Beyond the pail
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CTA. 2002. Beyond the pail. Spore 102. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to cite or share this item: https://hdl.handle.net/10568/47749
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Worldwide, more people are drinking more milk and consuming more dairy products. Yet milk production is still too low in ACP countries, and hampered by cheap imports. It's a bucketful of paradoxes and problems, hopes and heartbreaks.Have you ever...
Worldwide, more people are drinking more milk and consuming more dairy products. Yet milk production is still too low in ACP countries, and hampered by cheap imports. It s a bucketful of paradoxes and problems, hopes and heartbreaks. Have you ever had the chance to lift a glass of really fresh milk to your lips, still warm and frothy, drawn straight from the udder of a cow, sheep, goat or camel? Did it bring back an old, deep, primitive feeling in you? Most of us were raised on our mother s milk, which makes milk our first food. The Malian author Amadou Hampaté Bâ sums it up: 'The baby at the mother s breast drinks more than milk, but mercy too, and love.' Milk may have its mythical dimension, but it is nevertheless the traditional food for many herder communities in Africa and for village communities across the Pacific and the Caribbean. Not that it has ever really been plentiful there, due to such practices as letting the calf suckle before drawing any milk for the herder s family, and the fact that there is much less milk available during dry seasons. In herding families, only the children, pregnant women and the elderly drink it regularly. Other types of farmers can get milk only on rare occasions because it is difficult to transport; it will not keep for more than a few hours if it has not been processed. Milk has also become an icon of urban consumption, a symbol of modernity. Generations of urban consumers have acquired a taste for it through distribution schemes at schools and through advertisements praising its beneficial effects. You will find it in all shapes and sizes on market stalls and shop shelves: packs of UHT (ultra high temperature) treated milk, cans of evaporated or condensed sweetened milk, full, skimmed or formula baby powder, butter milk or yoghurt, cream, butter and ghee (clarified butter) not to mention all sorts of cheeses. Too costly to buy Everyone knows and covets these products, but only a minority of consumers can afford to buy them regularly. For most town dwellers, especially in West Africa, the only kind of milk they can buy for their families is the powdered variety, sold in small portions or reconstituted to liquid milk in small workshops. In general, milk consumption is very low in most ACP countries. In those countries where there is a tradition of milk consumption (such as eastern Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific), people consume an average of 50 litres a person each year. Across the whole of Africa, the annual average hovers around 20 litres. This is four times below the minimum consumption recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), and between 20 and 25 times less than the European average. The minimum level of consumption of milk and milk products in Africa is thus far from being met. The authors of an FAO book on the supply of milk and milk products in African cities noted, in 1995, that 'after all sorts of ethnical, religious or sociological considerations about the consumption of milk and milk products in Africa, one basic truth stands out above all others: the low purchasing power of consumers or, put differently, the excessive price of milk and milk products.' Too cheap to sell Even with the growth of urban populations, demand for milk products has been met essentially with imported products: in the towns of West Africa, they often represent more than 90% of the supply. This figure rarely drops below 75% across the totality of ACP countries. This imported milk is subsidised in a number of ways. First, there is support given to farmers in countries where production costs are high, in particular in Europe (see the table of production costs in selected countries). Then there are the subsidies on the export of powdered milk itself. No wonder that these products are available at low prices on ACP markets. Local production is finding it hard to get off the ground. As well as competing with imports, producers face a whole set of barriers: low productivity, milking herds dispersed over large areas, the high costs of inputs (fodder, medicines) in intensified methods and the problems of organising collections. The resulting shortage of fresh milk pushes up the price. Faced with the competition of imported milk, local production cannot generate enough income with which to increase the supply on the market; this in turn feeds the growing trend of using milk from elsewhere. The bigger picture Macro-economic factors have played their role in recent years. The devaluation of the CFA franc in 1994 doubled the cost of imported milk in West Africa overnight, without any lasting benefit for locally produced milk. The supply of local milk did not improve, and consumers soon became resigned to spending the same amount of money as they had previously for half the amount of powdered milk. Another, hopeful, element to take into account is the prospect of changes to the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. It is most unlikely that European tax payers will continue, indefinitely, to pay the farmers in the four or five major milk-producing countries to live off a permanent level of over-production. Then milk prices will tend to rise above their existing very low levels. Finally, the trend to liberalise markets is leading to lower customs tariffs. Local producers and processors now find themselves exposed to a mean white wave of imports, and have become unprotected and impoverished to varying degrees, even in such countries as Jamaica which has a long-established dairy sector (see box). A vicious circle Using imported milk has become a classical vicious circle, and getting out of it has become urgent. Truth be told, only a drastic increase in local production will provide a satisfactory supply of milk and milk products and help to generate more income for local farmers and thus trigger development in the sector. What form, though, should this model of development take? In those countries with a well-established dairy sector, the tradition has long been to operate with large-scale dairies based on a widespread network of cooperative members. They bring economies of scale and a strong capacity to invest, with all the fragile risks that these involve. That is the position, for example, of Rewa Co-Operative Dairy Company in Suva which has a quasi-monopoly of the Fiji market, of Dairy Corporation Ltd of Kampala which processes two-thirds of Uganda s milk and the Kenya Cooperative Creameries group which, not to put too fine a point on it, imploded in a maelstrom of bad management and corruption. To impose this model on countries without an established dairy sector would be bound to fail. Public development agencies and private investment bodies rarely show much interest in this option. More modest and pragmatic options stand a better chance; they include setting up a belt of dairy farms around towns and helping urban mini-dairies to better target their market. The local dairy chain has become the focus of several worthy experiments, such as those coordinated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) (see Links) and the West African networks promoted by GRET, the French technology research group. Technology development can also boost new supply chains: the cooling system of lactoperoxydase (see Spore 80), for example, has opened up opportunities for distant producers to sell to urban markets. It will be a question of seizing every opportunity, however small. The stakes are high. As the English statesman Winston Churchill once growled 'there is no better investment for a country than to feed milk to its children.' [captions to illustrations] Camel s milk in Mauritania; in-pouch pasteurisation in Guyana; publicity in Togo; a milk churn rides a bike to market in Kenya; and the centre-forward of the USA women s soccer team scores a point. A litre of fresh milk consists of 35 g fat, 35 g protein, 50 g carbohydrate (sugars), 10 g sodium and vitamins A, D, E, B1, B2 and C. For the vitamins to stay intact, they should be kept away from light, air and heat.
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