By Citizen Journalist
Smallholder dairy farmers in Gweru are suffering unending and worsening impacts of the Covid-19 virus and the ever-rising costs of dairy production, threatening the viability and competitiveness of the sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented shocks to food supply chains in the country and several other developing countries, as lockdown restrictions have widely affected labour supply and movement, input access and logistics, finished product distribution and market access , dairy have not gone unscathed.
Other food supplies, production, distribution sectors and systems have also shown resilience and innovative capacity , scaling up the digitalization of food supply chains and improving efficiency in the production systems.
The dairy sector is still to recover from the cumulative and double debilitating impacts of the generally fragile state of the Zimbabwean economy and Covid-19 induced vulnerabilities and shocks, making food and nutrition security and improving access to nutritious food a difficult task.
The small scale farmers are putting up with a plethora of production costs of feed, veterinary products and services, labour, consumables, equipment and transport paid for in American dollars while the milk they produce is bought from them in local Zimbabwean dollar which is very low considering the inflation rates.
The pandemic has had an unimaginable impact on dairy farming such that the recovery of the sector requires multi-sectoral interventions and support.
The Midlands province used to be the hub of milk production in the country before the land reform disturbances.
Speaking to this Citizen Journalist, the Midlands dairy officer Mr. Virimayi Madzivire said that smallholder farmers are facing a number of Covid-19 aggravated problems chiefly the high cost of feed which they are buying in US dollars while they are paid in local currency.
“The farmers are also suffering high staff turnover as they are losing labour to mining, which is paying in US dollars, added Mr. Madzivire.
The farmers are getting roughly US$0.50 cents per litre of fresh milk paid for in local currency, against a raft of costs they have to pay in US dollars.
The Zimbabwean dairy industry has been facing serious viability and competitiveness challenges since the 1990s, which led to culling, closure of many dairy farms, lack of expansion, investment and shortage of dairy start-ups.
In the dairy value chain, farmers bear the greatest burden of the costs of raw and fresh milk production with a strong bearing on the viability, economic efficiency and growth potential of the dairy industry.
The dairy sector in Zimbabwe has identified four models defined by the dairy herd size and driven by production levels, labour systems, business models, feed and feeding systems, finance, adoption, type and use of technology and marketing.
The dairy models in Zimbabwe are defined by the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers as:
1. Subsistence scale household farms with fewer than five dairy animals;
2. Small scale family farms with between five and ten dairy animals;
3. Intermediate scale farms with a modest investment in dairy and having 10-100 dairy animals;
4. Large scale corporate or family farms having more than 100 dairy animals.
The smallholders’ sector uses the least investment, technology, and production inputs and records the least output and in the face of a major disruption like Covid-19, the sector suffers a lot.
In several recent studies on the overall cost of production in the country, it has been found that a range between $0.55-0.65/litre depending on the type of feed given to the animals.
Mr. Madzivire said that dairy farmers are suffering incessant power outages that are driving the cost of milking and the cost of milk production upwards.
Mr. Madzivire added that a few farmers are able to turn to generators further driving the cost of production of milk upwards. The power outages also have an effect on milk quality and milk quantity as many farmers do not have solar-driven cold chains.
The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) recently announced new fuel prices effective Thursday, 5 August 2021. ZERA, according to the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers, “has set the maximum pump price of diesel at ZWL$114.29 or US$1.33 per litre and petrol at ZWL$117.07 or US$1.37 per litre. The upward increase in fuel price affects dairy farmers’ profitability given the low raw milk price.”
The Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers, ZADF announced that government would soon introduce the proposed Command Maize Silage Dairy Input Scheme targeting 5 000 ha maize or sorghum silage financing for medium and large scale milk producers being facilitated through the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, CBZ and the Agriculture Finance Corporation, AFC as financiers. Recovery modalities will use the milk off-taker, the milk processors model and the repayment periods are to be finalised but proposed to be 5 months instalments after harvesting the silage.
The ZADF also revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture will soon unveil the Presidential Dairy Input Support Scheme which is targeted to improve the performance of the dairy sector through cost minimization, improving milk productivity and sectoral competitiveness. This is a free dairy input scheme that shall be implemented in the 8 provinces in Zimbabwe targeting 1 500 small scale farmers with the aim of boosting the milk production contribution from this sector and improving the livelihoods of these farmers.
The scheme is expected to run for the next 2 years (2021/22 and 2022/23 farming season) issuing out the following per beneficiary: inputs for 1 ha maize or sorghum silage ( 1x25kg seed maize; 5x50kg Compound D; 5x50kg Top dressing Fert; 1×5 Litre Glyphosate herbicide), 0.5ha pasture inputs and 0.5ha legume inputs. This scheme is funded by the Government shall finance this scheme. ZADF will be working with Agritex and Livestock Department on this scheme.
The major milk production cost drivers for the farmers are feed responsible for between 65 and 70% of the cost of production.
The average production cost for milk in Zimbabwe is between US$0.55-0.65/litre milk, chiefly driven by feed, labour, fixed costs, veterinary costs, breeding, regulatory compliance, dairy sundries and breeding costs.
Dairy returns are generally low, despite the fact that farmers should start to reduce production costs starting with feed, labour costs, mechanization, fixed costs through on-farm feed formulation, mechanization, and adoption of higher-yielding dairy cattle breeds; having more cows per farm to reap economies of scale benefits.
The smallholder farmers need to adopt a number of measures to increase milk supply to meet local and export demand by addressing the sustainability issues through:
Increasing herd size by developing sturdier local breeders, importing better performing genetics for breeders and importing calves for inter stem farmers, importing good quality semen, developing semen banks at strategic areas accessible to farmers at affordable cost
Implementation of new farming strategies and improved farm.
Implementation of more efficient production systems through on-farm feed production increasing local stock feed production.
Adoption of enabling Covid-19 compliant dairy development policy regulatory framework.
Access to affordable finance and investment opportunities for smallholder farmers and the other dairy producers to improved dairy production efficiencies.
The dairy sector also needs to address the root causes of poor-performance in the dairy value chain in Zimbabwe by strengthening the linkages between production, processing and financing.
Targeting small-holder, medium-scale and large-scale anchor farms, the Zimbabwe dairy sector needs to establish dairy hubs and inclusive business models, while improving efficiency, increasing milk quality and quantity and ensuring that consumers are able to drink more milk. #Women in News