‘It's fascinating to learn new things, and to see that there are also similarities’, says Herman Bunte about his Agriterra experience

Three colleagues have recently been on the road for an Agriterra project. Herman Bunte, dairy specialist at Reudink, was in Kenya for a week to visit two cooperatives, Lelan Highland Dairies and Mrany Farms Cooperative, to give his insight into working with key figures and how this can lead to greater milk production.

Travelled a lot

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Herman: “I am 66 years old, and have always worked as a dairy specialist. I have travelled a lot, for work and in my private life - and I've always been curious about dairy farming abroad. It fascinates me to see and learn new things, but also to see that there are so many similarities. That always gives me renewed energy, especially if you can also share knowledge with others. I think it's great that ForFamers and Reudink are cooperating with Agriterra on this.”

Insight into key figures

Herman's journey took him to a place which is an 8-hour drive north-west of the capital, Nairobi. Two cooperatives that collect milk from surrounding farmers - so-called milk collection centres - had asked how key figures can be used to better manage milk production. They want to be able to work in a more targeted way, increasing the milk production of the farmers and creating a more consistent supply of milk. Herman: “I initially spoke with the Board of the cooperative. Their most important concern was to give their own dairy specialists, and a group of farmers from whom they collect milk, insight into quantifying by means of key figures. Very basically: what is the production process like and how can you best manage it using data?”

365 days a year outdoors

Herman continues: “They are mostly smallholdings here, with an average of 2 to 6 hectares of land with livestock numbers varying between 5 to 30 animals. The companies are located at an altitude of more than two thousand metres and cows are outdoors 365 days a year. They almost exclusively eat grass. No cultivated grass, just whatever can grow. So they have animals, but not always (good) feed and the quality of the feed is unclear. In periods when there is no rainfall, there is little grass and milk production decreases even more.”

There is often a lack of electricity and most farmer’s milk by hand. The daily production per company varies from less than 5 litres per day up to 60 litres per day. They bring their milk by motorbike, if they have one, to one of the collection centers. From there, the milk is transported by buses to a dairy. “It's like stepping back 60 years in time.”

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Cows smell the same wherever you go

The cooperatives are highly motivated to further develop their business practices. That’s why their dairy specialists also participated in the training sessions that week. “In two and a half days, I taught 8 farmers and 14 dairy specialists the basics of working with key figures, encouraged them to use this new technique and stimulated them to think practically about what they’re doing: you have a certain amount of land, so how many cows could you logically keep? The land, which is used very intensively, is the limiting factor.”

The basis of the process in Kenya is no different than here in a modern company with 500 cows. “Cows smell the same wherever you go. Also in Kenya, cows need to be well fed, get pregnant in time and stay healthy. And you need to know what the input is and if there’s enough coming back”, says Herman.

Building a future

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The result, after a week, is awareness and insight about the importance of key figures. “The Board of the cooperatives is now also aware of this, and they're allowing the dairy specialists to start working with them”, observed Herman. “What is most striking is their hunger for knowledge. Even now, they're still mailing me all kinds of questions. Personally, it feels great that our knowledge can help them in building a future in dairy farming. That, for me, is very significant.”

Ritual

“I've previously been to Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, for another non-profit organisation (PUM). What strikes me again and again is the positive attitude of the Africans. And also the role of rituals, for example washing your hands before eating. There's always someone providing a bowl of water to let you wash your hands. The reason is partly that people eat there with their hands, but it is also a social ritual that is very special and important.”

Wishes: motorbikes and umbrellas

“During the training I asked the dairy specialists what they now expect from their cooperative. Their answer was: we would really like a motorbike, to make it faster and easier to visit companies. It's presently by public transport, or by walking..... A second big wish was umbrellas. Even though it’s mostly very dry, it can also rain heavily in these areas. And it seems that umbrellas are difficult, if not impossible, to get hold of. I experience this nearly every time during such journeys, how people can be truly satisfied with so little", says Herman with a smile.