Kertasari’s Dairy Cows Dilemma, When Job Shifting Is A Choice

As the sun was reluctant to show up that day, thin mists that came down to blanket the surroundings blurred the scattering hills around the foot of Mount Wayang. In no time rain dropped, watering every single thing on earth.

It was right in the middle of the day, but the temperature stood at no higher than 21 degree Celsius. In the midst of this bone-chilling weather, Dede Saepudin, 47, was sitting on a threadbare green sofa in his living room while staring at the floor. Tears glittered in his eyes as they then started to look at a 20 by 30 cm framed photograph hanging on the wall. The photo shows Dede striking a pose next to his newly Dutch donated dairy barn. Dozens of cows are also seen in the picture.

“It was a long ago, the heyday of the cows in here,” said Dede, who has been a dairy farmer since 1984.

Today the barn, which stands next to his house, only shelters 17 cows. Despite a relatively large number of cows for the small-time farmer, worries over the fate of his cows continue to linger. “A cow was normally capable of producing between 75 and 85 liters of milk a day. But now it is so hard for each of them to produce just 60 liters a day, even once it produced only 37 liters,” Dede said clamorously.

Dede saefudin, 47, a farmer and the head of a dairy farmer group in Cibereum Village, poses in front of his dairy barn donated by the Netherland.

A decline in milk production forced Dede to sell 3 cows last month in order to be able to cover the escalating maintenance cost. He tries to survive in the current condition, but should the condition prolong he worries that he may end up living with no cows like other farmers in the village.

Like a ship heading to no clear direction in a stormy weather, that is the condition of the dairy farming in his area, Cibeureum Village, Kertasari Sub-district, Bandung District. Over the last three years, the number of cows has continued to decrease and it has followed by the decline in the number of farmers as well. According to Dede, who heads a dairy farmer group in Cibeureum Village, the village initially had 7 sub-groups with each of them could consist of up to 40 members. “Now there are only 3 sub-groups, one of them has 15 members, while another one has only 4 members,” he said.

Heading the group, he has listened to pessimism over the prospect of dairy farms shared by the group members. They asked Dede whether it is better to go on with their farming or to sell the cows off. Dede has tried his best to seek for solutions, but whenever a payment is received all of the members feel their hard works do not match with the money.

Milk production continues to decline day by day.

This phenomenon is not unique to Cibereum village, the same condition also sweeps eight other villages in Kertasari Sub-district and even reaches the neighboring Pacet Sub-district. Many barns look empty and unattended as they all seem to be long abandoned by the owners. In Tarumajaya Village, Aep Wahidin Kamal, 32, was seen washing his motorcycle in his own barn.

The barn houses no cows and now is used as a warehouse and a parking space for a motorcycle. It used to house 4 cows. “All of them have been sold off,” said Aep.

Aep said that he felt tired and called it a day after the proceeds he got from selling milk were only enough to buy the increasingly pricey cattle feeds. The situation was even made worse by a declining productivity of the milk cows in the midst of an unchanged purchasing price of milk set by a dairy cooperative.

“Each of my cows could produce 35 liters of milk per day, but latter on their production kept decreasing until it reached a level of only 15 liters a day. That was the time when I decided to sell them off as the cow price is  good enough when it still can produce 15 liters of milk a day,” the father of two said.

What Aep did was a reaction to his disappointment. Before deciding to let the cows go, he did everything he could, including consulting the condition he faced with the village’s dairy farmer group. But, the reality showed that everyone faced a similar situation and no solution was available on hand. As the last resort, he met with the South Bandung Milk Cooperative (KPBS), which buys his cow’s milk, to seek for any solutions. However, the cooperative could only suggest him to decide by himself the best thing he could do.

An empty cow barn owned by Aep Wahidin Kamal,32, in Tarumajaya Village.

Today, Aep works in a market offering a motorcycle taxi service. Yes, he changes his job. He used the money he got from the cow sales for buying a second hand motorcycle and turned it into a taxi. In order to support the family’s financial condition, his wife, Eulis Aminah, 30, runs a kiosk right next door to her wooden house, selling daily foodstuffs. “The most important thing is that I can get enough money for children’s schooling and buying milk for my little kid,” said Eulis.

The golden era of the cows seems to be on the wane, as not only Aep, but also many farmers eventually gave up and sold off their cows. They shifted their jobs from dairy farmers to plant farmers, traders or just farm laborers, despite the fact that milk cows were used to be the back bone of the mountain village.  Dede said that his dairy farming used to be a great cash cow that once helped him build his house and send his three children to schools. The contribution of the cows was not only limitedly felt by Dede’s family. Ida, 40, a civil servant who works in the office of Tarumajaya Village Head, also enjoyed the fruitful past. Her dairy farmer father was capable of financing her study up to a university level.

Poor Feeding
Cows are not something new in South Badung, since the Dutch colonial era the area has been well known as a center of dairy farming. Dutch companies such as De Friesche Terp, Almanak, Van Der Els and Big Man milked their cows in Pangalengan and marketed the milk through Bandoengche Melk Centrale (BMC). However, during the Japanese occupation those companies collapsed and the surviving cows were taken over by local people. Since then the dairy farms have belonged to local family businesses.

Initially Kertasari residents were tea plantation laborers, and then they gradually shifted their works to cattle and other agricultural farming. Living among the people who mostly worked as laborers, operating a dairy farm gave a prestige to the farmer. “At that time everyone who owned cows was considered to be rich,” said Ida, recalling her childhood time.

Kertasari was home to 1,556 dairy farmers in 2012. In this sub-district, which shares its border with Garut District, there used to be a population of 5,598 cows which produced as much as 1,239,510 liters of milk per month. It was absolutely not a small figure!

However, the total number has been in decline continually. Dedi, 43, not his real name, who works in a milk production department in the Milk Cooling Center (MCC) of Kertasari’s KPBS admitted that last year he could collect 35 tons of milk a day from farmers not only in Kertasari but also in Pacet.

“But now, we can only get 18 tons, which are supplied by two villages, Cibereum and Tarumajaya. Other villages have seen their number of milk cow decreasing to almost none,” said Dedi.

According to Tarumajaya Village Head, Ayi Iskandar, the condition has kept worsening during the last two years and it has massively worsened in the last several months. The difficulty in accessing good quality feeds is to be blamed for creating this condition.

This opinion is shared by Engkuy (63), the head of a dairy farmer group in Tarumajaya Village. The man, who has been in a dairy farming business for 25 years, told a story on how reluctant the cows were to consume concentrate feeds sold in the market because of their foul smell. This has resulted in deterioration of not only the productivity of the cows but also the quality of their milk.

This condition also leads to purchasing price disparity faced by various dairy farmers. Milk is valued in accordance with its quality. Today the purchasing price of milk generally stands at 3,700 rupiah per liter. In case of good quality milk, the price can go up to between 3,800 and 4,000 rupiah per liter.  On the other hand, the price can go lower than the general standard for bad quality milk.

A bad quality concentrate feed.

To deal with a bad quality feed, a concentrate feed is mixed with feed pellets. Cows are willing to eat the mixture. However, the high price tag of feed pellet available in the market has been the subject of farmers’ grievances. Farmers wish to feed their cows with good quality concentrate feeds, which are not easily available in the market. A good quality feed containing high proteins costs higher than ever, amounted to 3,500 rupiah per kilogram, up from the previous price of 1,500 rupiah a kilogram.

After making all the possible efforts, the productivity of the cows could not be recovered. In the meantime, the purchasing price of milk does not increase significantly.

“5 cows used to give me an income of 4 million rupiah a month. Now, it is even hard to earn just 2.5 million (rupiah a month),” said Engkuy in a complaining tone.

A Dilemma of Environmental Destruction
“I worry about the prospect of people who may go back to the forest in Mount Wayang as squatters, if the cows are gone from Kertasari,” said Ayi Iskandar in his office in a recent afternoon.

Ayi’s concern is not unreasonable. Kertasari has a history of forest squatting. At the beginning of the post reform era, local people entered the forest and cleared land for agriculture. A condition with a low income level and land scarcity forced the people to destruct the forest in order to gain additional income.

In an area with a population of  67,010 people and three fourth of them rely on agriculture, a land issue is so crucial. Land use in Kertasari Sub-district is divided into its use for protected forest, plantation and agriculture.

Kertasari farmers tend a vegetable plantation.

According to Ayi, the recent job shift still occurred within agricultural works, such as either from cattle farmers to plant farmers or from labor jobs in cattle farms to those in plant farms. However, agricultural land in the village is already in a full use, no land space is left idle.

“At the agricultural laborer level, fierce competition is the norm as almost 40% of the total number of people are farm laborers, or the number could reach 10,000 people,” said Ayi.

Ayi said that his village has not received any support to fight against the decline in the cow productivity up to this time. Discussions to find solutions are only held among farmer groups. Ayi hopes that the government can grant a subsidy in order to make the cattle concentrate feed price affordable for farmers.

Alternative Feeding
Deteriorating milk cow production does not happen in Kertasari only, but also in almost all areas in Bandung District. Authority in Bandung District said that they have distributed concentrate feeds to farmers in the district. According to the head of production section at the Bandung’s Animal Husbandry and Fishery Office, Endang Supardi, the concentrate feeds distributed by his office have a quality better than those feeds available in the market. “But we have to admit that they were not distributed evenly and were supplied to prioritized areas with large number of cow population. This is due to our limited budget,” said Endang.

Endang said that it is hard to prevent producers from hiking the price of concentrate feed due to the increasing cost of raw materials. Responding to this, farmers have been trained on making an alternative feed, including, for example, the feed that is made of hay which is easily available.

However, Endang said that cows could not be directly fed with hay before it becomes an alternative feed after undergoing a fermentation process. “Regretfully, local farmers are too lazy to go through this process despite its simplicity, as they prefer to instant things,” he said.

Endang hopes that farmers could be more independent on feeds supplied by the market. Should they make an alternative feed by themselves, production cost could be further lowered.

As the dairy farming travels into a turbulent period, Engkuy keeps on finding solutions and encourages farmer group members to keep their cows. “Fellow members should help each other. May the cow farming in Kertasari return to its heyday someday,” Engkuy said. (Iffah Rachmi).

Text: Iffah Rahmi
Photo: Deden Iman

Related articles :
Limbah Sapi di Desa Tarumajaya (Tarumajaya Village’s Cow Waste)

Ketika Petani Hulu Hilir Citarum Bertemu Lewat Pupuk (When Citarum’s Upstream and Downstream Farmers Meet over Fertilizer)