Field projects

TCP/VAN/2802 (A)

Forage Based Smallholder Dairy Production


Prior to the start of the project there was no smallholder dairy production in Vanuatu and milk production was is confined to one commercial scale farm on the outskirts of the capital, Port Vila. This farm has its own processing facility for a variety of dairy products, including: fresh milk, yoghurt, soft cheeses, and sour cream, with all products being sold in the Port Vila area. There is also another milk processor, using fresh milk from the commercial dairy farm and imported powdered milk, and specialising in ice cream manufacture for sale throughout Vanuatu where refrigeration is available. Currently there is no milk production outside of the Port Vila area, and therefore Vanuatu is very heavily reliant on imported dairy products. In the period 1989 - 1998 the importation and consumption of dairy products increased 90%, by weight, and it is clear that dairy products are becoming an increasingly important part of the Vanuatu diet.

Prior to independence in the early 1980ís Church Missions commonly ran dairy farms to meet the needs of staff and pupils.† However by 2002 these farms had almost all ceased to operate.† At the projectís commencement it was necessary to start from a very low knowledge base.† Livestock Staff and farmers, whilst quite familiar with beef cattle, had little or no understanding of dairy production.†

Away from the capital city Port Vila, poverty and poor employment opportunities impact seriously on peoples lives through decreased enrollments at primary schools (especially among girls), poor nutrition, and economic stagnation (lack of investment). The direct result of rural poverty is internal migration; Port Vila is growing at an unsustainable 6 percent per annum. Pasture-based smallholder dairy production assistance is seen as one of the urgent measures needed to stem the flow of people to urban areas, which are unable to support the population pressure. This will be done by improving food security in these areas, through diversifying production (broadening the range of productive activities), improving nutrition especially among children and improving the rural economy by providing employment opportunities and substituting locally produced goods for imported ones, thus keeping cash in the community.

The project will work with a core group of trainees, both farmers and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Animal Production Section) extensionists, with the objective of establishing a sustainable, productive smallholder dairy industry. In addition to the core group of trainees, the project will train as many farmers as possible during field days and workshops, working with individual smallfarming families and also school farms. Priority in training opportunities will be given to rural youth and women.

In particular it is expected that the project will:

  • decrease the need for internal migration. This is of major importance in Vanuatu where over the last 10 years the populations of the 2 major urban areas have grown at about 6 percent per annum, while some rural areas have experienced negative population growth.
  • facilitate more profitable, intensive and sustainable land use;
  • promote food security in remote areas by diversifying production and decreasing reliance on imports;
  • facilitate an improvement in Vanuatu’s terms of trade by way of import substitution;
  • provide employment in rural areas, particularly for women and youth;
  • by working with schools, benefit students by exposing them to useful technologies and information. They in turn will act as disseminators of knowledge in their own communities;
  • improve the nutritional status of low income rural households (particularly children) as a result of increased incomes and consumption of dairy products;
  • improve understanding of locally available feed resources and technologies which will also accrue to the pig and poultry industries.


The project has the following objectives:

(i) to create a group of smallholder dairy farmers in rural areas, as well as Livestock Extensionists, trained in dairy husbandry particularly forage based production, animal and farm management, milk production, handling and basic processing;

(ii) to increase awareness and utilization of non-forage feed resources for dairy cattle;

(iii) to strengthen the capacity of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Livestock Section) to support smallholder dairy development, and

(iv) to increase the total output of the rural economy and diversify income by providing smallfarmers with a viable and profitable alternative to current agricultural practices.


The project outputs will be:

  • a core group of trained smallholder dairy farmers (11) and Livestock Extensionists (3) in selected islands and production areas, able to provide industry leadership and share their expertise with other farmers;
  • 300 farmers exposed to new technologies through a series of training courses and field days;
  • dairy farmers more conversant with feeding of dairy animals and in particular the use of both forage and non-forage feed resources;
  • an increased Government capacity to support smallholder dairy farmers through improved extension and breeding services;
  • increased local milk production through improved cut and carry, grazed pasture production and management, and the use of locally available feed resources;
  • improved dairy breeding stock (both in terms of quality and availability) as a result of an artificial breeding programme (AI) utilizing local technicians.


Missions were fielded from August/September 2002 to August 2004.

At the end of the project after following a simple but carefully structured development plan, the dairy sector is on the move.†The number of smallholder dairy† farms has increased to 24 from zero at project inception, these farms are spread through 5 islands [Tanna, Efate, Malakula, Ambae and Santo] and are providing convincing live demonstrations to farmers contemplating diversifying into dairy production.†The approach included using local knowledge and resources complemented with some new ideas, equipment and technologies which have been proven in comparable environments.† Progressive farmers have found that a simple once- a- day milking system gives a valuable addition to their total farm production and which increases their return from existing cattle numbers, thus transforming the economic status of livestock in the smallholder farming system.† The simple technologies promoted by the project are being adopted by farmers to achieve these ends.

Primarily dairy production is intended to improve household food security, however in peri-urban areas it is being undertaken as a commercial activity.


  • Training people
  • As an FAO Technical Co-operation Programme [TCP] project, technology transfer was a key ingredient in the mix.† The intention was to reach rural people, so training were held for the densely populated rural communities surrounding the urban areas of Luganville [Santo] and Port Vila [Efate], training was also held in the rural areas of Santo and Efate islands and on the outer islands of Tanna, Malakula and Ambae.† In total 37 training events were held, including sending 5 people to gain practical experience in Fiji.† A total of 1554 person training days were delivered.

  • Schools
  • 3 Boarding High Schools and 1 practical farm training school were actively involved in the project.† They have, with project assistance, set up smallscale dairy units to supply the school with milk and to give students practical experience.† It is envisaged that in time students will become effective disseminators of information, by taking their new knowledge and skills home to their village and establishing dairy production for household supply or as a commercial activity.† It was seen that there is considerable potential to further improve and assist vocational education in dairy production.

  • The rural community
  • In addition to the core group of project trainees, the project worked to engage the rural community and to inform people of the realities of smallscale milk production.† In addition to including local livestock farmers during training events, the national Project Coordinator† made regular visits to villages on Sundays to speak to the community about the project and dairying in general.

  • Interest from consumers
  • Annually, the consumption of milk products in Vanuatu increases by around 10 %.† This is almost exclusively sourced from imports.† Consequently there is an interest in dairy products, however consumption has tended to be restricted to those urban people with sufficient income to afford a high proportion of shop bought food in their diet.† The milk products available have been mostly: powdered milk, UHT milk, butter, ice cream, cheese, and yoghurt.†The project has confined its activity to the production of liquid milk, yoghurt and frozen milk pops.†These have been very well accepted by both urban and rural people.†

  • Better feeding systems
  • Given adequate levels of animal husbandry, feeding is the main key to increasing dairy production in Vanuatu.†Training and demonstration centred around farmers developing a robust pasture based system which is appropriate to their managerial level and local conditions. The use of supplements made form locally available feed resources, such as†copra meal and fresh copra was demonstrated.† Urea supplementation using hardened blocks and silage making were introduced and demonstrated.†The role and importance of drinking water was also covered.††† †††††

  • New forages
  • Mulato grass, a newly developed Brachiaria hybrid was introduced from Mexico.†This is still under evaluation and shows excellent promise as a high yielding, good quality pasture for both dairy and beef production.

    A Hawaiian hybrid Napier grass was introduced from Tonga late in the project and is currently under evaluation.†This very palatable, high yielding grass is expected to form a valuable cut and carry feed resource for†dairy farms.†It should also be useful as a dry season fodder bank due to its drought tolerance.†††

  • Dairy husbandry
  • As all co-operating farmers and livestock officers in the core group had no previous experience of dairy production, the project concentrated on developing dairy husbandry skills and knowledge from the previously held base of beef husbandry.

    Training in the following areas was given:

    • breeding and production recording
    • basic dairy animal husbandry
    • cow handling and taming
    • milking technique
    • milking policy
    • calf rearing

  • Simple milk handling and processing
  • The project demonstrated simple technologies and supplied a limited amount of appropriate equipment.† The focus areas were:

    • milk handling on-farm
    • milk transportation
    • micro milk processing

    These technologies were most applicable to household milk supply. Training and demonstration in simple milk testing and dairy hygiene were done. This concentrated on improved dairy cleaning and maintenance programmes.

    Using simple equipment purchased by the project, farmers were trained in the hygienic handling, pasteurization, packing and transportation of fresh milk. Training and demonstration was also given in very simple "milk pasteurization in the milk can" technique.† Some training was also given in the production of other milk products such as frozen milk pops and yoghurt. Training emphasized the maintenance of hygiene standards at all stages of milk handling and processing. Good milking technique also was demonstrated.

    Smallholder milking area and newly
    established Brachiaria decumbens
    Project coordinator, Head of Livestock, Edwin Garaehangavulu demonstrating how to handle and tame a smallholder farmers cow for milking.
    Farmers receiving training on milking shed procedures
    Livestock Officer, Steve Boe inspecting a newly introduced pasture variety, Mulato grass.
    Newly introduced Mulato grass
    (Brachiaria hybrid cv.Mulato - a cross between
    Brachiaria brizantha cv. Marandu
    and B. ruziziensis 44-6)
    Milking demonstration with farmer group
    participation in Big Bay
    Newly introduced Hawaiian Hybrid Napier grass
    Poto, a farmer from Big† Bay, Santo, passing on what he has learned about dairy production to his neighbours.
    Project NPD and consultants discuss
    supplementary feeeding
    Some project sites had no road access
    Simple hygienic milk handling
    Appropriate technology for milk pasteurization
    "In the basket" micro-milk pasteurization
    Locally made yoghurt is in good demand, especially from children
    Photographs by Steve Lee and Steve Reynolds