In a December visit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded Food for Progress Safe Agriculture/Food Export (SAFE) project, former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Robin S. Bernstein saw firsthand its impact on the Dominican livestock value chain. Implemented by NCBA CLUSA, the SAFE project seeks to improve the productivity and quality of beef and dairy products produced by small and medium-sized producers.
The field visit took place in Los Hatillos, a community in the Dominican province of Hato Mayor. There, on a farm belonging to brothers Epifanio Cornelio Mauricio and Isaelo Mauricio, the Los Hatillos Livestock Farmer Field School (ECA-G) operates, which trained fourteen producers in improved production practices through a practical, “learning-by-doing” approach. Even Epifanio’s 13-year-old son, who has taken an interest in the family business, was able to shadow participants during the sessions, in hopes of one day running his own farm.
During the field school training, producers learned improved practices including farm management, division and improved pasture management, reproduction and genetics, calf management, hygienic milking and safe milk management, use of minerals, rational use of water, promotion of improved pastures, forage conservation, animal health, and climate change mitigation and environmentally sustainable measures.
The embassy’s delegation—which included then Ambassador Bernstein, Agricultural Attaché Tiffany Landry; Agricultural Specialist Virgilio Mayol, and Assistant for Agricultural Marketing Nelio M. Paniagua—was welcomed by the SAFE project’s Chief of Party (COP) Cesáreo R. Guillermo. Local livestock leader Ricardo Barceló, one of the key business leaders collaborating with the project, gave an overview of the livestock history of the province, which dates back to the time of Spanish colonization.
The guided tour of the farm included a demonstration of the best practices promoted by the project to increase farm productivity through improved animal feeds, health and animal husbandry as a result of artificial insemination, along with a high-quality milk, as the best way to improve profitability. These practices included the division of improved pastures, the conservation of forage using barrel silos, the use of California Mastitis Testing kits and the implementation of an improved milking parlor, which facilitates hygienic milking practices, rainwater capture and improved animal welfare.
The milking parlor, one of 305 provided through project grants, enables improved animal and milk handler security and well-being, resulting in increased milk production and quality. This small infrastructure investment has a cement floor, aluminum roof and corrals to control and enable smooth manual milking of the cows. Each parlor also include a Embrapa-style kit to clean the animals’ udders to reduce milk contamination.
Afterward, Ambassador Bernstein recognized the Mauricio brothers with a graduation certificate, a symbolic act that marked the first official graduation from SAFE’s Los Hatillos Livestock Farmer Field School.
Isaelo Mauricio, who accepted the certificate on behalf of his colleagues, thanked the USDA/SAFE team for their support. “We have learned many things that we did not know, which have helped us improve the farm,” he said.
SAFE’s interventions, together, have achieved a gross increase of 69 percent in the farm’s operating income compared to the previous year. This increase can also be attributed to the technical assistance provided by private extension worker Carlos Mercedes from the Cattlemen’s Cooperative of Hato Mayor. Another initiative of the project, the Cattlemen’s Cooperative provides direct, on-farm technical assistance aimed at increasing milk productivity and quality that is collected at its dairy processing plant. The cooperative also works to improve the levels of associativity, lift up the rural economy and increase the income of small producers. Compared to the previous year, the amount of liters of milk produced per cow per day on the farm has increased by 28.46 percent, from 4.22 liters per cow in 2019 to 5.42 in 2020; the number of hectares planted with improved pasture has tripled; and the quality of milk has increased, from a previous sale price of RD$13 per liter to RD$22.
“Something that particularly strikes me is that the brothers, Epifanio and Isaelo, did not sit idly by during the time of greatest isolation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic,” SAFE Chief of Party Guillermo said. “[They took] advantage of the time to implement some of the techniques and technologies they learned at the [field school], a result of which, with their own resources, they built a new reservoir where the animals drink, together with 1 new hectare of pastures planted with King and San Ramón grasses. This shows the commitment and entrepreneurial spirit of these brothers, which fills us with satisfaction at SAFE.”
The community of Los Hatillos was created in 1993 by producers who were relocated from the Los Haitises National Park, to whom the government at that time donated plots of land, which, in the case of the Mauricio brothers, were contiguous and operated as a joint farm. SAFE is an initiative of the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA), implemented in a consortium that also includes the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD), Texas A&M University (TAMU) and Genex. Another important element of the project is supporting the Dominican Republic to create a culture of food safety and strengthening the Ministry of Public Health’s Beef Inspection System, with the goal of achieving USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Equivalence to re-export raw beef products to the U.S. market of Puerto Rico.
At the end of her visit, the SAFE project paid tribute to then Ambassador Bernstein with a plaque that recognizes “her dedication and high sensitivity towards the most vulnerable livestock producers, shown during her excellent tenure as Ambassador of the United States in the Dominican Republic.” The former ambassador has been a champion of the SAFE project.