Hands-on training supports Bangladeshi farmers

Originally published on August 12, 2015.

The following blog post, written by Kai Knutson, is the second in a series, which highlights his experiences working with our Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Program (BDEP). Kai is a Land O'Lakes Supply Chain Talent Acceleration Program associate. This post first appeared on the Land O'Lakes, Inc. Global Food Challenge website on July 2, 2015.

As-salamu alaykum! (Or “hello” in Bengali!) It’s been three months since I arrived in Bangladesh and I’m happy to report that I’ve been fully immersed in project activities and cultural experiences. Since my last post, I’ve had several opportunities to travel out to the field to visit our Dairy Development Officers (DDOs), the farmers we serve and our partners in this project, some of the country’s largest dairy processors.

What have I been doing? Hands-on training. We really believe in that here at the Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Project (BDEP). As Geoff Walker, BDEP chief of party, says, “Training needs to be hands-on, practical and on-farm. Classroom training simply does not provide the support farmers need. It is important to understand that more productive dairy farming requires moving away from traditional practices which have been followed for generations. Farmer training needs people with practical skills themselves or the message has no credibility.”

Dairy farmers participating in BDEP learn how to test for mastitis
Now, I’ve milked cows before (Fun fact: I’ve milked seven species of hoofed mammals on three continents—see if you can guess which in the comments) but I had never tested one for mastitis until a few weeks ago. I learned how from Dr. Abdus Salam, BDEP’s resident veterinarian and Rajshahi division leader. After watching the procedure a few times, I was instructed collect some milk and add a solution that coagulates if somatic cells, a sign of infection, are present. Next, the DDOs each practiced the procedure. By the end of the day, the DDOs themselves were training farmers and the field staff of one of our processor partners and the results were significant with fifty percent of the cows testing positive. Of these, most cases were subclinical, meaning the cows had no symptoms of infection. Yet even at low levels, mastitis reduces the amount and quality of the milk produced and can worsen suddenly or spread to other cows in the herd. So, hygienic milking practices are critical to preventing infection.

And that’s where BDEP comes in. We’re training farmers how to maintain their cows’ health and productivity. In development, these activities are generally categorized as “capacity building.”  At first, I was confused by this terminology because our project includes establishment of fifty milk chilling centers (MCCs) in partnership with dairy processors—literally building their capacity to procure milk from 10,000 rural farmers. BDEP will contribute to the construction of MCCs but our main focus is on developing the capabilities of processors’ advisory services by providing hands-on, practical, on-farm training to increase farmers’ profitability. BDEP supports a whole-farm management approach, which includes disease prevention, and animal nutrition, fodder cultivation, barn construction and cow comfort that make dairy farms most productive and profitable. Establishing these principles within the advisory service professionals and farmers they serve will do more to improve the livelihoods of Bangladesh’s rural poor than any buildings or equipment. As Geoff says, “Dairy development needs thinking, not things.”

So, what’s next? Well, “my” corn is almost ready to harvest and someone needs to analyze its nutrient content. I’ll soon complete my comparison of our partners different milk procurement systems (check my next post for the results) so it’s time for some more hands-on training, this time in feed analysis and then on to the next project!

Related Resources
Stories From
This Program
Empowering Farmers to control mastitis

Practical training in milking practices and hygiene, designed to enable farmer choice, also controls mastitis Learn More

BDEP blog part four: Smallholder Dairy Development in Bangladesh: Dairy Company Partnerships Come to

Part Four concludes the series with a description of what farmers can do with their milk, owing to significant private sector investment for sustainability. Learn More

BDEP blog part three: Smallholder Dairy Development in Bangladesh: Addressing the Productivity Gap

Part Three of a Four; in Part One we introduced some of the philosophies used by the BDEP team to guide their project, while in Part Two we mentioned how two of these philosophies drive the activities undertaken by BDEP. One of the most important philosophies followed by BDEP is that believing comes from farmers seeing progress with their own eyes, in their local setting. Part Three explores some of the most important topics which farmers are seeing on a daily basis, on their farm or on their neighbor’s farm. Learn More