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Asking about cows April 21st, 2019 by

Officials often tell me that farmers can’t learn from smallholders on other continents. This tells us more about the limited imagination of officialdom than it does about farmers’ creativity, as I saw recently in a small town near Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I went with an extensionist colleague to show some videos to a group of women who were organized to sell milk. Their leader, doña Miguelina, met us with a big smile at the door of her home, and ushered us into a large room with tables, chairs and a refrigerated milk tank, where the women could bring their milk twice a day, for the dairy to collect.

A dozen women in broad-brimmed hats soon gathered, and we watched two videos from Nigeria. One explained how dairy producers should never blend water or anything else with their milk. Doña Miguelina had a question. “One time the dairy sent our milk back, saying that it was watery, but we hadn’t added any water to the milk.”

The extensionist gently explained that milk fat content is low if people only feed their cows water and bran. Cows need grass and grain to make rich milk. That was a good answer, and an example of expert “facilitation,” where added content can help to round out information from a video.

Next, we watched a video on keeping milk free of antibiotics. Afterwards the group had a question. “If antibiotics get into a cow’s milk, don’t the medicines also contaminate the cow’s meat?”

Yes, indeed. If a cow dies while being treated for an infection, her meat will contain antibiotics. That poses a dilemma for people if the cow dies during treatment, because they want to make use of the meat. These small-scale dairy farmers had correctly taken one idea from the video (don’t drink milk from a cow that has been recently treated with antibiotics), and extended it further (you shouldn’t eat the meat, either).

By the second video we had been joined by two agronomists from the municipal government. One asked “What breed of cow is that in the video?”

“A local breed.”

“And what is their milk yield?”

In college we used to call this game “stump the prof”, where we would ask questions we thought the professor couldn’t answer. On the other hand, the farmers were not playing games. They had gone right to the point of the video with their thoughtful questions. The farmers asked about the core topics of the videos.

I’ve never heard Latin American farmers complain, or even comment on the appearance of African farmers in the videos hosted on Access Agriculture. Even on different continents, smallholders have similar concerns, and they can identify with each other.

Related blog

Kicking the antibiotic habit

The videos we watched on dairy

Pure milk is good milk

Keeping milk free from antibiotics

And we also watched: Hand milking of dairy cows

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