Milk imports set to plunge 37%

IMPORTS of milk and milk-based products will decrease 37% in 2019 to US$29 million from US$46 million, driven by an anticipated 15% local production increase, businessdigest has leant.

By Melody Chikono

Increase on production is going to be centred on ongoing negotiations around local stockfeed production and lower production costs and improved genetics.

National milk production in 2018 increased 14% to 75,4 million litres from 66 million litres in 2017, although it is 44,6 million short of the annual milk requirement of 120 million litres.

Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) revealed last week that it was, through government, engaging the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) to produce stockfeed which comprises between 60% to 70% of dairy farming costs and is currently weighing down the industry.

Mid last year, investments made in the dairy sector at both farm and processing level coupled with the implementation of Statutory Instrument 64 saw the amount spent on the importation of milk and milk-based products significantly dropping from US$22million per month to about US$7 million per month.

ZADF chairperson Kudzai Chirima last week told businessdigest on the sidelines of the 2018 Small-Scale Dairy Farmer of the Year competition that while the industry was still saddled with legacy challenges, it was also banking on the finalisation of the 99-year lease programme by the government.

“We are quite happy because, through government, we are engaging GMB to see if they can produce stockfeed, which is the highest cost driver in the production of milk. Despite the hardship in terms of the drought that farmers did not have enough silage, we are hoping that we will improve in terms of production per cow,” he said.

“If we can have growth of about 14 to 15%, that will be ideal, but we are targeting 15%. The drivers are low production costs and improved genetics. We are getting sexed semen that we have used with the heifers coming up and we should be able to produce high-yielding cows and that gives us high production figures.”

Chirima said although not quite significant, the growth will ensure that imports are reduced.

“But we want to ensure that milk inputs are cut drastically so that we don’t use that foreign currency; last time it was US$46 million per annum, but we are hoping it will come down to US$25 million or US$29 million. We are buying powdered milk from SA which complements our milk, that’s where the cost is. The importation of our milk and the importation of milk that comes on our shelves, some of it is illegal,” he said.

While the association says it is working on closing the gap on national dairy requirements, Chirima said the sector continues to face constraints inhibiting the growth of milk production at desired rates, among them, unreasonable interest rates and price distortions, which are further eroding viability. Vaccines, cleaning detergents, semen for artificial insemination, and equipment all require foreign currency which is scare in the country.

“Dairy farmers are facing challenges long term and reasonable interests available on the market. In line with your mantra ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’, we hope the new banks will be allowed to open shop and create loan products that are dairy favourable,” Chirima said in his speech at the event.

“Dairy farmers appreciate and commend the government initiative of command agriculture in the country. We, however, request for consideration that dairy farmers under command agriculture be allowed to use part of the harvest for silage and deliver a tonnage below the required five tonnes.”