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Smallholder dairy development in Malawi

J.T.K Munthali¹, F.A. Musa² and C.L.K. Chiwayula³

1. Department of Agricultural Research, Box 30134, Lilongwe 3, Malawi.
2. Department of Animal Health and Industry, P.O. BOX 30372, Lilongwe 3, Malawi.
3. Lilongwe Agricultural Development Division. P.O. Box 259, Lilongwe, Malawi.


Introduction
Origin and conception of smallholder dairying
Operational mode of the scheme
Adoption of research technologies in dairying
Factors affecting development and expansion of dairying
Productivity of dairy cattle on smallholdings
Suggested framework for future development
References


Summary

The key factor affecting dairying in Malawi was the demand for milk created by urbanisation and which had been largely met by settlers. Dairying was subsequently strengthened by the introduction of a pilot scheme to improve the quality of milk and to create an organised marketing system.

Smallholder dairying at an institutional level is constrained by, among other things, limited budgetary allocations from the Treasury to invest in farms supplying dairy cattle, the inadequate training of animal scientists at all levels and inadequate training of farmers Extension agents lack practical skills and therefore confidence. Government farms are unable to produce enough cows to meet demand. Due to tack of financial resources, farmer-training is normally limited to two weeks at most and no follow-up courses are usually conducted. This results in mismanagement of cattle by farmers, which leads to a lack of appreciation of dairy enterprises as a business Constraints at the farm-level include low literacy rate of farmers, lack of enterprise specialisation, limited resources for investing in cows and pastures and the shortage of labour at the peak cropping period. This labour problem is a direct result of the lack of enterprise specialisation. In some cases land is becoming a limiting resource in the expansion of existing dairy farms.

Finally, it is pertinent to reiterate that the key to the modest success of smallholder dairying in Malawi is the marketing of milk and its products Almost all dairy farmers have access to a market outlet and have tended to feel that dairying is a low-risk enterprise.

Introduction

Malawi is in south-east Africa. It is bordered by Tanzania on the north-east and Zambia on the north-west; the remaining sides border Mozambique. The country lies between 9°45' and 17°5' south and longitudes 33° and 36° east. It has a total area of 119,140 km², a third of which is water. The climate is subtropical. Rainfall is unimodal, falling between November and April. There is a dry period from May through to October/November. Rainfall ranges from 750 mm in the plateau areas of the country to 1000 mm in the highlands and along some parts of Lake Malawi. In 1986 the National Statistical Office estimated the human population to be 7.9 million (NSO, 1986), with a growth rate of 3.3% a year. Approximately half the population is under the age of 15 years; 90% of the population live in rural areas. About half the population lives in the southern part of Malawi, where the population density is 107 people per km . The Northern Region has the lowest population (12%), with a population density of 30 people per km .

The agricultural sector employs over 85% of all Malawians, mainly growing subsistence crops such as maize, cassava, rice, sorghums/ millets and pulses. Over 70% of the cultivated area ix under customary land tenure. The average land holding for smallholder farmers ranges from less than 0.5 ha to 2.5 ha. The estate sector uses about 5% of the cultivated area. Livestock also play a major role in the socioeconomic welfare of Malawians. Over 80% of farmers own livestock and livestock account for 8% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). At the household level, the contribution of livestock to cash earnings of crop-livestock farmers is estimated to be 36% and 44% of the cash earnings during the dry and wet season, respectively. Crops contribute 38% and 26%, respectively, during the same periods (Dairy and Beef Project, 1988).

For most Malawians, cattle are the most important livestock even though only 13% of the smallholder farmers own them. Cattle are used as a reserve of wealth to provide cash to purchase major items and to meet expenses such as fertilisers, food and clothes, school fees and/or legal obligations. Some ethnic groups use cattle to pay dowry. Meat and particularly milk are consumed, whereas skins are sold or used for making drums, beds and chairs. Cattle also provide traction power and manure among other functions.

Almost 90% of the cattle are Malawi Zebu (Bos indicus). The remainder are mainly crossbreds between Malawi Zebu and Friesians; these are the foundation stock of the dairy herd in the country. This report will discuss dairy development, its conception, factors that contributed to its growth, constraints and suggestions for future development. It is hoped that the paper will act as a stimulus for well-focused dairy development programmes for the future.

Origin and conception of smallholder dairying

Rural dairying is an age-old practice in Malawi with Malawi Zebu cattle representing the majority of the milking cows. Milk is an integral part of the diet of people of the northern part of Malawi whereas in the central and southern parts of the country it is generally consumed only with tea or coffee. Some smallholders convert excess milk into butter, cheese or ghee. Dairying as it is known today started with colonial settlers in the Southern Region of Malawi before independence in 1964. The settlers grew crops but kept a few cattle mostly Jerseys, Ayrshires and Friesians for the production of milk. The beginning of and growth of townships such as Blantyre and Zomba created demand for milk for both estate farmers and rural farmers.

Although the Government realised the importance of milk as a nutritious food, it was also aware of the dangers of milk as a potential source of zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis and undulant fever. Therefore the Government organised marketing and handling facilities for hygienic processing of milk. With the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), a pilot scheme was set up in Blantyre in 1970/71 to purchase fresh milk from producers, pasteurise it and sell it to urban dwellers.

Milk collection routes and collection points were introduced. Producers brought milk to these points, where it was tested for sourness and adulteration before being accepted. Producers were paid at the end of the month according to the volume of milk delivered. Initially, some producers resisted the new scheme because of its strict quality standards, and they continued to sell their milk privately. Adherence to the quality standards was made more rigorous by the passing of the Malawi Milk Marketing Act, forbidding the sale of raw milk in the areas where the new scheme was operating. Producers later learnt that it was as profitable to sell milk to the pilot scheme as it was to sell it privately, with the added advantage of a stable market for fresh milk.

The introduction of an organised market for good-quality milk increased the demand for fresh milk. Given the low milk yield potential (less than 2 litres a day) of Malawi Zebu cows, a programme of crossbreeding Malawi Zebu with Friesians was initiated. In 1973 half-bred cows were sold to selected smallholder farmers. This initiative was supported by research on the productivity, management and feeding of such crossbreds in order to optimise milk yield. The scheme has now expanded to the Central and Northern Regions of Malawi.

Operational mode of the scheme

To ensure that dairy cows are sold to farmers who would promote the government's main objective of supplying milk to the dairies, the following five guidelines were formulated:

· The farmer's interest in dairying was assessed by dairy extension workers, who also assessed the farmer's success or performance in other farming activities;

· The farmer's age and fitness were assessed to ensure the ability of the farmer to carry out all farm activities and to ensure a sustained presence at the farm;

· The farmer should have at least four hectares of arable land to allow for the production of food crops and pasture;

· The farmer should be within 8 km of the nearest milk collection centre; and

· The farm should have a year-round ample supply of clean, preferably running, water.

Farmers selected were asked to construct cattle kraals that provided a treatment crush, an exercise space and a milking parlour with a concrete floor, a feed trough and store room for utensils. The farmers were also asked to buy pasture seed (normally Chloris gayana). Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) stools were provided free from forage nurseries and demonstration plots established by the government dairy extension service at farmer training centres or milk collection centres. Extension workers helped the farmers to establish the pastures; the recommended area of pasture was 4 ha.

After these preparations had been made, the farmers attended a two-week training course. The course emphasised practical topics such as hand-milking, feeding and feed mixing, feed conservation (hay and silage making), heat detection and milk hygiene. Tours to participating farmers were arranged to help enable prospective dairy farmers to relate course material to practices undertaken by other farmers.

After the course, farmers returned to their homes to await the delivery of the cows. Two cows were normally given to a farmer under either a government loan (Smallholder Agricultural Credit Administration) or a private loan from the Smallholder Enterprise Development of Malawi Fund. The total loan package included two dairy cows, one bucket spray pump, five litres of acaricide and a year's insurance cover for the cows.

Extension workers continued to provide farmers with advisory services on feeding, hygiene, general management of animals and pastures and artificial insemination (AI) service. The placement of one dairy extension worker and an artificial inseminator at each milk collection centre enhanced farmer-extension linkages. Farmers were advised to report to the centres cows that were on heat so that the AI specialist could inseminate the cows on fume. Extension workers were also provided with motorcycles and bicycles to enable them to reach farmers easily.

To sustain farmer interest and the productivity of the introduced system, on-station and on-farm research was continuously conducted to provide new or improved technologies. The Department of Agricultural Research in the Ministry of Agriculture was mandated to conduct research to improve the productivity of smallholder cattle. The focus of such research was on improved forage production and feeding technologies targeted at the smallholders. The development of suitable dairy cattle genotype for smallholder conditions was also a priority.

Adoption of research technologies in dairying

The crossbred cow has widely been accepted by smallholder dairy farmers. The preference for this animal has largely been due to its high milk production potential. Early adopters were pressed to purchase the animals by extension workers, who repeatedly preached the advantages of a crossbred cow over the Malawi Zebu as a milch cow. Farmers were frequently visited by Government workers on advisory missions to ensure that animals were well managed.

Originally, smallholder farmers were the target group; however, now businessmen and civil servants (particularly those nearing retirement) also want to have dairy cows. The limiting factor on the adoption of the technologies is the scarcity of dairy cows.

While all the farmers adhered to the prescribed conditions for six months to a year, farmers' interest waned and money made from dairying was put to non-related activities, instead of being reinvested in the dairy operation. This was more common among farmers with large land holdings and those who had alternative cash-generating enterprises such as growing tobacco and food crops (maize and groundnuts). There is also a stubbornness inherent in businessmen, who normally think that they can operate independently without recourse to advise. As a result, some of them overfed or underfed the animals, with the consequence that extension workers shunned such farmers. Likewise, most civil servants (assumed to be educated) were normally disparaging of extension workers, thinking that au the required information could be obtained from text books. They normally resorted to advisory services only in such specialist areas as artificial insemination (AI). Extension services to business and civil servants were usually minimised by extension workers as such farmers purchased their animals for cash. Therefore the pragmatic need to pursue them to repay loans, as is in the case with most smallholder farmers, was not there.

In general, the civil servants and businessmen were difficult smallholders.

Factors affecting development and expansion of dairying

Among the positive factors that have contributed to the development of smallholder dairying in Malawi had been a comprehensive milk marketing strategy. The Government has upgraded the milk collection centres by installing diesel- or electricity-driven cooling facilities and organising farmers into groups called "milk bulking groups". The bulking groups purchase milk from members and sell it to the Malawi Dairy Industries (MDI), a parastatal organisation. A bonus scheme was also introduced based upon the volume of milk sold. The introduction of bulking groups and the cooling facilities has reduced the cost of collection and wastage of milk.

Malawi Dairy Industries also has a yearly revision of fresh milk prices based upon the cost of milk production. The objective is to maintain a 25% margin above production costs. Furthermore, producers are paid more than the import price of powdered misc. This ensures that farmers are marginally affected by external market forces. In order to maintain high levels of production and quality of raw milk, MDI has a pricing scheme that is based on the volume of milk sold, the butterfat content of the milk and whether the milk is cooled or not. Farmers who deliver their milk directly to the dairy plant are also paid a bonus price. The processing and distribution of high-quality milk and milk products, coupled with product advertisements or consumer education, has resulted in high demand for dairy products in the country.

The initiation of bulking groups has resulted in the Government delegating some responsibilities to farmers. Functions such as the purchasing of raw milk from farmers, purchase of inputs (drugs, feeds and fertilisers in bulk) for resale to farmers have been transferred to the groups. This has created high levels of leadership skills among farmers. The bulking groups have now formed milkshed-based associations. Recently the three associations (Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association, Central Region Milk Producers Association and Mzuzu Dairy Farmers Association) merged to form the Milk Producers Association. The association's objectives were to:

· Develop leadership skills among dairy farmers;
· Represent farmers at various levels;
· Streamline field problems in dairying;
· Provide communication channels for livestock extension; and
· Secure better bargaining position with suppliers of inputs and MDI for prices.

Additional support for smallholder dairying came from Government-sponsored services such as extension, AI, disease control and agricultural research and the provision of loans to farmers to purchase cows, dairy utensils and fertilisers at the beginning of the dairy operation.

Productivity of dairy cattle on smallholdings

The data compiled by Agyemang and Nkhonjera (1986) on the performance of dairy cattle in the smallholder sector are of interest (Tables 1,2 and 3). Age at first calving is about 36 months (Table 1), which is late. The calving intervals were also reported to be long (461 to 512 days: Table 2) (Agyemang and Nkhonjera, 1986). There is room for reducing both the age at first calving and calving intervals through better feeding, management and heat detection.

Table 1. Means for age at first calving In smallholder herds, 1970-83.

Variable

Number

Age at first calving (months)

Overall

165

38.4

Area


Blantyre South

19

38.1


Blantyre North

24

40.0


Chiradzulu

27

36.6


Thyolo North

50

38.5


Mulanje West

22

38.2


Zomba

23

38.8

Breed group


1/2 Friesian

110

36.7


3/4 Friesian

55

40.1

Source: Agyemang and Nkhonjera (1986).

Table 2. Calving intervals in smallholder dairy herds, 1973-83.

Variable

Number

Calving interval (days)

Overall

577

485

Area


Blantyre South

54

481


Blantyre North

147

512


Chiradzulu

87

483


Thyolo North

185

498


Mulanje West

87

477


Zomba

37

501

Breed group


1/2 Friesian

432

488


3/4 Friesian

145

482

Source: Agyemang and Nkhonjera (1986).

Table 3. Means for total lactation milk yield, lactation length, milk yield per lactation day and dry period in smallholder dairy herds in Malawi, 1973' 83.

Variable

No.

Lactation yield (kg)

Lactation length (days)

Milk yield day (kg)

Overall

781

2100

392

5.7

Area


Blantyre South

59

2147

391

5.4


Blantyre North

189

1761

417

4.3


Chiradzulu

114

1036

376

5.7


Thyolo North

226

2513

390

6.6


Mulanje West

126

1851

361

5.2


Zomba

68

2772

417

7.1

Breed group


½ Friesian

554

1953

332

5 3


¾ Friesian

227

2424

401

6.2

Source: Agyemang and Nkhonjera (1986)

Milk yield per lactation varied from 1700 to 2800 kg and it is apparent that some districts are more productive than others (Table 3). Milk yield per day also varied with location and breed type. High-grade (3/4 Friesian) cows outperformed 1/2 Friesians.

Farmers owning dairy cows usually have regular flows of income to meet their daily expenses. The manure produced by the animals has also popularised dairying, particularly for farmers who do not own indigenous cattle. The manure is commonly used for growing vegetables, maize or tobacco. Finally, for most farmers who have never owned cattle, the status achieved by having a dairy cow was enormous and could be the driving force behind the extremely high demand for dairy cows.

In spite of people's willingness to start dairying, the impetus is stifled by the limited availability of cattle. The main sources of cattle are Government farms where productivity is very low. It is common for prospective farmers to wait for a long time before receiving cattle from their extension agents. During this period farmers' pastures overgrow and become too old for subsequent use and the kraals begin to collapse. Farmer-to-farmer sales of dairy cows is rare. High calf mortalities (of up to 50%) have resulted in farmers having few replacement stock and hence few animals to sell. Large commercial operations occasionally sell dairy cattle but the prices are beyond the reach of most smallholder farmers. Such animals end up being bought by other estates or prominent business people. Occasionally, there is competition for the use of land, labour and fertilisers between livestock and crop production at peak cropping season. Animals end up being underfed during these periods, the kraals are neglected and become muddy and fertilisers intended for pasture end up being used for crops. Established, well-managed dairy farms become overstocked because of farmers' unwillingness to sell excess stock.

Smallholder dairying is further constrained by the general lack of contact between farmers and extension workers. The establishment of cooling centres milk collection centres was partly intended to increase contacts between extensionists and farmers as farmers deliver their milk to such centres. This has resulted in extension agents spending time at the cooling centres instead of visiting farmers. Furthermore, farmers tend to send children or employees to deliver milk. The low contact rate is sometimes compounded by the low mobility of extensionists due to a lack of transport and fuel.

Availability of feed of sufficient quality is usually limiting, so that the level of nutrition of cows is not commensurate with the quality of the cows. Even when feeds are available, the animal husbandry extension workers lack knowledge of formulating suitable diets to optimise the use of available resources. Herd health support services are also inadequate. East Coast fever receives a great deal of attention. However, gastro-intestinal parasites and pneumonia, particularly in calves, are often more important.

Despite these constraints, dairying, especially among smallholder farmers, has continued to grow at an estimated rate of 15 to 30% a year. There are now 22 estates supplying milk to MDI as opposed to seven estates in 1984. Such growth reflects the commercial viability of dairying in Malawi.

Suggested framework for future development

Although Malawi has achieved some impressive development in smallholder dairying, issues such as availability of cows, inputs, training and mobility of extension agents need to be addressed for future development.

The high annual growth of dairying and the demand for dairy cattle implies that dairying is socially or commercially viable. This situation warrants intervention by the Government in supplying dairy cows and in considering the privatisation of multiplication farms producing foundation dairy cattle.

The Government should continue encouraging, if not supporting, the development and growth of the Milk Producers Association of Malawi. Such an association ought to be encouraged to grow to such an extent that it would be able to enter into such ventures as feed milling. This would enable farmers to control feed costs and alleviate feed shortages. To strengthen dairying or herd health support services, the Association could hire private veterinarians and purchase drugs in bulk, thereby reducing this expense. An integrated policy of privatisation of Government farms might increase the availability of cows and consequently reduce the price of cows.

The Government also needs to make a deliberate policy of establishing cooling centres powered by electricity instead of diesel engines, as costs of maintaining diesel engines are high. The frequent breakdowns of diesel engines also leads to wastage of large volumes of milk. Frequent wastage of milk is a cost to farmers and this might affect dairying negatively in the long run.

Poor extension services in animal husbandry is caused partly by inadequate practical training of the extension workers. It appears that the extension agents lack skills in making simple ration formulations based upon available ingredients. Lack of practical training tends to reduce confidence in such agents so that instead of being pragmatic about their work they tend to avoid real issues and discuss them only in general terms. It is proposed that extension agents should be given better practical training in colleges and that those already in the field should be given in-service courses or on-the-job training in fields of their main weakness (such as feeds and feeding).

The mobility of extension agents in the field also needs to be reviewed. The extension agents are normally issued with either a bicycle or motorcycle and given allowances of about 20 litres of fuel per month. It is proposed that such cycles should be sold to the extension agents at duty-free prices and the Government should only pay the officers a kilometrage allowance that would be sufficient to maintain the cycle and to purchase fuel and lubricants in the ease of motorcycles. The supervisors should also have sufficient mobility to supervise field operations of the extension agents.

Malawi Dairy Industries' policy of paying premium prices for volume, quality, cooling and delivery to their dairies is commended and should continue. However, there is an urgent need for the enforcement of comprehensive recording of milk production costs. A representative sample of farmers could, with the supervision of extension agents, take records of all relevant costs of milk production. Such costings would ensure that the prices paid to farmers by MDI are real. It is difficult to arrive at such a conclusion at present in the absence of such data.

References

Agyemang K and Nkhonjera L P. 1986. Evaluation of the productivity of crossbred dairy cattle on smallholder and government farms in the Republic of Malawi. ILCA Research Report 12. ILCA (International Livestock Centre for Africa), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Dairy and Beef Project. 1988. Dairy and beef production systems in Malawi. Technical Report. University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agricultural Research, Lilongwe, Malawi.

McDowell R E. 1988. Strategy for improving beef and dairy cattle in the tropics. Cornell International Agriculture Mimeo 100. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA

NSO (National Statistical Office). 1986. Monthly Statistical Bulletin. NSO, Malawi.


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