Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (12) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Biogas digesters in small pig farming systems in Lao PDR: evidence of an impact

Sirixai Phanthavongs and Udoy Saikia

School of the Environment, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Applied Population Studies, School of the Environment, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia


This study investigates whether pig farming contributes to both alleviating poverty and securing sustainable development in the rural communities of Laos, and if so, how. The findings presented in this paper are based on a field survey conducted among 205 households between 2009 and 2010 in a number of villages in Laos. The study provides a comparison of three pig farming systems, namely: pig farming with biogas digester installation; pig farming without biogas digester installation; and pig farming with a deep bedding system and using Effective Microorganism (EM) liquid.

The findings clearly show that small scale traditional pig farming contributes to an increase in the income of households in rural Laos. However if traditional farming is integrated with modern techniques and is utilised in multipurpose activities such as producing biogas, the benefits are even broader which can be developed as a pathway to achieve sustainable development in rural Laos.

Key words: biogas, livestock, pig farming, poverty


The primary aim of the study is to investigate the role of small scale piggery farming integrated with production of biogas as a source of energy and its potential to support sustainable development in rural Laos. Livestock is vital to livelihood in many developing countries. In low income countries livestock serves as a store of wealth, provides draught power and organic fertiliser for crop production and furnishes a means of transport (Pica-Ciamarra 2005). There has been a rapid increase in the livestock market in recent decades which has been termed as “Livestock Revolution” and this revolution has arisen from an increasing population, growth in GDP per capita and increasing demand for meat due to urbanisation (Delgado et al 1999, quoted in Pica-Ciamarra 2005).  

Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries and is classified among the least developed nations in the world (Government of Lao PDR 2004; UNDP 2007). In terms of Human Development Index (which includes poverty dimension as well) Laos ranks 138th of out 186 countries (UNDP 2013). It has a relatively small  nd livestock farming. New cost effective, efficient and environmentally appropriate technologies have also been introduced into the Laos agricultural sector. One such technology is the collection and use of biogas which is generated from animal manure (cow, buffalo, pig) as fuel energy for household cooking. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (Dalibard 1995) most positive contributions of livestock to the environment are related to their role in integrated sustainable farming systems. Unfortunately over the last few decades, there has been much emphasis placed on the detrimental effects of livestock on the environment. However these detrimental effects are essentially generated by livestock management which are focussed on short-term profit with least or no concern for sustainability (Dalibard 1995). In a report produced for Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) mentions that zero-grazing livestock production systems which use on-farm grown feeds and with the provision of biodigesters where slurry is collected in are a very efficient farming system that has the capacity to reduce pollution and at the same time supporting the livelihood of the poor (Dalibard 1995). This report also mentions that on-farm production of biogas in rural households can be used as an alternative energy for fuelwood which is becoming a scarce resource in many developing countries and must be gathered very far away, involving high energy costs for collection and transport, while jeopardizing the environment through excessive collection. There has been increasing number of examples of success stories of integrated livestock farming systems in developing countries. The "cattle lease" programme for many women as introduced as a part of the micro credit schemes Grameen Bank - is now linking this activity to a biogas programme since the biodigester is considered to be the centrepiece of an integrated farming system, where the effluent entering ponds increases fish yields by accelerating algae production (Dalibard 1995). A project by FAO in Cambodia, has demonstrated that, where there is adequate manure from at least three cows or eight pigs, the amount of gas produced is sufficient to replace about 75 per cent of the fuelwood normally used by an average family of six persons (Dalibard 1995). Given that of all livestock farming, pig farming is the most prevalent and constituted the largest component of livestock farming in Laos, the focus of this paper is shaped with this specific objective- to produce an in-depth analysis of the economic, environmental and social implications of different pig farming systems, and to identify which of the pig farming systems is more effective in terms of contribution to environmental sustainability and poverty reduction in rural Laos. The research is based on a grounded theoretical framework and draws on qualitative and quantitative data collected from a number of rural communities in Laos. 

Livestock, environment and the current energy consumption in rural Laos 

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), methane gas is worse than carbon dioxide (CO2) as it traps twenty-one times as much heat as does carbon dioxide (IPCC 2007). The latest available information shows that Laos has 1.12 million buffalo, 1.35 million cattle and 2.18 million pigs (NSC 2007). According to the Engineering and Renewable Energy Centre (2008), the amount of manure produced from these animals each day per animal is 15-20 kilograms (kg), 10-14 kg and 2-4 kg respectively. Based on estimates as shown in Meynell (1978), each of these animals produces at least around 0.56-0.71 m3 of methane per day. Hence, at a daily minimum, there are approximately between 2,604,000 and 3,301,500 m3 (or around 2.6-3.3 tonnes) of methane gas emissions from these animals, which total 949-1,204 tonnes over a year. As mentioned earlier, the Government of Laos (GoL) signed the UNFCCC in 1992 and ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 1995; however it was not bound by an emissions target. Based on the IPCC’s guidelines, a GHG emission inventory was conducted in Laos in 2000 (Moore & Sengdouangchanh 2007). The results of the inventory showed that Laos is a net sequestered of carbon dioxide with an annual net carbon dioxide removal of 414.900 giga grams (Gg). Total methane gas emission is 312 Gg per annum, of which 81 per cent derives from the agricultural sector.  

People in rural Laos use fuelwood as their main source of energy for heating and/or cooking. The Second Fact Finding Mission Report of the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) estimated that the percentage of people using fuelwood as the principal source of energy for cooking was extremely high in Laos. It was as high as 97 per cent in rural areas and 68 per cent in urban areas (Boers & Ghimire 20& 03). According to the data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO 1997), annual fuelwood consumption in Laos was 2,329,000 tonnes. According to Hivos Klimaat Founds (undated), burning one tonne of dried wood would produce 1.66 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 0.00532 tonnes of methane (CH4) and 0.000087 tonnes of nitrogen (NO2). However, methane and nitrogen trap 21 and 310 times as much as heat respectively as does carbon dioxide. Therefore, after converting these two gases into carbon dioxide equivalence, burning one tonne of dried wood would produce 1.79869 tonnes of CO2 (Hivos Klimaat Funds, undated). This means that on average the CO2 produced from consumption of fuelwood in Laos equals 3,957.118 tonnes (that is, 2,329,000 tonnes times 1.79869) annually.  

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Laos clearly stated that forest cover in Laos had changed remarkably (Vongmany 2008). It had dropped from 11,636,900 hectares or 49.1 per cent in 1982, to 11,168,000 hectares or 47.2 per cent by 1992, and then continued to decline to 41.5 per cent (the equivalent of 9,827,200 hectares) by 2002. Forest density also decreased dramatically from 29 per cent in 1992 to 8.2 per cent in 2002 (Vongmany 2008). Citing the increasing trend of deforestation in the developing world, Perrings (1998) also remarks that while the dominant causes of both deforestation and desertification are land use conversion and intensification, fuelwood scarcity is a significant part of the problem. Interestingly, bears most heavily (1998, pp. 14-15) notes:

“The scarcity of fuelwood has been identified as a problem not because there are no substitutes, but because it bears most heavily on those sections of the population who are least able to invest in stoves that will accept alternatives fuels”.  

In Laos, the large amount of fuelwood consumption has raised concerns about the sustainability of the country’s forest as well as for the quality of air. This has also lead to a similar environmental crisis which many developing countries are now facing; the rapid decrease in carbon dioxide sinks due to increasing deforestation. Furthermore, high use of fuelwood increases health risks due to indoor pollution from smoke (Boers and Ghimire 2003). Another negative aspect of high dependence on fuelwood for household energy consumption is that as traditionally women, in particular those in rural areas, are charged with gathering fuelwood, a decline in fuelwood due to deforestation or various other reasons puts tremendous pressure on women in terms of time and distances travelled to collect the wood (Chancy and Skutsch 2004) and subjects them to increased physical stress. This also results in a reduction of available time for women and girls to participate in education and other productive activities (Boers and Ghimire 2003). Although Laos is not bound by a specified emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol, attempts have been made to limit the gases emitted. These have included the identification of the social, economic and environmental factors that enable farming communities, above all, to modify their traditional practices. In turn, this allows them to protect their sustainable livelihood and, at the same time, reduce GHG.  

Research methodology

Both quantitative and qualitative methods have been employed and integrated in this research to provide a detail analysis of the crucial but complex relationship between sustainable livelihood (integrated pig farming), poverty, and the environment. Although a number of studies have been carried out on rural communities in Laos, they are predominantly focussed on poverty. The availability of both qualitative and quantitative data in Laos remains very poor to address the research questions of the present study. Considering the limitations of data and the multidisciplinary nature of the present study, conducting a field-based research was considered to be the most appropriate approach for an in-depth understanding of the interaction between sustainable livelihood methods (in terms of systems of small-scale pig farming), poverty reduction and environmental sustainability.  


The field survey was conducted across five villages in three districts. The research drew on quantitative and qualitative data collected from interviews with a total of 205 households including the head of the households or other senior family members based on their availability. The study locations were designed based on the suggestions of the Department of Livestock and Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The households were categorised in five different groups based on practice of pig farming. They are: Group A - households practising pig-farming with biogas digester installation; Group B - households practising pig-farming without biogas digester installation; and Group C - households practising pig-farming with deep bedding systems using Effective Microorganism (EM) liquid to control pig odour. To find out a much clearer picture of whether and how pig farming had brought about a change in socio-economic status of households and also how effective the various pig farming techniques were in reducing pollution, information was also gathered from households that previously used to raise pigs but now no longer do so (Group D), and from those households that had never raised pigs (Group E). As far as selection of households was concerned, there was no selection bias based on gender and interviewed any senior member available at home on the day of the interview. However interestingly there were 123 females participants which accounted for 60 per cent of the respondents.

Data collection  

Several steps were required to be followed before data collection could begin. The questionnaires, along with a detailed research proposal were then submitted to, and approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Laos before further communicating with local authorities and the Biogas Pilot Programme which functions under the auspices of the Department of Livestock and Fisheries and supported by the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV). To ensure that the designed questionnaires were locally comprehensible, the researcher distributed them to village group heads for their feedback. Moreover specific additional questionnaires which were tailored to each individual group were used in data collection. After reviewing the questionnaire, they reported that it was straightforward and understandable for the villagers. They did, however, suggest some minor changes in terms of wordings. After an introductory session, the villagers were informed about the research project by the head villager. As the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry requires the presence of a local authority during the data collection, the village head assigned one person to follow the researcher as a local facilitator, as well as to ensure that the research was carried out in a proper manner. Local language was used throughout the entire process of fieldwork. Data collection was carried out between May 2009 and April 2010 with financial support from Flinders University, Australia and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), Australia. During the field survey, the researcher and research assistant stayed with the study community and therefore were able to observe various activities related to pig raising by the local communities. 

Qualitative data was collected through five different focus group discussions. Focus groups were conducted only after getting some results from very preliminary analysis of the quantitative data. In the focus group, the researcher played a role of moderator to facilitate the discussion.  

Results and Discussion

This section provides an analysis of the impact of different pig farming systems with and without biogas (A, B and C) on energy consumption for cooking. It also provides a comparative analysis with households which currently do not have any pig farming system (Groups D and E).  

Energy use 

The measurement of the amount of fuel wood used for cooking was based on how local people collected the wood; that is, by the cartload, where one full cartload of wood is equivalent to around 1m3 of fuel wood. The amount in cubic metres was then converted into kilograms based on Walker’s (2009) formula. According to Walker (2009) 1m3 of dry wood is equivalent to a weight of 240 kg and the same volume of wet wood weighs around 520 kg. Based on these figures, the amounts of fuel wood (in m3) used by local farmers in Nongphouvieng village were converted into kilograms. Charcoal was measured by the bag, where each bag holds 15 kilograms of charcoal. 

Before discussing the findings, it is important to give some background information about biogas installation in Group A households. The Group A households were selected from Nongphouvieng village, which is located approximately 51 kilometres south of the national capital, Vientiane. The village has 252 households with a population of 1,552. The village was among the first Lao villages in which biogas digesters were installed. Following a visit by a Lao government delegation to biogas projects in China, a request was made to the Chinese government to set up trial biogas projects in the Laos. As a result of this request, in March 2004, 30 biogas digesters (linked to existing pig stalls) were installed in 30 households at no cost to the householders. Then, in mid-2007, a SNV biogas project was introduced to an additional 30 households in the village, however, householders were required to provide an upfront payment of 50 per cent of the total cost of the materials used in the construction of the biogas digesters. Each family paid about 1,800,000 Kip (211.76 USD) towards the capital and instalment costs of their biogas digesters. There are currently 60 households in total in the village that have biogas digesters.

Table 1: Household (HH) energy consumption patterns in the five groups of households

Energy consumption patterns

Group A: HH before installation of biogas

Group A: HH after installation of biogas

Group B: HH raising pigs without installation of biogas

Group C: HH raising pigs with deep bedding and using EM liquid

Group D: HH used to raise pigs but now no longer do so

Group E: HH never raised pigs

Fuel wood (in kg) per HH per year













Charcoal (in kg) per HH per year













Money spent on fuel wood and charcoal per HH per year


620,550 Kip

($73 US)


203,775 Kip

($24 US)


447,756 Kip

($53 US)



($19 US)



($56 US)



($35 US)

Number of times wood is collected per HH per year













The results (Table 1) show that in Group A, the amount of fuel wood used dropped by 69.30 per cent after the biogas digesters were installed and the household started using the gas. Similarly, the amount of charcoal used in the Group A households also decreased substantially (by 47.31 per cent) after the installation of the digesters. The reason that households in Group A continued to use charcoal is that local people could not use biogas stoves for grilling food, especially meat. Nevertheless, on average, Group A households saved up to 416,775 Kip (49 USD) per year as a result of the reduction in consumption of fuel wood and charcoal. It may be noted that after biogas installation, about 37.50 per cent of households in Group A continued to collect fuel wood, as some of the households collected fuel wood for commercial purposes such as making alcohol and charcoal for selling. 

When we compare all the groups together, it shows that the lowest rate of fuel wood consumption is in Group A after the installation of biogas. Households in this group together consume 16,851 kg of fuel wood per year after the installation of biogas, which is equivalent to 421.30 kg of fuel wood per household per year. The second lowest wood consumption is group C. Each household in the group consumed slightly over 900 kg of fuel wood per year. The difference of the amount of wood consumption between Group B households (i.e., households raising pigs without installation of biogas) and Group D households (i.e, households which used to raised pigs but now no longer do so) is not very significant.  Group E households have the highest rate of fuel wood consumption.

As far as consumption of charcoal is concerned, Group C households consume the lowest amount of charcoal among all the household groups. The total charcoal used by the Group C households is at least 50 per cent less than that of any other group of households. The reason for the low consumption of fuel wood and charcoal by the Group C households is mainly due to the fact that around 52 per cent of households in this group use corn cobs as an alternative fuel for cooking. They do not need to pay for the corn cobs as they are available free of cost from a factory near their village; they just need to collect them.  However corn cobs are not available in the villages where the other four groups are located. According to Jimoh and Apampa (2013) corn cobs are more sustainable as sources of bio-energy and can be promoted as fuel sources in rural areas.  

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 

Additional environmental benefits of using biogas digesters include a reduction in GHG emissions. The GHG emissions associated with fuel wood, charcoal and biogas digester use are calculated by applying Ritter’s (2010) formula to the quantities of fuel wood and charcoal used by the farmers. According to Ritter (2010), burning a one kilogram log of wood emits 1.65 kg of carbon dioxide. Although the amount of charcoal used by farmers in Group A is less than the amount of fuel wood used, charcoal use generates more carbon dioxide emissions than the burning of fuel wood. According to Reumerman and Frederiks (2002), to produce one kilogram of charcoal requires seven to ten kilograms of wood (or an average of 8.50 kg); therefore, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from using or making charcoal is more than double that from fuel wood. A comparison of the calculated carbon dioxide emissions from using fuel wood and charcoal of Group A is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Comparative analysis of Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions estimated from fuelwood
and charcoal use of Group A (before and after biogas installation)

Before the installation of biogas digesters, it was estimated that households in Group A generated almost 380.00 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from wood fuel and charcoal use. These figures dropped to around 180.00 tonnes after the installation of biogas. This is a 52 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to the use of a more efficient technology. Interestingly, from a comparative perspective, the percentage reduction in carbon dioxide emissions before and after digester installation within Group A showed that the reduction was higher for fuel wood (69 per cent reduction) than it was for charcoal (47 per cent reduction).  

Figure 2 and Figure 3 compare the GHG emissions associated with fuel wood and charcoal respectively in all the five groups.

Figure 2: Comparative analysis of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuelwood
of different household groups (

Figure 3: Comparative analysis of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from charcoal
consumption of different household groups (tonnes/year)

GHG emission due to fuelwood is clearly much lower in the households with bio-gas installed (Group A). The group that produced the most carbon dioxide from burning fuel wood was Group E, which is higher than 150 tonnes annually. Group B households had the highest emission of carbon dioxide from the use of charcoal (Figure 3). Interestingly, if the situation of Groups A households prior to the installation of biogas is taken into account, it shows an extremely high amount of carbon dioxide emission, the highest, in fact, among all the groups. The group that emitted the least carbon dioxide from charcoal was Group C. As already mentioned, this is mainly because households in Group C used corn cob as an alternative source of energy. However it is worth mentioning that although Group C produced the least amount of greenhouse gases compared to any other group, the figure does not take into account carbon dioxide produced from burning corn cobs as the figure is not available. However as mentioned earlier corn cobs are more sustainable as sources of bio-energy.

To gain further insight into the total carbon emissions of different groups, a comparison of the different household groups has been done by combining fuel wood and charcoal consumption (See Figure 4).

Figure 4: Comparative analysis of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel wood and
charcoal consumption of different household groups (tonnes/year)

Each year, approximately 1,336.00 tonnes of carbon dioxide were produced in total from all five groups burning fuel wood and charcoal. The group that produced the most carbon dioxide was Group B followed by Groups D and E. Group C had the lowest total emissions which was even lower than that of Group A with biogas. However, there may be an underestimation in the case of Group C as there is no known estimate of carbon emissions due to corn cobs used by the households in this group. As far as emission of methane gas is concerned, the analysis has been restricted only to Groups A and B. This is because Group C was using EM liquid to control the odour of pig dung, whereas Groups D and E currently did not have pigs.  

According to Meynell (1978), the average daily volume of dung produced by a pig is 0.24 m3, which in turn produces 0.56 to 0.71 m3 of methane each day. There were 565 pigs in Group A and 808 pigs in Group B (totalling 1,373 pigs) as shown in Figure 5. Applying the method of estimation described by Meynell (1978) the 1,373 pigs, yield approximately 329.52 m3 of dung per day. Calculations show that each day the pigs produced up to 207.59 m3 of methane. About 85.43 m3 of methane was thus generated from pigs raised in Group A before installation of the biogas digesters with another 122.17 m3 from Group B (Phanthavongs, Pearce and Saikia 2011). Pigs are generally raised for about 105 days before they are sold for meat and two sets of offspring can be raised each year (Phanthavongs, Pearce and Saikia 2011). This would have resulted in around 17.94 tonnes of methane being produced from Group A before biogas installation with 25.66 tonnes from Group B. Furthermore, more biogas is produced than can be consumed by individual households, with the excess gas released, unused to the atmosphere as Group B pig owners do not have access to the excess biogas. Design limitations mean that the biogas cannot be used beyond individual households (due to inadequate pressure in the system, as outlined earlier). 

Figure 5: Estimates of methane gas produced from pig raising in Groups A and B

Socio-economic impacts

The discussion presented in this section is based on the information collected from the various focus group discussions conducted among different household groups. As stated earlier in this paper five focus group discussions were conducted among different household groups.

The benefits

The households with biogas collection expressed greater financial and time-saving advantages, as well as environmental benefits such as a reduction in pig waste odour since the installation of the digesters. Table 2 provides some selected quotes from the focus group participants of Group A. The quotes clearly indicate that community members started experiencing a much improved daily lifestyle as a result of the installation of biogas in their households.

As a result of not having to spend time collecting fuel wood and preparing fires twice daily for cooking, respondents commented: ‘I can turn the biogas stove on to cook anytime I want now’; and ‘I don’t need to sit in front the fire and take care of it anymore’. There were also some family and other social benefits detailed by the biogas users. In particular the women said that they were much happier using biogas: ‘my face and hands are not black anymore as I am not using charcoal now’; other participants added ‘now my husband gets up to cook rice in the morning because he likes cooking with the biogas stove’. Environmental benefits of biogas installation were also identified with local people emphasising: ‘now our village has become cleaner and there are less bad smells of pig dung’; and ‘there are less flies in the village than before ’. The greater efficiency of biogas stoves in cooking due to much less wastage of heat – in conventional wood burning stoves a lot of heat escapes from the sides and these stoves cannot be turned off immediately as the biogas stoves.

The high satisfaction after the installation of biogas as expressed in table 2 does not only reflect the personal happiness in terms of saving their valuable time, but it also reflects a much healthier working environment. However it was observed from the focus group discussion that most of the community members emphasised “time-saving” (from cooking) as the biggest advantage from biogas installation. To find the out whether members in other four groups which do not have biogas installations (B, C, D and E) were keen to install biogas, a direct question was asked about their intention to install it. More than half (60 per cent) of the total households in these groups expressed their desire to install it.

Out of 67 households, 15 households said that they know about biogas but think it is not necessary to install biogas digester as they have a lot of fuel wood to use. Seven households said they don’t have enough money that’s why they don’t want to install biogas digester. The rest of them don’t know about biogas and think that it is not necessary.   

Raising pigs is highly desirable for local people as a means of accumulating assets and also for accessing a fast turn-around in cash gains. A cost-benefit analysis was carried out based on the data from Nongphouvieng village. A summary of the costs of raising pigs is given in Table 3, followed by a summary of the benefits derived from raising pigs. After being housed for 3.5 months, the pigs can be sold at a price of at least 1,462,500 Kip (172.06 USD) each. The profit made from a pig after deducting all the expenses is 475,500 Kip (55.94 USD). This amount may not seem much per pig, however, when people raise more than 20, or up to even 40 pigs, the profit they can make after a couple of months can be calculated to be between 9,510,000 and 19,020,000 Kip (1,118.82 USD to 2,237.64 USD).

Table 3: The cost of raising pigs (Kipp; 1USD = 8500Kipp)


Unit Cost



Purchase 1 piglet


1 pig


Piglet food 1 bag


1 bag


Pig food (for a pig weighing 15 to 30 kg)


3 bags


Pig food (weighing in excess of 30 kg)


2 bags


Transport of pig food


6 bags


Transport of pig to market


1 pig


Customs fee and animal mobilization


1 pig


Vaccination fee


1 pig


Total cost




In addition, each year they can sell two generations of pig offspring. From a comparative perspective this profit is regarded as a high income as the average salary of a government employee ranges from 800,000 to 1,500,000 Kip (94.12 USD to 176.47 USD) per month. Raising pigs is therefore considered a highly profitable business which attracts local people to the activity. Participants in this study commented: ‘I’ve raised pigs for nearly 10 years, I got this house because of raising pigs’; and ‘I got my lod tock tock (farming machine) because I kept pigs’ and, ‘Because of pigs I can send my children to school’. 

There were secondary economic benefits associated with the organic matter removed from the biogas digester, in that it was used as a bio-fertilizer for rice crops. This not only resulted in improved yields, but also in financial savings through not having to buy fertilizer. 

A problem associated with the lucrative nature of raising pigs is it has led to their overstocking. This is a problem in particular for those with biogas digesters (group A), where the recommended design specifications are that no more than 10 pigs should service one digester. The pigs in Group A are housed in a concentrated area to facilitate dung transfer to the digester intake, whereas the pigs in Group B can roam more freely. As a result of this overstocking, the neighbours of some pig owners complained that ‘it was good only the first year, but now we start getting bad smells again’; and ‘it has such a bad smell it even makes me not want to eat’ and ‘I have a headache because of the dung smell’. Overall however, the feedback from the villagers, including Group B households, was that the installation of biogas digesters in the village was very good and that many people looked forward to having one. One respondent commented: ‘I saw my neighbour have a biogas digester, now their family life has become more convenient. I want to have the same as them and I am waiting for the biogas project to come again’; others said ‘I want to use biogas, but I am not sure what to do’; and ‘I want to install it [a biogas digester], but I don’t have enough money’. 

Does the use of effective microorganism (EM) liquid help to control pig odour? The focus group discussion in Group C clearly indicates that it does. Most of the members in this focus group expressed that: ‘there is no bad smell from pig dung anymore’. One member mentioned, ‘even I stand close to the pig house, there is no smell from the dung…. “Por hai chai dai dair” (I can breathe) now. No bad smell like before’. It also improved relationships with neighbour as another member mentioned- “I don’t hear complaints from my neighbours anymore”.  

The community members in that focus group discussion also talked about a number of additional advantages of using EM liquid. The members stated that the liquid was not only used as a spray on the floor of the pig house to control dung odour, but was also used to mix with water for the pigs to drink. They also informed the group that, as a result of drinking the EM mix water, the pigs became stronger and healthier and did not fall sick easily. Furthermore, the liquid was also used as a bio-fertilizer for vegetables and plants in their gardens. It worked as pesticide as well, thus preventing insects from eating plants and allowing those plants to grow faster and healthier. Some members mentioned using EM liquid to control odour from their toilets. 

The costs 

In spite of an overall satisfaction and benefits through pig farming a number of households (Group D) stopped raising pigs. The focus group discussion among this group members revealed that the increasing cost of raising pigs was the main reason for their decision to stop raising them. The benefit return was very low too due to many expenses such as those related to ‘permit fees’ for shifting animals from the village and district to the markets and slaughter houses, vaccination certificates, pig transport fees, and payment at each of the police check points during transportation of pigs. Moreover, the price of pig food increased at the same time as the price of pigs fell. In the focus group it was quite clear that too many administrative costs discouraged many members from raising pigs. The following quotes from members (mentioned here as Member A and Member B) in the focus group reveal the pressure of external costs in their decisions to stop pig farming: 

Member A: “There was flooding in 2008 and water level of flooding was higher than 1 metre. I had to take the pigs into forest away from the river. There were 20 pigs, I had to put them into a boat to transfer them and it took 7 rounds to transfer all those pigs. The wet flooding condition made the pigs unwell. I could not sell them as the price of pigs were going down from 65-70 Baht[i] (16,250-17,500 Kip)/Kg to 60 Baht (15,000 Kip) only. It was such a pain, a lot of expenses, but a very little benefit. I had to pay 260,000 Kip to get the permit for moving animal from district authority, another 60,000 Kip per pig for all taxes and other required documents. Also paid 10,000 Kip at each police check point. I decided to stop raising pigs; I still feel shock remembering flooding situation”. 

Member B: “I couldn't keep on raising pigs anymore because of the price of pig food has been increasing; price of piglet also has become very expensive.  Tax rate was also very high. I borrow money with 7 per cent interest rate. And then one of the 3 of my pigs died and I didn’t have money to pay back the loan….” 

Although most of the community members expressed the view that there are definite economic benefits from pig farming, however concerns were also raised by some members regarding the negative impacts of raising pigs. Most of the members raised health and hygiene issues related to pig farming, especially with the odour of pig dung and waste water from pig houses. Some members mentioned that they could not even breathe because of bad smell coming from pig dung. Some members of the focus groups said they felt dizziness, had vomiting tendencies and suffered from headaches because of pig dung odour. They also complained of suffering from diarrhea as the unhygienic conditions due to pig dung attracted many flies. Some community members even said that they were called by people from other villages as people of “Ban Kee Mou” (Pig dung village). Many individual members in Group E had in fact put formal complaints to their village heads against some their neighbours who raised pigs. As a response to these individual complaints and grievances, the village head, together with an officer from the district environmental office visited the areas where the problems were said to have occurred. The village head instructed some of the households to relocate their pig houses or to improve their pig-farming practices. These instructions from village head did work to some extent as a number of pig owners started using chemicals to control the odour. However, these households did not continue using the chemicals for long and the unhygienic conditions returned. Interestingly only a few members mentioned about pig waste polluting the River Mekong. 



Flinders University, South Australia  and AusAid for funding the research; the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR; the Department of Livestock and Fisheries; and the Biogas Pilot Project teams. The head of Mai Park Nguem District, the head of Nongphouvieng village, the village masons and the local facilitator who assisted with organising and conducting interviews; and the interviewees for their participation in the study. Associate Professor Gour Dasvarma and Dr. Meryl Pearce of Flinders University who co-supervised this project.  


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Received 21 September 2013; Accepted 19 November 2013; Published 1 December 2013

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