Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Supporting smallholder dairy farmers with information and knowledge could help make their production systems more competitive, helping to reduce poverty, raise nutrition levels and improve the livelihoods of rural people across the country.
In addition to this, if smallholder dairy farmers are empowered with knowledge, they can easily grow their beef and dairy herds and contribute to increasing the country’s milk output.
“There is a tendency to under-value information and knowledge in our work as smallholder dairy farmers,” says Fransisca Paramu, a dairy farmer in the Umsungwe farming block in Gweru.
“Initially I was sceptical when I first met the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme team. They told me about the beef-dairy model which they wanted me to try so that I could improve my herd and milk output.
“It was about ideas and not about donations, and I gave it a try. Most farmers wanted donations and they could not see the value that came with information and knowledge.”
Paramu is part of more than 7 000 smallholder beef and dairy farmers who are benefiting from a US$11 million five-year USAID-funded programme which is targeting to boost milk yields and improve livelihoods.
The Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme is being implemented in six districts in Manicaland, Midlands and Matabeleland South.
This development programme is providing technical assistance to farmers to better their animal husbandry practices and livelihoods.
“This programme started in 2015 and will run through to June 2020. It focuses on reducing poverty, increasing incomes and productivity among smallholder dairy farmers,” says Emelda Takaona, a communications specialist for Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme.
“We want to improve their incomes, food and nutritional security. This is a key component of our targets to fight hunger and poverty among rural communities.”
Prior to joining the programme, Paramu had given up dairy and beef farming owing largely to lack of knowledge and support.
She had also scaled down maize production owing to poor prices and rising production cost. Paramu was having to endure the hardships associated with poor access to markets, rising input costs and other problems.
“The Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme was a valuable source of wisdom for me. I got training on how to use low-cost production methods to increase animal feed production at farm level using locally available resources as well as simple and good animal husbandry practices,” she says.
Today, she is beaming with happiness and hope for the future.
“I’m now able to produce my own stockfeed and this has helped me to cut costs by up to 75 percent. As of now, I’m now supplying the Dairibord milk collection centre here in Gweru with up to 130 litres of milk a month from just 20 litres,” she says.
“After having my milk tested and my milk parlour and milk storage facilities inspected, I have managed to increase my production from just 20 litres when I got $33 to 130 litres now, worth some $3 000 a month.”
Her dairy herd has increased from just two to 10 cows after getting training in animal husbandry and production of stockfeed using locally available resources.
“We are promoting the beef-dairy model that allows low-risk entry into commercial dairy farming supported by a village aggregation model to scale up the marketing of milk to formal markets,” says Takaona.
“Our teams in Gweru, Gokwe South, Kwekwe, Chirumanzu, Chipinge and Umzingwane have helped to introduce low-cost feeding technologies that improve productivity, health and nutrition of smallholder beef and dairy herds.”
In addition to this, the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme has facilitated the availability and access to inputs by creating linkages between farmers and suppliers, credit providers and Government extension service. The participation of women and the youths has also been enhanced in the beef and dairy smallholder farming sector.
“We are reaching out to 1 800 beef and 1 200 dairy farmers to help improve output outputs and livelihoods,“ says Takaona.
“A lot of women and the youths are participating actively now as they are seeing the benefits. We are not giving any handouts, but we are supporting them with information and knowledge.”
Success stories abound in all the six districts they are operating in.
Sarah Ndodha, a dairy farmer and milk aggregator from Rusununguko Village in Chirumanzu says she and members of the Takawira milk collection group are producing 120 litres of milk, up from just 25 litres when they started in 2017.
“Dairy farming means money. We are now producing more than 100 litres of milk which we are selling to Dairibord.
“We are excited about the incomes we are getting and most of our members have grown their beef and dairy herds,” she says.
“Milk has money and we should take it seriously as a business. Our children are taking it up and they are seeing the benefits. Its creating jobs and helping to improve our livelihoods.”
Umzingwane farmer Prayers Mhlophe of Irisvale village is now getting seven litres of milk a day and her quantities are growing as she grows her dairy herds.
“Good feeding methods, animal hygiene and keeping our animals in the kraal has improved the condition of my dairy cows,” she says.
“My milk output has improved significantly and I’m now able to pay fees for my children and buy my groceries. I no longer depend heavily on my husband. I’m now able to also support him.”
The Umzingwane milk collection group is now delivering up to 210 litres of milk in every four days to the market.
“Our dairy milk business is thriving and in future we want to venture into milk processing to boost our earnings,” says Dzingirai Juwere, a milk aggregator from Irisvale in Umzingwane.
Patrick Bhebhe of Murambadoro Village in Gokwe South has also managed to increase his production from 76 litres in 2018 to 654 litres a month from his small herd of dairy cows.
He attributes his success to improved animal husbandry practices, training, hygiene and capacity to make animal feed.
Smallholder beef and dairy production has far-reaching changes in Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector if supported well.
Cattle and beef markets and trade can develop rapidly in the country, with implications for rural development, food security, human nutrition, bio-security, trade and Zimbabwe’s industry as a whole.
National demand for milk in Zimbabwe is growing and currently stands at some 120 million litres a year. At present, the country is only able to produce about half the figure, creating a huge supply gap.
Increased production of milk by small-scale dairy farmers could help close this gap, create jobs and improve livelihoods.
“This programme presents a unique opportunity for establishing sustainable dairy chains in the smallholder dairy farming sector that can meet the demands of local consumers and the national market,” says Meynard Chirima, a livestock expert of the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme.
“This sector, using both local and external dairy breeds, can make a substantial contribution to the national milk output, helping the country to achieve its sustainable development goals of eradicating hunger and poverty.”
Despite the success, farmers are still grappling with power shortages for maintaining the milk cold, rising cost of livestock drugs, labour and transport to the market.
Many have now installed solar systems after getting support from the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development Programme and local financiers.
Milk production in Zimbabwe experienced a sharp drop from the early 1990s peak of 260 million litres annually to an estimated 60 million litres as the industry faced a number of production-related constraints over the past decade.
To boost productivity, the Government launched the Diary Revitalisation Programme as part of efforts to revive the dairy industry.
Zimbabwe’s dairy sector is producing about 60 million litres of milk against an average daily milk requirement of 120 million litres, resulting in the country importing half of the national requirement at an average cost of US$7 million a month. Government is targeting to grow the cow herd to around 30 000 cows by 2022.
The interventions are expected to progressively reduce the 60 million litres milk supply deficit.
Statistics from Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) show that the dairy total herd has fallen significantly from a high of 119 220 dairy cows in 1990 to a low of 26 502 by 2013.
But the smallholder dairy production will only be able to reach its full potential if some of the threats and challenges the sector is currently facing are addressed.
Smallholder dairy farmers still lack the skills to manage their farms as “enterprises,” have poor access to support services like production and marketing advice, have little or no capital to reinvest, with limited access to credit and are handicapped by small herd sizes, low milk yields and poor milk quality.
Experts say massive policy interventions in terms of price support, milk quotas, direct payments and investment support programmes could help turn around the fortunes of the dairy sector.