Main conclusions

When intensification of the dairy production in The Netherlands started in the 1960’s it was not clear what the side-effects of this exercise would be. Today, the history of Dutch modern dairy farming – besides the staggering productivity gains – clearly demonstrates the side-effects of the productivity paradigm in terms of social, environmental, economic and animal wellbeing consequences. What would happen in a developing country, for example, if a majority of the smallholder farmers would have to stop farming and move to the urban centers?

The agricultural development within the NL has been based on super-specialization in only milk, meat, or crop production of one single species, aiming at urban markets and exports. The spectacular productivity increase was largely due to the conducive policy environment between 1950-1980. It is not easy to reproduce this process without similar market interventions and other conducive policy measures. Meanwhile times have changed and under the present international financial politics these policy measures are very difficult to reproduce in the developing country context.

In the Netherlands today a contradiction remains. Most mainstream research and policies aim at further scale enlargement and technological development, while new farmer’s initiatives frequently aim at diversifying farm-income and optimizing rather than maximizing farm productivity. These innovating farmers with their integrated knowledge and wide networks can be very helpful for dissemination, research and policy towards sustainable dairy development; in fact they stand at the basis of agricultural transition.

At the same time herbal medicine – like other traditional techniques – has been lost to a large extent in The Netherlands and other EU countries. Perhaps we could build on experiences from developing countries in its recovery – especially with the aim to reduce antibiotic use?

In turn the developing countries, rather than copying the intensive dairy production system, could learn from the experience in The Netherlands to prevent loss of family farms, biodiversity, rural-urban linkages, integrated farming, and related knowledge. The post-modern sustainable dairy farming initiatives in the Netherlands today are recovering nine different elements of traditional agriculture, that can still be found in most developing countries.

Therefore, developing countries would be wise to develop their own strategy starting with their own resources and local circumstances, rather than copying the dairy system from the Netherlands. In this way the developing countries can make a ‘technology leap’ and develop their own sustainable dairy systems, while preventing the negative side-effects of modern dairy farming that are now known to us.