“Time travelling” to visit Indonesian dairy farmers

Late 2016 Dutch dairy farmer Tijmen van Zessen left his farm for a two-week working visit to Indonesia. At the invitation of Rabobank Foundation he provided advice to dairy farmers on the island of Java. “I found myself in a completely different world.”

From automated milking to traditional manual milking: Tijmen van Zessen and colleague Petra Gerritsen visited dairy farmers who are member of KSU Tandangsari – a dairy cooperative which has been supported by the Rabobank Foundation for many years. The Dutch delegation visited Indonesia to provide training courses and to enter into dialogue – with the aid of an interpreter – with local farmers. The couple gave advice on the rearing of young livestock focussing on the quality of roughage and the use of colostrum. Looking back Tijmen van Zessen says “It was an impressive journey”. “It seemed as if time had stood still. The dairies that we visited are roughly lagging half a century behind their peers in the Netherlands.”

What is the main difference between dairy business operations in Indonesia and in the Netherlands?

“Cows are being milked by hand. There is no way you would see that in the Netherlands, except perhaps at a hobby farmer’s. Also roughage is harvested by hand. They go out to the fields, cut and bind the grass in bundles and take it back to the cows. That is hard to imagine here. You find yourself in a completely different world. In Indonesia a farm with 30 cows is considered large. The average farmer has approximately four cows.”

Considering the differences between the Netherlands and Indonesia, how can you provide good advice?

“Though there are many differences, cows in Indonesia tend to moo in much the same way as in the Netherlands. The basic principles for keeping the animals in good condition are just as important there as they are here.”

“Fortunately for livestock farmers in the Netherlands the circumstances for high milk production are perfect here.”

What advice did you give?

“The farms that I visited did not make use of dry bedding material. As a result cows didn’t always have a dry surface to lie down on. Together with the farmers I have examined suitable ways to ensure that cows have access to dry bedding. Above all we provided advice on nutrition. Javanese farmers, for example, tend to feed rice straw to young livestock, but this roughage is too low in nutrients for a healthy growth.”

How were you received by the Indonesian farmers?

“In the back of my mind I was afraid that they might be somewhat wary, especially because of the colonial history between the Netherlands and Indonesia. Fortunately, this was not the case; the farmers were eager to learn and listened carefully to our stories and recommendations. In the dairy sector the Netherlands is regarded as a leader nation. When transmitting knowledge, the fact that we are Dutch, was therefore helpful.”

And how are the farmers that you spoke to doing now? Do they keep you informed on their follow up steps?

“Despite having no illusions that all of our recommendations will be adopted on a one-on basis, I do hope that they will be seen as useful. After all I went to Indonesia to offer a helping hand. I hope I was able to make a small difference. In any case, in the coming months I will remain in touch with the farmers that I visited.”

Did your trip to Indonesia have any impact at all on your own activities?

“My view on the world has widened. I can now more easily put my own problems into perspective. A dairy farm can be run in more than one way, and it’s good to be aware of that. Fortunately for livestock farmers in the Netherlands the circumstances for high milk production are perfect here. The situation for our peers in Indonesia is an awful lot more tricky.”


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