IN an extraordinary example of applied capacity building, Australian businesswoman Susie Martin is leading the way in helping one of South East Asia's poorest countries set about improving its food production systems.
Located near Luang Prabang in northern Laos, the Laos Buffalo Dairy has been established with the aim of developing the nation's abundant, but underutilised buffalo resource.
The farm is also helping to train young Laotion people - particularly young women - and equip them with knowledge and skills that can be applied back in their home villages.
Ms Martin said the commercial production of buffalo milk was a way of potentially addressing ongoing problems for the more than 40 per cent of Laotion children under the age of two who were suffering from malnutrition.
"It's not just that children that look four or five years old are actually 10, but the impact malnutrition has on mental development," Ms Martin said.
"Stunting is a really big problem and obviously has major implications for society as a whole.
"The aim of this farm is to improve the rural prosperity, welfare, nutrition, and health of the local population.
"We are doing that with better genetics and animal management, including increased vaccinations and veterinary care."
The farm's ambitious objectives are not without their challenges. Laos's buffalo herd are primarily 'swamp' buffalo, which are generally smaller in size and produce a only few litres of milk a day.
Genetics from Murrah buffalo, which can produce about 10 litres of milk a day, are being used to increase the size and productivity of the local herd.
"It's a good arrangement," Ms Martin said.
"The farmers bring in their cows and we cross them with the Murrah bulls we were able to source from Thailand.
"After the calf is delivered we milk the cows and raise their calves for the farmers, ensuring the vaccination program is delivered.
"The result is the farmer has a much more productive and more profitable animal and the motivation to continue a process we hope will also inspire other farmers."
Biosecurity is also a priority, which is not surprising given foot and mouth disease and a range of other diseases are endemic in Laos.
The farm also relies heavily on international tourists who are able to interact with the various farm animals including buffalo, and sample the yogurt, cheese and ice cream produced in the farm's commercial kitchen.
In the longer term, Ms Martin said the objective was for the local people to have acquired the management skills needed to take over the running of the farm.
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