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Research shows more people drink milk

MIRACULOUS as it may seem during a time when bottled water and soft drinks are almost suffocating the country, an increase in milk drinking has been observed.

Speaking exclusively to the 'Sunday News', livestock value chain economist post doctoral fellow, Mr Edgar Twine said that over the last decade alone, annual per capita milk consumption has increased by about 39 per cent from 28 litres to 39 litres.

"Available country statistics show that improved cattle are only 3 per cent of the total 19 million but they are growing at 6 per cent. However, milk supply stands are around 1.6 billion litres per year and one of the reasons why the milk drinking culture is returning," he said.

Mr Twine said that bearing this in mind, after a successful pilot project, the "More Milk in Tanzania" project was started that aims to reduce poverty and vulnerability among dairy-dependent livelihoods in selected rural areas in the country.

He said that dairying offers opportunities for rural livelihoods and nutritional security, particularly in societies with a cattle-keeping tradition and that access to credit being one of the biggest stumbling blocks, would be addressed in the project.

"Limited access to credit by smallholders continues to be a major challenge to commercial dairying in Tanzania. It is caused by several factors including the potentially high cost of lending to this group of producers and the limited information on their ability to repay loans.

How best to address this challenge is an empirical question, which, to the best of my knowledge, is yet to be answered," he explained.

Currently, ILRI, in conjunction with several partners is studying the suitability of check-off arrangements as a mechanism of improving access to credit by smallholder dairy farmers.

The study is being undertaken in the framework of dairy market hubs being implemented in four districts in the regions of Tanga and Morogoro through the Irish Aid funded More Milk in Tanzania (MoreMilkiT) project.

According to the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics only 6 per cent of livestock keepers and 4 per cent for poorer households have access to credit.

Due to little contact between credit providers and individual small-scale producers, credit facilities are difficult to set up for basic inputs and services or working capital and discourages investment to improve productivity and perpetuates a low-input low-output vicious circle.

Mr Twine cited that as a means to tackle these challenges, there is the introduction of dairy market hubs (DMH) which is basically a centre of commercial dairying that interlinks all agents involved in the dairy value chain.

"By establishing and strengthening linkages among the various dairy value agents, we hope to mitigate dairy production and marketing constraints such as limited access to proper feeds, breeding and veterinary services, credit, market information and the like," he explained.

The concept has been employed in other dairy projects such as the East African Dairy Development (EADD) project and was found to have been successful in the first phase of EADD in Kenya and Uganda.

The concept is considered as one of the top six agricultural innovations. The Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) senior lecturer, Prof Lusato Kurwijila told this newspaper that another intervention that can help the dairy industry is embryo transfer, a novel technique that goes hand in hand with the concept of using fewer cows to supply the growing demand.

Prof Kurwijila said that the technique is used by animal breeders to exploit the generic merit (high producing ability) of superior female animals to obtain female offspring of equally high milk producing ability.

It involves three steps of inducing the "super cows" to produce many eggs through reproductive hormonal treatment in a process known as super ovulation where as many as 7-10 eggs may be produced by a single cow.

Normally they produce one to two eggs per cycle, these eggs are harvested and fertilised in test tubes in a laboratory using pedigree or superior bull semen (often sexed semen, that is semen that will produce a female calf, because the objective is produce cows that will give high milk yield).

This is the second step and is known as In-Vitro fertilization (IVF). The third step is to implant the fertilised embryos in so called "surrogate cows" that will carry the pregnancy for nine months and produce a female calf that will grow to become a superior milk producing cow. "You may ask who needs high producing cows?

The growing population needs them to supply more milk from less cows. But high producing cows need better feeding and health care, which smallholder farmers can hardly afford or manage to the required standard," he cited.

Prof Kurwijila warned however that this technique should not be dismissed for this reason because it is appropriate for commercial farmers who have exploited the genetic potential of cows made available through conventional breeding such as artificial insemination.

Last year, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries together with Tanzania Dairy Board (TDB) met to frame a National Dairy Master Plan aimed at increasing efficiency and productivity in the sub-sector and increase production from the currently 1.8 billion litres a year to 6 billion litres in 2025.

Livestock and Fisheries Development official Yakobo Msanga was quoted to have said he believes that in order to increase milk production in the country it is necessary to have 3 million dairy cattle by 2025.

"In order to achieve the goal the major method of breeding is expected to be artificial insemination using improved dairy breeds of which currently about 70,000 cows are being inseminated per year.

This is hardly one per cent of the estimated seven million able female cattle to be bred," he said. Msanga also said that due to better performance, the demand for crossbred dairy heifers is 50,000 per year while the supply is only 10,000 heifers, adding that the reasons for the shortfall is inadequate crossbreeding activities especially little use of artificial insemination (AI).