Categories: Articles, NewsPublished On: 14th June 2024

Zimbabwe’s dairy churns with increased milk production

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Amid a troubled agriculture industry, Zimbabwe’s dairy industry is weathering the storm with increased milk production.

Drought has decimated beef cattle, leaving thousands dead, but the dairy sector is experiencing a resurgence, according to numbers released by the Agriculture Ministry.

The Dairy Services Department, which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture, says the country had seen a 21% jump in the production of milk compared to the same period last year.

In 2022, the country produced 91 million litres of milk, lower than targets to exceed 100 million litres.
However, these numbers remain significantly lower than what local farmers produced at the peak of the country’s agriculture glory years where annual milk production reportedly stood at up to 200 million litres.

Dairy production remains a highly specialised agriculture sector, and while the country has struggled with cattle disease and death that has affected beef production, the dairy sector has maintained a steady population.
The current national dairy cattle herd count stands at more than thirty-five thousand.

The Dairy Farmers Association says its mission is to raise the national average production of milk from the 2022 levels of thirteen litres per day per cow, to eighteen litres.

Under the Livestock Recovery and Growth Plan, the agriculture sector is aiming to boost dairy cows to forty thousand by end of 2025.

Zimbabwe is a beneficiary of support from the European Union aimed at smallholder dairy farmers to the tune of USD7 million, and it made a difference.

However, when the EU initiative was launched in 2021, the target was to produce at least 130 million litres of milk by 2024. Zimbabwe still falls far short of those targets.

In the first quarter of the year production came to 21 million litres of milk. By extrapolation the total production in 2024 would only reach around 84 million litres.

The EU initiative has become an example of effective sector interventions at a time when the agriculture industry is facing a host of challenges in the aftermath of last season’s poor rains.

In December 2022, the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers announced that it was importing one thousand heifers in the coming year as part of efforts to boost milk production.

The association however raised concerns about the costs involved in breeding dairy cattle, noting that feeding them was beyond the reach of many farmers. Also of concern was the cost of medicine for treating the cattle.

These concerns have previously been raised by ministry officials, with the then Agriculture Permanent Secretary, John Bhasera, telling state media last year that the dairy sector was facing numerous viability problems, and among them the high price of stock feed.

The statistics released by the Ministry of Agriculture regarding increased milk production may the potential of the dairy industry to grow further, but it will be difficult to match previous production levels, industry analysts say.

“When I was CEO of Dairyboard (once one of the Zimbabwe’s leading dairy processing companies), we had factories in seven centres and distribution depots in all urban centres,” said economist Eddie Cross.

For the dairy industry to maintain momentum, a lot of investment is necessary.

Dairyboard, an iconic presence in Bulawayo, the country’s former industrial centre, is one of thousands of major companies that shut down in the past two decades.

“We handled 250 000 tonnes of fresh milk a year from 600 large-scale producers. After the Fast Track Land Reform programme, it is my understanding that most large-scale dairy producers were closed down and domestic milk production declined to 60 000 tonnes,” Eddie said.

The Dairy Farmers Association says its mission is to raise the national average production of milk from the 2022 levels of thirteen litres per day per cow, to eighteen litres.

The association is also aiming to influence what it says is “a conducive policy and regulatory environment for dairy farmers.”
This will in turn lead to a more efficient production system, the association says.

Yet for the industry to maintain its current momentum, this will entail massive investment into a sector that is showing tremendous resilience in a flailing economy.

“Since 2017, the large-scale milk production industry has begun to recover. Progress has been made, but we are still only producing a fraction of our needs,” Eddie said.

Drought has decimated beef cattle, leaving thousands dead, but the dairy sector is experiencing a resurgence, according to numbers released by the Agriculture Ministry.

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