Ugandan dairy farmers have a reason to smile after the government found an alternative market for their milk in Zambia.
Kenya had been a key export market for Uganda’s milk until December 27, 2019, when Nairobi blocked the dairy product, among others citing poor quality, claims Kampala refutes.
The two neighbours have over the years been locked in intermittent trade spats over tariff and non-tariff rules, prompting intervention by respective ministers and sometimes heads of state.
As a result, Uganda has been sourcing for alternative export markets outside of the regional bloc, the East African Community.
At the weekend, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Frank Tumwebaze, flagged off the first consignment of 50 tonnes of powdered milk destined for Zambia.
The Zambian Coca-Cola Beverages Limited has made an order of 700 metric tonnes of powdered milk each year from Pearl Dairies Uganda.
“I congratulate Pearl Dairies Company for investing in a state-of-the-art processing plant with the capacity to process 800,000 litres of milk every day, and this will go a long way in supporting our farmers,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
He urged countries that doubt Uganda’s capacity to produce quality products to come and investigate the matter by themselves.
“People deny us market for our milk and dairy products on account of quality; we are ready to be inspected. Pearl Dairy is an example of one of the good investments. Let them come,” he said in a veiled reference to Kenya.
“Zambia sent us their inspectors here. That is why they were able to certify that this is the best product in the region for them to take,” Mr Tumwebaze added.
Beans and maize
The minister said the government would also source markets for beans and maize, urging farmers to address quality issues.
“The milk value chain in Uganda is slightly ahead of other enterprises because the people in the business listen to the market dictates, so we need to follow up with beans and maize. This business of growing maize anywhere and handling it anyhow is an issue we need to look into seriously,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
The acting executive director of Dairy Development Authority, Mr Samson Akankiza Mpiira, said the government would continue to exploit other markets for Uganda’s milk and its products.
“We are also looking at alternative markets such that we do not rely on EAC alone. So milk to Zambia will help in many ways to reduce post-harvest loss because most of the farmers have not been milking in the evening and even those that milk, the buyers give them little price because only 33 percent of milk produced is processed,” he said.
Mr Akankiza urged farmers to take advantage of Zambia offer and penetrate the market in southern Africa.
The chairman of Pearl Dairy Farm’s parent firm Midland Group, Mr Bhasker Kotecha, revealed that since the EAC market was disrupted in 2019, the Lato milk producer has been struggling to remain afloat.
“We are grateful to the government of Uganda for finding a solution to our problem of milk importation to EAC, which has been the largest market for us in Africa,” Mr Kotecha said.
Mr Akankiza encouraged more local consumption to create a ready market and improve productivity.
“Per capita consumption is at 63 litres per person per year, but the recommendation from the World Health Organisation is at least 200 litres per person per year. So we are behind in terms of consumption even in East African countries because Kenya is at 150 litres and Tanzania is around 131 litres, almost double our consumption as a country.”
Kenya-Uganda milk wars
On December 27, 2019, Kenyan authorities seized at least 3,000 bags of powdered milk and packets of Lato milk were on claims the products had been smuggled into the country without paying taxes.
Kenya then blocked Uganda’s milk and dairy products, particularly Lato milk, claiming that the Ugandan companies were exporting counterfeit and substandard products.