Eight philosophies to in-depth dairy development in Bangladesh: A four-part blog series

Originally published on February 15, 2017.

By Geoff Walker

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The Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Project team. Geoff Walker, Chief of Party and author of this series, is fourth from the left.

I have been very fortunate to have had a long career in the commercial dairy sector for the New Zealand dairy industry, with roles in China, Latin America, Korea and the Middle East. But in many ways I feel even more fortunate to have a second career in dairy development, firstly as Chief Executive of Pakistan Dairy Development Company, a Government of Pakistan initiative. Secondly, today, I am the Chief of Party for Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Project (BDEP), funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service program called Food for Progress. The program helps developing countries modernize and strengthen their agricultural sectors through the donation of U.S. commodities.

BDEP is being implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, a nonprofit affiliated with Land O’Lakes, Inc, a leading farm-to-market agribusiness. BDEP’s goal is to assist 10,000 dairy farmers in Khulna and Rajshahi to improve their productivity and profitability as dairy farmers, and to link farmers to the formal market by the establishment of 55 milk collection centers. With support from private sector partners, we expect this goal will be exceeded by end of project in mid-2017.

Through my career in the international dairy sector, two-thirds in the commercial arena followed by the most recent third, my positions in the smallholder development field, I have developed a set of philosophies to guide my team and me in our current USDA-funded Food for Progress Initiative.  

These philosophies are as follows:

  1. Human development must come before cow development
  2. The smallholder cannot be taken to the formal market; rather the formal market needs to be brought to the smallholder
  3. Don’t look for off-farm solutions to on-farm problems
  4. Focus is vital
  5. If farmers are to change entrenched traditional practices, they need to see how to do this with their own eyes in local, on-farm settings
  6. Specialization is a feature of modern economies, and should be applied in developing dairy sectors just as in developed economies
  7.  Farmers need the consistency of the formal market if they are to invest to grow
  8. Thinking Not Things
To date, we have worked with nearly 4,000 farmers in Bangladesh’s Khulna and Rajshahi divisions, and we have plans to reach 10,000 farmers by end of BDEP. Every step of the way, we have weaved the above philosophies into our work. I believe that this has led BDEP to succeed in helping these smallholder dairy farmers to increase their milk production, and as a result their income. Starting with an average baseline production of two liters of milk per day, farmers in Khulna and Rajshahi divisions of Bangladesh have seen production increase by 500 percent for local cows and 100% for cross-breeds. In addition, milk prices have increased by 25 percent as a result of better animal nutrition and the opening of local milk collection centers.

The title of this series of blogs includes the description “in-depth dairy development.” What do I mean by in-depth? This incorporates a number of factors, including linkage to the formal market as opposed to middlemen, village level milk collection centers – located, operated and co-funded by dairy companies, and on-farm trainings. Finally, and most importantly as stated in philosophy 1, human development. First came training of BDEP and dairy company field staff, followed by training of farmers in a broad range of farm management and animal husbandry practices.

All of these factors demand application of principles more associated with the dairy sector than with other development projects. The result is illustrated in the higher milk production figures, and importantly, in the sustainability built into the BDEP approach of working closely with dairy companies. By the end of the project, I expect our dairy company partners to be procuring 50,000 liters of milk per day from farmers new to their procurement chains – all supplied through the new milk chilling infrastructure. As alluded to in philosophy 2, milk supplied directly from farmers is of better quality than that procured through a middlemen, so this new volume will allow dairy processors to introduce new products to meet growing demand.

Over the next several weeks, we will be publishing one blog every other week on the Land O'Lakes International Development website, showing how the application of these eight smallholder dairy development philosophies have driven results in Bangladesh. I welcome you to follow along and engage with the content on our social media channels: Facebook and Twitter
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