Dai Harvey’s commitment to improving diets and spurring economic growth through agriculture
In many parts of eastern and southern Africa, the cheapest and easiest foods for families to access are ones high in starch, like maize and cassava. Though carbohydrates are important to a human’s diet, starches lack protein and fat—both of which are critical to childhood development.
Dai Harvey grew up on a rural livestock farm in Zambia with chickens, cattle, sheep and goats. At an early age, he started to notice the impact animal sourced foods (ASF) had on his neighborhood friends. His playmates whose diets were supplemented with milk seemed to do better in school than those who went without. This had a profound impact on his life’s work. After getting his primary education in neighboring Zimbabwe, he graduated from Imperial College London in the U.K. with a degree in Agricultural Business Management and later received a graduate degree from Tropical Agriculture Economics Reading University, also in the U.K.
“During this time, I was fortunate to be exposed to different types of commercial agricultural businesses around the world. Afterwards, I went back to Zambia—where I felt my education could bring the most value. My professional aspiration was to help fellow farmers become more commercially oriented and access markets,” says Dai.
Dai’s aspirations eventually lead him to a career with Land O’Lakes Venture37. When Land O’Lakes’ Zambia Dairy Development Program (ZDDP) came to his home country in 2004 with funding from USAID, Dai was working with 600 smallholder dairy and export vegetable farmers while operating his own commercial operation with 200 cows. The ZDDP team asked to partner with Dai to scale operations nationally—and they did just that.
“The impact has been long lasting—we set up smallholder dairy production nationally in Zambia, growing the number of milk collection center from two to 12 districts along the rail line. Over 2,000 farming households (20,000 people) were contributing to the dairy supply throughout the project. This has now grown to over 6,000 households (60,000 people). Processors are supplying milk across the country and region to millions of customers,” says Dai.
Today, Dai is the Director of Programs, serving as an agricultural adviser and providing technical oversight to Land O’Lakes programs. True to his original passion, his role is to assist dairy and livestock farmers to take advantage of opportunities to sustainably improve their livelihoods. Dai says that a focus on ASF is one of the most critical pieces to this work.
“Malnutrition—like I saw in Zambia growing up—is one of our world’s biggest challenges,” says Dai. “A child growing up without access to the necessary nutrition will not develop to the best of her ability. Knowledge and access to ASF can help her reach her full potential. Let’s give everyone the best chance we can.”
Over the years, Dai has learned that doing our best to elevate ASF looks different in each country. In his job with Land O’Lakes, Dai champions a commitment to learning, applying the latest advancements in data, science and technology and centering our approach around local insights.
Here are a few lessons he has learned from ASF projects, beginning with his early days supporting ZDDF:
- Behavior change starts with household-level awareness. In east and southern Africa, women are often responsible for maintaining the household. Mom puts the food on the table. That’s why it’s important for women to be informed about different food groups. Our work facilitates discussions around food to raise awareness about the importance of diversified diets, including the role of ASF. Of course, it’s more complicated than just having a conversation. Food is deeply rooted in culture. It’s tough to change human behavior. One way we go further is by engaging men as well. When two household adults are bought in to the decision, it’s more likely they will invest time and resources into raising small livestock and diversifying their family’s diet for the long term.
- Increased productivity comes from science, innovation and local insights. If a family’s chicken is only producing half a dozen eggs a month, it’s unlikely any will be saved for household consumption. Though hands-on trainings, our projects work with farmers to improve their animals’ productivity and product quality. When they produce more, they can afford to both sell and save eggs and other ASFs for household consumption. Here are two additional avenues where we also look to find innovative approaches to improving ASF productivity:
- Science + Technology: With our affiliation with Land O’Lakes, Inc. a world premier agribusiness, we have unique access to productivity-enhancing data and innovation. Land O’Lakes, Inc. uses satellite imagery to help farmers predict weather, drones to monitor crops and livestock, and data to help farmers make informed decisions about animal nutrition. “With our ties to Land O’Lakes corporate, we are in a strong position to leverage what is appropriate and achievable for the local context,” says Dai.
- Improved genetics: When it comes to dairy production, traditional cows in East Africa will produce between 2-3 liters of milk day. Cross-breeding the cow—paired with animal nutrition, veterinary services and pull from the market—can improve production to reach 10-14 liters a day. In Tanzania and Ethiopia, our PAID project is doing just that. PAID is focused on training female AI techs to reach an underserved population of female producers. With the proven science behind cross breeding and this locally-driven insight to focus on women, the project is supporting increased dairy production.
- Food quality and safety are critical to a thriving ASF value chain. If dairy or meat products aren’t stored properly, each participant in the value chain—including the consumer—miss out. From on-farm product storage to transportation to private sector investment in milk collection centers, each value chain needs to be designed with local insights considered. “For example, in Rwanda, a farmer may only produce a few liters of milk a day. It doesn’t make sense for her to bring it to the milk collection center. Instead, we integrated a system where youth served as milk aggregators on their bicycles,” says Dai. “The transport method was food safe, and it created a way for youth to get involved while creating a market for the farmer. We are always using local insights to improve market access in clever ways.”
- Environmental sustainability is a major factor: It’s no secret, when produced improperly, ASF can have a negative impact on the environment. “With ASF being so critical to human development in these parts of the world, it’s up to all of us to make production more efficient,” says Dai. “With improved breeding, feeding and technology, it’s possible to improve food ratios with more efficiency across the system.” Again, we look to customize our approach to ASF activities based on local climate considerations, access to technology and inputs.
The livestock and dairy sectors are vital to global food security. We have a great challenge of needing to produce and create more access to ASF using fewer resources.
The list above isn’t exhaustive—or easy to implement—but with people like Dai on the ground, we are learning and innovating more every day to improve diets and spur economic growth through agriculture.
“Agricultural development is never going to be a quick and easy fix for a community or household. For long-term ASF impact, it requires gradual change on and off the farm,” says Dai.
For Dai, who has seen the impacts of ASF firsthand since childhood, driving change through this agenda is more than job—it’s his life purpose.
Want to hear more from Dai about our approach to intentional global development? Listen as he guest starred on the Land O'Lakes, Inc. Something Greater podcast below: