I had no clue what I would run into when I signed my contract with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join a dairy training project in Tanzania that was about the establishment of a Dairy Training Centre, called LITI Buhuri. Of course I could do the project as I graduated as a Tropical Animal Production Expert! Haha, what a mistake!
On arrival we slowly became aware that the Training Centre was based on the presumption to train staff who were employed at the few large-scale dairy farms that were created on some run down sisal estates. Many year earlier they had the typical Dutch design large-scale dairy farm model installed with some hundreds of ‘Friesian’ cows partly housed in large covered sheds and with machine milking parlours. Such a dairy farm was recently build at LITI Buhuri. However, at the time I arrived, the commercially run large-scale dairy farms at the sisal estates had already ceased operations due to many, many huge problems. Against all odds, the large-scale farm at LITI Buhuri was kept operational for some more years however, with financial, containers full with material imports and managerial help from the Dutch Government….
Probably because of our fresh arrival and un-biased perceptions we realised that the existing large-scale farming system was totally inappropriate for the local conditions and we shifted quite soon towards a very different management system based on THE SMALLHOLDERS focus!
So, following the tough acquired approval from the Ministry (they did not easily do away of the Dutch White Elephant), soon we build three smallholder Units as demonstration farms with 2 – 3 cows, employed a local farmer as manager, grew Elephant grass, experimented with the production of small-scale silage, started with ox-plowing training, oriented ourselves on the local purchase of concentrates, buckets, tools and veterinary medicines and last but not least modified the curriculum. So actually we thought to have thought of everything needed for the smallholder dairy system to operate.
This shift in policy made us quite satisfied. The trainee farmers were pleased too and evaluations were really positive. So what else to say?
Until we realised a year or more later that only a few ex-trainee farmers did actually start their smallholder farm. Some came to our Institute to ask for calves to buy. A difficult undertaking as we were a Government farm that was not allowed to sell its assets. that problem led to the idea to launch another project to breed young stock of cross-bred heifers for sale to the farmers in the region. So, some years or more later, problem solved, we thought.
Until we realised that a training of a just few days simply is insufficient to address the practical issues and we came up with the need to boost the local extension service to coach ex-trainee farmers in their dairy business development. So a new project was born and we were pleased the Dutch Government was supporting this new project and recruited an expatriate adviser.
However, farmers still came to our Institute to complain. This time the marketing of milk appeared to be a problem … Indeed farmers did not have milk containers nor transport nor an outlet to sell their milk. In addition quite a few Africans are lactose intolerant (some even claim 87%) causing the milk to be more of a cash product than of a nutritional value (fortunately most Africans only drink sour or rotten milk which has no lactose, … a disgusting experience for us Dutch people though).
Some innovative farmers arranged a deal with a local consumer shop to pool a truck to bring their milk to town and consumables back up to the village. Much later one of the most essential initiative boosting the marketing was the establishment of a cooperative milk processing plant with the support of a Friesian Farmers Cooperative, which pasteurized and packaged the milk and sells now all over Tanzania (“Tanga Fresh”).
And even then difficulties continued. Also the local veterinary service could not serve them properly. Access to water was difficult, Concentrates too expensive, Making cheese as alternative difficult to sell, tools and equipment too far, etc., etc., etc. Farmers kept on complaining!
We could have taken all those complaints as quite annoying and irrelevant to us as those were indeed none of our business. We were in charge or training and we did very well!
But actually those complaints helped us to think about missing elements, which we started to push for one by one at the Ministry and donors to make the system work. Those farmers rang the ‘alarm bell’ and showed us critical ASSUMPTIONS of a successful Smallholder dairy farming system that had been forgotten in the DESIGN of this dairy development programme. Each of those Assumptions, if not met, could each independently turn out to become a RISK and kill the project!
The ad-hoc learning of PAINS with END-USERS cropping up unexpectedly is the key aspect of MONITORING and could have been avoided when all those elements had been checked, assessed and planned for at the planning stage instead.
In our LFA planning methodology we call that assessment technique: “FORKING” ©. It is like making a FORK showing all different components necessary to reach a specific objective benefitting the End-Users. From the example above it becomes clear that over time we learn and discover missing elements. The system can only be effective when ALL the elements are available. Evaluations and logic thinking may help to discover those elements and END-USERS in particular will inform you about those missing ones as it affects their lives.
The term “FORKING” © was invented when we stopped at an old run-down restaurant in Korogwe half-way on our way from Tanga to Arusha. We asked the waiter, wearing an ‘antique’ worn-out gold-threaded jacket, the menu and ordered Beef Stroganoff … The waiter looked at us puzzled and responded ‘Hamna’ … which means: “not available”. Following some more similar experiences we asked: “so what DO you have?” … He responded: “Kuku na wali” … ! (Chicken and rice). Some time passed quietly and then the food was brought and the waiter left. … We noticed however that we had not been given cutlery so we called him again and asked for forks and knifes. Some more time passed but then we were served with a smile. All was good and we started our meal. However, right immediately I injured myself when taking the first bite. One of the ‘legs’ of the fork was bend so much that it pricked into my cheek. Then suddenly I realised that when not all ‘legs’ are aligned eating is impossible … So I decided to continue eating the African way: By hand!
The term FORKING © was born!