Despite the continued high consumption of milk and dairy products in the country, the local dairy industry is basically on its knees. It hasn’t experienced growth over the past decade rendering the country heavily dependent on imports. If anything, the industry has stagnated.
No surprises there, because with close to 3 million cattle in the country, the national dairy herd accounts for anything between one and two percent. This industry, with so much potential, seriously needs revamping. There is need for each and every stakeholder to play their part. Especially our government. With appropriate policies and sufficient resources, the dairy industry can contribute immeasurably to food security and reach self-sustainable levels. Otherwise it is doomed.
The economic value of Botswana’s dairy industry is way lower than where it could be. Where it should be. Ever since the Foot and Mouth scourge that left the North East farmers impoverished, the industry has never been the same. The plague put a damper on the growth of the sub sector, and it never recovered.
Today there are just too many challenges facing dairy farmers. Worse of, most of the local dairy farmers have been forced to play a price-taking role by some processors, resulting in low prices for their milk. Essentially turning them into beggars. This has had an adverse effect on the entire dairy sector as some producers have since jumped ship for more lucrative subsectors.
The other challenge with the local dairy industry is the inconsistent, erratic weather conditions. Nowadays you never know whether it’s winter or summer. It’s all topsy-turvy. Climate Change I suppose. This unpredictable weather has made droughts as common as formation of new parties in the country.
The droughts have in turn affected both rain-fed and irrigated pastures, as well as prices of sold feed. Most of the production cost involved in dairying locally goes to feed. The irregular rainfall pattern can also bring, out of the blue, heavy rainfall and floods, like the recent Dineo, which brought conditions conducive for outbreaks of diseases.
While acquiring land is another problem, sometimes the land farmers get is off the grid. Dairying needs constant uninterrupted power supply. Milk must be stored optimally at around 4°C and processed dairy products require chilling as well and with the local temperatures that can reach unbearable points, power is needed to maintain the cold chain, from milking parlours to storage facilities.
For budding entrepreneurs out there, the economic value of the dairy subsector does not lie only with primary milk production. It is spread across the entire value chain. You can’t all be milk producers. Fodder production is one such area that those who have land can venture into and sell to dairy farmers. There are just many other areas that, once ventured into, could help turn this ailing industry into a key driver for the economic diversification initiative that our leaders have been preaching for decades.
The only solution for the current dairy industry malaise is for all stakeholders, including government, to work together.