahn Village by clicking here.

Step 3 is where AgCo Tech comes into the latest chapter of our story, with their high-quality nutrient molasses blocks.

HOW THE PARTNERSHIP FORMED.  

We had first been introduced to Professor Windsor from the University of Sydney in 2016 when we were first discussing the idea to open Laos Buffalo Dairy and were looking for advice. He and Dr. Syseng Khounsy, Deputy Director General Department of Livestock & Fishery, kindly offered us some advice particularly on necessary vaccination protocols and bio security measures. This would prove invaluable when there was an outbreak of FMD in a village nearby and the Dairy was not impacted.

After our first meeting I imagine they didn’t expect to hear much from us again, as we embarked on the first Buffalo Dairy in Laos!  However we forged ahead and during Professor Windsor’s numerous visits to Laos, he and Dr. Syseng would visit to check on our progress both of the farm and the cheese. 😊 Their research project involved veterinary students from Sydney University so we would often have students doing short stints at the Dairy helping to train the team and simultaneously learn about some of the challenges faced in providing veterinary care in Laos. Click here to see more about their experiences.

Veterinary students, Arjuna and Jenny working with a  buffalo in a crush at Laos Buffalo Dairy – the calf is brought along to prevent distress in both the mother and the baby. 

On a visit in 2019 Prof. Windsor and Dr.Syseng were accompanied by Chick Olsson CEO of AgCoTech and the idea to set up a trial, using the mineral blocks to test the results on milk yields was born. The results demonstrated that the mineral blocks helped improve milk yield in the order of 25% – 30%. This would prove advantageous for farmers joining our nutrition program, as not only would the male livestock now produce more meat and income for households, the female livestock would produce more milk for their calves and for families to access milk for their children.

1.Chick Olsson, Dr. Syseng Khounsy & Prof. Windsor  2.Susie Martin Laos Buffalo Dairy & Prof. Windsor            

At around the time that COVID struck in early 2020, the AgCoTech team were in the process of looking for a site to set up a factory to start producing the blocks. With travel now impossible between Australia & Laos, LBD stepped in to assist and it dawned on everyone that the perfect site for the factory would be at the Dairy. With farmers across multiple villages, districts and provinces already involved in renting their buffalo to the Dairy, the nutrition program or both, the partnership with AgCoTech Laos provides a perfect opportunity to provide even more support to these farmers.

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Medicated blocks to farmers in Chomphet

 In the short term, blocks are being sent from Australia to be distributed during the numerous village visits. The first ones being delivered recently to Ban Som & Ban Ngiew in Chomphet District. However, it’s not just a case of handing out the mineral blocks and forget!  As part of the process, animals will be weighed and measured, manure samples will be gathered and tested.  The results analysed and the correct blocks distributed. After the first block is finished the team will repeat the process.  This will ensure the correct blocks are allocated and provide the ongoing data to prove carbon emission abatement. The AgCoTech and LBD teams will work in collaboration with farmers to ensure animals are also vaccinated and receive high quality forage.

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