The key role of dairy husbandry for food security and economic growth in San Martín

Written by: Janet Mori 

PERU-Hub Communications Office

 Interview with: Javier Arturo Ñaupari Vásquez Javier Arturo Ñaupari Vásque

Director of the Learning Component of PERU-Hub

Dr. Ñaupari is PhD, MS, Animal Science Engineer and currently serves as Senior Professor in Ecology and Grasslands Management; and Director of the Department of Animal Production at the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM). He has been a researcher in several national and international projects on animal production, climate change, water and grasslands management, among others.

His vast professional experience allows him to make a real analysis of the livestock value chain in the San Martin region, PERU-Hub’s impact area.   Based on a recent study (2016 diagnosis of Agricultural Productivity Directorate and Regional Directorate of Agriculture in San Martin), Dr. Ñaupari states that there is potential for dairy production in San Martin, promoting competitiveness and strengthening livestock organizations.

In this interview, Dr. Ñaupari explains what the problems this Amazon region faces to become a livestock potential in our country.

Dr. Javier Ñaupari is the director of the Learning Component at PERU-Hub. He leads this component together with Dr. Loran Parker from the Evaluation and Learning Research Center at Purdue University, monitoring standard indicators and recording knowledge to improve the production of farmers and associations in the San Martin region.

Is there livestock potential in the San Martin Region?

Yes, there is. The San Martin region has a vast extension of pastures. Around 113 thousand hectares.  Ninety-nine percent are cultivated pastures, so there is a potential. Currently the region (especially in the provinces of Lamas, San Martin, Moyobamba, Rioja) has a production of about 60 thousand liters of milk per day: however, the pastures are not well managed. And this is reflected in the following: If we have 99 percent of cultivated pastures, with a moderate stocking rate (1.5 AU/ha) and an average production of 5 lt/cow, the San Martin region is at 35% of its production potential.

So why is San Martin not reaching its milk production potential?

There are two aspects that need to be improved. One is the breed of the cattle. The Creole and Cebuino cattle that exist in the region can be improved, for example, with Gyrholando cattle. And the other is pasture management, because there are no grazing plans that allow the efficient use of pastures and cover the nutritional requirements of the animals.

The Gyrholando is considered the most versatile breed in the tropical world. Females are milk producers by excellence. They are resistant even in difficult environments. In 2020, the Regional Government of San Martin started a program to offer free semen to cattle breeders as part of an economic reactivation plan (Source: Inforegión).

Does the Gyrholando exist in San Martin?

The Gyrholando does exist in San Martin. Recently, INIA* has a plant to preserve semen straws from these bulls. So, there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the cattle.

(*) National Institute for Agricultural Innovation – INIA

How would milk production improve if the cattle are improved? 

An interesting aspect is that there is an average of 50 artisanal cheese and yogurt plants in San Martín. The price of milk at the plant has a cost of 1 sol 35 cents. Calculations based on the latest diagnostics show that the region is at 35 percent of its milk potential, and that is if we only consider Creole cattle, that is, without having improved it. The figures indicate that there is also a problem of pasture management.

What are the problems with pasture management?

There are several. One of them is water supply. In San Martin, there are periods of low water levels that lately have been getting longer. The other problem is cattle rotation. In rainy seasons, cattle should rotate 30 to 35 days to return to the same paddock from which they left. That is, enter a paddock and return to another paddock. In the dry season this rotation should be between 40 to 45 days. Why this time? Because it allows the grass to resprout, to grow. If it is shortened too much then the grass is still very green, its non-structural carbohydrate reserves are not yet fixed. It is not the right time. At the next regrowth it is not going to grow as it should. And on the other hand, there is the problem that sometimes cattle come in too late. The stalks get gummed up; the forage becomes tough. The grass is of lower quality, less digestible. So, the animal uses less.

Does it use less in quality and quantity?

Of course. On the one hand, quantity when they enter very early and quality when they enter very late.

How would livestock activity help in the fight against anemia and malnutrition?

Milk and meat, especially meat, supplements several micronutrients in the diet of children and pregnant mothers. We are talking about iron for example and other micronutrients that are not found in vegetables. Iron is very important for the growth of children and to avoid anemia. Its role in food security is high. In 2012 we conducted research on meat and milk production in the high Andean zone.

The results were that this area can cover 24 percent of the national demand for milk and 45 percent of the national demand for meat. In this exercise that we did at the Laboratory of Ecology and Utilization of Pastures (UNALM), we discovered that the protein demand of children up to 3 years of age was covered only by livestock production in the Andean region. This region covered up to 3 times the protein demand of children.

Livestock in the San Martin region is essential for sustainable development; it influences various areas such as agriculture, food security, nutrition, poverty alleviation and economic growth. Photo: Regional Government of San Martin

And has the situation changed?

Not much. Rather, the cattle population in the Andean region has decreased a little. It seems to me that the San Martin Region is in the same condition. Livestock in general has a key role in national food security.

Dr. Ñaupari believes that the San Martin region has all the capabilities to become a national power in milk production. Photo: ComexPeru

How profitable is milk production?

The advantage of milk production is the daily liquidity. Unlike some crops that you have to wait four or five months until you can harvest, with milk you don’t wait long and they pay daily. According to the figures shown by Dr. Hugo Villachica (Director of PERU-Hub) the profitability of milk production in San Martin is 37 percent. Not bad at all. The good thing is that there are dairy plants in San Martin.

But could they increase their production?

The issue is the market, how they can market it, since it is still local. In the case of the project, the goal is to produce a flagship product of La Molina. Fresh milk, cheese, yogurt and even ice cream, due to the different fruits we have. That is what we are aiming for in these four years that remain of the project.

Javier Arturo Ñaupari Vásquez is a Senior Professor in Ecology and Pasture Management and Director of the Department of Animal Production at Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM).  He has participated in numerous international research projects. Among the most recent ones are: Co-investigator. Project “Improvement of animal production systems with emphasis on dairy cattle in the Andean region within the context of climate change”. FONTAGRO – Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), 2015 – 2018; Co-investigator US-Forest Service – Mountain Institute project. “Developing the scientific and social basis for wetland and peatland restoration in the context of socio-environmental change in the Andes”. 2015 – 2016. 

He has also been part of national projects, among the most recent are: Principal Investigator. Funds for Applied Research and Technological Development Subprojects. FONDECYT “Development of early warning systems based on mobile and remote information technologies for sustainable use and management of grazing lands”. 2018 – 2021; General Coordinator. Organization of Science, Technology and Technological Innovation Events. FONDECYT. “Developing tools to improve the health status and carrying capacity of puna grassland ecosystems in and around natural protected areas”. 2019. 

Dr. Ñaupari has a prolific contribution in scientific publications, articles in International Congresses and presentations in scientific events. He has obtained several awards and honors such as: “100 K Strong of the Americas. Partners of the Americas. 2018”, and “Society for Range Management. International Travel Fellowship 2017”. Dr. Ñaupari has also provided professional services as Lead Coordinator of the Driving Group of the Academy for Climate Action – National Council Against Climate Change. Ministry of Environment. 2020 and as Member of the Scientific Committee of the National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) (to date), among other positions.

Dr. Javier Arturo Ñaupari Vásquez