Preface[edit | edit source]

In the nineteenth century Swiss cheesemaking was an important factor in promoting rural development. Before the expansion of tourism, cattle grazing was the most appropriate method of land use in the higher valleys and the Alps; in many regions, for the peasants, it was the only alternative to emigration. However, milk production could only be increased where there was a market for this nutritious but highly perishable product. For the peasants of isolated valleys and Alps, cheesemaking was the only way to overcome this bottleneck. Thus, the peasants formed co-operatives which they initially ran themselves and, later on, rented out to specialized workmen who improved techniques and turned cheesemaking into a highly respected trade.

The better the cheese, the higher was the price it commanded in local and regional markets. As the demand for high quality cheese rose and export markets were opened, the dairies became able to pay more for the milk they used, and soon the peasants began to increase production by improving the quality of their livestock, pastures and stock farming techniques. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Emmentaler, Tilsiter, Gruyere, Appenzeller, and the cheeses from other relatively isolated valleys had become highly valued export products. This profitable trade was and still is a reliable source of income for thousands of cheesemakers and dairy farmers in Switzerland.

Similar strategies to achieve rural development have been adopted by French, Dutch, Danish, English and Italian farmers and cheesemakers, to mention only a few of the nations which have become famous for the quality of their cheese.

Based on this model of rural development, which, at home, proved to be a successful way of integrating isolated peasants into national and international markets and thereby stimulating their production and raising their incomes, the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC), a public agency for the promotion of social and economic development in the Third World, began to transfer cheesemaking techniques in order to generate similar processes of change in the peasant community of those poor countries which have a potential for dairy farming. The first project of this programme was set up in Langtang, Nepal, as early as 1954.

The production of cheese and yoghurt, mainly for the tourist market, soon became an important source of income for some small dairy farmers in the valleys of the Himalayas. In 1977 a similar project was set up in Afghanistan.

In Latin America, the programme was started in Peru in 1970. Initially, its main objective was to offer a productive alternative to the peasants of the Sheque valley near Lima, the capital of Peru. Later, in 1972, the Programme, in close collaboration with the Instituto de Investigaciones Agroindustrial now the Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Agroindustrial (INDA) expanded its activities to many other regions of the Peruvian highlands. In 1981 the Instituto Nacional de Investigacion y Promocion Agropecuaria (INIPA) became the most important national partner institution and the project soon became integrated into the Programa Nacional de Queserias, which still receives some limited follow-up assistance by SDC.

In Peru, the programme trained some 30 technicians and extension workers, who were specializing in small-scale cheesemaking, as well as about 200 peasants and workers from co-operatives and other forms of collective enterprises. Altogether it advised and promoted the establishment of more than 80 small rural cheese factories.

Based on a recommendation made by FAO, the programme initiated its activities in Ecuador in 1978. As suggested by the evaluation of the Peruvian experience, it co-operates not only with the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganaderia, the official counterpart institution, but also with the Fondo Ecuatoriano Populorum Progressio (FEPP) and other non-governmental organizations interested in promoting rural development.

This joint effort allows for the application of a more integrated approach, according to which cheese manufacturing, as the main stimulant of change, should be accompanied by the promotion of peasant organizations, credit programmes, extension services for pasture, genetic and stock-farming improvements, as well as by the establishment of an association of peasant-owned cheese factories with its own marketing network and retail outlets. Also, the programme has given more importance to local demand and preferences. By adapting traditional techniques to produce suitably hygienic fresh cheese, which may be easily subsidized by profits from other types of dairy products, it is possible to improve the peasants' own diet and thus their conditions of health. Finally, cheesemaking should be complemented by other activities such as meat processing, as well as by biogas or solar energy programmes.

In such a strategy of integrated rural development the promotion of small-scale cheesemaking may become a key element in generating a series of positive spin-off effects. This concept cannot be adopted by all groups of peasants, but in general, at least the following conditions and arguments should be considered:

  • the peasants must be organized, well motivated and have some previous experience in stock-raising;
  • there must be enough land to expand and increase pastures without generating ecological problems;
  • the producers need access to credit and extension services to establish a small cheese factory and improve their livestock, pastures and farming techniques;
  • cheese production by small-holders should only be encouraged in isolated areas where climate and ecological conditions do not permit the production of food crops and where there is no alternative market for milk: to increase the consumption of freshly pasteurized milk is always a better way of improving the diet of the poor;
  • in the case of co-operative cheesemaking, additional assistance in management, accountancy and organization of self-help groups is indispensable;
  • in most developing countries, well-matured cheese is mainly consumed by the middle and upper classes who live in the major cities, markets to which the peasants usually have no direct access; unless they manage to establish their own marketing network, most of the value added by cheese production is therefore lost to the middlemen;
  • the general economic policies (milk price, import restrictions, credit availability to small farmers) and technical extension systems should encourage dairy production, and actively assist the peasants in their efforts to raise their output.

The present handbook summarizes the author's experience gained during the 30 years which he and other experts of SDC have spent in different developing countries promoting appropriate techniques for cheesemaking as a means of improving peasant livelihood. The book is now published in English to assist organized groups of small producers as well as governmental and non-governmental institutions which promote rural development in Third World countries.

F.R. Staehelin Director Swiss Development Co-operation

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