Senior Business Reporter
GOVERNMENT has challenged players in the dairy sector to complement efforts to reduce the cost of animal feed, which continues to negatively impact viability, as it accounts for more than 65 percent of the cost of milk production.
Speaking in Mhondoro recently, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka said the Government had robust plans to grow the sector.
“The major challenge of the sector is feed, which accounts for more than 65 percent of the cost; and in some establishments, feed costs can be up to 85 percent of production, therefore, impacting the viability of the individual dairy farmer and the industry as a whole,” he said.
Government plans to improve viability through increased own-feed production, feed formulation, support for irrigation, mechanisation and pasture development.
“This comes as the sector also has poorly developed climate-proofing facilities, with no substantial and sustained investment in irrigation and pasture development, and dairy farmers have not previously accessed mechanisation programmes by Government.”
According to players in the sector, uncompetitive local animal feed prices are responsible for the high cost of raw milk in Zimbabwe at US$0,66 per litre compared to regional countries.
The price of raw milk in South Africa ranges from US$0,35/litre to US$0,37/ litre, while in Zambia it costs US$0,33/litre to US$0,35/litre.
The uncompetitive prices of feed have resulted in low milk yields per cow as farmers compromise on feed mixes in an effort to become viable.
Government’s three-pronged strategy, Dr Masuka added, is meant to achieve vertical growth, which entails increasing milk production per cow from the current levels to 20 litres per day, continuous importation of improved genetics and facilitating own-farm feed production.
The livestock growth plan is encapsulated in the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy, which was launched in 2020.
It is also premised on the agricultural recovery plan, horticulture development recovery plan, solar irrigation and rehabilitation plan, and the agricultural information management systems.
The livestock growth plan envisages the sector to grow to a US$1,9 billion industry by 2023, up from the present US$0,9 billion.
Dr Masuka said: “The livestock growth plan has a very strong private sector recovery and growth plan. At peak production, Zimbabwe had 42 000 milking cows with a total dairy herd of 19 000 producing 260 million litres in 1990.
“Since our lowest point in 2009, where the country produced 30 million litres, Zimbabwe is on a recovery path and the average growth in annual milk production has been 11 percent.”
Government also intends to build capacity for both the large-scale and smallholder dairy sector.
“Government is concentrating on rebuilding the smallholder dairy sector, and in this regard, ARDA has awakened, revitalising the dairy development programme, and has accomplished 30 projects. And the smallholder (farmer) is now contributing 4 percent of total national milk production.
“Although production per cow per day is low at 8 litres, we aim to increase this to at least 12 litres per day.”
In the large-scale dairy sector, milk production stood at 12 litres per day and the plan is to increase it to 20 litres per day.
There are currently 19 000 milking cows in the country, while the total dairy herd stands at 39 000.
“Over the planned period, we intend to rebuild this herd to 60 000 by 2025 through a combination of interventions but largely driven by the private sector, with the Government providing the enabling environment to facilitate these investments,” explained Dr Masuka.
Zimbabwe’s milk output growth has been averaging 8,3 percent, totalling 68,9 million litres in the last five years, with 2019 recording the highest output of 79,89 million litres despite the adverse effects of the El Nino-induced drought, which had a negative impact on milk yields.
The country’s monthly milk requirement stands at 10 million litres.