Study finds Vietnam has low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease commonly transmitted between animals and people

A smallholders pig in Chưng Mỹ, Vietnam

A three-year study by ILRI and partners shows that farmers in Vietnam have low awareness of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that infects animals (including pigs) and humans (photo credit: ILRI/Andrew Nguyen).

A joint research team consisting of staff from the Vietnamese Department of Animal Health, the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Nong Lam University and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently completed a three-year study of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease passed from animals to humans. The aim of the study was to identify behaviours and conditions in Vietnam that increase the risk of humans and animals contracting this disease.

Results from Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc provinces, where the study was conducted, indicate farmers and small-scale slaughterhouse workers have low awareness of leptospirosis, even though researchers found that the disease was common in the pigs and humans tested.

The study, the findings of which were presented at a workshop in August 2013, was part of a larger project called ‘Ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia’, or EcoZD for short, which is coordinated by ILRI and funded by the International Development Research Centre, of Canada.

The EcoZD project used an ‘ecohealth’ approach, which requires bringing scientists from different disciplines and partner organizations to work together on complex health problems. Applying an ‘ecohealth’ framework improves understanding of the web of social, economic and ecological dimensions of infectious diseases and the importance of engaging local actors in preventing and controlling them.

‘Leptospirosis is a disease that has been around for a long time, but it often gets ignored as attention and resources are focused on emerging diseases like avian influenza’, said Mai Van Hiep, the deputy director general of the Department of Animal Health in Vietnam.

Leptospirosis affects animals and humans worldwide. The most common way humans get the disease is through direct exposure to urine from infected animals or from contact with water contaminated with such urine. People living in areas with open sewers, or that regularly flood, or that have poor hygiene are at particular risk. People who work or live with animals are at even greater risk. Animals that commonly acquire and spread leptospirosis include rodents, dogs and livestock.

Leptospirosis stunts the growth of pigs and causes them to abort, leading to economic losses for pig owners and the pork industry as a whole. People who develop the disease also suffer economic losses due to decreased productivity or missed work and the costs of seeking medical treatment.

‘We started by looking at public health records dating back to 2008 but there were no records telling us how common leptospirosis has been in Vietnam, in animals or humans’, said Hiep. ‘We knew that if animal and human health researchers worked side by side to better understand this disease, we would collect relevant data.’

The research team tested more than 360 people and 880 pigs in Tien Giang and Binh Phuoc. In Tien Giang, 29% of pigs and 10% of humans in the sample tested positive for leptospirosis. In Binh Phuoc, 22% of pigs and 20% of humans in the sample tested positive. (A positive test indicated the person or animal had past contact with the causative pathogen.)

Discussions with community members in both provinces revealed that people were unfamiliar with the symptoms of leptospirosis, how it could harm them and their animals and ways they could prevent it.

As yet, no mechanism in Vietnam links disease reporting between animal and human health. This missing link makes it hard for researchers in both sectors to understand how changes in the environment or behaviour may affect leptospirosis and other zoonotic diseases, which are passed between animals and humans.

‘Identification of serovars and serogroups provides us with clues as to which types of animals are transmitting leptospirosis. This information can help authorities to design strategies to control the spread of the disease to humans’, said Cao Thi Bao Van, deputy director of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.

‘Some simple things reduce the risk of exposure’, said Van. ‘People working with animals should wear protective clothing, like gloves and boots, when cleaning animals and their pens; this reduces the chance of bacteria entering the body through cuts or scratches. The risk of leptospirosis spreading among animals can be reduced by separating them in several pens rather than keeping them altogether in large groups.’

Lucy Lapar, an ILRI agricultural economist based in Hanoi, said research should now be conducted on the economic burden of leptospirosis in Vietnam, which remains largely unknown. ‘We need estimates of the economic burden in terms of harm both to human health and to livestock production so that decision-makers can better prioritize their resources for disease control’, said Lapar. ‘As long as the true burden of leptospirosis remains unknown in Vietnam, we will not know if the country should direct more resources to controlling it.’

For more information about EcoZD, visit www.ilri.org/ecozd

More information about the project is available on the EzoZD wiki.

New leadership in ILRI’s livestock research-for-development work in Asia

Steve Staal, Theme Director

ILRI’s new regional representative for East and Southeast Asia Steve Staal (picture credit: ILRI).

Steve Staal has been appointed the new regional representative of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for East and Southeast Asia. An American citizen who has lived and worked in developing countries throughout his life, Staal will be based at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Baños, The Philippines.

Staal, an agricultural economist by training, has been based at ILRI’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, for many years, where he recently led ILRI’s Markets, Gender and Livelihoods Research Theme and in the past year served as ILRI’s interim deputy director general for research, during the institute’s transition to a new management team. Among other assignments, he has worked in South and Southeast Asia to enhance smallholder dairy and pig systems in particular. He has a long-standing track record in making a difference in policy analysis and advocacy for inclusive and pro-poor smallholder livestock-based development.

This ILRI position for coordinating and shaping ILRI’s collaborative livestock research in East and Southeast Asia is new. Staal’s appointment to it is a reflection of ILRI’s intent to strengthen its presence in Asia and its productive partnerships there so as to provide better support for livestock research for development in the region. Purvi Mehta-Bhatt (India), who has been heading ILRI’s research in all of Asia, will continue to represent ILRI in South Asia.

ILRI's Purvi Mehta-Bhatt #2 in India

ILRI’s head of Asia Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, taken during a field day In Haryana, India, in 4 Nov 2012 (picture credit: ILRI).

This new assignment for Staal and new focus for Mehta-Bhatt is made to increase ILRI’s engagement with partners throughout Asia.

ILRI stakeholders are encouraged to communicate with Steve Staal, at s.staal [at] cgiar.org, on areas of potential mutual interest, including opportunities for new collaborations and interactions, in East and Southeast Asia.

Taking Stock: Jul 2012 round-up of news from ILRI

Remembering Jeff Haskins

JEFF HASKINS
Last month, we at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and within CGIAR and the wider agricultural development communities grieved over the sudden loss of American media guru Jeff Haskins, who had spent six years in Africa covering African agriculture news stories for the American PR firm Burness Communications. Haskins, who had just turned 32, died at the Kenya coast on 14 Jul 2012. See online tributes to him from the ILRI News Blog (with links to 25 major news releases and 20 major opinion pieces that ILRI produced with the help of Jeff and his Burness team over the last five years), Pictures of Jeff Haskins (ILRI Pinterest Board), Pictures by Jeff Haskins (ILRI Pinterest Board)Burness Communications Blog, Global Crop Diversity Trust, CGIARInternational Center for Tropical AgricultureLa Vie Verte and Jeff Haskins Facebook page.

Emerging Zoonotic Diseases Events 1940-2012

MAPPING ZOONOSES
Before his untimely death, Jeff Haskins in early Jul orchestrated major and widespread media coverage of a groundbreaking report by ILRI revealing a heavy burden of zoonoses, or human diseases transmitted from animals, facing one billion of the world’s poor. Some 60 per cent of all human diseases originate in animal populations. The ILRI study found five countries—Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, India and Nigeria—to be hotspots of poverty and zoonoses. The study also found that northeastern United States, Western Europe (especially the United Kingdom), Brazil and parts of Southeast Asia may be hotspots of ‘emerging zoonoses’—those that are newly infecting humans, are newly virulent, or have newly become drug resistant. The study, Mapping of Poverty and Likely Zoonoses Hotspots, examined the likely impacts of livestock intensification and climate change on the 13 zoonotic diseases currently causing the greatest harm to the world’s poor. It was developed with support from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

An opinion piece by the main author of the study, ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, wearing her hat as a member of the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, appeared this Jul in The Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog.

Azage Tegegne of IPMS awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science degree

ILRI AWARD
Azage Tegegne, of ILRI and the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers (IPMS) project, was awarded an honorary doctorate of science degree by Ethiopia’s prestigious Bahir Dar University.

Bruce Scott with ILRI Addis colleagues

ILRI STAFF
ILRI bid goodbye to Bruce Scott, who served ILRI as a director for 13 years, the last decade as director of ILRI’s partnerships and communications department. Bruce is moving only down the road in Nairobi, from Kabete to Westlands, where he is taking up the position of deputy director of a new initiative of Columbia University (USA): Columbia Global Centers  ⁄ Africa.

ILRI & FODDER AT RIO+20
We  compiled links to ILRI inputs to the Rio+20 conference, including how to ‘turn straw into gold’ with dual-purpose crop residues and, with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), how livestock feed innovations can reduce poverty and livestock’s environmental ‘hoofprint’.

POLICY BRIEF
ILRI produced a policy brief on ‘Preventing and controlling classical swine fever in northeast India‘.

VIDEO INTERVIEWS
We film interviewed ILRI director general Jimmy Smith on ILRI’s evolving new livestock strategy and on ILRI’s role in providing evidence about the ‘bads’ as well as ‘goods’ of livestock production, marketing and consumption. And we interviewed ILRI scientist Joerg Jores on his research results, which, as reported in Scientific American, show that the pathogen that causes cattle pneumonia (CBPP) arose with domestication of ruminants ten thousand years ago, but only ‘heated up’ and began causing disease relatively recently.

Commissioners in Africa

VIP VISITORS
An Australian contingent visited ILRI this month and launched a new initiative, the Australian International Food Security Centre, to improve food security in Africa. The centre, which falls under the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), will spend USD33.8 million over four years to support food production in Africa as well as in Asia and the Pacific region.

Visit by Korea's Rural Development Authority (RDA) to ILRI in Nairobi

PROJECT NEWS
We reported on the signing of a memorandum of understanding by ILRI and Korea‘s Rural Development Authority (RDA) for laboratory work in Kenya, innovative platforms in an imGoats project in India and Mozambique, and training sessions on controlling zoonoses conducted by the Vietnamese members of an ILRI-led project known by its acronym EcoZD (‘Ecosystem Approaches to the Better Management of Zoonotic Emerging Infectious Diseases in Southeast Asia’).

Curious pig in Uganda raised for sale

SELECTED RECENT PRESENTATIONS
Azage Tegegne Livestock and irrigation value chains for Ethiopian smallholders (LIVES) project, Addis Ababa, Jun (256 views).
Danilo Pezo Smallholder pig value chain development in Uganda, Wakiso, Jun (1186 views).
Derek Baker Livestock farming in developing countries: An essential resource, World Meat Congress, Paris, Jun (874 views).
Derek Baker Interpreting trader networks as value chains: Experience with Business Development Services in smallholder dairy in Tanzania and Uganda, ILRI Nairobi, Jun (1879 views).
Peter Ballantyne Open knowledge sharing to support learning in agricultural and livestock research for development projects, Addis Ababa, Jun (1589 views).
John Lynam Applying a systems framework to research on African farming systems, CGIAR drylands workshop, Nairobi, Jun (1884 views).
Bernard Bett Spatial-temporal analysis of the risk of Rift Valley fever in Kenya, European Geosciences Union Conference, Vienna, Apr (1164 views).
Nancy Johnson The production and consumption of livestock products in developing countries: Issues facing the world’s poor, Farm Animal Integrated Research Conference, Washington DC, Mar (542 views).

Small-scale farmers remain crucial to Vietnamese pork industry

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Pigs feeding at a farm in Vietnam: Small-scale farmers remain crucial to the growth of Vietnam’s pork industry (photo from Flickr by Stephen McGrath, Rock Portrait Photography).

A project that evaluated pig production and marketing in Vietnam shows that supply shortages could be responsible for the current high prices of pork in the country. Supporting small-scale farmers to produce more pigs and improving pork distribution and marketing chains could hold the key to keeping rising prices of pork in the country in check.

Between December 2010 and June 2011, Vietnam experienced a 22 per cent rise in the food price index (a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities). A spike in the prices of pork, a key part of the Vietnamese diet, was largely responsible for this rise in food costs. Government and pork industry players in the country have blamed the rise in pork prices on both unregulated pork exports to China through cross-border trade and a rise in global food prices generally.

Even though industry stakeholders, including the government, say importing more meat and supporting large commercial producers will stabilize the pork market in Vietnam, research suggests that developing large farms to address supply constraints will not solve the price problem over the long-term. According to the project, which was carried out between 2007 and 2010 in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh and six of Vietnam’s provinces, large farms will provide ‘only a small share over the next decade, offering only up to 12 per cent of [the country’s] total pork supply.’ The project, titled ‘Improving competitiveness of smallholder pig producers in an adjusting Vietnam market’, was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Many pressing challenges face the Vietnamese pork industry, including increasing feed prices and demand for pork, poor management of the pork value chain, concerns about pig diseases, difficulty finding piglets and other inputs and poor veterinary and credit services.

‘Demand for pork in Vietnam is growing faster than its domestic supply,’ said Lucy Lapar, an economist with ILRI in Vietnam. ‘What our research found was that the recent steep rise in the pork price is most likely a result of inefficiencies along the value chain rather than a critical shortage in pork supply. Normally, high pork prices might encourage pig farmers to expand their production, but in this case, despite the high prices, farmers seem hesitant to raise their pork production,’ said Lapar.

Small-scale farmers in particular worry about pig diseases and the difficulty they face in getting hold of piglets and support services. ‘We need to find ways to address these constraints and bring about substantial improvement to the pig production system,’ said Lapar. ‘Even though efforts by those involved in the pig industry are focusing on increasing large-scale farming of pigs, they must not neglect smallholders who will almost certainly continue to play a significant role in meeting the growing demands for pork in Vietnam in the near future.’

Vietnam’s smallholder pig producers will remain viable because they are able to produce pork at lower costs than large-scale farms by using household scraps and other feeds that would otherwise be unused and thus do not need to rely on feed imports. These practices make small-scale pork production efficient in the long term, translating to better pries for consumers.

‘A combination of small household producers and large pig producers is most efficient for Vietnam at this stage of its pork industry’s development,’ says Lapar. The implications from this project’s findings suggest that the Vietnamese Government and pork industry players should put in place systems and practices that make the pork value chain more efficient and support markets for both small and large producers in the country.

To read more about the project and its findings, visit: http://www.ilri.org/PigProducers and http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/606/browse

New project to help Vietnamese and other farmers conserve their native livestock breeds

Hmong girl hold native black chicken of Viet Nam A native black pig of Viet Nam

Left: A Hmong girl, 13-year-old Hi Hoa Sinh, holds a native black chicken in the village of Lung Pu, northern Viet Nam; Right: One of Viet Nam’s native black pigs on the farm of Ma Thi Puong, near the northern town of Meo Vac (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

A project funded by the Global Environment Facility has selected Vietnam, a country with a wealth of livestock diversity, as one of four countries in which to implement a project to conserve livestock genotypes.

The diversity is deteriorating due to the popularization of new breeds together with the commercialization of livestock production. To preserve indigenous livestock breeds, the Global Environment Facility and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have selected 4 countries—Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—to implement the project ‘Developing and applying supporting tools on the conservation and sustainable utilization of the genetic diversity of livestock and their wild relatives.’

Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has made the National Institute of Animal Husbandry as the Vietnamese partner in the project.

The project aims to enhance livestock keepers’ awareness of the importance of the genetic conservation of indigenous livestock while helping them to raise their incomes through adoption of indigenous livestock breeds. The project is being implemented over 4 years (2010–2012) in Vietnam’s Son La and Bac Ninh provinces, with a focus on indigenous chicken and pig breeds. The project will train farmers on survey methods and data collection; on ways to maintain their use of indigenous animals; on livestock management; and on business skills in such areas as as tourism with traditional cuisine and cultural activities.

Basic information about valuable indigenous breeds and representative animals is needed, as is the capacity to prioritize, monitor and manage them at both scientific and farm operational levels. Stakeholder groups need to be empowered with knowledge and conducive operational environments in which they can make decisions that work best for them.

Agriculture in the partner countries in this project contributes 20 to 26% of gross domestic product, of which livestock contributes approximately 15 to 20% in terms of income, insurance, food (meat, milk, eggs), hides/skin, traction and manure. It is mostly smallholder farmers who are dependent on indigenous breeds. These animals have evolved in diverse tropical environments and possess valuable traits such as disease resistance, adaptation to harsh environments, including heat tolerance and ability to utilize poor quality feeds, attributes essential for achieving sustainable agriculture in low-input production systems. However, it is still largely unknown which breeds hold significant genetic diversity or specific genes that should be targeted for conservation and/or incorporation into breeding programs. In the meantime, crossbreeding with exotic breeds is increasing and indigenous breeds are being lost.

The development objectives of this project are to help conserve the indigenous livestock of the partner countries for future generations and to help increase the contribution these native breeds make to the livelihoods of poor people. The first goal of the project is to develop and to make available effective tools to support decision making for the conservation and sustainable use of indigenous farm animals and their wild relatives in developing countries.

For more information, see the project’s description on ILRI’s Biotechnology Theme webpage.

Small pig producers bring home the bacon in Vietnam

Pigs for sale at a market in Viet Nam

Pigs for sale at a market in Viet Nam (photo credit: Simone Retif).

In Viet Nam, small pig farmers raising 10 or fewer animals near their village households can remain competitive with larger pig producers if they continue to exploit their advantages over larger farmers. These advantages include their low labour costs and their ability to supply buyers with freshly slaughtered meat, a form most Vietnamese continue to prefer to the chilled or frozen meat from bigger piggeries.

These are the conclusions of a three-year research project led by the Kenyan-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

ACIAR's representative in Viet Nam, Geoff Morris, speaking at a final workshop of the project held in Hanoi on 5 October 2010, said that smallholder pig producers, who supply about 80 per cent of the pork marketed in Viet Nam, play a big role in the nation's economy. The research project identified policies that would help Viet Nam's many small pig farmers to raise their incomes and remain competitive in the face of growing imports of pork and official support for larger piggeries.

Another advantage small producers have over large ones is that the former spend less on feed for their animals. Lucy Lapar, an economist with ILRI, said that while feed accounts for two-thirds of the costs of raising pigs at small piggeries, this was much lower than at bigger farms because small operators tend to feed their pigs by-products from their own crops and to let their pigs forage. Bigger operators must buy relatively expensive, industrially processed, feed.

Household-based pig production generates gross margins ranging from 4,000–15,000 Vietnamese dong (US$0.21–0.78 based on current exchange rates) per kilogram liveweight of pig produced. These are good indicators of returns to household labour and comparable to the current daily minimum wage of about 22,000 VND ($1.15). Among those employed in small-scale pig production are women and many others who would otherwise remain jobless.

Conducting a consumer survey of 1,650 households to investigate the demand for pork, the researchers found that it accounts for 40 per cent of household expenditure on meat and that fresh pork remains preferable to chilled or processed meat.

'The good news is that smallholder pig producers are highly competitive in producing fresh pork,' said Lapar. The bad news, she says, is that, compared to large-scale pig producers, most small producers in the country have to deal with poor genetic stock, low-quality feed, animal illnesses, and insufficient market information and policy support.

Pham Van Duy, from the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry's Livestock Department, said that it is likely to become increasingly difficult for the nation's four million pig-raising households to continue to meet the growing demand for pork in terms of both increasing their quantity and quality, both of which are being demanded by the country's consumers. According to Viet Nam's General Statistics Office, the country's pork sales have steadily increased, from 1.5 million tonnes in 2001 to 2.9 million in 2009, with 27.6 million pigs now being raised in the country.

This smallholder pig research project, 'Improving the competitiveness of pig producers in an adjusting Vietnam market', was carried out in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City and six of Viet Nam's provinces from 2007 to 2010. Partners in the project include the Centre for Agricultural Policy – Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development, the International Food Policy Research Institute, Oxfam and the University of Queensland.

For more information contact Lucy Lapar (l.lapar@cgiar.org) or visit the project website.

For a news clipping on this topic, see Viet Nam News: Small pig producers bring home the bacon, 9 October 2010.

Read six projects briefs developed for the October 2010 final workshop:

Competitiveness of smallholder pig producers in Vietnam

Demand for pork by Vietnamese consumers: Implications for pro-poor livestock policy and development agenda in Vietnam

Future scenarios for pig sector development in Vietnam: Results from a policy simulation model

Participatory risk assessment of pork in Ha Noi and Ha Tay, Vietnam

The growing shortfall in Vietnam’s domestic supply of pork: Significance and policy implications

The pork value chain in Vietnam: Emerging trends and implications for smallholder competitiveness and chain efficiency