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PUM volunteer advises dairy farmers worldwide

Food Security

Gerrit Nijboer has just returned from India; at the end of last year, he completed a research visit to dairy farmers in Morocco. Nijboer (71) is one of the almost two thousand volunteers active for PUM Netherlands senior experts. The PUM volunteers advise businesses in developing countries. Nijboer is a cattle specialist.

He grew up on a dairy farm in Drenthe, studied livestock farming in Wageningen and went on to complete seven years of development aid work in Yemen, Sri Lanka and Tunisia. Following his return to the Netherlands, he occupied a series of positions at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries, above all in the northern provinces of the Netherlands. He has now retired. Two or three times a year, he carries out volunteer projects on behalf of PUM, for example in Yemen, China, Mongolia and Uganda. He recently visited Morocco and India as a consultant. “It is fantastic to make use of my knowledge and experience in order to help cattle farmers elsewhere in the world to improve their lot. It is meaningful work, and extremely interesting. It allows me to visit many countries.”

Broad effect

PUM is active in a variety of economic sectors. Agriculture is one of them. The agricultural sector is a separate division within the organisation, explained Nijboer. “Many PUM volunteers are deployed to advise an individual business. The primary objective is to improve the yield within that business, to improve the income situation for small and medium-sized enterprises. Agricultural advisors focus more on the development of an entire region. The aim is for our recommendations to have a broad effect, in our case for as many farmers as possible throughout the region. Some missions are more successful than others.”

Shelter for stray cattle in India

Nijboer was recently deployed as an advisor at an animal shelter for stray cattle, a so-called Goshala, close to the city of Jaipur in the State of Rajasthan in Northwestern India. According to the Hindu religion, cows that are no longer productive may not be slaughtered, and are simply released onto the streets, leading to a whole raft of problems. Throughout the country, hundreds of animal shelters have been established for these stray cattle.

He was called in by the Goshala in Jaipur to provide advice. Around 25,000 cows are housed at the centre. The best animals have ben brought together and are milked. With revenue from the milk – around 4,000 litres a day – Goshala is able to cover part of its costs. As part of a breeding programme, local bulls are released among the cattle in order to maintain numbers.

As Nijboer explained, “This branch of the shelter is extremely important. I was asked to come up with proposals to improve the yield, for example by reducing calf morbidity rates and increasing milk production per cow. My recommendations related to feed and the breeding programme. One of my recommendations to the Goshala was to improve the quality of the herd via artificial insemination, in order to increase milk production rates.” In the long term, they also wish to process the milk for example into yoghurt, but that means making a start by separating off the milk from cattle that have been treated with antibiotics. He hopes that his recommendations will be picked up by other Goshelas across India.

Dairy farmers in Morocco

Earlier this year he was involved in a study among 40 dairy farmers in the Tadla region at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Together with a consultant from the University of Rabat, Nijboer was able to map out the greatest challenges in terms of productivity and sustainability at these farms. This assignment was jointly financed by the Credit Agricole du Marco bank and the Dutch Embassy. “We interviewed three dairy farmers a day, every day for two weeks. It meant we were on the road from 7 in the morning until late every evening. It was an intensive period, but it gave us a very clear picture of the major problems facing these farmers.”

Accommodation

The study revealed that there is room for major improvements in terms of feed quality, accommodation and for example the application of manure. Nijboer explained, “Improvements can be made to every aspect of the farms. Ensuring the milking machines are cleaned better, for example, will help prevent udder infections, and regularly trimming the hoofs helps prevent crippleness. By charting out the supply and discharge of minerals, it is possible to arrive at a more closed cycle.”

Lack of infrastructure

Dairy farming is still a relatively new activity in Morocco, that is developing rapidly. One typical characteristic is that unlike the situation in the Netherlands the supporting infrastructure is not fully developed in every respect. There is no effective information service, no sector focused on the maintenance of milking machines, the supply of cleaning brushes, and so much more. Bookkeeping firms and hoof trimmers are completely unknown.

Tender

The study by Nijboer and his colleague has resulted in a project proposal. The aim of the project is to offer intensive counselling to 25 farms, and put the recommendations into practice. The Dutch embassy, Credit Agricole du Maroc and the Moroccan government recently reached agreement on the financing of the project, and issued an invitation to tender. Dutch businesses can sign up with a bid.

In the future, the farms that participate in the project will serve as demonstration farms for the region. As Nijboer explained, “With relatively simple measures, the yield from these farms can be increased. That will in turn raise the farm’s income and benefit the environment and animal welfare, too. It should have a knock-on effect at other dairy farms in the region. I hope so, at least.”

Step by step

Nijboer concluded, “Agricultural developments are step-by-step processes. People often expect too much. When I was young, milk production in the Netherlands amounted to around 4,000 litres a year, and an average farm consisted of around 10 cows. An average farm in the Netherlands today has more than 100 cows, and milk production is around 9,000 litres. That process has taken more than fifty years. Developments in countries like India and Morocco will take time, too.”

This message was previously published in Dutch in the Agro Message section on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality

Text: Aart van Cooten

Photography: Gerrit Nijboer