Among their various challenges, dairy sector actors in East Africa face the question of how dairy can contribute to a resilient food system. Local realities mean that jobs or food and nutrition security are likely to be prioritized over objectives that are more relevant in other regions of the world, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. Decisions on public and private investments in the East African dairy sectors need to balance these considerations. As a partnership linking East Africa and Western Europe, NEADAP aims to support this decision-making process.
In our view, to establish self-sufficient and sustainable dairy sectors in East Africa it is essential to focus support on mixed crop–livestock farms located in geographic locations where sufficient land is available, and where dairy in combination with cropping has a comparative advantage. This support should focus on enhancing productivity, profitability and resilience, while also ensuring maximum nutrient retention on, or between, farms. Doing so will effectively address the increasing demand for dairy products at affordable prices, promote healthy diets and generate economic opportunities in the region, as has been argued in previous NEADAP papers.
In this article we present the main arguments and conclusions for our position. The complete position paper can be found via the on the NEADAP website.
Meeting the demand
Demand for dairy products in East Africa will continue to increase over the next decade(s). This demand can be addressed through three potential avenues: expanding the livestock herd, enhancing productivity or resorting to imports. Herd expansion is not preferred, due to the associated strain on land resources and adverse environmental impacts. While imports remain an alternative, the prevalent foreign exchange difficulties in most countries diminish their appeal. Nonetheless, the intraregional option of trade within the East African Community could be considered, utilizing lower cost of production in countries such as Uganda.
We see productivity increase of the existing herd as the preferred approach, as it strikes a balance between meeting increased demand and honouring sustainability concerns.
Why focus on dairy as part of mixed crop–livestock farming systems?
The mixed crop–livestock farming system is best positioned to support a self-sufficient and sustainable dairy sector in East Africa. All farming systems – agro-pastoralists, mixed crop–livestock and semi-intensive – are complementary and contribute to food systems objectives. Nonetheless, it is the mixed system that excels in both livelihood (number of farms) and sustainability goals (circularity gains).
Among the prime challenges faced by mixed crop–livestock farms is the subdivision of land due to inheritance, resulting in farms reaching economically non-viable sizes. Resolving this predicament demands a suite of solutions encompassing reforms in land tenure policies, diversified employment opportunities and enhanced farm management practices. These combined measures culminate in increased productivity, improved livelihoods and enhanced nutrient cycling.
Why focus on dairy clusters with sufficient land and potential?
The development of a thriving dairy industry is complex and depends on sustainable business cases. Adequate land is required either directly on the farm premises or in close proximity, to facilitate forage production and efficient manure application. At dairy cluster level, trade between farms offers many opportunities for service enterprises. This, in turn, sets the stage for concurrent upgrading across the farm, market and contextual domains.
The populations of East African countries are steadily increasing, driving demand for dairy products. While dairy production in East Africa is growing, this is primarily through larger herds, with limited advancements in productivity. Farm sizes are shrinking due to subdivision after inheritance, and peri-urban farmers face threats from expanding cities, with the surge in population also contributing to the scarcity of land.
To establish self-sufficient and sustainable dairy sectors in East Africa, it is advisable to focus on providing support to mixed crop–livestock farmers to intensify production in geographic locations
Interested? NEADAP is open to collaborations in East Africa.
Please contact the NEADAP regional coordinator, Marco Streng at firstname.lastname@example.org
Regional coordinator East Africa NEADAP