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I enjoy sharing my knowledge

Food Security

Note from the editor: The global Corona crisis has consequences for the way we do business. Under the current circumstances it is impossible for us to travel and collaborate with entrepreneurs on location as we were used to. In times where physical distancing is a vital necessity, we intensify our social connections. We are currently supporting our clients via remote coaching activities as much as possible. And we are still looking back at some of our most successful projects in the last couple of months. We are sharing these stories with you for inspiration: Join us in taking strength and hope from the impact we have achieved.

He spent more than a week with a cooperative of 50 small dairy farmers on the Indonesian island of Java. The cooperative board and the farmers received advice from him, above all in relation to milk hygiene. And the result? The average germ count in the milk at the cooperative fell from 4 to less than 1 million per millilitre. Berend Jan Stoel is proud of that achievement. These dairy farmers now receive a higher milk price from the company that processes their milk; the reduced payment they previously received for the high germ count has been scrapped.

I have acquired knowledge and experience over 40 years and I enjoy sharing it with farmers in the Third World 

Stoel (66) ran an organic dairy farm in Garmerwolde in Groningen and today lives in Hulshorst, Gelderland. However, he is not one to sit around. “Have acquired knowledge and experience in the dairy sector over a period of 40 years, and I enjoy sharing it with farmers in the Third World. 


That was the main reason why he signed up to PUM, a foundation operated by the employers’ organisation VNO-NCW, that deploys practical experts in developing countries. Once there, they advise entrepreneurs from the small and medium-sized enterprise sector on a voluntary basis. Agriculture is one of the sectors on which PUM Netherlands senior experts has targeted its activities. Dozens of retired farmers are active on behalf of the organisation.

Retired dairy farmer Berend Jan Stoel travels abroad twice a year to advise local farmers on behalf of PUM Netherlands senior experts. “My advice sometimes seems very trivial, but proves effective on the farms I visit.” 

In his thirties he also spent four years working in Indonesia on behalf of an organisation affiliated to a local church. “That was in the period when farmers were forced to switch from roaming agriculture to agricultural production in a fixed location. I was above all involved in tackling erosion and soil fertility. Development aid work took hold of me and has never actually let me go.” 

After his period in Indonesia, Stoel returned to working on his own farm. Having sold it profitably in 2010, his former interest re-emerged. He followed a number of courses, was deployed on two occasions as a consultant by FrieslandCampina and then signed up with PUM. Over the past five years, he has been abroad as an agricultural advisor on eleven occasions. 

Practical problems 

For example, he is deployed at cooperatives of small dairy farms that are facing practical problems. “The cooperative on Java is an excellent example. The high germ count facing these farmers was all a matter of hygiene. Many of them have no training whatsoever; they simply follow their fathers’ approach. Walking with the farmers through their cowsheds, I quickly see areas where improvements are possible. My advice often seems trivial, for example that it is better to clean the milk buckets with warm water and soap than just with cold water. I write down the improvement proposals that appeal to the farmers on paper and leave them there. Apparently, my recommendations are effective, given the huge fall in the germ count at this cooperative.”

He is occasionally also called upon to advise large dairy farms. “For example, I visited a farm in Indonesia, with 200 cows. The feed was the major problem. The farm manager fed the cattle with whatever was available. For cattle feed, however, the key is finding a balance between energy, protein and roughage. Although it costs money, even in the short term it results in higher production. I also gave them a course on claw care. There, too, my recommendations were simple but effective.” 

Short missions 

Stoel’s missions are short. After just two weeks, he makes the return flight. Does the imparted knowledge stick? “That is a question PUM has often asked itself too. Today, they are switching to longer advisory programmes. Within those programmes, we now return to the original location, discuss the progress and together with the farmers come up with new ideas. That makes our deployment even more effective.” 


Text: Aart van Cooten 

Source: Boerderij Vandaag  

Photography: Berend Jan Stoel