Originally published on December 23, 2014.
In 2009, Zimbabwe’s market collapsed and left dairy farmers scrambling to make ends meet. In the Eastern highlands of Manicaland, farmers sold or slaughtered their cattle as a means of survival, while remaining herds died from disease. Dairy cow yields dropped dramatically, and milk prices plunged to a meager US$ 0.20 per liter.
A year later, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Building Livelihoods and Food Security in Zimbabwe project. In partnership with Zimbabwe’s National Association of Dairy Farmers, Land O'Lakes International Development led this three-year initiative to strengthen and, where necessary, re-establish the infrastructure, organizations and livestock assets needed for an inclusive and productive dairy industry in Manicaland.
Land O'Lakes provided support to 20 milk producer groups by rehabilitating collection facilities, building capacity in business and financial management, and linking groups to formal markets that helped them improve milk quality and obtain higher prices. One of these groups, Rusitu Small Scale Dairy, was a flagship supplier to a leading local processor, Dairy Board Zimbabwe Limited. The economic meltdown devastated Rusitu, but during the program, production was soaring.
Members of Rusitu Small Scale Dairy construct a wall to house their new generator that keeps milk cool during blackouts.
In March 2010, Land O'Lakes resumed market linkages between Rusitu and the milk processing plant, which was operated by the Dairy Board of Zimbabwe, in nearby Chipinge district. Skeptical at first, the Dairy Board believed the member-farmers only wanted donor funding, and that they lacked the capacity to produce high volumes of quality milk. After just 10-months, Rusitu’s sales skyrocketed to nearly 34,000 liters of milk per month – an almost 900 percent increase.
Land O’Lakes helped improve the quality of Rusitu’s milk by introducing quality platform tests, training members in hygienic practices, and providing them with stainless steel cans and buckets for milk collection and transport. Within one year, quality improved drastically and this gave Rusitu better bargaining power. As a result, the price of milk nearly doubled from $0.25 per liter to $0.48.
An unbroken cold chain is vital to ensuring shelf life and sustaining profitability.
Despite these strides, Rusitu struggled with an inconsistent power supply, which can spoil milk and lower prices. The Dairy Board procured a standby generator for Rusitu, while the members agreed to pay it off in increments over the next 10-months. In May 2012, after putting down an initial payment of $2,000, the members installed the generator at their site. Land O'Lakes provided transportation and training in installation, and helped set-up a replacement fund and maintenance plan.
The Dairy Board’s willingness to invest in small-scale production led Rusitu members to regain confidence in their business skills, improve milk quality, increase productivity, and, ultimately, boost sales. Land O'Lakes planned to continue supporting Rusitu farmer-members. The program helped them increase their cow’s milk yields through artificial insemination activities to improve cattle breeds, on-farm fodder plots to enhance feed and nutrition of cows, and animal health activities.