By Alyssa Morris

ZIMBABWE’S national dairy herd currently sits at 40 000 animals, half of which are milking cows producing an average of 13 litres per cow per day, which translates to 6.4 million litres per month.

At peak production in the early 90s, the country had a 42 000 milking herd producing 260 million litres of milk, which were enough to satiate local demand, statistics from the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) recently indicated.

The situation, however, took a downturn with the herd plunging to a record low of 22 000 animals producing 36 million litres in 2009, which saw the country turning to imports as well as use of powdered milk to bridge the gap.

Since then there have been concerted efforts by various stakeholders to bring back the sector’s glory of the bygone days culminating in the adoption of several programmes, policies and mechanisms to support and protect the local production and marketing of milk.

Such efforts have of late resulted in the introduction of various recovery strategies such as Government’s Livestock Development Implementation Strategy, the European Union funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme and the Transforming Zimbabwe’s Dairy Value Chain for the Future (TranZDVC) project that are being implemented to address the root causes of underperformance in the country’s dairy value chain (DVC) through strengthening the linkages between production, processing and financing.

Four partners – We Effect, Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers, Zimbabwe Dairy Industry Trust and Zimbabwe Farmers Union are implementing the strategy that is expected to contribute to the realisation of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme’s (ZAGP) expected outcomes, especially increased production and productivity of the livestock sector and increased public and private investment in targeted livestock value chains.

The message from these collaborations is loud and clear – there should be high levels of cooperation among the various value chain players in the dairy sector, which should not follow the natural sequence in which one player waits for the other to play their part and pass the baton on. Dairy value chain players range from producers, processors, feed manufacturers, veterinary drug dealers, extension workers, policy makers and policy implementers to the consumers.

These are the players that should at the moment dissolve demarcation of roles and get involved in the general process of production whenever they feel capacitated to do so because a vibrant production process will also translate into a highly functional value chain in the end. Processors or feed manufacturers, for instance, can initiate schemes that enhance production so that they will have adequate materials to process and markets for their feeds respectively bearing in mind the fact that if the dairy producer catches a cold and underperforms, the entire value chain will sneeze too.

Interventions by all value chain players should cushion farmers from high production costs especially for a basic requirement like feeds that currently constitute 70 to 80 percent of the cost of production. The nature of intervention here requires the training of farmers to make their own farm feed formulations.

Government has since introduced the Presidential Silage Input scheme and the command dairy programme that is giving smallholder dairy farmers silage inputs while the medium to large dairy farmers are getting loans to produce their own feeds to cut costs associated with buying concentrates.

In fact, the impact of such collaborations has since begun to show with the sector witnessing a resurgence that yielded 76, 7 million litres of milk in 2020 accompanied by an average annual growth of 10, 28 percent, which is quite laudable. The Livestock Development Implementation Strategy envisages an expansion of the national herd size to 60 000 animals that will produce 150 million litres of milk by the year 2025, which is quite a giant leap towards milk self-sufficiency and a return to the good old times.

It is refreshing to note that the partnership involving We Effect, ZADF, Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) and Zimbabwe Dairy Industry Trust (ZDIT) will seek to improve the economic, social and environmental performance of the DVC and also create an enabling environment for a sustainable and inclusive dairy sector while collaborating with the public and private sectors, NGOs, Government service departments, processors and input suppliers.

This project will surely boost production among smallholder, medium-scale and large-scale anchor dairy farms considering that it targets to establish dairy hubs and inclusive business models. The dairy hubs will strengthen service provision around milk collection centres and milk bulking points while the out grower schemes will certainly improve milk aggregation and bulking.

Essentially, the success of the project will see more smallholder dairy farmers emerging once they realise that the playing field will be accommodating them too. At the moment the myriad of problems associated with small-scale dairy farming in particular is enough to scare them away, yet they can still contribute significantly to the total national output if given the chance.

Currently, smallholder dairy farmers are only contributing four percent of milk going through the formal market with most of them failing to supply milk to the collection centres and processors due to viability issues linked to low producer prices against high production costs incurred. The average producer price of milk as of 16 November was $88, 19 against an average cost of production of $121, 02 according to ZADF, which makes it unviable for those producing on small-scale to break even after factoring in the high costs of production.

Under the current scenario, dairy farmers are more of price takers than producers and sellers of a product for which they can fix a price, so they end up settling for the low producer prices that are offered by processors. It is an undisputed fact that because of their poor breeding strategies, lack of a proper business mentality and planning, low milk production volumes and low productivity levels among other challenges, smallholder dairy producers need someone to lead them by the hand until such a time that their production skills and access to critical resources and markets have improved.

And this is where some of the value chain players must come in and not just wait for their turn in the production cycle to come. They must come with schemes that boost production from all angles so that the sector becomes a well-oiled machine that does not have hiccups somewhere along the value chain. It is also crucial to work towards creating feeding regimes that improve cow productivity from the current 3, 6 litres per day per cow to above 15 litres per day per cow while the farmers should have access to improved breeds through artificial insemination where they cannot access bulls. TranZDVC has come in handy in that respect outsourcing 200 in-calf heifers in February 2020 from Eastern Cape in South Africa with 105 in-calf heifers arriving in the country on 26 April 2020 from the neighbouring South Africa again.

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