By Gregory Gondwe
Dairy farmers in the North are said to be producing over 7 thousand litres of milk which has no market.
The farmers who operate under the Mpoto Dairy Farmers Association (MDFA) are 800 in total and are grouped in 14 milk bulking groups.
Initially, the farmers were delivering their milk to processing companies in Central Region as well as the Northern Region, which was nonetheless still not helpful to them as there was either no benefit for their efforts or hope for the future.
Losing out to Non-Payment
While at the region’s sole Northern Dairy the company had no capacity to take in all the milk, at the Lilongwe plants, the companies there were only good at collecting the milk but very bad at paying for it.
After the money accumulated to excess of millions, MDFA sued the Lilongwe based companies that had to be paying them through the court which was an experience the farmers vowed never to repeat.
Dropping the Milk Teeth
Eventually such experience helped MDFA to drop the milk teeth and allow for the growth of teeth that would allow them chew their way through hurdles and achieve some form of success.
They acquired a mini-milk processing plant.
The Regional Association Manager Edward Kalukusha Mwale, now in charge of the plant, said the facility is however only managing to utilise 600 litres out of the over 7 thousand litres farmers produce, which sometimes get wasted due to intermittent power supply.
“Half a loaf is better than none,” he assures himself. “For the start, we think we are on a good note. It takes somebody to put up an idea like that and then see how you grow. But our aim is to answer questions like how do we grow? How do we expand?” he said.
He said there is an illuminating light at the end of the tunnel considering where they have come from and where they would want to go next.
“We started with 60 litres of milk a day now we are around 600 litres a day. We feel quite a good number of farmers in our bulking groups are benefiting and this has attracted the attention of all other farmers who were vending and are now bringing their milk to us,” he said.
Mwale also pointed out that even in the face of such a promising future challenges are cluttered all over.
“The major challenge now is how we process all this milk when in fact we can only process a capacity of a thousand litres a day. Now we are thinking that if we manage this one very well, we should be able to expand and then see how we can diversify; do products diversification to process – may be ice cream, the yoghurt and the like; so we are hoping in the near future we should be somewhere,” said a colour dreaming Mwale.
Production against Electricity
The farmers said the over 7,000 litres of milk which they bulk is not giving them maximum benefit due to lack of market and a suitable facility to manage the supply and even when such development forced them to acquire a mini-milk processing plant, running it has brought in more challenges.
“We are still forced to look for market for the surplus which our association cannot take up, which they usually vend it through the market and homes of people within the city and the surrounding areas,” explains Samson Kawonga who is MDFA’s Secretary General.
He says this is the road they do not desire to travel for long, although even the litres that they give to the plant are sometimes not beneficial to them as the milk goes bad due to power blackout.
“You can imagine we are a farmers company. The milk comes here; we process it here. But with the constant black outs are having terrible problems in processing our milk,” Mwale agreed with his association boss.
With such intermittent power outage, the farmers started losing faith in their investment as Kawonga rightly says that it was disheartening; and things had only to wait until the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) brought them an electricity generator set in an attempt to rescue them from their situation.
“The coming in of the gen set is a boost; as what it means is that we will have to process all the time. It’s up to us to process 24 hours, 12 hours or six hours; we are very safe because the milk will not go sour,” said Mwale.
This year, Dr. Jacob Mapemba WUSC Country Director handed over the generator worth 300 thousand kwacha to the farmers and told Northern Life that his institution has always been involved with the growth of this farmers’ association.
“We have a volunteer programme that focuses on HIV/AIDS and agriculture in Malawi. In agriculture sector we work with farmers’ organisation and Mpoto Dairy Farmers Association is one of the farmers’ organisations that we are working with,” explained Dr. Mapemba.
MDFA WUSC Cooperation
He said in the past they have brought to MDFA volunteers in animal health, marketing and various issues to build their capacity in production and marketing issues.
“However we realised that MDFA in the quest of providing market for the milk in the northern region started a mini processing plant because they are producing over 6 thousand litres of milk but there is no market. We thought it was a good initiative as regards what they had started but they still had a challenge that when there was power blackout most of the milk would go sour and they would lose the milk,” explained Dr. Mapemba.
WUSC decided to donate the gen set to help the farmers avoid any wastage and any loss in terms of income by keeping the milk cool.
Dr. Mapemba disclosed that the volunteer programme is being funded by Canada International Development Agency – CIDA. He said they have used over 300 thousand kwacha of such resources to purchase the gen set.
Valuing the Relationship in Monetary Terms
The doctor then explained how much worth their relationship with MDFA is, in terms of resources pumped so far.
WUSC has in the past brought in volunteers. One such volunteers stayed for a year, while another one stayed for four months.
“For your information, to keep a volunteer for one year thus including living cost and air ticket it costs 30 thousand Canadian dollars that translate to over 3 million Malawi kwacha,” he said.
Production against Fuel
The other anticipated challenge is the fuel shortage that has slapped Malawi in the face and seems to have become her permanent visitor.
“We are very much aware of the fuel problems and this is a challenge we are anticipating,” Mwale acknowledged.
But he said they have a plan in store where they are planning to be buying the fuel in bulk and keep it somewhere for emergencies, since there are blackout time and again.
Future for a Dairy farmer
Mwale still says the plant is the farmer’s dairy factory. It’s up to the farmer to take their milk to the bulking centres, so that this milk is processed there and then sold.
“The benefits they reap will be immense because it will always go back to them. It’s not like a private processor who will maximise too much on the profit and make them slave for no benefits at all. All we are doing here is to ensure that they get the profits by giving them back home. With such resources they will support veterinary services, AI programmes, to support extension services in the rural areas where they are keeping these animals,” he explains in good breath.
Government Worry with the Situation
But Government says it is worried that the milk that the farmers produce might reduce in quantity considering that it has nowhere to flow due to lack of market and capacity to process all the milk that is processed.
Chief Animal Health and Livestock Officer for Mzuzu Agriculture Development Division Mr. Levison Allidu Banda said something has to be done.
“Companies have to come to Mzuzu and rescue the situation but more still, we depend on you the media to assist us helping our farmers,” said Allidu Banda.
With the problems the country is facing with her tobacco, government could perhaps look at other means of maximising productivity by investing more in sectors like dairy industry, where farmers say are not encouraged enough.
Waiting for a Good Samaritan to come is nothing but lack of commitment displayed by government which is apparently setting her priorities upside down.