The Laos Government and international donors have recognized the importance and potential for developing the smallholder cattle industry through the improvement of cattle productivity since 1990s. In order to overcome major constraints in cattle production systems, the government with the assistance of donor funds has focused on building the capacity of extension services, disease surveillance and monitoring procedures, and the improvement of animal husbandry by using forage interventions.
For example, the Strengthening of Livestock Services and Extension Project (SLSEP) conducted in collaboration with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) was funded by the European Union (EU) between 1998 and 2004. Donor assistance has also been made available to support the government agencies that are responsible for disease diagnoses and vaccine production. Other projects have focused on improving natural feeds for large ruminants and pigs. For instance, the Forages and Livestock System Project (FLSP), which was funded by AusAID from 2000 to 2005, focused on trialing and adapting the use of suitable forage species by farmers via the cut and carry system. The Livestock Farmer Support Project (LFSP) funded by the EU since 2005 has also aimed to increase the profitability of livestock farmers through improving livestock marketing systems, animal health, animal nutrition and animal husbandry. The largest current livestock development project operating in northern Laos is the Northern Region Sustainable Livelihoods through Livestock Development Project funded by the Asian Development Bank and other donors which has the immediate objectives of enhancing smallholder livestock systems and community capacity building.
Recently, the government has established the National Coordination Committee in implementing the Project of Promotion of Livestock Commercialized Products and the Project of Food Security in the late 2013. The established Committee comprises key relevant ministries whereas the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce take the lead in implementing the project. This Committee is expected to smoothly coordinate relevant ministries for the Government Project, and provide more intra-institutional policy and development for stimulating the project implementation. Cattle are considered as the government’s most prioritized livestock commodity due to significant increase in demand for beef in domestic and international markets. In this regard, the policies have been drafted which covers relatively a wide range of livestock sections including production, processing, finance, environment, commerce and marketing, but specifically focus on financial supporting policies and programs for livestock-input providers, livestock farmers and entrepreneurs, and processing and marketing entrepreneurs. Key challenges to these livestock policies are to what extent cattle smallholder farmers participate in and benefit from this cattle industry development.
Overall, the national policy and programs for the development of the cattle industry has generally focused on promoting intensification of smallholders’ cattle production systems through improvement of animal health management and forage intervention. The question is whether there is another entry point for effective technological and management intervention to improve smallholders’ cattle productivity, considering cattle raised by smallholders in different agro-ecosystems and socio-economic conditions.