Malawi: Radio helps dairy farmers move from crisis to prosperity

| September 21, 2015

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If you’re a farmer whose livelihood depends on selling milk, it is understandable to be upset and worried when you have 1,500 litres you can’t sell. A milk bulking group in Blantyre, Malawi, recently found itself in this potentially dire situation. But then a radio program offered a lifeline and helped get the group back on its feet.

Mpemba Milk Bulking Group is a dairy collective based in Blantyre, in southern Malawi. The driving force behind the organization is its motivation to increase the income of its 500 members by supplying them with high-yielding cows.

Until July and August of this year, the group’s plans were succeeding. During those months, the group produced 1,500 litres of milk every day, all of which they contracted to sell to a single buyer. The buyer, the Dairy Board, had agreed to purchase all the milk that the group produced. The two sides agreed on a price of 135 kwacha [US$0.24] per litre, on par with the average price of milk in Malawi.

But, without explanation, the Dairy Board backed out of the deal. Dudley Kalonga is the chairperson of the Mpemba Milk Bulking Group. He says, “Our bulking group lost [a market for] over 1,500 litres of milk because our milk buyer abruptly decided to stop buying.”

The loss thrust the group into crisis. They stood to lose even more milk than they already had lost, and needed an effective marketing strategy fast! In desperation, they borrowed marketing practices from the brewing industry. One group member recalls, “We used to place milk bottles in the street like local beer because we couldn’t find a market.”

An MBC broadcaster interviews a dairy farmer with the Mpemba Milk Bulking Group for the FRT radio program ‘Phindu Mu Ng’ombe Ya Mkaka

An MBC broadcaster interviews a dairy farmer with the Mpemba Milk Bulking Group for the FRT radio program ‘Phindu Mu Ng’ombe Ya Mkaka. Credit: Megan Lalonde

Then the group turned to the media in an effort to gain national attention and find new buyers. One media outlet that responded was the Malawian Broadcasting Corporation, or MBC, a partner of Farm Radio Trust, or FRT. MBC broadcasts the FRT program Phindu Mu Ng’ombe Ya Mkaka, or “Maximizing profit through dairy cows.” MBC broadcasters visited the dairy farmers to conduct an on-air interview. The radio program became a platform for the dairy farmers to explain their marketing challenges to listeners.

Within a few weeks of the broadcast, the group received an avalanche of offers from buyers who had heard the interview.

Better Life Foods led the pack by offering 190 kwacha [US$0.34] per litre, significantly higher than the average price of milk in Malawi. Mpemba Milk Bulking Group has since entered into an exclusive relationship with the company.

Mpemba Milk Bulking Group used the radio to best effect—they got their story out and discovered that there are new markets if you look hard enough!