What a Great IDEA!

Originally published on June 23, 2015.

It used to be that dairy stakeholders across East Africa had little opportunity to learn from one another about the challenges and lessons learned unique to the industry. If they were lucky, they might have a chance to attend a conference once a year; however, for such rural profession, the majority simply had no way to connect. But, things have changed.

Now, smallholders, cooperatives, agribusinesses, processors, breeders and many others engaged in dairying are harnessing the power of the internet to learn from one another, share informational resources and promote members’ activities thanks to the inception of the innovative International Dairy Enterprise Alliance (IDEA) website. IDEA's website is an online portal conceptualized and developed by Land O’Lakes International Development’s Cooperative Development Program (CDP), thanks to funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The IDEA portal enables dairy stakeholders to share knowledge and learn from each other.
Launched in December 2014, the International Dairy Enterprise Alliance (IDEA) portal is a massive online repository on dairy farming and dairy cooperatives in the East African region. The portal boasts an impressive bank of research studies, presentations, manuals, handbooks and reports authored by industry luminaries, leading organizations and experts in the field – some of which have never been available online before.

Land O’Lakes helped give birth to IDEA through the CDP in 2012, and it was designed to be a learning network comprised of industry stakeholders that could help African cooperatives to access information, insights, strategies and tools to scale-up their businesses. Through CDP, IDEA has facilitated in-person learning events, in addition to this online portal.

Dairy is a global commodity with growing competition on the local, regional and international scale. Information resources, technology and networks are critical for the success of the industry in East Africa. As such, through the five-year Cooperative Development Program, Land O’Lakes is supporting vertically-integrated dairy cooperatives in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia to become more competitive, increase their revenues and profits, and expand the benefits they provide to farmer-members. One key strategy to achieve that has been to create an online portal for IDEA, which could capture and share knowledge across cooperatives and other key players in the dairy value chain.

With 30 organizational members to date, the IDEA portal is designed to facilitate strategic partnerships, enhance collaboration across the sector, and increase knowledge and exposure to new technologies in dairy management. The site is now being managed by the Eastern and Southern African Dairy Association (ESADA), which was originally borne out of a USAID-funded Land O’Lakes International Development program in Kenya called RATES, which ran from 2003-07. ESADA, which is now a completely independent organization, hosts the largest dairy stakeholder conference each year.

Members represented on the IDEA knowledge portal include cooperatives, development organizations, research organizations, input suppliers, government bodies, non-governmental organizations and private sector partners. Major industry players such as ACDI/VOCA, Technoserve, SNV, MESPT and the Kenyan, Ugandan and Rwandan Ministries of Agriculture have also contributed content to the portal.

We have been on the portal for a while now and the benefits are enormous. Our members have more customers and business is booming.

Dr. Maurice Cherogony (Executive Officer, Livestock Genetics Society East Africa)

The IDEA portal epitomizes IDEA’s vision to facilitate the growth of dairy enterprises through a global network that embodies the spirit of sharing knowledge, experiences and information for the benefit of the broader community - a key feature of the cooperative model. Through the online portal and other strategies, the network’s goal is to provide a mechanism for cooperative managers and leaders to network with dairy stakeholders around the globe in an environment of collaboration rather than competition.

IDEA provides participating cooperatives with the knowledge and networks to substantially improve their business operations and competitiveness, while providing global networks that can provide business resources. This is based on the understanding that these networks act as a gateway for cooperatives to access and leverage previously unavailable information.

Due to the rising demand for more information on technologies from cooperatives - the major stakeholders of IDEA - CDP is enhancing the portal’s technology section to provide users with more information on a variety of technologies and their suppliers. Consultations with these and other stakeholders are ongoing to continue to build the site’s membership and content, while capacity building is in progress to enable ESADA to independently manage the portal when the CDP program draws to a close. Interactive, member-driven discussion forums for the site are also still under development.

Continued efforts are underway to popularize the portal and promote its use among partners, as well as to build the capacity of some potential users - particularly individual farmers – who stand to gain a lot from leveraging the resources in the online platform.