After having sent most of the potential members a number of informative emails, the 1st of May was the first "life" event for the network of dutch dairy farmers I am initiating. We made use of the yearly "Dia de Agricultura" which the embassy organises for the Dutch community in Portugal engaged in agriculture. Willem van Weperen came from the Netherlands to speak about his experience with networks in the dairy sector. He listed the advantages of networks: an efficient way of learning, a way to create financial value… he made extensive use of examples and pictures from his work with 11 groups of dairy farmers from Drente, who were federated in a network. He also gave tips for starting networks: to be patient as it takes time to become efficient…
Afterwards I briefly described the idea for a dairy network in Portugal. The highlights:
Objective of the network: improved company results, by jointly -getting access to information, -learning, and -innovation. Some elements of the network:
- network: to give and to get, active participation required
- as distances are large the website and email group are substantial part of contact and content
- gatherings probably 4 times a year
- group is self-steering: interest and initiative determine agenda
I also asked for email adresses of other potential members and for volunteers to develop this initiave into a concrete first meeting.
It was the first face-to-face opportunity for reactions. I had received not a single reaction on the emails and blog-posts. Reactions varied widely: tame, positive, reserved, welcoming, "not-for-me", expecting, cynical, positive. Hardly anyone was outright enthusiastic. A majority was reservedly positive.
I made a very clear point of not wanting to "pull the cart alone" but have not received any volunteers sending me more email adresses, let alone committee members.
Of course, this sends me to reconsider my ideas. However, I am convinced a network of dairy farmers has a great potential, for the following reasons:
- the community exists already, being a group of around 50 dutch dairy farmers in (southern) Portugal
- "blue ocean" surroundings: due to the fact that the area is not traditionally a dairy region, and large-scale modern dairy farming is quite new in Portugal, many services, which in the Netherlands are being provided by a multitude of other agents, are still lacking. A network could take up (or articulate the need for) these services. (e.g. price information, brokering, publishing, lobbying, integration in other systems).
- the Netherlands continues to be a dairy country with the traditionally strong knowledge system still working, but with a shrinking number of farmers: a huge "offer" of expertise, information, tools, project outputs, is available and only needs to be tapped to flow to Portugal. A network would facilitate this flow and enable the adjustments that maybe needed to apply this knowledge in different circumstances.
- Most portugese dairy farmers are somehow part of a "associação", and I know at least some of these to be flourishing.
Tomorrow I will try to list the reasons why it might NOT work.