Fix current milk shortage right from the root at the farm gate

Wednesday November 10 2021
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As the drought continued, milk output dipped to levels never seen before, and it could take a while to recover. PHOTO | FILE| NMG


Consumers have been grappling with high milk prices over the past three months as local processors and traders decried supply shortage linked to the prolonged drought that hit livestock farming, especially in the arid eastern district known to be the country's milk hub.

For the first time retail milk prices almost doubled even as the rates paid to the farmer remained unchanged despite increased cost of production.

But dairy manufacturers, just like the trade regulator, maintain that retail prices should not go up as prices at the plant remain unchanged.

The ministry of Trade last week cracked down on those found hiking milk prices, fining them in a stern warning to other milk traders.

However, in light of the fast-widening milk demand-supply mismatch driven by a growing number of nutrition programmes and the usual peak in milk consumption around this time of the year, controlling prices could be hard to implement.

The middlemen who hiked prices are simply exploiting a crisis, and consumers are likely to keep paying exorbitantly as long as the milk shortage lasts.


Therefore, until the root cause on the supply side is addressed, the shortage means market forces will still push prices up.

At the start, farmers in the eastern key cattle production corridor waited for rains for close to five months to no avail. With pastures drying up and conserved water running out, many could no longer milk their cattle.

The cost of buying feeds, water and other inputs daily became too high and focus shifted to keeping the cattle and calves alive.

As the drought continued, milk output dipped to levels never seen before, and it could take a while to recover.

The crisis could have been avoided with the right infrastructure like valley dams, bole holes and functional livestock watering schemes, as well as interventions that allow farmers to carry on production unimpeded by the weather.

The dairy sector also suffers from other problems, key among them the fact that the government sets margins paid to farmers by manufacturers and these have barely been adjusted for the past three years despite changing realities in the livestock production business and market.

The Rwf200 or less tariff per litre farmers get is not remunerative as it is not commensurate with input costs that keep changing with seasons.

The losses arising from this have so far left many livestock producers mulling reduction in cattle numbers at a time they are expected to be scaling up and migrating to high yield cow breeds.

The ongoing milk crisis is a wakeup call to examine the kind of reforms and investments that can shore up dairy farmers in the face of climate change hurdles and position them better to keep up with the growing demand for the much needed commodity.