Dairy Diplomacy: building bonds in Laos through economic development


This is the story of the Laos Buffalo Dairy, an Australian and American-led social enterprise in Laos, and the local Lao people who have benefited because of it. Recognizing the dairy as an economic pillar of the community, the US Embassy and Spirit of America have teamed up to give this social enterprise much needed support so it may continue to provide economic opportunity and valuable nutrition to the country.

Sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, Laos is one of the least developed nations in Southeast Asia. More than one-third of Lao children suffer from severe malnutrition, and 30% of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. This level of poverty has made Laos very dependent on foreign aid. The country is in dire need of economic revitalization if it is to break this cycle.

Lao members of the dairy team are hard at work taking care of the buffalo.

In addition to helping address these issues, this project serves as an example of positive US involvement abroad, highlighting the stark difference between US and Chinese business practices. While our diplomats seek to support the community and develop lasting partnerships, Chinese enterprise often drains local communities of their resources and leaves them in worse shape than before.

Realizing the opportunity to make real change within the community, the Martin and O’Shea families moved to Laos in 2014. That change presented itself in the shape of a buffalo – many buffalo in fact! Despite the abundance of buffalo in Laos, the Lao people were not using them as a resource for milk, making the buffalo an incredible untapped resource for rural families. Martin and O’Shea recognized this potential and the powerful effect it could have for the community’s economy, and moved quickly to launch the very first dairy of its kind in Laos.

The dairy has helped bring much needed economic opportunity and additional sources of nutrition to the Luang Prabang province of Laos.

What happened next was remarkable, but also indicative of how many American businesses integrate with their local communities. The Laos Buffalo Dairy has grown from a small micro-enterprise to a working farm that provides jobs and contributes income to the local economy, while also easing core issues like hunger. It was a natural fit for the US Embassy to nominate this business as a recipient for Spirit of America support.

US Ambassador Rena Bitter emphasized the importance of supporting American businesses in Laos, with the ultimate goal of helping Laos develop and become a strong partner to the United States. This support is key, as it demonstrates the value of US partnership to the people of Laos.

Though the dairy has come a long way in the short time it’s been in business, its continued growth requires specialized equipment currently out of reach. When the US Embassy let us know about this need, we were eager to get on the ground to see how we can help.

With your assistance, Spirit of America is purchasing much-needed equipment for the dairy, helping grow the Lao economy and establishing America as the partner of choice for Laos and other developing nations. Support this project by clicking here.

Until next time,

Terrell Chandler
Regional Program Manager – Asia Pacific

Terrell Chandler is Spirit of America's Asia Pacific Regional Program Manager.

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No endorsement of Spirit of America by the US Department of Defense, Department of State, or US personnel is intended or implied.