Dairy farmers in Rwanda face tough times due to a lack of market for their produce especially after recording a bumper harvest after good rains.
The peak season, which lasts until April, has seen a surge in daily milk production, but this has translated to losses as a result of a limited processing capacity of the few existing dairies.
Another challenge is transporting the milk from remote grazing zones to alternative markets.
“We have no reliable buyers in this area for our milk and we are forced to give it out,” said Verena Mukamana, a livestock farmer in Nyamagabe District.
Dairy farmers from remote areas near Gishwati also said most buyers were only buying a few litres of milk at a cheap rate of Rwf70 ($0.08) per litre, reportedly to sell in informal markets in the country and in Democratic Republic of Congo.
There is a trend of collection centres getting more milk than they can process, while buyers of big volumes were only taking milk that meets the highest standard.
Data shows the problem facing dairy farmers is nationwide and they are losing about 20 per cent of their daily milk production.
Gad Tegeri Gahaya, who heads dairy farmers in the Nyabihu zone near Mukamira Dairy, said they were producing over 100,000 litres every day yet the plant could only process 40,000 litres per day.
Official data shows total milk production has risen sharply to more than two million litres daily over the past two years owing largely to the government’s one cow per family (Girinka) programme, increased uptake of improved breeds and modern livestock farming methods.
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (Minagri) shows that in 2015 under the Girinka programme over 200,000 cows were given to poor members of the community as a way of fighting poverty and malnutrition.
However, while these developments resulted in a rapid increase in milk production, the few milk processors are unable to handle the supply as most still operate below their total installed capacity estimated at below 400,000 litres per day.
Gahiga Gashumba, head of the Rwanda National Dairy Federation said the absorption of milk by existing processing plants stood at 30 per cent of total daily milk production with Inyange industries, which also runs Mukamira Dairies and Nyagatare Savannah, being the biggest consumer handling 100,000 litres daily.
Other processors such as Nyanza Dairy, Blessed Dairy in Gicumbi and Zirakamwa Dairy were each processing between 20,000 and 10,000 litres daily, while a few small-scale processors were making milk by-products like cheese.
“Total processing capacity is still far below total milk production and that’s where the problem lies. We need a lasting solution for storing milk especially during peak rain season. The stored milk can be used during dry seasons when produce declines,” said Mr Gashumba.
Officials from the Rwanda Agriculture Board said they were aware that farmers were incurring losses, but when asked whether they were planning to take action, head of animal resources Christine Kanyandekwe referred Rwanda Today to the Ministry of Agriculture, which she said was working on the issue.
However, the ministry had not responded to our questions by the time of going to press.
When Rwanda Today last reported about the disconnect between production and market, the Ministry said it planned to deal with these challenges by attracting more investments in the milk processing sub-sector as well as expanding roads between milk storage facilities and grazing areas.
Mr Gashumba said a number of co-operatives had sought to start modern milk processing plants, while other initiatives like expansion of feeder roads to 12 selected districts were oncourse.
By Johnson Kanamugire & Leonce Muvunyi