Dairy farmers defy odds

HARARE - “The farmer will never be happy again; he carries his heart in his boots; for either the rain is destroying his grain or the drought is destroying his roots,” English satirist and novelist Alan Herbert has been mostly right ever since he penned the verse in 1922.

Faced with the annual increase in global temperatures and high incidents of droughts, farmers perennially moan about the miseries of agriculture.

Dairy farmers have been among the most vociferous.

However, that is changing now — at least for milk producers who feel, “It is a much better time to be in dairy than for many years”.

Milk producers are luxuriating in a rare combination of rising prices and falling costs, and improving terms of trade between them, supermarkets and processors.

Zimbabwe Dairy Industry Trust (ZDIT) chairperson Tatenda Napata said farmers are confident of producing an average of 100 million litres of milk annually by 2019 from the current 58 million litres.

“As an industry which is still rebuilding there is need for government’s continued support towards our efforts by ensuring a favourable environment where the local industry is not disadvantaged by established foreign dairy industries,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s dairy industry declined significantly to the verge of collapse following the land reform programme almost two decades ago.

The national dairy herd is down to just 28 000 cows from 192 000 in 2000 when supporters of President Robert Mugabe started seizing white-owned farms.

During the tumultuous period, milk production plummeted to an all-time low of 37 million litres in 2009 compared to a peak of 150 million litres in 1999.

However, according to research, dairy farmers are more sanguine about their future today than they have been for the past few years.

It was only six years ago that they spoke of cutting production and of abandoning farming altogether. Now, they talk of increasing their herds, and expanding production.

“A dairy revitalisation fund has been set up in order to finance initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable local milk production. Besides financing the importation of dairy heifers to increase local production, the industry has also set its goals at training and development of dairy farmers on low cost farming techniques,” Napata said.

He added that the strengthening of the industry value chain has seen farmer investment in growth of national herd, with the importation of about 400 heifers as from 2010.

Information from ZDIT shows that during the  period  2014 to 2016  about  $21,9 million  was invested in  new and modern  processing plants capable of procuring a wider world class project range.

Napata noted that the cost of production was one of the biggest challenges facing the dairy sector, thus affecting competitiveness.

He added that the high cost of production were emanating from cost of feed and the unavailability of long-term funding from financial institutions.

In an effort to enable the industry to augment production as well as enhance competitiveness which is currently 20 percent more expensive than regional parity, the government introduced a scheme which allows for use of duty free milk powders for manufacturing purposes, albeit as a temporary measure.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said government was implementing various measures to support the local daily industry such as protection against finished milk and milk products.

“Protectionist policies are essentially short-term measures that we have implemented in order to ‘shield’ our fragile industry from the whirlwinds of regional and international competition...,” he said.

Industry players such as Dairibord, Nestle Zimbabwe, Dendairy and Alpha and Omega among others have been importing heifers to boost milk production in the country.

This comes as a regional group recently said noted that Zimbabwe’s dairy industry is currently operating at below 45 percent of capacity despite the country having a processing capacity in excess of 400 million litres.

According to East and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA), Zimbabwe the country has potential to increase milk production to between 120 to 140 million litres annually, with the region presenting an opportunity for exporting an additional two million litres per month.

“The can be achieved provided a comprehensive national milk production programme is put in place,” ESADA said in a report.

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