The unsecured insurance, the secure alternative // Luang Prabang, Laos

INSURANCE.

What associations do you draw with this word? Secure, guarantee, a form of safety net… But what if I told you today that this is far from the case in many rural places in the world?

To many rural dwellers, insurance takes the form of livestock, and specifically in the form of a female buffalo in Luang Prabang, Laos. The catch is this: if your buffalo gives birth, your assurance doubles; you lose everything if it dies.


Last year, Actxplorer visited Laos Buffalo Dairy and had the opportunity to a sit-down interview with Susie, co-founder of the farm, as well as the pioneering village chief who started collaborating with the farm.

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Danielle with Susie, co-founder of Laos Buffalo Dairy, and pioneering villagers in the buffalo rental program

The interview

First question: Why female buffaloes? Males are useless in the animal kingdom – they only impregnate other peoples’ animals. For this reason, male calves are usually sold for meat. Each village typically keeps 1 ‘communal male’, whom villagers bring their female buffaloes to whenever they are in heat. For those who have studied biology, this poses an obvious problem – inbreeding, and the result of this inbreeding is apparent – smaller and weaker calves with high chances of mortality, or if lucky enough survives to adulthood only sold at low prices.

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Male buffaloes were used to plough the fields; with mechanisation, this role has become obsolete, resulting in many males being sold for meat (picture taken at Living Land Laos Farm)

Besides the issue on inbreeding, there has also been a growing love-hate between villages and their insurance of late – in light of development opportunities, much land has been bought over by entrepreneurial expats of China to start mass plantations in the surrounding hills. In a bid to protect these farms, the government has started to enforce an age-old rule of chargeability for animal trespass. Villagers, having gotten used to amicable settlement among fellow neighbours, now face exorbitant fines for their wayward livestock. For every punishable trespass incident, villagers are left with no choice but to pay the hidden charges of their insurance coverage.


 

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A buffalo calf being bottle-fed at the Dairy Farm

How Laos Buffalo Dairy come into the picture amidst all this: The founders, while on their leisure travels around Laos for the first time, were surprised to find out that despite how commonly villagers own buffaloes, dairy products were never part of their diet. In fact, they later found out some villagers were shocked to know that buffalo milk is suitable for human consumption.

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Rachel, chef and co-founder at Laos Buffalo Dairy, with her homemade ice creams and cheesecakes!

Laos Buffalo Dairy is the brainchild of the founders, who assembled the multiple assets and needs in the community and gave birth to the idea of the Farm: villagers rent their pregnant buffaloes to the Farm and allows the Farm to collect the milk. In return, villagers receive their newly pregnant buffalo (by males brought in externally) with an accompanying calf, all vaccinated and cared for throughout 3 months (instead of having them roam around).

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Cheese platter made from buffalo milk, yum!

The Farm also does other work, including the following among other things:

  • Donate whey, the byproduct of cheese-making, to the hospitals to feed children with malnutrition
  • Serve as a prototype for good animal husbandry practices to surrounding farmers
  • Take in local higher education students in as interns for capacity building for animal husbandry
  • Conduct free English classes for children and various professions
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Susie, co-founder of Laos Buffalo Dairy, bringing me on a farm tour.

With Laos Buffalo Dairy, female buffaloes now make better sense to own.


How you can participate and contribute to their work:

Written by Danielle Poh.

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