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Researcher Spotlight: Jack Hetherington - Dimagi

Bolstering Indonesia’s dairy industry through smallholder farmer initiatives, plus a key to data-collection-success 

Jack Hetherington –– an agricultural researcher and long-time CommCare user –– shares tips on how to set-up your research team for successful data collection. Get his seasoned advice and learn how his work is benefiting Indonesia’ smallholder farmers and dairy industry. 

Q: Jack, can you please introduce yourself?

Jack: I’m a research associate and PhD student at the University of Adelaide in Australia. I’ve been involved in IndoDairy, an Indonesian, smallholder dairy project since 2017. We’ve been using CommCare from the beginning,  and we’re currently in the middle of an endline survey to monitor the impacts of the project.

Q: What’s the primary focus of your research? 

Jack: The primary aim of the project is to improve the supply of milk from smallholder dairy farmers in Indonesia –– the quantity and the quality of milk –– in order to improve the livelihoods and competitiveness of smallholder producers. 

Indonesia only produces 17% of the milk that it consumes, and most of the milk comes from smallholder farmers that manage about three cows with low-productivity. There’s a big gap there, and the Indonesian government is very keen on increasing the amount of domestic supply. We’re working with the farmers, processing companies, cooperatives and the government to try and improve their farming practices.

Q: What is a research finding that you are excited about?

Jack:  We still have a couple of months to go and are doing an endline survey to quantify the impacts of our activities, but we’re excited about some of what we’ve found, especially the improvement in milk quality from smallholder farmers. As background: Farmers are paid a flat rate for their milk, regardless of the quality, but bacterial count is a really big issue. As a point of comparison, the bacterial counts that are permissible in Australia, are in the ballpark of 50,000 cells per milliliter; in Indonesia, the standard is 1 million cells per milliliter. 

So we worked with the farmers, the processors and the cooperatives to implement a pricing premium by testing each farmer individually, paying them individually, and giving them feedback about the quality of their milk. We’ve seen that the cooperatives and the processors are keen to continue the implementation because they see the benefit of it. And the cooperatives are paying the extra money to the farmers because they see the benefit.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of frontline data collection?

Jack: A big challenge is having a common understanding and consistency across the team about what’s really important with the data that you’re collecting: why you’re collecting it; how it’s being collected.

That’s where CommCare comes in though –– it forces you to establish that very early on, as you have to pre-fill all of the possible options and test for bugs before you go to the field. With a paper-based system, you have to establish that as well, but you always have up your sleeve, the ability to write notes down on a bit of paper and deal with problems or discrepancies afterwards. However, this slows the process down of transcribing and cleaning your data, which in turn delays the data analysis. 

Another nice thing about CommCare is that you can see it all in real time: we’re collecting 500-households worth of data right now, and we’re able to see everything as it comes in. We’re able to check it, make changes or call up the enumerators that are in the field to make changes or get the correct information while they’re still out there. That’s been really helpful.

Q: Do you have any tips for frontline data collection?

Jack: My biggest tip would be pre-testing everything beforehand. That is really critical to the actual data collection process. Go over everything a thousand times, in many different ways to make sure you don’t have any issues when you’re out in the field. That of course can be really challenging if you’re going into a region or a country that you’re not familiar with, because you don’t always know every possible answer.  Like with our project, we didn’t know all of the government programs or every unit of measurement that farmers use for bales of hay. 

The worst thing that could happen though is you’re in the middle of an interview and your application prevents you from proceeding forward. So that would be my biggest bit of advice:  pre-test, pre-test, pre-test. 

Jack Hetherington is a Research Associate and PhD Candidate at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Global Food and Resources (GFAR). Jack’s current PhD research aims to look at the role of decision support tools (DSTs) in food loss and waste (FLW) management, more broadly he is passionate about sustainable agricultural systems. Since 2017, he has been coordinating the IndoDairy research project, which aims to improve milk supply of smallholder dairy chains in Indonesia. Jack has worked at Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and is a member of Researchers in Agriculture for International Development (RAID) Network and the Crawford Fund. He’s been a CommCare user since 2016.



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