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City University of Hong Kong helps to progress bovine reproductive disease knowledge in smallholder farms in Laos and Cambodia

12 April 2018

The College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) hosted University of Sydney PhD student Luisa Olmo for two weeks and assisted in serological analysis of over 1000 cattle and buffalo sera samples from Laos and Cambodia at CityU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Luisa has been working with the University of Sydney’s Mekong Livestock Research team for three years on projects collaborating with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Laos, and the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production, Cambodia, and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Starting as an honours student, she spent one month in Cambodia and assessed interventions to improve the reproductive efficiency of the country's bovines through knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) surveys conducted on smallholder farmers. This identified the use of native cattle, bull selection, target feeding, vaccinating for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and forage growing as evidence based interventions to enhance reproductive efficiency. Her current PhD extends the research scope to include neighbouring Laos and their larger populations of buffalo, which are less fertile than cattle in these environments. Luisa lived in Laos for 9 months, learning Lao language, interviewing farmers in southern Laos, working with government staff to deliver knowledge building workshops, and navigating though serum banks.

A large resource of cattle and buffalo serum already exists in Laos and Cambodia from previous Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) monitoring projects. Locating and organising these samples has led to in-country agreements to allocate a subset of serum to investigate pathogens with the potential to cause reproductive loss that have not been previously screened for in Laos and Cambodia. The investigation of these diseases is important because reproductive efficiency is currently constrained with the native Laotian cattle and water buffalo having average intercalving intervals of 14 to 16 months and 19 to 26 months, respectively, and the Cambodian Haryana native cross of 21 months. With the Lao population and its beef consumption projected to increase rapidly in the coming decades, baseline data and investigations are needed to prevent disease transmission and enhance smallholder production efficiency.

The testing of these pathogens would not be currently feasible in Laos and Cambodia where research resources are still being developed and priority is given to FMD and nutritional investigations. This analysis has proceeded thanks to the collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at the City University of Hong Kong. With the guidance of Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Lloyd Wahl and the supervision of Professor Michael Reichel, Luisa will analyse 1020 samples and present the findings at the 30th World Buiatrics Conference later this year in Sapporo, Japan.