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Smallholder dairy production in Zambia

E. M. Kaluba

Mochipapa Research Station
P.O. Box 630090, Choma, Zambia

Background information
The size of the livestock industry
Characterisation of the cattle industry
Current productivity
Origin of the programme
Factors affecting the development and expansion of smallholder dairy programmes
Factors contributing to the success or failure of smallholder dairying
Suggested framework for future development


The smallholder sector offers the greatest potential for the improvement of milk production in Zambia as it holds the largest number of cattle. Although this is so, the sector has not performed as well as it should have for several reasons including Government policy, shortage of capital, insufficient inputs and poor marketing infrastructure. In the past, this sector had not been involved in commercial milk production.

To lessen the impact of these problems and to increase the contribution of this sector to improving the quality of life in rural areas, it is proposed that the Government should institute, strengthen and sustain programmes aimed at encouraging small-scale farmers to participate in commercial dairy production The present efforts being pursued by the Government should be supported by all concerned, especially farmers With this strategy and the provision of soft loans and incentives, the smallholder dairy sector should expand and help to improve the quality of life in the rural sector


The small-scale sector has the majority of cattle in Zambia and yet contributes no more than half the national production of milk. Given the potential that it holds, it should be possible to increase the output of milk from this sector and help satisfy national milk needs.

A study was conducted on small-scale dairy farming to understand the main factors contributing to the low output and to develop possible solutions. The main sources of information were interviews with a sample of smallholder dairy farmers, extension workers, papers presented at a national dairy workshop and the personal experience of the author.

Background information

Zambia is a land-locked country in central Africa situated between 8 and 18° south and 22 and 34° east. It has a land area of 750,000 km². The land is mostly flat and varies in altitude between 900 and 1400 metres above sea level (Planning Division, 1988). The surface relief is moderate to gentle with low river gradients (Bessel and Daplyn, 1976).

The climate and vegetation are subtropical with three distinct seasons; a warm wet season from November to April, accounting for 95% of the annual rainfall, a cool dry winter (from May to August) with mean temperatures ranging between 15°C and 27°C and a hot dry season (September to October) with temperatures ranging from 27°C to 32°C. Annual rainfall varies from less than 760 mm in the south to over 1270 mm in the north (Planning Division, 1988).

The predominant vegetation is woodland savannah dominated by trees of the Brachystegia, Julbernadia and Isoberlinia type. Forests are confined to a few areas in the north and west of the country. Extensive grasslands occur in the swamp and floodplain areas too wet for trees.

The population in 1988 was estimated at 7.53 million people, with an annual population growth rate of 4.1% (1980 Census figures).

The size of the livestock industry

The present livestock population is estimated at 2.68 million cattle, 0.56 million goats and sheep and 0.21 million pigs (Planning Division, 1988). Approximately 83% of the cattle, 93% of the sheep and goats and 86% of the pigs are owned by the traditional small-scale farming sector (Table 1).

Table 1. Estimates of livestock population In Zambia 1988.


Sheep and goats














Percent traditional




Source: Planning Division (1988).

Livestock numbers have gradually increased since 1985, with the largest increases being recorded in goats and sheep at 7.8% per annum and smallest increase being in cattle at 2.996 per annum (Table 2).

Table 2. Livestock population growth, in Zambia 1985-1988.





Annual growth(%)







Sheep and goats










208 518


Source: Planning Division (1988).

The present per capita consumption of livestock products is estimated at 7.4 kg of beef, 0.7 kg of mutton, 0.1 kg of pork, 1.6 kg of poultry meat, 15 eggs and 23 litres of milk (Daka, 1992). These figures represent a very low intake of animal protein when compared with the developed world and when the available livestock resources are taken into consideration.

Characterisation of the cattle industry

The cattle industry is broadly divided into two main subsectors: commercial and small scale. It is estimated that out of the 2.68 million cattle, about 60,000 are dairy cattle, mainly Holsteins, Friesians and their crosses (Phiri, 1992).

Commercial dairy production is undertaken along the old railway line by large- and medium-scale farmers and parastatals and is still dominated by expatriate farmers. The parastatal farms, five of which are in outlying provinces, have helped fill the production gap after the departure of some expatriate farmers at independence in 1964.

Small-scale milk production is on smallholdings established since the early 1970s under milk production schemes. These smallholdings are generally located near urban centres and away from the railway line.

Current productivity

Milk production in the commercial sector is predominantly from Friesian cows, which have an average yield of 25 litres per day. This figure has been estimated from the milk delivered to the Dairy Produce Board. Estimates also indicate that Friesian x indigenous crosses give an average daily yield of 10 litres. This makes the combined national production from the commercial and parastatal sectors about 22.5 million litres (Planning Division, 1988).

Milk in the traditional sector is produced from local cattle, mostly of the Sanga and zebu types crossed with Tonga, Barotse and Angoni. Milk yields are relatively low and range from three to five litres per day. The milk produced in this sector is consumed at home and it is estimated that this amounts to about 31.5 million litres per annum (Phiri, 1992). Milk is produced and consumed in areas where cattle-keeping is a tradition.

Generally, cattle on commercial and state farms are kept mainly for cash and for provision of animal protein to the farm household. In the emergent smallholder sector, cattle are kept for cash, manure, traction and milk, whereas in the traditional sector cattle are still kept for prestige, traction, manure, milk and security.

Origin of the programme

Following the departure of many expatriate dairy farmers from the country at independence in 1964, the Government embarked on a programme of developing the dairy industry through the establishment of state dairy farms. This development strategy led to the emergence of parastatal dairy farms in 1968. Five of these were in the outlying provincial centres of Chipata, Kasama, Mansa, Mongu and Solwezi. To give continuity to this programme, in the early 1970s the Government introduced dairy schemes aimed at encouraging indigenous Zambians to participate in commercial dairy production. All these schemes except for the smallholder Development Project (SDDP), which is a recent introduction, failed in one way or the other due to various logistical problems.

Talking to a sample of farmers in this case study, it was evident that those who joined the scheme were induced to do so by the training packages offered. Most farmers underwent some training in dairy farming at Palabana or at the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC) before joining the scheme. The model farms that the scheme provided, particularly in terms of land tenure, were encouraging to farmers. In a few cases, especially in areas where cattle-keeping was a normal tradition, farmers chose dairy schemes and programmes spontaneously.

The initial acceptance of dairy improvement schemes and programmes was very high among the farmers, civil servants and businessmen. Most farmers adopted the dairy technology introduced to them, although performance varied due to a number of reasons. These included lack of breeding stock and capital to purchase inputs such as feeds and lack of drugs to treat and control diseases.

Factors affecting the development and expansion of smallholder dairy programmes

Dairy cattle

There is a general shortage of improved dairy cattle for dairy scheme participants. Facilities for artificial insemination (AI) for dairy schemes were also inadequate and, as a result, most participant farmers were dependent on natural service. Those who did not own bulls depended on their neighbours.

This situation has contributed to the inability to develop and expand the smallholder dairy sector. To help alleviate the shortage of dairy stock in the schemes, in 1979 the Government established a cross-breeding ranch at Batoka with the assistance of the European Economic Commission (EEC). The function of the ranch is to supply in-calf crossbred heifers to small-scale farmers in dairy settlement and smallholder dairy projects. However, production so far has not met the rising demand resulting from the increasing number of new farmers joining the smallholder dairy industry.


Although there was a road service to scheme centres most roads required upgrading.

Dipping facilities are available on most of the schemes but remain inadequate. Those already in place and handed over to the scheme members are in a poor state due to the inability of farmers to collaborate in maintaining them. It is evident that there is lack of interest in renovating infrastructure that was handed over communally. There seems to be a reluctance to assume responsibility for communally owned property, particularly dip tanks and communal water points.

Availability of inputs

Although most inputs are available to scheme farmers, prices remain unaffordable. With a liberalised economy, drugs and acaricides have become too expensive for most small farmers.


Family labour, especially wives, plays a crucial role in supplementing hired labour in the smallholder dairy sector. Wives also assume the role of managers in the absence of their husbands. The issue of outside labour has been cited as a major hurdle on most smallholder farms, as most able-bodied men and women opt for employment in towns, where they engage themselves in business and trading to make "quick" money.

Market outlets

Market outlets are in place for smallholder dairy development project farmers to deliver milk to the Dairy Produce Board (DPB) plants using their own transport. Where plants are far from farms, as in the case of settlement schemes, there are SDDP road-side collection points. The fundamental constraint here is the inadequacy of cooling facilities. Of the four dairy settlement schemes, only one (Palabana) has a cooling tank. No operational cooling tank exists in SDDP. The lack of this facility leads to the wastage of large quantities of milk To reduce losses, SDDP sells most of the milk sour at reduced prices. Sour milk is a very popular commodity in the Southern Province.

Formal marketing of milk is undertaken by DPB for most parts of the country; by Zambezi Cooperative for the Livingstone area; and by SDDP for the Choma, Monze, Mazabuka and Kabwe districts. With the current liberalised marketing systems, farmers are free to sell to whom they wish and charge according to market forces. In the traditional sector milk is consumed by producers and sold to neighbours.

Funds for investment

Funds for investment presented a problem to most smallholder farmers, especially those who did not have title deeds to their land. Farmers who do not have title to their land have tattle collateral and this presented a problem in acquiring bank loans. Hence most farmers financed their own programmes. Donor support to dairy development programmes is not available at the moment, particularly to SDDP. However, farmers themselves are raising funds through milk sales. In one case, a farmer received donor support for the dairy programme.


Data on farm size, herd size, milk yield and reproduction rates were taken from 135 and 180 smallholder farms in 1989 and 1992, respectively (Table 3). Herd size was small in relation to farm size (Table 3). Average farm size was about 215 ha. Milk yields were generally low at below 900 kg per lactation, but the trend is encouraging as there was a tremendous increase in lactation yield from 450 kg in 1989 to 840 kg in 1992. The increase in milk yield was probably due to improved management and forage feed production as the level of concentrate feeding remained the same at 2 kg/cow for lactating cows.

Table 3. Smallholder dairy production coefficients profitability in 1989 and 1992.





Number of farmers



Average herd size (includes beef)



Average number of dairy cattle



Average farm size (ha)



Daily yield per cow (kg day)



Lactation yield (kg)



Lactation length (days)



Calving rate (%)



Calving interval (days)



Age at first calving (months)




Concentrates (kg/day per cow)



Price (Kwacha/kg)



Costs of concentrates (Kwacha)



Drugs, acaricides etc (Kwacha)



Total costs




Total milk yield (kg)



Price per kg (Kwacha)



Total revenue (Kwacha)



Profit margin



1. April 1991 in April 1992.
In 1992 US$ 1 = 315 Zambian Kwacha

The positive trend is also significant on age at first calving, which has been reduced by one year (Table 3). A reduction in calving interval was also evident (Table 3). The data on costs and income (Table 3) show that the revenue from milk sales has increased substantially due to increased volume of production and higher milk prices. In spite of the spiralling costs of concentrates over the period, the profit margins jumped from Zambia Kwacha 1,020.00 to 32,360.00 in two years (Table 3).

Government policy

The present Government policy is to encourage commercial milk production by small-scale and traditional farmers, who are mainly indigenous Zambians. This will be achieved through the promotion of dairy scheme projects, and by ensuring that rules, regulations and procedures are put in place to maintain standards set by the Department of Agriculture.

Alternative uses of land

Apart from dairying, most farmers participated in other income-generating activities. Cash-crop production to meet household needs and to provide cash for dairy inputs was common among au farmers. Others kept chickens and pigs for sale and home consumption. Planting of pastures for cattle and the cultivation of fruit trees was also practiced.


All farmers interviewed acknowledged that dairying enhanced their livelihood through the provision of food in the form of milk, ready cash and social status. Those who were engaged in cash-crop production used manure from their dairy cattle to supplement chemical fertilisers.

Factors contributing to the success or failure of smallholder dairying


The smallholder dairy development project is cited as one of the success stories of the dairy development programmes introduced in Zambia. Factors that contributed to this success include:

· Farmers interest in dairy farming;
· Farmers knowledge and skills obtained through training;
· Availability of marketing infrastructure;
· Availability of inputs for dairy production;
· Provision of transport;
· Good extension and veterinary services;
· Price liberalisation;
· Provision of credit; and
· Less interference from the Government in project management and decision making (Kamanga, 1992).


The common causes of failure in smallholder dairy development projects in Zambia were:

· Lack of infrastructure in the rural areas.

Most roads in the rural areas where small-scale farmers are found are poor and usually impassable. This creates difficulties in movement of produce and inputs. Marketing facilities are virtually non-existent, except for those participating in dairy schemes and projects.

· Shortage of improved stock.

Improved breeding stock for dairying among the small-scale farmers was scarce throughout the country. This situation pushed the price of improved dairy stock too high for most small-scale farmers. Prices for crossbred cattle were beyond the reach of most small-scale farmers, partly because of their low capital base (Mwenya, 1992).

· Inadequate capital for investment.

Most smallholder farmers complained of difficulties in obtaining livestock loans as lending institutions gave preference to crop production. Where loans were given, interest rates were exorbitant.

· Diseases.

Tick-borne diseases were the major hindrance to smallholder dairy production as their control is becoming too expensive and beyond the farmers' ability.

· Inadequate extension service.

Very few trained dairy experts exist in the country. Even where they are evident they are mostly immobile as a consequence of the lack of transport and other necessary inputs because of budgetary limitations.

· Lack of dairy science research.

Little research has been done in this field, mainly because of the lack of qualified manpower and financial support from responsible institutions. As a result, no new technology in dairy production is being developed locally.

· Lack of records.

The common feature observed among the sample smallholder farmers was that most of them did not keep full production records on their dairy animals. This made it difficult to make correct management decisions. In consequence, they considered dairying as a peripheral activity. Paradoxically it gave them the highest benefits.

Suggested framework for future development

At present, the smallholder sector owns the largest number of cattle in the country. As such the hope for increasing the production of dairy products in this country lies in the involvement of small-scale farmers in the commercial production of milk To achieve this, the following is proposed on policy, infrastructure, inputs, marketing systems and incentives.

The Government policy on smallholder dairy production should be geared to encouraging and involving small-scale farmers in commercial milk production by facilitating the provision of basic requirements for dairying such as infrastructure, inputs, marketing facilities, soft loans and other necessary incentives. Policy should provide for training of both farmers and extension staff.

Most roads in the remote areas require improvement. Farmers tend to look to the Government to carry on the necessary maintenance. With the present economic hardships, it is suggested that farmers themselves should be encouraged to get involved in the maintenance of roads. Farmers should also be helped to improve and maintain other infrastructure such as dip tanks, farm paddocks and dairies through provision of "targeted" soft loans.

Inputs, particularly feeds and veterinary drugs, were not available to most small farmers because of lack of capital. This should be changed by encouraging farmers to invest in dairy enterprises through making soft loans accessible to them.

To date very few market outlets are open to this sector. It is therefore proposed that the existing market outlets under SDDP, Zambezi Cooperative, DPB and Dairy Settlement Schemes be maintained and improved by installing adequate cooling facilities.

The liberalised pricing policy currently in force is an important incentive to dairying and other forms of encouragement such as soft loans should be provided. The present loans have high interest rates, which discourage small farmers. A system of land tenure based on title deed lease could ha one way of accessing money.


Bessel J E and Daplyn M G. 1976. Dairying in Zambia: The commercial sector. UNGZAMI Bulletin No. 1. University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.

Daka D E. 1992. Dairy cattle breeding policy for Zambia. Paper presented at the National Dairy Workshop. Siavonga, Zambia.

Kamanga A. 1992. Smallholder dairy development project. Paper presented at the National Dairy workshop. Siavonga, Zambia

Mwenya J. 1992. Milk production patterns in southern province. Paper presented at the National Dairy Workshop. Siavonga, Zambia.

Planning Division. 1988. Agricultural Statistics Bulletin. Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Zambia.

Phiri G B M. 1992. The broad overview of the current dairy production patterns, and the National Dairy Policy. Paper presented at a National dairy workshop. Siavonga, Zambia.

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