Livestock Research for Rural Development 17 (7) 2005 Guidelines to authors LRRD News

Citation of this paper

System analysis of peri-urban smallholder dairy farming in the Lake Crescent Region of Uganda

F A Fonteh, S Mubiru*, F Tibayungwa** and W Lammers***

Department of Animal Sciences, The University of Dschang, P.O. Box 447 Dschang, Cameroon
*Namulonge Agric. and Animal Research Institute. P.O. Box 7084, Kampala. Uganda.
**Department of Animal Sciences, Makerere University. Uganda.
***ICRA, P.O. Box 88. 6700AB Wageningen. The Netherlands


A study was carried out in the Lake Crescent Region of Uganda between March and July 2002. The objective was to identify and characterise the peri-urban smallholder dairy farming system and to propose development options based on constraints specifically identified within the system. Thirty farms in three sub counties were selected for the study.


Results revealed that each farm in this system is a business enterprise, geared towards income generation and comprises numerous agricultural sectors which are all intricately inter-dependent. To maximise profit, few inputs are introduced into the system while as many products as possible are sent out, with as much recycling as possible of the available natural resources. The profit margin varies tremendously between farms. There is an inefficient flow of bio-resources, which may jeopardise its sustainability. The constraints identified were specific and different from those of other production systems. The main constraint identified was access to land.


The long term sustainability and profitability of this system depends largely on how efficiently the farmer manages his limited resources. Consequently, research recommendations and technological packages should be developed such that they target the needs of farmers in this particular farming system. This will facilitate the adoption of innovations, thus contributing to the development of the dairy sector in the country.

Key words: constraints, dairying, farming system, peri urban, Uganda




As in most African countries, agriculture is the backbone of Uganda's economy, accounting for 67% of the gross domestic product and over 90% of its exports (ICRA 1995). Livestock production is an integral part of the agricultural system and constitutes 30% of the agricultural gross domestic product. The cattle population is estimated at 4.5 million, 70% of which are of the indigenous Zebu breed (ILCA 1994). It is believed that livestock production under the various forms of smallholder systems is reasonably efficient considering the resources available to farmers.

In years past, the dairy farmers in Uganda have been considered as a homogenous group by researchers and technical recommendations were meant to be applicable nationwide. However, the low rate of technology adoption indicates that this assumption is not true. There is a need therefore to differentiate and describe in details the different types of farming systems that exist within the dairy sector so that research, recommendations and technical assistance are tailored to the specific needs of the farmers in each production system. The systems are widespread throughout the country but the peri-urban smallholder dairy system is practiced predominantly in the lake crescent region of Uganda (LCRU). This is the major contributing sector to the dairy industry within the country, characterised by the presence of exotic (Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey) and cross breeds (Naggayi 1997). A better understanding of the peri-urban smallholder dairy system will contribute towards making it more ecologically sustainable, as well as economically competitive. This has not yet been done in Uganda, hence the objective of the study.

Materials and methods

Field study area


The Lake Crescent Region of Uganda lies along the Great Lake Victoria, between longitudes 32 and 34o East of the Greenwich Meridian and between latitudes 0 and 1o North of the equator. The Mpigi and Jinja districts were selected from this region for the field study. The altitude in these districts ranges between 1000 and 1300 m above sea level and an annual temperature that ranges between 20 and 30 oC (ILCA 1994). Rainfall is bimodal in nature and varies between 1000 and 1200 mm annually; the first rainy season beginning in March and ending in June followed by a short dry spell. The next rains start in August and end in November. Administratively, Mpigi district covers an area of 7175 km2 and cattle is the leading livestock commodity in the district with a total of 17 000 improved (exotic and crosses) breeds and 159 000 indigenous breeds. The Jinja district covers an area of 7349 km2. The cattle population here is 12 000 heads of which 3 500 are of the exotic breeds (Kiwanuka 1996; ILCA 1994). Dairy farming in this region includes the intensive (zero grazing), semi-intensive and extensive grazing production systems.

Research approach and methodology


An interdisciplinary research team made up of an animal scientist, a forage scientist, a dairy technologist and a socio-economist. The approach used was a bottom-top holistic and development -oriented one, which emphasises on active participation of the farmers and other stakeholders. The 'farm' (or homestead) here is understood to be a piece of land on which the farmer lives and operates a variety of agricultural enterprises. The farmer often lives on this land and the activities of his household are intricately intertwined with those carried out on the land.


The specific areas of interest that were identified and investigated included agricultural activities within the farm, interactions between the household members and agricultural practices, market outlets, cost and benefit analyses, resource flows within the farm and current management style. The methods used to carry out these investigations included reconnaissance survey, interviews with individual members of the household, personal observations as well as analysis of secondary data. Each farm was visited at least twice for data collection.


Three sub-counties were selected from each district for data collection. Five smallholder dairy farms were identified and used for data collection in each sub-county. Thus, a total of 30 farmers were actively involved in the study. Each farm was visited at least twice for data collection. In order to complement information collected, one farmers' meeting was held in each district. Three workshops with a cross section of farmers and other stakeholders were held at the Namulonge Agricultural and Animal Production Research Institute (NAARI). Attendance was always more than 50 people.

Defining the peri-urban small holder dairy farm


The main town in each sub county was identified and used to delimit the area for data collection. After preliminary investigations, the team defined a peri-urban smallholder dairy farm as a farm with the following characteristics:



Systems model


Although a variety of smallholder dairy farm types were identified in the peri-urban area, the most common (representing about 70 %) can be described as follows:


The model contains one main building where the family lives surrounded by land on which a variety of agricultural enterprises (activities) operate. It is characterised by an integrated farming system, which involves rearing animals (cows, goats, pigs, chicken,), growing crops (food and cash crops) and fruits (Figure 1). The total land area is very small (less than 1 acre) and land availability is the main limiting factor in this system. The family usually owns another piece of land quite a distance away (over 3 km) from the homestead on which a large variety of crops are grown, increasing labour requirement.

Figure 1.  Systems model of the small holder peri-urban dairy farm

One to three milking cows of exotic breed (particularly Holstein type) are located in a stable and the management style is of the intensive type (zero grazing). The animals are locked up permanently in the stable and fodder (Napier grass, lablab or leguminous trees) is cut from a nearby field and carried to the cows. They are often given farm residues (maize stalk, maize leaves, banana leaves, potato leaves, etc.), kitchen wastes (maize cobs, banana peel, maize peels, potato peel, etc.). The cows are sometimes given feed supplements (dairy meal, mineral block, molasses, etc.). The first animal is obtained as a gift from a philanthropic organisation such as the Heifer Project International. Occasionally, the first cow is bought from another dairy farmer. The cows are bred mainly by means of artificial insemination (AI).


Milking is by hand and is done in the morning and evening. Oftentimes, the calf is allowed to suckle for a few minutes first in order to stimulate milk let down, then it is separated from the cow. It is given milk later in a bowl. The farmer usually takes the milk to the nearest selling/collection point by means of a bicycle since the distance is quite long. Milk is collected only in the morning by processing plants. Sale of evening milk is often a problem. It is usually stored at home, then it is bulked with the next morning's milk and taken to the collection point. However, most of these houses do not have refrigeration facilities and many farmers complain of the milk getting spoiled overnight. To reduce losses, the evening milk is either consumed or sold to neighbours at low prices. Most of the income is generated from sales of proceeds from the homestead and the distant farm. However, most households have sources of income that are not from farm activities such as tailoring, hair dressing, etc.


Inputs to the system include labour, purchase of young animals (calf, piglets, chicks, kids), feed supplements (dairy meal, concentrates, mineral block, etc.), purchase of crop seeds, drugs and charges for artificial insemination. The main outputs from the system include sale of mature animals (pigs, goats and chicken, eggs, calves), milk, manure, urine, food crops (vegetables, yams, potatoes, maize, fruits) and cash crops (banana and coffee). During the rainy season when fodder is abundant, some of it is cut and sold especially to urban dairy farmers.

Resource flow


A typical bio-resource flow for the peri-urban farm type is presented in Figure 2. Manure from the animals is used to enrich the soil where crops and fodder are grown. In many cases, excesses are sold to crop farmers. Some of the urine collected is used to control crop pests and diseases, some is given to other farmers, but most of it is left to waste away (seeps into the soil). Except for the cows, all the animals grown in the system are sold for income generation. Sometimes they are used to pay dowry or as surety for loans. The cow is sold only when it is culled. On special occasions such as marriages, birth and death celebrations, etc., an animal is slaughtered for home consumption.

Figure 2. Resource flow in a small holder peri-urban dairy farming system

Average milk production is about 12 litres/cow/day and sold at the specified collection points. Some of the milk (3 L/day) is fed to the calf. Very little milk (especially when it has not been sold and is about to spoil) is consumed in the home.


The food crops as well as fruits from the system are destined mainly for consumption in the homestead. Only excesses are sold in the local market. However, cash crops (coffee and banana) are grown for sale although some bananas are consumed at the homestead. Kitchen wastes and crop residues are returned to the farm for recycling into the soil. Some of these (such as banana and potato peels and leaves) are fed to the other animals while some grains are given to the chickens. In many cases, water is readily available to the homestead from public taps although some farms posses a well. The water is used in the family house for general purposes. Water is also given to the animals for drinking while some is directed to the fields for watering the crops especially during the dry season.

Cost/benefit analysis for the dairy sector


This aspect of the study was limited to the dairy enterprise of the system only. The financial and social profitability aspects of dairying in this farm type vary tremendously depending on several factors. Cost/benefit analysis was investigated in two farms each of which has one milking cow, to illustrate this variability, and is summarised in Table 1.

Table 1. Cost/Benefit analysis for typical peri-urban small holder dairy farms in 2 districts of the LCRU

Farm operation

Farm A (Jinja district)

Farm B (Mpigi district)

Amount (Uganda shillings)

Amount (Uganda shillings)




   Fixed costs

31,159 shs

34,122 shs

   Variable costs

71,080 shs

160,080 shs

   Total costs

102,239 shs

194,202 shs





182,000 shs

296,359 shs

  Total Profit

79,761 shs

102,157 shs

Although the fixed costs are similar for both farms, the variable cost is much higher in farm B than in farm A as a result of labour charges (which involve feeding the cow, cleaning the stable, milking and selling of milk, weeding of fields, etc.). The cost of labour tends to be higher in this district because it is a more metropolitan region. The cost of feed supplements (molasses) is lower in Farm A because a sugar industry is located in this district. Farm A supplements the cow's feed with a dairy meal which is more available in the area but also more expensive. A more significant difference is observed in the total income perceived in each farm. This difference is partly as a result of the sale of animal wastes (manure) in farm B whereas none is sold from farm A. A more significant contribution to the differences in income is the daily quantity of milk produced, which is higher (15 litres) in farm B than in farm A (11 litres). Consequently, a much higher income is generated monthly in farm B from the sale of milk. Milk is sold at 400 Ugandan shillings per litre. Curiously, this price is the same in the two districts although the cost of living in Mpigi district is much higher than in Jinja district.


Exact quantities of items bought or sold were not easily available from the farmers as a result of poor record keeping. Also, the duration of fixed items such as land, stable, productive years of the cow, farm utensils, etc. are only gross approximations. Nevertheless, this analysis reveals that the dairy sector in both farms is a profitable enterprise.




The constraints as identified by farmers in this system are diverse including aspects of expansion of on-going activities. The ultimate goal for every farmer is to increase production and profit and thereby improving his standard of living and that of his family. Land availability was identified as the leading constraint to expansion and development of the system. It is therefore important that efforts be made towards a judicious and efficient management of this limited resource. While maximising land utilisation, its quality needs to be maintained so as to avoid degradation. It is evident from this analysis that the farmer tries to maintain the flow of bio-resources within the system as much as possible. However, very few inputs are allowed into the system while a lot of products are sent out. This creates an imbalance, which may render the system unsustainable in the long run. Development options for this purpose include the use of high yielding varieties of fodder and crops and the introduction of leguminous plants, which improve soil fertility and/or reduce soil erosion. The farmers also need to acquire better knowledge and skills towards intensifying the use of by-products within the different enterprises of the system.


Farmers expressed the need for increased milk production. At present the cows are of exotic breeds and produce on average 14 litres of milk per day each. Better management (especially in feed quality and quantity) of these cows could lead to more milk production. The introduction of more nutritive leguminous species for feeding the cows could help increase milk production.


The processing and marketing of milk is a major constraint to expansion. Market outlets are few and far from the farms. Sometimes, the milk is not disposed of quickly enough and consequently, some of it is lost through spoilage. This discourages some farmers from improving their production potentials. Appropriate preservative techniques must be developed especially at the farm level for the preservation of raw milk. The application of the lactoperoxidase system for example has been shown to significantly extend the shelf life of milk in the absence of refrigeration in many developing countries (El-Agamy et al 1992; Ridley and Shalo 1990; Kumar and Mathur 1989). Possibilities of its application can be investigated in the LCRU. During the rainy season when milk production is highest, the markets are flooded; consequently, the price per litre is very low. The price of milk needs to be stabilised and more processing plants developed to absorb all the milk produced. In addition, profitability could be further increased if the farmer keeps two or more milking cows. Although there will be an increase in variable cost, the fixed cost will not change much and there will be a great increase in output, particularly in the volume of milk and manure produced. Consequently, there will be a significant increase in the net profit generated.


Farmers complain that that the cost of drugs is very high and that these drugs are not often available. Alternative treatment as in the use of ethno-veterinary medicine will be quite appropriate under these circumstances. A first step would be creating an inventory of the existing indigenous medicines that are available for treating animal diseases. Then their active compounds could be identified and studied so as to maximise the efficiency of their usage.


Many farmers complain about the accumulation of animal manure and urine in their farms. Excesses must be removed and this entails increased demand for labour. In addition, the farmers do not know the right methods and quantities of these wastes to apply on their farms and therefore need to be educated in this area. Alternative uses of manure could be investigated especially the production of biogas as fuel for the homestead.




The smallholder dairy production system is the most popular system in the LCRU. It has its own characteristics that are unique, its opportunities and constraints are specific and distinctly different from those of other production systems. The major limiting factor for this system is availability of land. Research objectives and recommendations should be geared towards optimising the use of this limited resource. Although it is presently an economically profitable system, profitability varies tremendously between farms. Therefore efforts must be made towards optimising profit margins especially through improved management practices. In addition, profit margins will be greater if the farmers keep more than one milking cow at a time, as the overhead fixed costs will not change much.


The system can be more ecologically sustainable in the long term if the farmers acquire the skills necessary to improve on the recycling of the bio-resources available in the various sectors within the farm. Farmers, researchers and other stakeholders within this system must work together to exploit the existing opportunities so that improved technology packages can be widely adopted towards the development of the small holder dairy system.




The authors are grateful to the International Centre for Research in Agriculture (ICRA) in Wageningen, The Netherlands for financing this project and to the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) Kampala, Uganda for logistic support.




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Received 5 February 2005; Accepted 18 May 2005; Published 1 July 2005

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