Zenzele Ndebele | April 11, 2011
Thenjiwe Dube sells her milk to several clients in Bulawayo, but makes little money. She says, “I cannot supply the market with milk as intensively as I would want in order to meet the demand. The problem is that most people still prefer factory-processed milk.”
Mrs. Dube farms in the Amarula area, about 50 kilometres west of Bulawayo. This is prime dairy farming land in Zimbabwe. Many farmers in this region say that, although the national market for milk is huge, they face numerous challenges, including the costs of transport and processing and a lack of resources to expand their businesses.
Although Mrs. Dube loves her milk business, she too faces a number of challenges. But Mrs. Dube is an innovator. She thinks she has found a way to penetrate the market: “I am good at making amasi (sour milk). Many people like it. They prefer amasi over any other brand of sour milk sold in shops. It is because it has no preservatives, but it has [a] rich creamy taste.”
Thabani Ndlovu is a dairy farmer in Esigodini, 40 kilometres east of Bulawayo. He struggles to transport his milk to markets in urban and peri-urban areas. He says, “Transport is my biggest drawback. Some people come here from Bulawayo to buy milk from us at lower prices and re-sell. They are making big money. We could eliminate these middlemen if we had reliable transport.”
Mr. Ndlovu agrees that the market for milk is huge and that farmers need to start processing their milk. “We need training and support to be empowered. The whole area of Esigodini is full of farmers who produce large quantities of milk. Instead of transporting raw milk to Bulawayo and other urban centres, we can set up a co-operative and start processing our milk into finished products that can compete on the market.”
Mr. Ndlovu believes that if a regional co-operative could be formed, it could create jobs. He thinks a co-op would make dairy farming a reliable and profitable business. He says, “We can earn a proper living out of the milk from our cows. Our living status can drastically improve.”
Most farmers have yet to adopt a businesslike approach to farming. Most dairy farmers are poor record keepers because they do not think of dairy farming as a business. For example, some farmers do not record the cost of the labour involved in caring for their cows.
But while farmers face challenges in expanding their enterprises, they are still able to make a living. Mr. David Tshuma is a communal dairy farmer in Esigodini. He says, “I sell milk to buy needs for my family. Together with my wife, we also use the proceeds from dairy farming to send our children to school.”