Our meeting today is with a former member of NARMS – Mr. Iliya Kafalov from the village of Musomishte, Gotse Delchev region. Although he does not currently breed the Montbeliard and Simmental breeds, he does not break off his close relations with his former colleagues and often participates in the activities of the Association.
Mr. Kafalov has been developing a dairy farm for many years and has himself processed the raw milk produced into dairy products that have been in demand so far. It is like a living encyclopedia of transition. All the vicissitudes in the sector, the dubious political decisions and their consequences on the once developed Bulgarian dairy farming have happened before his eyes. Today he has a meat farm and is a distributor of a large company – a leader in the production of compound feed in Bulgaria.
Many of us know Mr. Kafalov from the meetings and gatherings of NARMS and know that he is a man with critical thinking and a clear position. This prompted us to turn to him to tell us why he gave up dairy farming and what has happened in the last 30 years that from a country with traditions in the sector and a developed livestock market, Bulgaria has become an importer and a paradise for imitating dairy. products.
– Introduce yourself with some words.
– Hello, to all colleagues! My name is Iliya Kafalov from the village of Musomishte. I am currently engaged in beef cattle breeding and I am a representative of the company “HL-TopMix”, which is a Bulgarian-German company offering on the market high quality products and complete concepts for raising all types of animals.- When did you start cattle breeding on your own farm and what has happened to this day?
– In 1996 I started with animals of the Holstein breed. Before that I was engaged in sheep breeding and trade, which I ran in parallel after the establishment of the farm.
In fact, the reason I start raising cows is my daughter, who was born in ’96. I needed cow’s milk because it wasn’t suitable for sheep. At that time, in the then APC, animals that were black-patterned and their crosses were provided for a share. I managed to choose two very good animals. The animals were really great. Then they inseminated with seed from Israel, which had a very high breeding value.
This participatory practice was accompanied by a lot of madness. There were many superb animals that were just slaughtered and everything that was created over the years seemed to be deliberately destroyed.
I kept these two animals and gradually increased their number to 8. Whatever the “experts” say now, then Bulgaria had an extremely developed animal husbandry. Completely competitive with Western countries and even surpassed it.
There were traditions in nutrition and breeding. The specialists in the APCs helped the private farms and the colleagues achieved a very high milk yield. However, everything was irretrievably ruined, and quite purposefully.As an example, I will tell you the story of an Italian investor who arrived in Bulgaria in 1994. His name was Paolo Denici and he was a sponsor of FC Botev – Plovdiv. He had a great desire to develop cattle breeding and turned to the then liquidation council of the APC with the intention to buy the empty, unusable barn. They refused, arguing that they could not provide him with land. He didn’t need land – he wanted to raise cows, produce yogurt and other dairy products. He intended to provide food for the animals from other regions of Bulgaria, as at that time there was plenty of food. And agriculture, like cattle farming, was booming.
In our region, indeed, the land was already distributed and divided, and he had no one to buy arable land from, but this was not an argument for refusal, as there were many and reliable sources of fodder throughout the country. A huge amount of all the necessary animal feed was produced and it was very affordable. This meant that, in fact, cultivating the land at that time was not necessary for the successful development of a cattle farm.
The liquidation council ultimately refused the Italian investor without any real reason to give him the opportunity to buy the farm and it, as well as all the remaining facilities and buildings of the APC were distributed on a general basis, without any logic. Both the animals and the base were completely destroyed, and this unfortunately turned out to be a general and widespread trend throughout the country. In just a few years, Bulgaria purposefully destroyed its developed agriculture and animal husbandry. There was complete chaos. The milk cost 15 stotinki.
I remember in the infamous 1997 I had bought animals from one market in another region and brought them to the farm. Then the Prime Minister was Jean Videnov, who came out and publicly “boasted” how the price of milk was reduced from 30 to 8 cents. This “ingenious” political measure to gain public approval was a death knell for dairy farmers. I wanted to break the TV. These people were just making fun of each other and wanted to ruin everything created by decades of effort and work.
Literally a day later, a “wise” state decision on the farms began a mass slaughter of animals. Complete doom without any reason. People were desperate. We were already in a market economy, and the state was determining the price of milk. This was the end of Bulgaria as an agricultural state.
A few years later, they did the same with the pigs. In just a few months, the price of live weight dropped so much that 100 kg could be bought for BGN 100.
Livestock has fallen into a decade of chaos and hopelessness. It became a full-fledged business, and the few remaining herds gradually sold out as people became exhausted. A horror movie, but unfortunately quite real! We have witnessed inexplicable anomalies for years.
Under another iconic prime minister, Sergei Stanishev, banks decided to take away their credit cards from farmers because the sector was a loser. And they helped us a lot to cope. There were no European subsidies, because during the EU accession negotiations they had “forgotten” that we also have animals in Bulgaria. There was no state support either, and developing a farm was a lost cause. It was as if they really wanted to kill any desire and opportunity to develop this activity.
However, in 2009 I bought my first purebred animals of the Simmental and Montbeliard breeds. At that point, I had already started selling my animals’ milk only privately, as the dairies were literally being mocked. However, my clients were looking for higher quality, and in the case of black-and-white animals there is a limit to the quality of the production, which even with optimal nutrition and breeding cannot be compared to that of Montbeliard and Simmental.
In 2007-08, numerous dairies with dubious purposes were established under PHARE and SAPARD programs, and some of them did not process dairy products at all, but simply simulated activity. They were not interested in the quality of the milk, did not meet the payment deadlines and twisted the hands of the breeders together without the right to choose.
In 2009 a specific dairy – Mr. Dinko Velev forced me to give up working with them and to realize my production entirely privately. I had already bought 12 Montbeliards and Simmentals from the farm of the chairman of the association – Mr. Atanasov. I had unique animals and offered excellent milk. They took samples and the results were very high – fat content over 5% – just like sheep’s milk. We seem to have agreed on a firm, relatively good price. Suddenly, however, things turned out quite differently. The milk processor began to dodge and explain to me how here in the region the milk was at most 30 stotinki, and his warehouse was full of sacks not of milk powder, but of palm fat and condensed milk. It is a big misconception that low-quality dairy products contain powdered milk – it is an expensive product achieved after processing real quality milk. They use it only for expensive chocolates and products. Cheese and yellow cheese, in fact, contained palm oil, condensed milk, and all sorts of dubious cheap chemicals. The dairies had loaded up with them and demonstrated to the cattle breeders that they could do without their milk and would buy it at ridiculous prices.
I had invested in elite animals and there was no chance to compromise on the price, and to give the dairy farmer another reason to forget himself completely. So, I started processing my own production. We always made cheese and yellow cheese at home and I had some idea how to make it.
I bought a bath and started experimenting and rehearsing until I came up with my recipe, which achieved excellent dairy products! I ignored the dairies and developed my own market. I had clients from all over the country and abroad – Greeks regularly bought from me. There was a hunger for quality dairy products and the private market was very good. The chains were full of imitation products, and the Bulgarian loves cheese and yellow cheese and there is no way to sell him palm or other imitations. He understands and seeks the real thing. These unfair practices of the dairies provided us with a good market, because against the background of their garbage, my products had a guarantee of origin and quality.
I made cheese and yellow cheese according to completely original recipes. Even then, one of our colleagues from Lom gave me an idea for olives and spices in yellow cheese. It happened by accident on a trip to France. Yellow cheese with olives and other spices later became unique, it was a very sought after and preferred product. I also added blueberries and raisins to the recipe. I experimented and it turned out very tasty.
– What is most important in the production of cheese and yellow cheese?
– The high quality of the milk and the materials used. Compromises with imitation products and any artificial additives should not be allowed. The products of the conscientious master always stand out. The other, but equally important, is impeccable hygiene!
– First you gave up working with dairies, and later from dairy farming. What did this decision require?
– Indeed, at the moment we have a completely meat farm. There was no way I could handle a dairy farm anymore because I had to do everything myself. There is no continuity and the young people in our family no longer want to be involved in animal husbandry at all. And they are right. For them, this is slave labor, which deprives a person of any personal life. I understand them and I can’t force them. In Bulgaria, indeed, the work of the farmer is ungrateful, unbearable and invaluable. In the West, it is prestigious to be a farmer – society and the state are closely behind you, high-quality products are purposefully imposed as a state policy, and there is a real cooperative among cattle breeders. Here this is impossible and no one shows respect for the huge work that is done every day, without a day off, and state aid is extremely insufficient.
For this reason, our heirs have given up on this path, as have all the other young people whom the state does not encourage in any way to engage in animals or agriculture. In Bulgaria, people who are idle all day treat the breeders with contempt as if they were second-hand people and almost do not do it because they are not good at anything else.
– And does the end user still manage to distinguish quality from imitation?
– No, in the general case, but he is not guilty. He has been ordered countless imitation products in chains, and now in small shops, and he chooses price over quality. It is a matter of state policy and specific actions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to impose the sale and promotion of Bulgarian quality dairy products. In this way to stimulate cattle breeders. However, this does not happen! That’s exactly how we destroyed our livestock. They flooded the markets with garbage and devalued quality products. What incentive should cattle breeders have to produce something of quality, as no one appreciates their work.
This is the sad truth. We have destroyed a whole successful and profitable branch of our economy. Bulgaria was once a country with traditions and extremely developed animal husbandry, which was purposefully crushed and fell into chaos and hopelessness. Everyone saved himself as best he could, and I have great respect for my colleagues, who survived in spite of everything and at the cost of many deprivations and ungrateful work continue and preserve what was once a distinctive activity in our country.
Subsidies are very useful, but they do not go where and for what they need, so they are not enough. The aim is for quantity, not quality. Farmers must realize that they must first be successful in the quality of produce and animals, and then increase their numbers. This proves that the principle of subsidization is somewhere very wrong. Instead of stimulating small and medium-sized businesses, they provoke quantity at the expense of quality. In the West, the basis of successful dairy farming are small farms with good technology and high quality products.
The decision for a minimum of 20 cows was also extremely wrong. In both Austria and France, farms with 9, 10 and 15 animals are supported – as much as the farm’s capacity for maximum quality production. This minimum number in Bulgaria provokes many compromises and unfair practices.
The arguments are that with 5 animals selection cannot be made. On the contrary! The selection does not depend on the number of animals. Currently, there must be a minimum of 20 dairy cows to receive a subsidy on the farm. This is madness! Not a total of animals as a herd, but 20 mothers! The subsidy cannot be on a general principle for the mountainous and remote regions, for the small and large farms! At the same time, the rules and laws are changed daily without arguments or explanations, and are applied selectively.
They justify everything with Europe, and there such vicious practices cannot be seen anywhere. No one will allow in France a product imitating Comte cheese, for example. Their villages are full of small, medium farms and animals. We need a change and it is urgent!
– Do you believe that this positive change will come?
– I believe! I believe in young people who will not resign themselves and will take change into their own hands!
– And why are cattle breeders not united in defense of their rights?
– Not that they don’t want to be! – they are simply disillusioned, because in our country every initiative is flawed. At the top of the branch organizations there are people with serious political dependencies who stifle any attempt for change. What is the motivation of farmers to quit their jobs and protest when all such attempts ended with behind-the-scenes arrangements of certain people and parties. Here, farmers are treated like criminals – constant threats, inspections and waving.
However, I believe that at some point capable young people will take matters into their own hands and “push out” all this unprincipledness and behind the scenes. I wish my colleagues not to give up and not to compromise with the quality of the production. Change will come if we believe and strive for it, but we must start with ourselves first!
– Great finale! Thank you for this interesting story, which explains many things about our still unfinished transition!
– Thank you too! See you soon!