The Voice: Fall 2001

The Voice

Bajema gives and gains from summer consulting trip to the Dominican Republic

Sally Jongsma

    Within a few years or even months after the event, most natural disasters become a dim memory to all but those directly affected. That’s probably the case with Hurricane George, which hit the Dominican Republic in 1998. But the aftereffects of the hurricane drew Dr. Duane Bajema to spend two weeks in the Dominican this summer—five years later. Bajema traveled as a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the supervision of the Land O’ Lakes Cooperative.
    Bajema’s task was to assess whether the $10 million in aid given to small farmers in the country had been well used and whether more aid was needed. Bajema, whose Spanish-speaking ability and agricultural expertise made him a good candidate for the job, worked closely with a local agricultural group called Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana, Inc. (JAG), visiting dozens of small dairy and swine farms with “herds” ranging from three to 100 cows or ten to 500 sows.
    “I was willing to go because the focus was to help over 1500 small farmers maintain their livelihood after the devastation of the hurricane,” says Bajema. He was reimbursed for travel, food, and lodging.
    Bajema traveled extensively during his stay, alternating visits to dairy and swine farms to minimize the spreading of PIRRS, a hog cholera that has been eliminated in the United States but is still present in the Dominican. Disinfecting his clothes and shoes was a daily necessity. As a result of his visit and consultations with experts in Sioux County, he was able to direct farmers to better ways to deal with such diseases.
    Bajema examined all aspects of the agricultural system: animal health, marketing, animal housing, pasture management, grazing, feed quality and availability, and nutrition. He traveled with a college-trained agronomist and nutritionist from JAG to talk with farmers, observe, and share information.
    “I saw rural development money put to good use. I saw consultants working hard and farmers using the assistance successfully,” says Bajema, who in the end recommended that the USAID provide aid to small farmers for another three years.
     But he also made several other recommendations that he believes will help the farmers return to self-sufficiency. He advised JAG to engage in on-farm testing and assessment—to have farmers try new approaches and share information about what works rather than having them rely on hearsay information or that given by feed producers.
    Maybe most importantly, he urged them to use their own ingenuity and resources rather than adopting United States ways of farming: not confining too many animals too closely in such a warm climate to diminish the spread of disease; improvising, making, and repairing their own equipment rather than importing expensive pieces that are hard to service and involve enormously high repair bills; and using local feed rather than importing it. Bajema urged them to develop training courses for farmers and to develop a three-year plan for long-term self-sufficiency. He also suggested that farmers be given low interest loans to help them replace equipment and animals. Currently they must pay thirty-six percent interest for loans.
    Bajema’s approach was appreciated by the JAG representatives with whom he worked. They admitted at the end of his visit that they had been afraid he would come and simply advocate increased technology from North America to improve production and solve their difficulties.
    Bajema is grateful for his experience last summer. Not only did he have an opportunity to help small farmers find more effective ways to farm, but by writing a report for USAID that focused on using the resources of the country and the community he has tried to have a positive impact on development relief policy.
    And spending time in another culture taught him some things as well. He learned that in the United States, we are isolated from other countries in some ways and see issues through only our eyes. “We had some good arguments about political issues and policies. We didn’t always agree, but we saw issues from each other’s perspective,” he says.
    His students also are benefiting from the experience as he uses personal examples from his visits to illustrate ideas and concepts he teaches in his classes.

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