Africa's dairy industry at cross road

By Henry Neondo

A regional three day conference (May 23-25) bringing together milk processors, farmers and researchers in Africa opened yesterday in Nairobi with widespread calls for the Africans to put their house in order if they were to play in the improving global dairy industry.

Speaking at the function, the Secretary General of the Common Market for the East, Central and Southern Africa, COMESA, Dr Erastus Mwencha said that dairy industry’s huge potential has yet to be realized and asked member states of the Eastern and Southern African Dairy Association, the organizers of the conference to look inwards and solve inadequacies within them first before pointing a finger at such bodies as the World Trade Organisation, WTO.

Dairy farming in most of the sub-Saharan Africa is in the hands of the small-scale farmers. For example, in Kenya, small-scale dairy farmer's contribution to the national dairy production which stands at 3 billion litres is 90 per cent.

Of these, only 274 million liters get processed by close to 40 large, medium and small scale processors. But the overall challenge to Kenyan farmers as elsewhere in the region is marketing.

While Common Market for East, Central and Southern Africa, COMESA estimates the dairy market in the region to be about USD 120 million dollars per year, only about USD 17 million was traded intra-regionally while the region as a total exported USD 32 million outside the region. This is only 6 per cent of the intra-regional trading.

COMESA says that the total intra-COMESA trade in dairy has been declining over the years and in 2003, there was negative growth of 15 per cent.

While many would like to point at issues outside the region such as subsidies offered to farmers by the government's in the west as reasons for this sorry state of affairs, not so Dr Mwencha.

Mwencha says that issues related to local production and productivity both at farm and industry level are of crucial importance.

He points out that while the region would like its presence in the dairy industry felt, yet annual average processing capacity that is below 50 per cent of the existing capacity is no good news.

Then there are the poor extension services given to dairy farmers, poor farmer linkages to industry and slow action on standards both in terms of quality and safety.

Then there is the issue of protectionist policies. Last year, for example, the Kenya Dairy Board Managing Director, Mr Machira Gichohi strongly opposed the removal of controls on exports of powder milk, saying it would hurt the local industry.

"Such is a position that always contradicts national stated policies that talk of a liberalised economy", says Mwencha adding that it often portrays economies that only look inwards rather than being exported oriented.

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