Jan Fledderus: “It feels good to employ your expertise and do something good for the world”

Agriterra and ForFarmers began collaborating in 2017 to assist in professionalising farmers' organisations in developing countries. Since then, various ForFarmers employees have had the opportunity to use their knowledge for Agriterra’s consultancy assignments. Recently, three colleagues have been on the road for an Agriterra assignment. Jan Fledderus, Innovation Manager Piglets at ForFarmers’ NIC (Nutrition Innovation Center), has just returned from a week in the Philippines. His task was to improve the competitiveness of a cooperative in the field of nutrition.

A great opportunity and challenge

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“When I read on the intranet about this initiative of ForFarmers and Agriterra to employ our expertise and do something good for the world, I immediately thought: How wonderful is that, especially if you can contribute in developing countries”, Jan Fledderus enthusiastically starts his story. “It is also a great opportunity and challenge to gain experience in another country, in a completely different culture.”

25,000 members

Jan: "I had the opportunity to investigate how a cooperative in the Philippines can improve its competitiveness from a nutrition point of view.” The cooperative concerned was founded 50 years ago in a region with so-called backyard farms; small companies with pigsties behind their houses with about 100-200 finishers. The cooperative now has around 25,000 members. “They are not all pig farmers; citizens and consumers can also become members, because the cooperative offers a comprehensive package: from agricultural products to petrol and everything in between. My assignment only concerned the pig sector, since feed is their main activity with 90% production of pig feed."

One week... how do you tackle that?

On the first day you discuss the assignment and the mutual expectations with each other. The cooperative basically had three questions: How can we improve our competitiveness through our feed recipe? Which are alternative raw materials for maize? And how can we build a professional network to strengthen the nutrition team in our company?
You have one week to come up with advice; that appears to be a challenge. Jan: “It is important to focus on the mutually agreed objectives. That's why I used our piglet feed (VIDA) approach and focused on the quality of the raw materials, the production process, the recipe and knowledge of implementation. I analysed these aspects with the team involved to find out where quick wins can be made.”

In order to make a good analysis, a visit was paid to the factory, the laboratory and pig farms. Jan: “You assess the critical aspects and options for improvement: What does the raw material intake look like and what is the quality? But also: what methods are available in the laboratory; how do they deal with quality analyses and quality assurance of raw materials?”

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Heat stress

Together with a veterinarian, two vice-directors responsible for the feed mill, two nutritionists and others, Jan visited a sow farm with 500 sows, owned by the cooperative. “A sow farm in the Philippines differs significantly from a sow farm in Western Europe. They have to deal with tropical climate and temperatures of 30-35 degrees. This affects the production and quality of the piglets. They manage the farm in a good, but very basic way. You realise that they don’t have the knowledge and experience we have here in Western Europe. For example, they placed a fan running at full speed in front of heat-stressed sows with the intention to cool the sow; but a sow does not sweat like a human being. The fan is therefore inefficient. Sows can be cooled by a fresh breeze on their nose or by water mist. The fan, in fact, has a negative effect, because piglets cannot endure draughts. For us, this is basic knowledge, but not there. Not even for the vet. However, it was good to experience they are very open for discussions and are very eager to learn. And with relatively simple adjustments, they can quickly realise improvements of 10 to 20 %. That is great.”

Can you actually convey something in a week?

The week ends with a presentation to the team and a final report, with recommendations and action points. The Agriterra organisation in the Philippines is responsible for the follow-up. This involves Agriterra’s local employees, as well as the cooperative’s employees. “This way it is ensured that it will not stop at the recommendations”, Jan says. “It was a young and enthusiastic team with an open and pleasant work attitude. The culture is really relaxed. This positive and open attitude within a team is key to success. And yes, the improvements that I identified and discussed with them in this week alone with regard to the feed recipe, can be implemented immediately. This saves them 22 million pesos, more than 350 thousand euros a year!"

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What was in it for you?

“It is really very impressive to have the opportunity to do something like this. It is - besides being a mission with an assignment – also an adventure. You come to places you would never go to as a tourist. And sure, the poverty that you see as well also makes you think and realise how well off we are here.”

An anecdote?

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For us, unloading a vehicle with raw materials is not a big deal, but for this cooperation it is indeed an issue: a pick-up truck arrives packed with 50 kg bags, stacked 8 high. A few people climb on the pile of bags on the truck and drop them to the catching team by means of a hook. About 10 people were busy with one truck. This is one of the reasons why the feed costs per pig are about 15 euros higher than in the Netherlands. And by the way: after a week with rice in the morning, rice for lunch and rice in the evening, I am fed up with rice … “