Ugandan farmers inspect milking robots and coat-wearing calves

Ugandan farmers inspect milking robots

Twelve farmers and Farmers Union leaders from Uganda have been visiting The Netherlands for two weeks in May. They stayed in the northern province of Friesland where they underwent training and visited highly mechanized farms. “Back in Uganda I will try to implement the new methods of grazing we learnt here,” said Leonidas Byamukama, the leader of a Farmers Cooperative from Western Uganda. 

On a sunny Friday morning the Ugandans are hosted by De Bles Dairies, at a farm in central Friesland. “Why do your calves wear coats?” Betty Mbaziira Kasabuti wonders. “Last week it was quite cold so the vulnerable animals need some extra protection,” De Bles Dairies’ Ben Braakman explains. The Ugandans then grab their smartphones and tablets and start taking photographs of the coat-wearing calves.

Netherlands Management Training Programme

The Ugandans follow the Netherlands Management Training Programme (NMTP) in the framework of the pilot programme: 2g@there OS (in Dutch). This programme is commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and executed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO. The NMTP aims at improving trade relations between The Netherlands and East Africa. The programme is carried out by the Netherlands African Business Council (NABC).

Big differences

George Nuwagira is the chairman of Uganda’s largest Farmers Union, the UCCCU. “First we followed an intensive training in Oenkerk,” Nuwagira explains. “We sat down in a class room and we learned about things like nutrition, animal health, breeding, housing and cow comfort. Later on we visited farms and companies.”
 
Nuwagira sees large differences between the system of working in Uganda and in The Netherlands but he has picked up some very concrete measures which can be implemented in Uganda as well. “I like the cut and carry system. In Uganda most cows graze outside but here they spent a lot of time indoors. The exact amount of grass which they consume is cut and brought for them to feed on. This is highly efficient. In case they do have to graze outside you can make much smaller paddocks, which you can then move every day or two. Finally, I am amazed by the owners of the farms. In fact, they are three people in one: apart from being the owner they are also the manager and an extra labourer. In Uganda is it quite uncommon to see the boss doing any work himself.”

Ugandan farmers inspect milking robots

Increasing productivity by new technologies

Betty Mbaziira Kasabuti is one of the few women of the delegation. She owns 80 cows in Uganda and she also thinks there is a lot to be achieved in changing the feeding system. “In fact I have started to make some changes already but here I saw what else I can do. By better feeding methods the cows can increase productivity a lot.” Mbaziira is also impressed by the way the cows are treated. “I see they are looked after very well. That is very smart: the more love you give to them, the more they will produce for you.”
Leonidas Byamukama, whose cooperative collects 30,000 litres of milk per day, agrees. “In Uganda we think about farming in a very traditional way. We love our Ankole cows, the symbol of our region. But we should also consider investing in different breeds, like Friesian cows, because they are simply more productive.” Byamukama also thinks mechanization can help a lot. “We still milk by using our hands but the milking robots are much more hygienic.”

From cattle keeper to commercial milk farmer

Among the first farmers in Uganda to work with the ‘zero grazing’ concept is Richard Muhangi. He is also present in Friesland. “Currently I have 10 cows and I always keep them indoors, where I have more control over their feeding, health and reproduction. This is the future of farming: it basically transforms you from a cattle keeper to a commercial milk farmer.” Muhangi believes productivity can go up and already notices keeping the cattle inside makes them less vulnerable to, for example, ticks. Muhangi: “As soon as I come back, I’ll double my number of cows and try to increase production. Here in Holland cows can produce 30 litres of milk per day, compared to the 10 in Uganda. Soon I would like to produce at least 500 litres of milk per day.”   

International connections

The NABC is pleased with the outcomes of the training programme. “Both for the farmers from East Africa, in this case Ugandans, as for the hosts in The Netherlands it is a great opportunity to get international connections,” said Lars Kramer, Business Development Manager at NABC. “Quite often the larger farmers from Africa use the opportunity to purchase milk tanks, milking robots or semen. Occasionally they get quotations for housing systems.”
   

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