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Boosting Ethiopia's smallscale dairy industry

With one Holstein cow, Teqabesh is able to produce 14 litres of milk per day (© REST)
With one Holstein cow, Teqabesh is able to produce 14 litres of milk per day

Despite having the largest livestock population in Africa, Ethiopia's milk production is very low. However, increasing demand for milk and milk products from a growing population offers an opportunity for milk producers and processing cooperatives to increase productivity. To support smallscale farmers, REST (Relief Society of Tigray) is working to improve awareness of dairy technology and establish milk marketing and processing cooperatives throughout Tigray. So far, more than 20 milk cooperatives have been established and over 400 members are supplying around 2,500 litres of milk every day.

With no land of her own, Teqabesh, a typical small farmer, was renting land where she grew crops and raised three Arado cattle. But she was only able to support her household for six months of the year. Arado cattle have a short lactation period and a long calving interval, so with three cattle Teqabesh produced only 1.5 litres of milk per day. To improve milk yields, REST provides higher-yielding Holstein cattle as a form of credit, which is then paid back over five years.

Boosting production

With one Holstein cow, Teqabesh is now able to produce around 14 litres per day. But with small amounts of milk to sell on a regular basis, marketing is a challenge for many farmers. So REST organises farmers into milk processing and marketing cooperatives, and also constructs milk centres. Each centre serves as a collection point, processor and marketing site. On arrival at the centre, the milk is tested to maintain quality, and the quantity of milk received is registered daily against the producer's name in a milk record book. The farmers are then paid monthly for the quantity of milk they have delivered.

Established in 2006, the Dareo milk processing and marketing cooperative now has 30 members and collects roughly 200 litres of milk per day. "The major reason that the milk groups are successful is that farmers need only to transport milk over short distances to sell it," explains Abraha Lemlem, REST senior livestock expert. On average, Teqabesh sells about eight litres of milk per day to the cooperative, earning roughly 1,200 Birr per month (US$70), or 14,400 Birr (US$850) per year.

Adding value

REST provides the cooperatives with equipment to make butter and cheese (© REST)
REST provides the cooperatives with equipment to make butter and cheese

To add value to the milk and increase its shelf-life, REST provides the cooperatives with equipment to make butter, cheese and yoghurt. These products are then marketed from the milk centres, or transported to larger outlets. REST also looks for new markets, including individual customers, as well as traders, hotels, supermarkets, hospitals and factories.

In 2010, the Dareo cooperative made roughly US$5,000 profit from selling whole milk, boiled milk, yoghurt and skimmed milk. "Members of the cooperatives are receiving monthly salaries, which has increased their income, improved their food security and enabled many to send their children to school, rent irrigated land and invest in bee hives," Lemlem adds. "The cooperative members are pulling themselves out of poverty." Farmers have also been able to increase their crop yields by using the manure to fertilise their fields and earn extra income from selling surplus manure. With her income from the cooperative and from selling manure to a local plant nursery, Teqabesh is now able to afford food all year round and send six of her eight children to school.

Protecting resources

In Tigray, feed scarcity and poor livestock management have also been major constraints to the expansion of the smallscale dairy sector. In many areas, overgrazing has caused soil erosion. Farmers have therefore been encouraged to implement rotational grazing, enclose land to enable it to recover, establish terracing to improve the moisture content of the soil, and plant improved forage legumes to increase the availability of feed. Local grass seed has also been collected by farmers to replant degraded areas. Training on feed management, health and housing has also been provided to help farmers to properly care for their new livestock.

"The artificial insemination service has been another challenge," Lemlem adds. "Unless the Holstein cows are inseminated with semen from high yielding cattle, milk production will decrease once again." After raising their concerns with the Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development, the government has committed itself to training more AI technicians to serve rural populations.

Spreading success

Farmers have been encouraged to plant improved forage legumes to increase the availability of feed (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Farmers have been encouraged to plant improved forage legumes to increase the availability of feed
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Due to the success of the project, REST is expanding its work in Tigray but in some project areas, where REST has left, the cooperatives are continuing well on their own, Lemlem states. The Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development has also started to implement REST's model with the introduction of improved dairy cows and organisation of cooperatives.

"The key to success has been organising farmers into cooperatives," Lemlem summarises. "Without cooperatives, individual farmers do not have adequate opportunities to sell their milk or process it." He adds that the long-term aim is to create small independent cooperatives across the country, which will then merge and consolidate in order to establish larger and more productive units with more efficient distribution networks.

With contributions from Abraha Lemlem

Date published: August 2011


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