AN EXPERIENCE IN A DAIRY FARM IN NETHERLANDS!
My stay in Netherlands has been an amazing experience despite the cold and the intense program. I have had different experiences and am indeed going back home with lots of new ideas as well as new information. One of my takeaways home is indeed the clear difference in the use of technological innovations in enhancing food production as well as water management.
One Sunday afternoon I had a chance to visit two dairy farmers in a town called Apeldoorn west of Amersfoort and north of Arnhem. This was indeed an amazing experience to hear different views from two farmers who are doing very well and spotted quite some differences with what we do at home. Being a dairy farmer back at home who only owns 8 dairy cows then this for me was very huge and an amazing experience.
The first farmer had around 55 cows with an average production of 1200 litres a day and would get 0.29 Euros a litre of milk. He had 9 acres for production of fodder for the cows and he made silage from the corn as well as from the grass and had enough to feed the cows for a long period of time. He had installed the milking robots where he didn’t need to be present for the milking of the cows to take place. This is a very efficient system of milking as you can monitor each cow very keenly. When there is a problem in the farm the robot system will send a text message to notify him and he will come to the farm immediately. This can be a very good system but only economical for 55 cows and more. Therefore not applicable to small holder farmers like me. I asked myself therefore how can I within my own farm replicate the same system but in a small scale.
The second farmer I visited has around 132 milking cows and more heifers and young calves. His production is around 3000 litres of milk every day and gets 0.50 Euros for a litre. Many would wonder why this big difference. This farmer practices organic farming where his cows feed on less concentrates, no usage of antibiotics unless in very harsh conditions as well as proper management of his soil structures where he produces all his fodder from. This farmer has more days whereby his cows graze out on the fields during spring and summer than any other farmer and this is because his fields are fertile and thus production of fodder is better and very productive. He uses no fertilizers.
Never the less his cows production is lower than the other one who uses more concentrates but in the long run he gets more money since the company pays a higher premium for the biological milk. This is one of the ways in which farmers can adopt the organic way of doing agriculture thus enhancing nutrition amongst the population in the long run.
- As a farmer you need to take care of your soils which interprets to more fodder yields which are very healthy and thus results to a better quality of milk from your cows.
- You always need to have a long run picture when planning on your farming business. With organic you produce less but make more money in the long run.
- Manure is a very precious commodity for your business
- Always aim to learn more either from your fellow farmers or thru reading or formal education
As I return back home I take a wealth of knowledge based on my visits to the farms but most importantly my word to my government and the cooperatives is to invest more on its farmers through subsidies and incentives to farmers who uphold better agricultural practices.
An increasing proportion of the African children are completing primary school as compared to Fifty years ago (70% in 2011), and as they transition into young adulthood, most still face the challenges of unemployment and underemployment aggravated by their lack of relevant skills, education and limited access to land and capital to start their own enterprises.
Facts have it that more than 11 million young people in Africa join the labor markets every year with only a quarter of them finding decent employment.59% of (20-24)years old will complete secondary education by 2030 compared to the current 42% which translates to 137 million youth with secondary education and 12million with tertiary education. Yet, currently more than 70% of the youth live on less than 2 USD every day and it is expected to be worse if unemployment rates are not checked. This presents a huge opportunity for governments to tackle the issue of low productivity within the agricultural sector which can be the solution to the youth bulge problem by creating an enabling environment for young people to want to engage in agriculture through making access to finance possible without collateral such as a title deed, embracing technological innovations and scaling them up, capacity building as well as markets and financial inclusion.
With yet another time the African Green Revolution Forum happening in Lusaka, Zambia with a huge number of delegates from all over Africa as well as other continents. This year’s theme is “Walking the Talk on Youth and Women in Agriculture” This has brought lots of partners including governments, private sector, Financial Institutions and others to discuss about how to engage youth in agriculture and how to make it sexy for the youth to join Agriculture sector in the entire value chain.
Never the less, the question that still remains in my mind is, does agriculture actually need to be sexy for youth to engage in it? Can we actually avoid being dirty and tired while still engaging in Agriculture? This are questions that form part of the discussion in Lusaka as the AGRF take course. Unfortunately the youth representation is far away from half of the delegates and therefore the question will still not get fully and genuinely answered. Just as the patient is best placed to explain to the doctor how he or she feels for the doctor to be able to find the best medication this should also apply to the case at hand which is what do young people actually require for them to be engaged in agriculture. Therefore are we asking the right people the wrong questions or are we actually asking the right questions to the wrong people? We have been able to achieve a few things for sure within time but we are still farm from being food sufficient and this can only be achieved if only we engage the young.
If Africa is to sustainably increase the productivity of its agriculture sector, it must find appropriate and effective ways to harness the continents unprecedented ‘Youth dividend.’ Agriculture offers the youth the opportunity for improved livelihoods and employment but for agriculture to be attractive to them it must be profitable, competitive and dynamic. They must also be included in decision making processes especially with respect to resolving policy constraints to youth involvement in Agriculture.
In a nutshell therefore as the AGRF comes to an end, the question we need to ask ourselves is what the next practical step is after a whole week of dialogue and discussions. How do we get young people on board to feed the youngest and rapidly growing continent? I would love to quote one Strive Masiyiwa- Founder and CEO for Econet Company and he said if he was to start his life all over again he would not think of any other business other than Agriculture.
Have you ever asked yourself if you met Bill Gates in an elevator and he is in a hurry, how you would convince him to be interested to meet you again and hear what you have to say to him? Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, has very tight schedules, always in a hurry, only concerned about what attracts him and with people that he can make business deals with. No! No! No! Let’s think about Vimal Shah, one of our own Kenyan who has been listed as among the richest in Africa and leading In Kenya by the Forbes magazine or Chris Kirubi famously known as Dj CK. What would you say to him if you met him in an elevator rushing into a business meeting happening in the 3rd floor that would make him want to take your contacts and invite you over to his office for more discussions about your business idea?
They say first impressions speak a lot about you .I only got to realize this the moment I decided to join the business world and more so when I was participating in an elevator pitch competition at the Jomo Kenyatta University which was organized by SVCDC (Sorghum Value Chain Development Consortium), ANAFE and UniBRAIN Which is an agribusiness incubation facility hosted at JKUAT.
Earlier on during my orientation workshop for the YPARD Mentorship program I recall being taught how to pitch an idea to investors and a few points that I picked and really helped me in the process were as follows.
- Time consciousness- You need to arrive early in order to effectively prepare if u want to use a projector and avoid the last minute rush.
- Dress smart in relation to the event.
- Prepare your presentation clearly- this includes knowing your audience, objective identifying the key points and having supporting materials. You need to respond to the audience question of “What is In It for Me”?
- Confidence and audibility-You should be audible when putting across the points and say them with a lot of confidence since you believe in them. Keep your voice interesting always.
- Maintain eye contact with the audience and use interesting words to keep their attention.
- Have adequate and well researched information to be able to answer the questions.
With all these put together I gained courage and I decided to join my mentor James Aucha to the Elevator pitch competition which he was the key organizer of the event and had made me aware of the event as well as sent me an invite.. I met a lot of young motivate men and women who had great ideas and plans for their business. despite not being chosen to proceed on to the next level of the competition I was able to get a lot of advice from the panelist and 2 months down the line the idea has 3 investors already investing in the idea.
As a young man who grew up in a village in Kenya and brought up within a farming family setup, the issues to deal with food security, food production and food loss has been of key importance and at the bottom of my heart. My parents always taught me the art of food production within a subsistence setup which encouraged me to pursue it more at a higher commercial level. This was later on promoted by my exposure within the higher learning institutions where I traveled to different parts of the country and interacted with young people who have employed themselves and others by doing farming commercially. As we make a transition from the millennium development goals to the sustainable development goals, it is of importance as a young farmer that together with other young farmers I will be able to benefit due to the implementation of the goals.
Among the commendable pointers within the new SDGs is the participatory process on their formulation which has resulted to strong ownership and buy in from people as well as a powerful global partnership. Nevertheless of big importance would be the political will to implement the goals and more so of importance to a young farmer like me would be addressing Climate change which acts as one of the big challenges to agricultural development, promoting sustainable production and consumption patterns as well as strengthening partnerships which will make it easy to access financial as well as technical support. Lastly the approach to implementation of the SDGs should be holistic in a manner that all goals are implemented towards eradication of poverty through livelihoods empowerment.
When they say start ups are very hard, i understand what it means. Research has shown that it can take up to five years for a business start-up to break even. Therefore having been in the business for the last two years I appreciate the efforts that go into building a business. It has indeed been a tough journey and at the same time a lot of lessons to learn but most beautiful are the memories created that still linger in me two years after. I have been through hell and back but most importantly is that every time I fail, I wake up stronger and more intelligent to move on.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently”
Never the less as you progress along the road, the best you can do is share your experience as a motivation and encouragement to others that it is indeed possible.
“It always seems impossible until it is done”
Some of the lessons that I have learnt include:
- Research– Before cutting down a tree you should take time to sharpen your tool. This explains how VITAL it is to have a clear picture of what you want to invest in. For this case is it animal or crop husbandry, which climate and soil conditions are suitable for the various crops you have, what types of feeds are good for your animals and many more critical factors.
- The Math– It is important to understand how much money is needed for your project, what are the projected returns and within what period of time does it take to recoup back the investments and finally where is the money to finance the project come from.
- Marketing– Before venturing into farming you need to have identified your channels of sale. This involves getting potential customers and markets which eases you the burden of last minutes rush which results to poor sales since you will result to selling to the middlemen.
- Have a mentor– In every aspect of life it is important to surround yourself with those who have done it and made it before you. By this then it means you will be prepared of any situation that can occur and you can always consult them. Therefore in agri-business as well it is no difference.
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