I love dairy products. I love milk, butter, cheese and yogurt. A high proportion of Asians are lactose intolerant but I’m probably one of the exceptional few who don’t have problems consuming dairy products. The love of dairy was cultivated in me since I was a little girl. My mother’s family loves all things dairy, hence that “love” was passed on to me.
Therefore, I can relate to the predicament faced by Susie Martin and Rachel O’Shea, CEO and Head Chef of Laos Buffalo Dairy respectively, who shockingly learnt that Laos has no local dairy products. No dairy means no cheese and yogurt. When Susie and Rachel relocated from Singapore to Luang Prabang with their respective families a few years ago, they discovered that Laos has no dairy farms. Moreover, the Lao people have little understanding of where and how dairy is produced. For instance, Laotians assumed that yogurt came from Thailand as that’s where it was imported from, and that yogurt originated from fruits because of pictures of fruits on the package!
With their immense desires to have cheese and yogurt, Susie, Rachel and their husbands set up the Laos Buffalo Dairy – the only buffalo dairy in Laos.
Why buffalo milk?
The Laos Buffalo Dairy is a socially-responsible enterprise that produces commercial dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and ice-cream for local and overseas customers. The dairy products that they produce come from buffalo milk.
You may ask, why buffalo milk and not cow milk? Cows are rare in Laos but buffaloes are aplenty. Buffaloes are mainly used to work on the farms; the male buffaloes are sold for meat whereas the female buffaloes are under-utilised except to mate and breed calves.
However, to own a buffalo is costly as one buffalo is worth the average annual salary of a farmer. On top of that, many Lao farmers cannot afford to care for their buffaloes with proper pens, feed and vaccines. As such, buffaloes are left to fend for themselves which make them susceptible to diseases and inbreeding, thus causing high mortality rates in calves which in turn, reduces the overall population of buffaloes. With lesser number of buffaloes, farmers are not able to cultivate their farms effectively, thus resulting in lower crop yields, and the poverty cycle continues.
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In view of the buffalo situation in Laos, Laos Buffalo Dairy implements a sustainable win-win solution. Here’s how it works:
- The dairy rents female buffaloes from farmers and the rent payment becomes an additional source of income for farmers. The land on which the dairy production and facility was built – rent is also paid to the farmer or farmers who own the parcels of land, thus creating another source of income for them.
- The female buffaloes are taken care off in the dairy – milked, fed and vaccinated. Calves are fed, vaccinated and given opportunities to bond with their mothers as well.
- The dairy also implements a breeding program to improve the local buffalo genetics. Training and workshops are conducted for the local agricultural institute and farmers on how to care for their buffaloes.
- Once the female buffaloes and calves have regained strength, they are returned to the farmers. Villagers retain ownership of the buffaloes.
- The poverty cycle changes to opportunity cycle when healthier female buffaloes produce better milk for their calves which then later become larger and more productive buffaloes. More productive buffaloes work effectively on the fields, thus increases production and profits for the farmers. The female calves become buffaloes which then continue to produce calves and with improved genetics, the calf survival increases, and the cycle goes on.
- The dairy works with the Laos government on programs to introduce buffalo milk to Laotian children to help improve nutrition.
- With buffalo milk, Laos Buffalo Dairy produces artisanal cheese, ice-cream and desserts for local restaurants, hotels and supermarkets in Luang Prabang and Laos. You can now have dairy products at an affordable price in Laos.
What’s in it for you?
Laos Buffalo Dairy organises guided tours and cooking classes for the public and tourist groups that visit the dairy and production facility. You can feed, bathe and even take a selfie with the buffalo! One of the activities that you must do at the dairy is to have delicious ricotta cheese and cheese cake or try their assorted cheese at their café!
The location of the Laos Buffalo Dairy is not very far from Luang Prabang, approximately thirty minutes’ drive. You can have a day trip organised to the dairy and Kuangsi Falls which is a further twenty minutes’ away. I guarantee that you will have a wonderful time as this not only gives you a chance to tour the dairy and see the famed Kuangsi Falls but also a chance to experience the outskirts of Luang Prabang.
I visited Laos Buffalo Dairy in early July, and after listening to Susie and Rachel spoke so passionately about the dairy and how much they have contributed to the livelihood of the farmers in the surrounding areas – I must commend them for starting this venture for they knew nothing about being farmers in the beginning, let along milking a buffalo! While their original idea was to have cheese and yogurt easily and affordably in Luang Prabang, their efforts are essentially, helping Lao farmers leverage on resources that are naturally available to them i.e. the buffaloes for sustainable income and livelihood.
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Location and Contact of Laos Buffalo Dairy:
Ban Muang Khay, Luang Prabang Laos.
+856 20 5230 2475
*My visit to Laos Buffalo Dairy was part of the media trip organised by Luang Prabang Tourism, Destination Mekong and Mekong Tourism. All opinions shared in this post are my own.
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