Burning Questions
Fellowship Award Winners

María José Hötzel, Luiz Carlos Pinheiro Machado Filho, Matías Javier Hargreaves Méndez

Location: Brazil
Academic field Applied ethology (Hötzel); Applied ethology (Pinheiro Machado Filho); Agronomy (Hargreaves Méndez)
Award category: PhD Team

Guidance Memo

  • Title: From pasture to compost barns: Smallholder family dairy farmers and the expansion of industrialized animal production in Santa Catarina, Brazil
  • What We Learned From It:
    • Small-scale family dairy farms are expanding to larger scale industrialized systems such as compost barns in Santa Catarina, one of the largest dairy production regions in Brazil.
    • We learned that compost barns are presented to these farmers as a modern and efficient production model. Farmers perceive that by adopting these intensive confined systems, they will acquire the social status associated with modernity. To curb the further adoption of compost barns and encourage the use of pasture-based systems instead, one needs to take multiple steps and approaches.
    • Approach farmers and extension agents: 1) Engage with farmers individually, and identify extension agents with good relationships with farmers. 2) Explain that compost barns require massive investments and higher labor demands, reduce animal welfare, and increase vulnerability to external factors, while well-managed pasture-based systems can match many of the alleged benefits of compost barns. 3) Women and younger generations in family farms are key groups to target, given their growing influence in decision-making. 4) Promote sustainable, pasture-based dairy production systems as a new face of modernity and symbol of high status that brings a sense of pride. 5) Publicize successful pasture-based farms as model farms. 6) Provide concrete steps of managing pasture-based systems that farmers can easily understand and follow.
    • Approach consumers: Develop public interest in sustainable, pasture-based dairy production; generate consumer markets for animal welfare-friendly, climate-friendly or carbon-neutral milk.
    • Approach policy makers: Lobby for policies that incentivize production using pasture-based systems, for example: Rural credit programs for smallholders, programs that give them a secure market, payment for ecosystem services, subsidizing photovoltaic energy.


Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application

  • For many years small-scale dairy farmers in Santa Catarina have been using agroecological systems (e.g. Voisin Rational System) which can meet production efficiency while remaining benign in terms of enviromental, human, and animal well-being. But one is witnessing these farmers in the region abandoning these practices. We are interested in the applicants' approach of documenting real-life cases and understanding these recent developments.
  • We also liked the application's focus on coming up with practical recommendations to support those farmers who choose to compete or coexist with large-scale industrial production.
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