The Future of Dairy

A memorandum of understanding was signed between representatives from the Dutch and Sri Lankan dairy sector. The parties, representing both educational and commercial actors, committed to developing a private dairy training center that will prepare graduates with the newest techniques and knowledge in dairy. Ambassador Gonggrijp was there to grace the occassion and had a few words to say about the importance of sustainable food chain management.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

Let me start by saying that I am proud to be here today to launch our strengthened cooperation in the dairy sector. I look forward to witness, together with you, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between educational and private sector partners from the Netherlands and Sri Lanka for a dairy training center, and the signing of the MoU on dairy sector trainings. I want to emphasize how important it is to see initiatives like these being implemented, as it is a perfect example of combining our forces and reaching mutual growth. As I am the Dutch ambassador, it seemed appropriate for me to use this occasion to talk a little about what the dairy business means to our country…

Dutch people are married to all kinds of dairy products. We are known as “kaaskoppen”, which is a nickname that means “cheeseheads” and I have to admit to you that I also turned out to be one. Ever since I got here, I have been on a mission to get myself some good cheese, as no wonderful curries can replace the cheese part of my breakfast. Dutch kids, like my boys, start the day with a glass of fresh milk in the morning. This might give you all an indication on how products like milk and cheese are part of the Dutch culture and the Dutch way of life. This is not only applicable to consuming it; we are also quite advanced at producing our favorites. We have around 65,000 farmers, of which 18,000 are dairy farmers. This means a little less than a third of all farmers in the Netherlands are involved in dairy. Dairy is serious business for us.

As the world is going through all kinds of dynamic changes, so is our dairy business. When it comes to becoming more sustainable as an industry, our farmers are putting in a great effort in multiple ways. In recent years, the industry has moved towards producing not as much as possible but creating as much as we need, and as much as our small country can support. The share of organic milk has grown and the share of cows that pasture outside has become larger while the national production has slightly decreased. For sustainable food chains, we must not only look at how much is being produced but also how, why, and where. It is in these how, why and where questions, that the future answers for sustainable global food systems are hidden.

Sustainability in food chains is such an issue because no place is safe from the effects of climate change. In the Netherlands, we have had particularly hot and dry summers. This has been disastrous for many crops. Farmers suffered a hit to their livelihood. This makes us more aware of how we should work for a more sustainable and resilient Netherlands. According to many studies, Sri Lanka is even more at risk of the effects of climate change. Dry areas are becoming drier, wet areas are becoming wetter. This year the Global Climate Risk Index even ranked Sri Lanka as the 2nd most vulnerable place to climate change, in the world. In addition to this, around a quarter of Sri Lankans are employed in agriculture. It is clear that the Sri Lankan farmer needs to be able to adapt to this changing world. A world that is changing economically, with greater wealth in Sri Lanka as well as changing environmentally, with less constant rains or rising temperatures. Agricultural education is a necessity, to develop farmers who can handle these situations. In the Netherlands, agricultural education has taken our small country from one of subsistence farmers to one that is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world. Increasingly, the focus of this education has shifted from quantity to quality. Food must be produced with minimal damage to the environment and as close to home as possible to limit needless polluting transportation. In addition, animal welfare and living income for farmers is getting higher on the agenda. I repeat, if we want to create a sustainable system we should not only look at how much is being produced but also where it is being produced and under which circumstances.

It is within this context that the Dutch interest in the Sri Lankan dairy sector seeks to be sustainable. We want to contribute to a dairy chain that is sustainable on all levels from field to fork (or cup in the case of milk). The food chain begins with a farmer. Farmers must be equipped with the tools necessary to properly dispose of and minimize waste, reduce their use of antibiotics and produce milk efficiently with little waste of resources. Sustainability goes further than the field and should extend to the whole chain. There is no easier way to do this than to make sure food is produced where people live. Dairy should be produced in Sri Lanka instead of being imported across an ocean. This dairy center can improve on these two essential aspects of sustainability by training sustainable efficient dairy farmers for the local Sri Lankan market.

The Netherlands has a lot of experience with regard to sustainability measures, but huge challenges remain. Our most recent attempts to make the livestock sector more sustainable were met with protests from farmers. Thousands of farmers from all over the country drove their tractors to the Hague, the seat of our nation’s government, causing the worst traffic jams in the history of the Netherlands. They demanded to be heard and a reverse of the changes in government policy. While the thousands of tractors in our country’s political capital were an impressive sight for a neutral observer it shows a real problem. These farmers have grown used to a system that now needs to change again. The policy makers are forcing them to change their livelihood influenced by changing ideas of what agriculture should look like and which rules should apply. These changes are difficult for these farmers so their anger is understandable. Sri Lanka has a unique opportunity to avoid these situations. The dairy sector in Sri Lanka is in its infancy, it can be developed in a sustainable way from the start. This way Sri Lanka can avoid a caravan of farmers heading towards Colombo, and leading to even worse traffic.

This dairy center partnership is an enrichment for agricultural education in Sri Lanka. In the Netherlands scientific institutions work together with civil society, private sector and government to tackle the challenges facing society. We call this the ‘Dutch Diamond’ approach in which each actor has its independent role, but all actors are aware that they can only thrive and reach their long term goals through cooperation. Today as well, we see the value of these combined sectors as businesses join educational institutions, to ensure graduates are equipped for the real world. With the diverse group of actors all looking towards the future of a sustainable sector, I trust the dairy training center will create a learning environment where scientific innovations meet the realities of the commercial sector. It is a great initiative, which will prepare graduates for a bright and sustainable future!

Thank you.