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Smallholder dairy development programme in resettled and communal areas in Zimbabwe

E. G. Mupunga and D. M. J. Dube

Agricultural Development Authority, Dairy Development Programme
P.O. Box 8439, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe

Characterisation of the cattle industry
Origin and conception of the development programme
Early adoption of technologies
Factors affecting the development and expansion of programmes
Benefits to the farmers and the community
Factors contributing to the success or failure of livestock development programmes
Suggested framework for future development programmes
Selected bibliography


Since independence (1980), the Zimbabwe Government has adopted a policy of encouraging farmers in the small-scale, communal and resettlement schemes to participate in the dairy sector. To this end, in 1933 the Government set up the Peasant Sector Development Programme, now known as the Dairy Development Programme (DDP). This is responsible for the implementation of dairy development projects in the communal, resettlement and small-scale farming areas. It is now operating nine schemes spread over five provinces of Zimbabwe.

The smallholder dairy sector has a membership of 2000, of whom 800 members produce milk. The scarcity of the recommended genotypes (cross-breds) is slowing the rate of growth of the sector. At each scheme DDP has established a demonstration unit for services (extension, Al and bull service), for milk collection and multiplication of forage seeds and planting materials of napier grasses. The farmers have largely adopted the technologies of improved cattle, fodder production and management practices. Milk production per cow per lactation is about 2400 kg in a 240-day lactation period. In the majority of the schemes the milk is sold locally, while in two schemes the milk is delivered to the Dairy Marketing Board. Farmers are encouraged to form associations which will in future manage the delivery of inputs (drugs, feeds etc) and marketing of milk Concerted efforts are required to increase the supplies of crossbreds to allow the growth of the sector. An economic analysis indicated that milk production is profitable in the sector.


Until 1980, large commercial farms, the former European farming sector, occupied close to 80% of the specialised and diversified farming area in the intensive farming regions of Zimbabwe. Over 50% of all large-scale commercial land is located in natural regions 1 to 3, the high- to medium potential regions.

Commercial dairy farms in Zimbabwe are well developed and compare very favourably with dairy farms in Europe and North America. The predominant dairy cattle breeds are the Holstein-Friesian breeds, followed by Jersey, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Redpoll, Simmental and Red Dane. Feeding in this subsector is based on maize and its by-products for energy and soya beans and cottonseed cake for protein. The major sources of roughage are natural grass, standing (range) hay and maize silage. Where irrigation is available oats, midmar rye and lucerne (Medicago saliva) are grown. Due to escalating costs of commercial feeds, there has been a recent trend towards feeds grown on the farm.

Since independence in 1980, Government policy has encouraged the small-scale sector to play a larger role in milk production. To this end, in 1983 the Government set up the Peasant Sector Development Programme within the Dairy Marketing Board (DMB), now known as the Dairy Development Programme (DDP). This Programme is now under the auspices of the Agricultural Development Authority (ADA). It is responsible for the implementation of dairy development projects in the communal, resettlement and small-scale farming areas in the country. To date it is operating nine schemes or projects spread over five provinces of Zimbabwe.

Over the years the smallholder dairy sector in Zimbabwe has grown to a membership of 2000, out of which 800 members produce and sell milk (Tables 1 and 2). The number of productive farmers has grown over the years. The project has also generated cooperation among farmers through the creation of association structures responsible for running the affairs of the members. The intention of the DDP is to eventually hand over all projects to these associations. One project has already been handed over to the farmers through the association.

Table 1. Milk production in five milk schemes of the Dairy Development Programme, Zimbabwe.





Production (kg)

Number of farmers

Production (kg)

Number of farmers

Production (kg)

Number of farmers











































Table 2. Milk production and sales at two milk production schemes, Zimbabwe, November 1990 to October 1991.

Characterisation of the cattle industry

There were 106,000 dairy cattle in Zimbabwe in 1980; the national herd had increased to 122,000 by the 1988/89 season. The predominant breed of cattle in the smallholder sector is the small, hardy Sanga type. The strains include the Mashona, Nkone and Tuli breeds, which, although renowned for their fecundity, are poor in milk production. Milk production levels of various types of cattle under rural conditions are:

· about 1-3 litres/day (150 lactation days) for indigenous breeds;
· 4-10 litres/day (240 lactation days) for crossbreds; and
· more than 10 litres/day (300 lactation days) for purebred exotic cows.

The uses of cattle on smallholder farms include draft power, supplying meat and milk and providing manure as fertiliser. Breeding programmes should take account of these usages.

Due to exorbitant prices of pure exotics, as well as their poor adaptation to the smallholder environment (disease and scarce grazing), crossbreeding has been seen as the only viable and feasible option to introduce milk production in the smallholder sector. The argument is that it would not make economic sense to buy a cow with a high potential milk yield and then place it in an environment in which it could produce only as much as a crossbred or indigenous cow. Hence, the general recommendation for Zimbabwe is to cross the Jersey with indigenous Sanga, with crossbred ranging from 50 to 75% exotic blood. This combination capitalises on the dairy production traits of the exotic while retaining the valuable characteristics of hardiness, adaptability and disease resistance of the local breeds.

In smallholder dairy enterprises, the veld remains the main source of nutrients for cows in summer, while conserved veld hay and crop residues are used during the winter. The veld is often the most abundant and cheapest source of forage for dairy cows but provides the least in terms of dry-matter and nutrient intake. The availability and quality of veld has a significant effect on the amount of milk that can be produced from it. Communal grazing does not allow rationalisation of veld use and there remains a need to limit livestock numbers to sustainable productive stocking rates.

Bulk fodder crops such as Bana, Napier (Pennisetum purpureum cultivars) and Green Gold and legumes such as Leucaena, Siratro (Macroptilium atropurpureum) and fine-stem stylo (Stylosanthes guianensis) have been introduced to smallholder farmers to increase feed supplies. However, fodder yields and the acreage planted to fodder crops remain far from adequate.

Origin and conception of the development programme

A positive Government policy encouraged the Dairy Marketing Board (DMB) to look into the possibility of persuading small-scale and communal farmers to participate in the dairy industry. The DMB formed the Peasant Sector Development Programme, which was later named the Dairy Development Programme and moved to ADA Dairy Development Programme projects have benefited from the large-scale commercial sector in terms of technology and foundation stock.

To start the programme, two pilot projects were initiated in Mashonaland East Province. It was the intention of the programme to identify and operate two projects per province, one in Small-Scale Commercial Farming Area (SSCFA), the other in the communal and resettlement areas. Support was solicited from Government and donor agencies. Donor assistance came from NORAD, DANIDA, the EEC, Heifer Project International (HPI) and Christian Care.

To facilitate uniformity in approach to dairying by the various agencies, a dairy coordinating meeting was created. Planning committees in various project areas were established to incorporate all relevant agencies (both governmental and non-governmental), influential leaders in the community, businessmen and political leaders. This improved awareness and acceptance of project/programme objectives.

Early adoption of technologies

Small-scale dairying is a new concept in Zimbabwe and had to be introduced by persuasion into SSCFA, communal and resettlement areas. Demonstration plots in participating communal and resettlement schemes were established; these served as training centres for both the programme staff and farmers. Various technologies recommended to farmers were first tested on demonstration plots. As farmers adopted these technologies, the function of the demonstration plots changed to become commercial production units, seed multiplication units or bull centres.

Marirangwe in an SSCFA and Chikwaka in a communal area were chosen as a pilot scheme. The positive results in these two locations stimulated interest in the remaining selected project areas. Adoption rates were strongly determined by resource availability. Since dairying is both capital and management intensive, it suited richer members of the community. Studies have indicated that 60% of the population in communal areas do not own cattle and these people are slow to adopt dairying. The DMB's prerequisite of each farmer building an approved milk shed was also a hurdle to adoption by poor farmers and can be viewed as an additional constraint to this group.

Most projects register an adoption rate of less than 10% when measured in terms of active or producing members out of the total membership. However, in Marirangwe and Rusitu, respectively, 50% and 75% of the members are productive. Production trends also show the same pattern. Probably more farmers would have been in production had it not been for the shortage of suitable stock and the squeeze on capital. Production of two projects are summarised in Table 2.

Factors affecting the development and expansion of programmes

Availability of improved livestock and AI

Smallholder farmers were advised to match the number of dairy animals to their management skills, available feed resources and health management skills. The DDP recommended the use of cows with 75% exotic blood. However, these are not readily available in the commercial dairy sector, which prefers to raise pure exotics. Similarly, bulls of the same genetic constitution are scarce in Zimbabwe. Further, the scarcity of suitable stock is compounded by the farmers' practice of communal grazing, which precludes controlled breeding programmes and hence the possibility of raising breeding stock in the communal areas.

Attempts to introduce an artificial insemination (AI) service have been frustrated by farmers' inability to detect heat, indiscriminate mating in communally grazed stock and the high costs of setting up an effective AI programme in rural areas.

Rusitu small-scale scheme is an exception, where AI had a success rate of 1.82 straws per conception. There is need for improving the breeding programme and to increase the supplies of foundation stock.

Infrastructure and inputs

The Government of Zimbabwe has set up the basic infrastructure of roads, electricity, milk collection centres and dips to service dairy projects, although much still remains to be done in meeting the specific needs of smallholder farmers. Animal health centres were set up by the veterinary services to support dairy development. However, dairy cattle have to cover long distances to reach dip tanks. Water availability is another major consideration, particularly in drought years.

It is recommended that efforts should be intensified to install infrastructural services at points easily accessible to dairy farmers. Although inputs such as veterinary drugs, chemicals and stock feeds are generally available in the country, in future it is recommended that smallholder farmers should operate in groups to procure inputs in bulk to reduce the costs.

Availability of labour

Labour availability at the household level varies from area to area and even within individual households. Paradoxically, as the cost of labour is gradually increasing, unemployment levels are also on the increase. This scenario will eventually result in cheaper unskilled labour.

At the individual smallholder farm level the household members participate in all the activities relating to milk production marketing and delivery. Hired labour is only necessary at milk centres, where they are employed by the associations.


Among the six milk-producing areas, only two (Rusitu and Marirangwe) sell the bulk of their milk to the Dairy Marketing Board (DMB). The Tsonzo project sells both locally and to the DMB and the other four sell all their milk locally. DDP emphasises and encourages local marketing as a strategy for making milk more readily available at affordable prices in the rural areas. There is no rationale for communal communities to produce milk for urban consumers while families in their communities are deprived and consequently undernourished.

There are also additional advantages for local marketing:

· Producers determine prices of milk in line with input costs, competitors' prices and the supply and demand of the product;

· Viability of dairying can be increased through reduction of costs, especially costs of transport to and from DMB depots;

· Generation of employment for local vendors who sell milk;

· Increased circulation of money within the project boundary, thus promoting development; and

· Improvement of the nutritional status of communities, especially among infants and school children.

The quantities of milk sold in the two project areas are shown in Table 2.

Funds for investment (loan and donor support)

The Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) is the sole source of medium-term credit for cattle purchase. However, most smallholder farmers have not qualified for these loans due to the lack of collateral or because of other outstanding loans. Most dairy schemes provide short-term credit for fertilisers, seed, stockfeeds and other inputs, and repayment is through monthly deductions of milk payments. It is suggested that a Dairy Development Fund be developed within the region. Donor support would greatly be appreciated to achieve this.

Profitability at farm level

A recent study conducted at Rusitu in November 1991 indicated low financial returns for farmers. When input and labour costs were deducted, farmers' returns were lower than the minimum farm wage of Z$ 150.00 (US $30) per month (Table 3).

Table 3. Gross margin analysis for sample farmers from various projects, Zimbabwe.


Rusitu (7 cow herd)

Nharira (6 cow herd)

Chikwaka (4 cow herd)

Marirangwe (24 cow herd)

Gross returns

Milk sold (litres)





Gross income Jan-Dec 91





Cull cows sold @ Z$1.90/kg





Male weaners sold @ Z$1.90/kg


Total gross returns


12 134



Cost of production

Concentrates - cows (45¢/kg)





Calves (60¢/kg)





Al costs where applicable Z$ 15/cow


Vet costs Z$ 21/head





Dipping where applicable 2$8/head





Dairy chemicals Z$ 10/cow





Napier grass growing/where applicable - 3.6 ha x 750/ha


Silage making Z$ 25/cow





Maintenance and other miscellaneous costs (5%)





Total cost excluding labour





Gross margin





Capital costs excluding cattle (Z$3300 for Rusitu and Z$1500 other)





Amortization @ 2.5% real interest rate 10-year loan assumed

Net return





Within the scheme a gross margin analysis of sample farmers from various projects was worked out, using the best farmers in each project. In Marirangwe gross returns of Z$ 38,657 (US$ 7957) have been achieved, with a net return of Z$ 18,058 (US$ 3358) (Table 3). These net returns indicate the need to establish optimal farm size, production levels and management levels for viability. Apart from the financial benefits derived, the fact that dairying brings in money monthly as opposed to the one-off payment for crop production has been strongly commended by farmers in project areas.

Government policies

Government policy towards dairy development is stated in the National Dairy Development Strategy of 1987. This gives the overall objective of "developing dairying so as to ensure there is a broad-based, viable production of sufficient wholesome milk and its derivatives to meet the national needs at an affordable cost." The specific aspirations are to:

· improve and consolidate the viability of the established dairy sector;

· continue the expansion of the national dairy production base to the small-scale, communal and resettlement farming sectors, so as to increase milk supply and develop the communities;

· maintain and improve effective and strict statutory control over milk production, processing and marketing; and

· promote an increase in the consumption of milk and dairy products amongst all sectors of the population and to develop export markets.

The Dairy Programme Co-ordinating Committee was established in early 1987 by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement. The main responsibilities of the committee are to update Government policy, plan strategies for the implementation of the policies and monitor and review the progress of implementation.

Donor support

Donor funds have helped meet both capital and recurrent costs of implementing dairy development in Zimbabwe. Support has been important in the following areas:

· Bulk Milk Counterpart Fund - Norway/ Government of Zimbabwe.

· Direct funding to the Dairy Development Programme - Norway (1990-1994).

· Funding of Guruve Small-Scale Dairy Project - Denmark (DANIDA).

· Training - Regional Dairy Development Training Team of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO RDDTT, Kenya). This has now lapsed.

· Dairy Association infrastructure development EEC (micro-projects).

· Provision of heifers - Heifer Project International (USA).

· Rusitu Small-Scale Dairy Settlement Scheme capital funding - Britain (ODA).

· Construction of milking sheds and fodder establishment - EEC (food aid counterpart fund).

Support services

The dairy industry in Zimbabwe is serviced by a number of institutions, including the Department of Agriculture, Technical and Extension Services (Agritex), Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS), DMB, the Agricultural Development Authority (ADA), veterinary services and farmer associations.

Agritex is responsible for farmer extension at the grassroots level and for all agricultural activities. Agritex structures are less specialised on dairy and there is only one milk production specialist for the whole country. The DRESS is responsible for administering the Dairy Act, which controls hygienic standards for both production and manufacturing in the industry, and supervises the milk recording scheme. It is also responsible for on-farm and on-station research in dairying.

The Department of Veterinary Services carries out investigations and extension services on the control of diseases affecting livestock and supervises vaccinations against contagious abortion, foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax. The Department provides free diagnostic services, herd health care, veterinary education and extension services through animal health and management centres.

The Agricultural Development Authority is responsible for implementing dairy projects in communal, resettlement and small- scale farming areas. Through the Dairy Programme Co-ordination Committee (DPCC), all dairying work is well coordinated, from the farmer level to the national level. Other support services include commercial suppliers of stockfeeds, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, fertilisers and artificial insemination services.

Agricultural training colleges and the University of Zimbabwe also have an input in training trainers. However, there is no dairy training for extension officers in the country and there is a great need to focus on small-scale dairy production and processing.

Alternative uses of land, labour and other inputs

Small-scale dairying competes with crop and beef production for land, labour and inputs. Maize, which is a staple food, is the commonest crop used to feed dairy animals in the commercial sector because it is nutritious and relished by cattle. As a result there is an inevitable competition between humans and livestock for maize. To limit this conflict, farmers in the small-scale, communal and resettlement sectors are encouraged to allocate land for growing forage sorghum, Bana, Napier, legumes and leguminous trees. However, in communal areas this approach also faces competition for both land and labour, with the priority being given to production of crops for human consumption.

Experience has shown that the one hectare set aside for subsistence crops in Rusitu is not adequate. Maize grown is used not only to feed people and cattle but is also used to pay for labour.

Farmers grow a range of crops, including maize, bambara nut, groundnut, sugar bean, pineapple, banana, sugar-cane, fruit trees, sweet potato and a range of horticultural vegetables. This causes intense competition between enterprises for inputs, including land, labour and management.

Most communal farmers are fairly busy during the summer months, when they plant, weed and harvest their crops. During the dry season the main farming activity is gardening and then only when water is available. With the introduction of labour-intensive dairying these farmers could be occupied throughout the year.

Benefits to the farmers and the community

With existing labour migration patterns, it is mostly the women and school children who perform farming-related activities throughout the year. This has resulted in a shortage of labour at household level, such that there is too little labour to meet the requirements of dairying, especially during the summer months. In view of this shortage, families and associations (vendors) can employ labour to look after the diary cattle and also to assist in field work and milk marketing. In this way dairying generates employment in rural areas, thereby addressing the national problem of high unemployment rates.

Since the majority of members of rural projects are women, development programmes should address their needs, including the improvement of living conditions and provision of employment opportunities.

Increased milk supplies at farm level should improve nutrition. Increases in the number of cattle kept will increase the availability of farm yard manure, which is applied to arable crops. These benefits correspond well with the mandate of the Dairy Development Programme in Zimbabwe. In the long-term, the adoption of zero-grazing will reduce stocking rates on communal areas and hence enhance environmental sustainability in the rural areas.

Factors contributing to the success or failure of livestock development programmes

Problems facing livestock development programmes include:

· Lack of funds and delays in support to the DDP and other service agencies and departments.

· Inadequate implementation of policies and consequent poor support of DDP.

· A critical shortage of dairy equipment, spares and vehicles.

· The stringent requirements imposed by the Dairy Act on those entering dairying, making it a costly exercise. The act sets standards such as running water, concrete floors and modern roofs which are too expensive for the rural poor.

· Shortage of trained manpower and experience. There is a shortage of people trained in dairy-related skills, in particular those who can meet the needs of the smallholder farmers. To improve the situation, in-service training is being increased. A dairy handbook is almost ready and a team approach to training farmers is under way.

· Feed shortages in the dry season. Most smallholders live in semi-arid areas, which are not suitable for dairying.

· Lack of skills in fodder conservation. Production based on rain-fed pastures is possible for only two to three months of the year. For the remainder of the year these pastures barely meet the maintenance requirement for diary cows let alone provide for the production of milk. Most smallholder farmers have no experience in feed production and conservation.

Constraints at the farmer level are numerous.

· The indigenous cattle give low milk yields and therefore there is a need for crossbreeding.

· The implementation of rational breeding programmes using both natural mating and artificial insemination has been slow.

· Farmers' resistance and lack of understanding have contributed to the slow progress.

· Artificial insemination has not been successful due to problems of heat detection.

· To help overcome the slow process of crossbreeding in situ there is need for in-calf crossbred heifers to be made available to prospective smallholder milk producers. The ADA farm in Transsau has been producing these crossbred heifers. However, DDP plans to take over this responsibility. An innovative commercial farmer has produced Mashona x Red Dane crosses which are dual-purpose animals.

· Long-term credit is difficult for smallholder farmers to acquire. The basic criteria for credit qualification have not been adjusted to account for the specific conditions of small-scale dairy farmers by the AFC. To fill this gap a Dairy Development Fund has been proposed.

· Related to credit there is the issue of land tenure. While most small-scale commercial farmers have title to their farms and are able to operate independently, the tenure systems operating in the communal and resettlement areas act against individual efforts. Overstocking and degradation of the environment are major problems in communal areas. Farmer security is therefore threatened by absence of title deeds in these areas.

· Management skills in general are low and need considerable improvement; a comprehensive training programme is a priority.

· Milk collection and delivery is another area of concern. Distances to deliver milk are relatively great, averaging 15 km. Hence, appropriate milk collection and delivery systems must be set up. Use of donkey carts, bicycles and other unmotorised modes of transport are encouraged.

· The local sale of milk poses a number of problems, including distribution seasonal and daily changes in demand. Options being considered and tried include selling to schools and institutions, setting up subcentres, bartering and rural processing.

· In general, farmers are relatively poor and slow to adopt new technologies. Smallholder farmers are traditionally hesitant and averse to risk. This leaves the field open to more wealthy operators, who are often more urban oriented, to benefit from such schemes. The danger is that they will try to preclude the subsequent entry of other operators.

Suggested framework for future development programmes

Policy implementation

The Government should implement the policies promulgated to enhance the development of the dairy subsector in the small-scale/communal sector. It should provide direct financial assistance to dairy development, inputs and transport and spares.

There is a need to review legislation for clean milk production and to promote the development of a cheaper milking parlour that is within reach of resource-poor dairy farmers. For example, using mortar instead of cement and thatch/ plastic sheeting instead of asbestos sheet are areas that can be further explored.

The problem of shortage of foundation stock can be addressed by the Government using parastatal farms for multiplication. Lessons could be learned from other experiences in the region.

Individual and group grazing areas need to be fenced to encourage rational use of grazing land. This will persuade farmers to improve pasture lands. One option would be to subsidise fencing for individuals and groups in schemes where pasture development is accepted.


The present requirements for establishing credit-worthiness discriminate against small-holder farmers. To correct this imbalance a Dairy Development Trust Fund should be set up.


Government producer prices (set through the DMB) are out of step with inflation, thus reducing the viability of dairying. This has resulted in some farmers switching to other production options. Rebuilding a herd takes a long time should a decision be made to go back to dairying.

The expertise and experience gained in other African countries on small-scale milk processing technologies could be of considerable benefit to Zimbabwe's attempts to enter this field.

Training programmes should be conducted at production, processing and marketing levels. Regional cooperation on this aspect should be strengthened.

Selected bibliography

Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA). 1990. Dairy situation and outlook report 1989/90. AMA, Harare, Zimbabwe.

CSO (Central Statistical Office). 1987. Statistical year book. CSO, Harare, Zimbabwe.

DDP (Dairy Development Programme). 1988. Perspective plan document, 1988-1987. Dairy Marketing Board, Harare, Zimbabwe.

DMB (Dairy Marketing Board). 1988. New powder and butter plant project submission document. DMB, Harare, Zimbabwe. Unpublished report.

DMB (Dairy Marketing Board). 1988. Milk collection in Chikwaka: A study undertaken to consider the potential of a milk collection scheme in a communal area. DMB, Harare, Zimbabwe. Unpublished report.

DPCC (Dairy Programme Co-ordination Committee). 1989. Dairy development in Zimbabwe National development strategy. Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Harare, Zimbabwe.

DAWA Group. 1986. Master plan for the dairy sector. Harare, Zimbabwe. Unpublished report.

George S and Kuimba S. 1989. Development and participation in the Dairy Development Programme in one village of Chikwaka Communal Area, Harare. Unpublished report.

Henson B R and Mupunga E G. 1991. Dairy development institutions in Africa: Zimbabwe case study. Paper prepared for the Commonwealth Secretariat Review of Dairy Development Initiatives in Africa.

HIFAB/ZIMCONSULT. 1989. Dairy sector evaluation for NORAD and GOZ. Country study and Norwegian aid review. Unpublished report.

NORAD/DDP. 1990. Technical programme review. Harare, Zimbabwe. Unpublished report.

ODA (Overseas Development Administration). 1991. Rusitu Intensive Resettlement Scheme, Zimbabwe: Options Study Consultancy. November 1991. Unpublished report.

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