Malawi: Strength in numbers for milk producers

July 25, 2016
A translation for this article is available in French

Bertha Likhaluwe stands proudly beside her three cows, which are fenced in a wooden pen beside her brick house. The mother of seven lives in Thyolo district, 50 kilometres south of Blantyre.

Over the past eight years, Mrs. Likhaluwe has improved her fortunes by producing milk. She has grown her dairy business from one cow to three, and has earned enough to build a modest new house, send three children to secondary school, and live comfortably.

Her first cow came in the form of a loan from the Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association in southern Malawi. The group identifies community members in need and loans them a cow. Mrs. Likhaluwe now has three cows. She repaid her loan by giving her first calf to the association, to be given to another farmer in need.

Finding a way to acquire her first cow was the initial challenge Mrs. Likhaluwe faced in building her business. But like other milk local producers, she also faced challenges getting her milk to market. Individual farmers don’t produce enough to attract the interest of big buyers, and Mrs. Likhaluwe received poor prices from middlemen.

But, by working together, milk producers can market to big buyers and get a better price. Mrs. Likhaluwe now sells her milk to the Mangunda bulking group, which negotiates a fair price for its members.

The bulking group has 318 members, including 120 women. The group collects 1,200 litres of milk every day, pays farmers 150 Malawian kwacha ($0.21 US) per litre, and sells the milk for 155 kwacha ($0.22) per litre. The group uses the profits to maintain equipment and pay for utilities.

The Mangunda bulking group is benefiting from a partnership with Uniterra, a program operated by two Canadian NGOs. Uniterra has helped to strengthen the group, and offered advice on ensuring high quality milk and healthy cows.

Dickson Chipote is also a member of the Mangunda bulking group. He has not only benefited from group marketing, but from learning how to keep his cows healthy. One of his three cows had contracted mastitis, an infection of the udder. Through the group’s connection to Uniterra, Mr. Chipote had access to experts who taught him how to recognize mastitis, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.

Group members have also been trained to test their milk for adulteration before taking it to the bulking centre, where it is once again tested. Some milk producers use urea, starch, glucose, or detergent to thicken their milk. But these can be hazardous to health if consumed, and so testing the milk is important.

On average, Mrs. Likhaluwe sells 14 litres of milk per day, earning 63,000 Malawian kwacha per month ($88 US). She uses some of this money to care for her family, and some to invest in her farm, buying food for her cows and fertilizer for her maize. She now harvests up to 20 bags of maize, something she couldn’t do before getting a cow.

Photo credit: Arnaud Deharte