A Co Longford dairy farmer is credited with the emergence of a novel fundraising initiative that will bring the entire Irish dairy industry together, as part of a concerted effort to raise funds for war-torn Yemen.
Mike Magan’s Together For Yemen initiative aims to collect the value of the milk of one cow for one day from every farmer in Ireland, in order to buy Irish whole milk powder for the famine relief work of the Red Cross in Yemen.
It began in June, as he watched a heartbreaking report from Yemen on RTE.
“I was watching a news report on RTE on June 28 last which showed the dire situation in Yemen,” he told the Irish Examiner this week.
“I watched a father feeding his child a paste of sugar and water, because the child was too far advanced in starvation to consume anything else.
“In fact, the people there have nothing else to feed to the children.”
Mr Magan says the image stayed with him and he didn’t sleep that night, because “the image was haunting me”.
“I asked myself, have we become so detached and selfish that we can’t do something for those people?
“The next morning, I was milking, and I was watching the milky wash water going down the drain, and an idea started to form in my head.
“Anyway, I ended up thinking that if we could just get the milk from one cow for a day from every dairy farmer in the country, then something could be achieved for those people.”
The civil war in Yemen has killed more than 100,000.
Famine has left more than 24 million Yemenis in need of aid, and the situation there is being described as the world’s single largest humanitarian crisis.
Two-thirds of the 28 million population rely on food aid for survival, while at least 10.3 million children do not get enough food in the war-ravaged country.
Almost 1.8 million aged under five face acute malnutrition.
Back in Ireland, however, the seeds were being sown to help people there.
“We initially put the idea out on social media, and it started to get traction,” Mr Magan continued.
“What I wanted from the beginning was a bottom-up approach to the initiative, one that was farmer-led.
“The co-ops get hundreds of requests every year to become involved in charity events, etc, and all of that goes into a pile that never gets acted upon.
“So I thought that if I could get them to take calls from their farmers, before the initiative became more formal, that might actually work.” And it did work…
Farmers started ringing their co-ops and indicating clearly that they wanted to become involved in the initiative. “Dairygold and Lakeland Dairies were in early but, at this stage, we are close to 100% of dairy processors backing the initiative,” the Co Longford dairy farmer added.
“All of the mechanisms for collection are already in place.
The co-ops have accounts with their farmer-suppliers, and the idea is that they would then stop €10 from every farmer that’s interested in being involved.
“The money will then be provided through cheque from each co-op, and ICOS [the national co-op movement organisation] will deliver those to the Irish Red Cross, as one donation from the Irish dairy industry.”
While others outside of the sector are keen to become involved, Mr Magan says his “primary concern” is to get Irish dairy farmers involved.
“We are a pretty caring bunch.
“We get up in the middle of the night to save a sick calf.
“So I thought, why don’t we just change that care to caring for our fellow humans that are less fortunate than ourselves,” he said.
“John O’Sullivan, a farmer from Cork, got onto me early on in proceedings, and he was very encouraging of the idea.
“And literally last week, the last big co-op came on board.”
Mike Magan has been involved in the dairy industry for 30 years.
He is chairman of Animal Health Ireland; a director of the Irish Farmers Journal; a former chairman of Lakeland Dairies; and a father and grandfather too.
He has been involved in numerous fundraisers.
“When my son James was very ill, and before he died, I got the entire farming industry together for a fundraiser for St Luke’s Hospital,” he said.
“I just want to harness the positive energy that’s in our industry and channel it to the less fortunate among us.
“That is a good thing to do.
“Covid-19 has meant that people have a lot more things occupying their mind now, and as a result, international fundraising has suffered.
“And, it’s understandable that people are thinking of their own current plight, because we don’t know how Covid-19 is going to pan out.
“At the same time, we shouldn’t forget the other responsibilities that we have as a society.
“In fairness, while Covid-19 has been dire for many, farming hasn’t been impacted too badly.
“Farmers work in a semi-isolated environment anyway, so while the social side of farming has been affected, the day to day side of the industry hasn’t been that badly affected.
“We are coming through it quite well, and while we can be regarded as a complaining industry, we are a caring industry too, and I’d like to think that is what comes across the most.”
Kerry Agribusiness, meanwhile, has indicated that it will contribute €10,000 directly to the initiative.
Both Kerry Agribusiness and Kerry Co-op said they are proud to support the initiative, and have decided to operate an opt-in donation system of €10 deducted from each supplier’s September milk payment.
Suppliers who do not wish to donate €10 can contact their local Kerry Agribusiness representative or area manager to opt-out, before Friday, October 9.