HARARE – Raw milk production in Zimbabwe rose 14% to 12.9 million litres in the first two months of the year in comparable to 11.34 million litres reported in the same period last year, at a time the country has been hit by a severe drought, official data showed Monday.
Last year, the dairy sector surpassed government’s annual estimates, rising by 13.61% to 75.42 million litres in 2018 compared to 66.38 million litres reported in 2017. The country’s raw milk production was projected to grow by an average of 12% in 2018. Zimbabwe’s milk production has been consistently going up since the introduction of the Dairy Revitalisation Programme (DRP) in 2014.
At its peak the southern African nation produced over 150 million litres of milk annually, exporting into the region and beyond.
Milk production levels in Zimbabwe plummeted dramatically from the early 1990s peak of 260 million litres. The country’s milk output has averaged between 45 million and 60 million litres of milk per year in the past few years, a figure still far below the national demand of 120 million litres of milk per annum. However, despite surpassing the average growth last year, Zimbabwe’s milk output is 38% below the national demand, with the gap being covered through imports. Milk production in the country is estimated to rise to between 97 million to 100 million litres per annum by 2019.
Latest data from the Ministry of Agriculture’s dairy services department, milk intake by processors was up 15% to 11.7 million litres from 10.16 million litres in the comparable period in 2018. Retailed milk by producers increased marginally by 2 percentage points to 1.2 million litres from 1.18 million litres last year.
In February 2019, raw milk production surged by 17.75% to 6.19 million litres compared to 5.26 million litres recorded in the comparable last year. However, February output at 6.19 million litres, represents an 8% decline from January output – largely attributed to the prevailing drought.
The dairy sector in Zimbabwe still faces several obstacles such as high cost of production, inefficient production systems and the unavailability of long-term funding. In addition, factors such as shortage of water and stock feeds as well as erratic rains also impact negatively on production. In 2019, experts say, there is also going to be limited supply of stock feed due to insufficient rains with most farmers not irrigating. To make matters worse for the sector, prices for the veterinary drugs have gone up.
The current herd size is estimated at 28 000 cows (with an estimated 14 000 in milk) down from the 1990s peak of about 122 000 cows. In addition to low herd sizes, milk yield per cow remains low especially among smallholder producers owing to poor management at farmer level, poor breeding practices and lack of finance among other factors.
In the past few years, According to the Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers, the southern African nation has been importing “embryos” from the neighboring South Africa in order to increase the national herd.
Zimbabwe used to import 3 million litres of milk per month to cover for the shortfall in national production whose demand was 8 million litres against the 5 million litres the country’s dairy sector was producing prior to the launch of DRP.
In the 2019 National Budget, Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube proposed the suspension of import duty on milk equipment for a period of further 12 months, in order to augment insufficient domestic production of raw milk.