Written by Mirza Halim
Over the past few months, an exciting and unexpected collaboration has blossomed between CALS faculty members and the dairy industry of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It all started when CALS Global Academy hosted a group of USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Cochran Fellows from Bosnia in October 2017 for an intensive two-week training in resilient agriculture. While at NC State, one of the fellows—Miljan Erbez —from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management in Banja Luka, Bosnia, visited the NC State Dairy Farm. Miljan’s visit triggered an interest in further collaborations between NC State the dairy industry in Bosnia.
After the training was completed, Erbez, with the support of his employer, as well as USAID officials in Bosnia, invited and hosted experts from NC State to improve their dairy industry. Through collaborations with Jose Cisneros, director of CALS International Programs, two NC State faculty members went to Bosnia for an exploratory trip. These two faculty members, Vivek Fellner of the Department of Animal Science and Peter Ojiambo of Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, recently returned from their first official trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The trip, which was originally intended as an exploratory trip to identify avenues for long-term collaboration between NC State University and the Bosnian government culminated in an unexpected national dairy conference, organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Management in Bosnia. This exciting collaboration has already received much media attention in Bosnia. The conference provided a platform for CALS faculty to communicate with a wider audience including dairy farmers, government agencies, university researchers and USAID officials.
The various stakeholders were especially interested in improving their dairy production chain to comply with European Union (EU) import rules and requirements. Along those lines, both Fellner and Ojiambo felt that there is a need for a thorough understanding of the dairy value chain in Bosnia to identify prevalent issues and devise appropriate solutions locally.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Fellner said. “I’m very thankful that I got the opportunity to go there. You learn a lot, you meet people, you understand their needs, you understand their constraints. It’s easy for people on the outside to say I’ve got a solution; but you really have to go there and see the indigenous condition before you know if the solution will work.”
One of the major problems facing the Bosnian dairy industry is the presence of alpha toxin in the silage that proliferates all dairy products, ultimately rendering them unsuitable for export to EU. To address this, Dr. Ojiambo has proposed developing fungi strains locally in Bosnia as a biocontrol for the alpha toxin. The reason is that imported strains are likely not to yield desirable results. Both faculty agree that there is tremendous potential for expansion and improvement of the dairy industry in Bosnia and with the appropriate experts in place, NC State can work together with Bosnian government to carve out a long-term development strategy for the sector.
Ojiambo expressed optimism that multiple funding sources such as USAID, the EU, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can be explored to support such a collaboration. Additionally, Ojiambo said, “We visited one of the farms being supported by USAID. That shows there are already boots on the ground and we can tap into the existing resources to get some of these work done.” Furthermore, the scope of the project is likely to expand to include many other areas of expertise that CALS can offer.
What makes this collaboration unique is that it emerged out of a Cochran Fellowship Program—funded through USDA Foreign Agricultural Service — a training program for agricultural professionals from countries of middle-income, emerging markets, and emerging democracies. CALS Global Academy regularly conducts these trainings with fellows from all over the world. However, such speedy fruition of a collaboration stemming from a training is definitely a pleasant surprise for the CALS International Programs team. This bears merit of the program and how it can actually help developing nations collaborate with experts here in the U.S. to improve agricultural systems and increase trade in other parts of the world.
Moving forward, Fellner and Ojiambo point out the crucial precursors that would need to be in place to ensure an effective partnership, such as navigating complex governmental structure in Bosnia, identifying and securing funding sources and getting stakeholders in Bosnia to organize themselves for better resource sharing. Both faculty members expressed the importance of bringing groups of Bosnian students, faculty, and dairy farmers to North Carolina to provide a three to six months long training focused on technical knowledge as well as how research, teaching, and extension components work together in the U.S. Additionally, both the faculty emphasized that this collaboration is likely to create learning opportunities for the larger NC State faculty and student community, while benefitting both the countries in the long run.
As a starting point, a group of young Bosnian dairy farmers will be coming to NC State in the next few months for a short-term training in various aspects of dairy production. These dairy farmers will spend time with researchers at NC State and will also travel to Western North Carolina to tour the dairy industry. For further solidifying the partnership, Cisneros is visiting relevant stakeholders and meeting with industry actors such as Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, the USAID mission to Bosnia, the Dairy Producers Association, as well as multiple universities in Bosnia. After Cisneros returns, stay tuned for updates on this partnership between NC State and Bosnia.