Eight philosophies to in-depth dairy development in Bangladesh: Part 2

Originally published on March 1, 2017.


Part Two of a Four; In Part One of this series, we noted the philosophies used by BDEP to guide its approach to in-depth dairy development.

By Geoff Walker

As noted in part one, the Bangladesh Dairy Enhancement Project (BDEP) is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded Food for Progress initiative being implemented by Land O’ Lakes International Development. Using a set of 8 smallholder dairy development philosophies, this program has helped smallholder dairy farmers increase productivity by up to 500 percent, while achieving 25 percent higher milk prices for those farmers of Khulna and Rajshahi Divisions who are receiving our training and supplying milk to the new village level milk collection centers established with the support of BDEP. So, how was it done?

Alongside key partners, the BDEP team is passionate about the role it is playing in changing dairy farming systems in Bangladesh. Key to this change is wrapped up in philosophy 3, “don’t look for off-farm solutions to on-farm problems.” A 10 percent increase in the milk price, at a yield of two liters may provide an extra $0.10 per day. A milk price increase provides little gain for the farmer and family. On the other hand, improved farming practices can result in an additional 4.5 liters per day or more, worth an extra $2.30. In a country with GDP per capita around $1,000, such increases in income give choices to farmers, notably better family nutrition and longer schooling for children. The gains in income will continue to build in the future, as healthier calves enter the herd and are better cared for. Such calculations have driven the BDEP team to philosophy 4, dedicated focus on the real issues limiting on-farm productivity in the dairy farming sector of Bangladesh.

Traditional Farming Methods
Even at the smallholder level, successful dairy farming requires a large number of steps to be undertaken with a degree of proficiency: there is no silver bullet. This is especially true in the Khulna Division of southern Bangladesh, where farming is undertaken in a very traditional manner. In Bangladesh, traditional practices which most impact productivity are all related to poor animal nutrition and lack of water. Included below is a list of a few factors and their negative impacts on the cow:
  • The main source of feed is rice straw, which does not contain any meaningful nutrition; it is essentially all fiber with no energy and no protein.
  • Because of a diet based largely on rice straw, cows are in poor condition and poor health, and indeed pregnant cows are fed the same rice straw diet meaning that calves are being severely malnourished in the womb.
  • Poor nutrition of calves and heifers continues throughout their lives, meaning delayed maturity and a late start to milking, significantly reducing the opportunity for profit.
  • Cows are tied up and not enabled to make their own decisions on when they can drink and eat. Indeed, water is mixed with feed rather than a supply of clean water being made available.  
With this context in mind, philosophies 3 and 5 are closely related. BDEP does not believe in the effectiveness of classroom training when it comes to dairy development in Bangladesh, for several reasons:
  • Classroom training is often undertaken by men when in fact it is women who do much of the animal husbandry;
  • The large number of steps required to achieve a level of proficiency is too great to be taught effectively in the classroom; dairy development is a practice, rather than a couple of bullet points.
  • And very importantly, when seeking to change traditional practices, seeing is believing. Demonstrations of enhanced practices must be on-farm and very local.

The alternative to classroom training is on-farm training, to which BDEP strongly subscribes. Accordingly, all training undertaken by BDEP and its partners takes place on the farms of participating farmers, right on their doorstep. This also makes it far easier to make vital contact with the women farmers of Bangladesh, who especially at the smallholder level, do much of the animal husbandry.

I have often been asked about the cost of this approach, and my response is that we in the development sector should be thinking more along the lines of return on investment. Nothing is more expensive than a training course which does not result in change. Issues of sustainability and continued scaling after the end of the formal BDEP project also impact the cost question, and in these matters it is my belief that the 8 BDEP philosophies really drive sustainability and good value for donor investment.

Related to sustainability, the most important thing BDEP is introducing to the Bangladesh dairy sector is knowledge, among farmers, among senior dairy company staff, and perhaps most importantly, among the very well trained young people, the Dairy Development Officers. These individuals are based within Advisory Services divisions of our dairy company partners, and are undertaking the day-to-day training of farmers under the guidance of BDEP field staff. They will remain a huge resource for their country many years after project close. After seeing results of BDEP’s model, one dairy company active outside the BDEP zones of Khulna and Rajshahi, is to start implementing the same approach using its own funds. Its goal is to procure the quantity and quality of milk to build its business while retaining a premium market position.

In addition, because of BDEP’s success in terms of milk production increases, a relatively new private university is to introduce a degree course in animal husbandry based around the practices and philosophies of BDEP. Also, the premier agricultural university of Bangladesh has begun to appreciate the possibilities of a more field-focused (as to opposed to desk-bound) approach to its research.

Private sector engagement in a meaningful manner, new degree courses in practical animal husbandry, possible changes in the approach of the premier agricultural university of Bangladesh – all of these milestones are critical pieces to ensuring lasting impact for the farmers of Bangladesh. 

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