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Improving livelihoods of small−scale livestock producers in the central dry zone through research on animal production and health in Myanmar

 

The ACIAR project AH/2011/054, also known as Dahat Pan, was part of the DFAT-funded ACIAR Myanmar Program ‘Improving Food Security and Farmer Livelihoods in Myanmar’.  The project, 2012-17, was managed by the University of Queensland in collaboration with the University of Melbourne in Australia and the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Departments (LBVD) and the University of Veterinary Science (UVS) in Myanmar.  
Dahat Pan found that significant improvements could be made to livestock production, reproduction and health in the Central Dry Zone (CDZ). These baseline data provide an important reference point for evaluating current and future livestock work in the CDZ.

Newcastle disease vaccinations, protecting chicks from predation using bamboo coops and providing supplementary feed to chicks in creep feeders reduced mortality rates from 47% without the interventions to 14% during and after the interventions. Modelling showed that over a 3-year period income from village chicken could be doubled to 133,000 Myanmar Kyat, when the interventions were used. Flock sizes increased as mortalities reduced but the feed resource is limited in a scavenging environment. Semi-intensive village chicken rearing was established as an alternative business for village chicken farmers with the potential to establish greater flock sizes under supplementary feeding and thereby generating higher income for village chicken farmers.

Three grasses and tree legumes were identified as the best options for farmers to use. Grass yields were five times greater, grew earlier after the first rain and grew longer into the dry season than traditional forage such as sorghum. 
Small ruminants often suffered from ‘ill thrift’—poor growth and health caused by a combination of poor nutrition and disease. All farmers owning goats and sheep in the two villages provided supplementary feed, improving survival and growth of young goats and sheep. Strategic drenching of small ruminants for worms improved their productivity. Enormous wastage occurs between birth and the potential saleable ages of young kids and goats and is a major area of lost opportunity for farmers and the country’s small ruminant value chains. Targeted provision of higher-quality feeds to young small ruminants (‘creep feeding’) reduced average mortality of young animals from 44% to 0%. Large ruminants exhibited poor reproduction and growth. Undernutrition of cows was reflected in poor body condition scores (BCS; average BCS 2.0 on a 1-5 scale) and reproductive performance. The average calf birth rate varied between sites from one calf per cow every 1.7-2.7 years. There were internal parasites in both young and mature cattle (27-73%), with unexpectedly high worm egg counts observed in 25% of breeding cows. The overall estimated prevalence of haemoparasites was 43% (36–51%). The opportunity to develop more productive cow-calf and fattening systems was huge given the shift away from draught to mechanisation in cropping systems but this depended on developing a better nutritional base with basic animal husbandry procedures. Farmers evaluated supplementary feeding which improved the growth of young cattle. Longitudinal monitoring of cattle and small ruminants identified very low reproduction rates and growth rates which directed the above interventions but also identified other interventions for future work.

A Regional Learning Alliance was formed to facilitate sharing information across projects, government and non-government organisations (NGOs) working with livestock in the CDZ. Additionally, the formation of the Regional Learning Alliance led to particular collaboration with two of the projects. The LBVD-FAO project UNJP/MYA/022/OPS approached the Dahat Pan project to provide input to the development of Technical Implementation Packages (TIPs) covering cattle, small ruminants, forage and village chicken production. LBVD-FAO will use this information, through developing extension messages and adopting technologies with up to 177,000 livestock-rearing households engaged in their project activities. The USAID project AID-486-11-00010 being implemented by a consortium including the Italian NGO CESVI received training from the Dahat Pan project on castration and creep feeding in goats; this led to 641 households across their project carrying out these activities.   Engagement with key private sector collaborators, in particular the Myanmar Livestock Federation (MLF) resulted in their involvement in the village chicken and forage activities. This included the production of the chick starter diet, and establishment of forages for initiation of seed production in Myanmar and distribution to farmers. 
 
A “village chicken extension package” that comprises of a variety of extension methods and tools was compiled. Extension workshops were conducted in a total of 117 villages outside the project area, involving 3,385 village chicken farmers. 

The project increased the knowledge and skills of researchers at the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD), University of Veterinary Science (UVS) and latterly Yezin Agriculture University (YAU) with the most tangible evidence being the number and quality of master’s students from UVS (25 students) involved in the project. Most were young professionals from LBVD and this will have an impact on both individual and institutional capacity. Two other individuals received a John Allwright Fellowship for PhDs in Australia, one individual received a John Dillon Fellowship and another received a Crawford Fund fellowship. Mentor farmers and Community Animal Health Workers (CAHW) now have the skills to support longer-term village chicken, ruminant and forage production. They have shared their experience and knowledge at workshops and field days held by the project.