THE country’s milk production has tremendously improved, recording a 10-year-high of 23 percent, in what market analysts and farmers said was a commendable stride as the agriculture sector pulls out from years of underperformance.
Buoyed by gains within dairy farming practice, more farmers, in particular smallholder ranchers, have taken to livestock rearing for milk production. The increased interest to focus on the dairy industry has hyped the Government’s optimism that the country was on course to reach its 120 million litres of milk annually.
This year, official dairy volumes stand at 79,9 million litres, as latest figures from the 2020 Agriculture Sector Survey reveal.
The country recorded 57,3 million litres in 2011 and the figures have been on the rise in succeeding years. The number of farmers in the enterprise increased year on and so were the milk volumes which averaged 60 million litres. The improvement sat well with Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) which said the rise in milk volumes was as a result of enhanced productivity.
Dairy farmers were said to be benefiting largely from assistance created through multiple business partnerships that include the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, processors and the European Union (EU) funded projects.
Huge investments and support systems in the milk production value chain gave farmers the zeal to commit to good dairy farming practices according to the 2020 Agriculture Sector Survey principal researcher, Professor Gift Mugano.
In an interview last week, Prof Mugano said the dairy farming industry revival strategy initiated by milk processors and farmers has paid dividends.
Milk processors and other prominent dairy products companies in the value chain across the country pooled resources amounting to over US$20 million in the resuscitation project.
“Credit is due to the farmers and in particular the whole dairy sector. Big companies in the industry in Harare, Midlands and Bulawayo mobilised money exceeding US$20 million which was used to build the national dairy herd. Over and above that, farmers were supported with stock feed, veterinary services and getting money from the banks on the back of their strong balance sheet. The support cushioned the farmers and that is why milk production volumes have been on the rise. The dairy farmers now are producing 80 million litres per year, meaning we are short of 40 million litres to reach self-sufficiency as a country,” said Prof Mugano.
He said the Government’s dairy farming revival policy played a huge role.
“The Government removed duty on the importation of powdered milk from South Africa. There was a shortage and therefore the need to supplement. That kind of a move made it easy for milk companies to manage their cash flows and improve the local sector and invested backward in value by supporting the farmers. The enabling efforts was at the Government and policy level. The duty-free policy on the importation of powdered milk has to continue because it gives a milestone to raise more revenue for the value chain.”
He said the notable improvements have given way to the industry to cut its imports by 70 percent. Reaching the 120 million litres would not be attainable this year, but the ZADF is confident that the normal to above normal rainfall season expected from November will spur growth.
“The dairy farming industry is impressed by the commitment of the farmers,” said ZADF chairman Mr Kudzai Chirima.
“We remain positive that in the coming season, if rains pour well as expected, the dairy farmers’ industry will improve. From December up to March, when it is peak season, we are expecting good volumes. Generally, it is agreeable that we can be able to achieve our target as farmers and also meet the national milk requirements for sustainability which is at 120 million litres a year.”
In the meantime, as effects of drought are still felt, the dairy farmers saw the year ending at 90 million litres, Mr Chirima said.
He said ZADF applauds the increased milk volumes, but farmers were concerned that market bottlenecks, stock feed price distortions and climate change were impeding on efforts to reach targets. He said the month on month volumes showed an uneven trend as some farmlands produced better than others.
At the time the country’s agriculture sector was doing well, farmers brought in 256 million litres to the tanks in 1990. Partnerships that have been forged with farmers like the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme have been praised as instrumental in pushing the farmers to give their best.
The programme was initiated in 2015 to assist smallholder farmers to concentrate on producing milk even from cows traditionally reared for beef. Funded by the United States Agency International Development (USAid), the venture worked with dairy farmers in Umzingwane, Mvuma, Gokwe South, Gweru, Chipinge and Kwekwe districts.
“In these areas, we are happy that more farmers are now into dairy full time,” said Mr Chirima.