Livestock Research for Rural Development 19 (8) 2007 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

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Dairying in Africa - Status and recent developments

O A Ndambi, T Hemme and U Latacz-Lohmann*

IFCNDairy Research Center at the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kiel, Schauenburger Strasse 116, 24118 Kiel, Germany

*Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Kiel, Germany


The quest for more knowledge on the African dairy sector is increasing over the recent years. Dairying has been envisaged as a means to improve on the nutritional status and income generation from poor African families. This has led to the implementation of lots of developmental projects in favour of dairying. Different trends have been noticed in dairy sectors of different countries over the past years.

This review describes the present dairy situation in Africa and looks at trends in the sector from 1990 to 2004. It gives a general overview of dairying in Africa, its trends and policies which have impacts on its development. Many open points have also arisen, which could serve as a starting point for further studies on dairying and its drivers.

Key words: Africa, dairy development, milk, policies, production systems, trends


Traditional systems have dominated milk production in Africa for several years and still supply considerable amounts of milk today and also account for above 90% of dairy ruminant population in Sub-saharan Africa (Olaloku and Debre 1992). Indigenous groups like the Maasai, Borani, Fulani and Tuareg have a strong historic dairy tradition. They share many customs and regard milk as a product of harmony that is offered free to relatives, friends and visitors (Bayé 2000, Sadou 2000, Suttie 2001). Due to population growth, land shortage and increasing interest in production and consumption, market-oriented dairy systems are now evolving, with the use of high performing graded animals and/or higher inputs. Several international bodies (Heifer Project International, Land O'Lakes, Send a Cow, etc) have developed strategies to promote milk production in African countries. These bodies usually have two main objectives: Improving on milk consumption especially by poor families (nutrition improvement) and increasing on farm returns from dairy farming (income generation and poverty alleviation). Therefore it is important to see how dairying has evolved in Africa as a whole and in individual African countries as well.

Dairy production systems in Africa

For a long time, dairy systems in Africa have been classified into different groups, based mainly on farm inputs and outputs. A summary of these systems is shown on Table 1:

Table 1.  Dairy production systems in Africa

System/ Description

Traditional systems

(Pastoral systems)

Semi-intensive systems

Intensive systems

Maasai pastoralists

Borana local herders

Fulani, Tuareg and Peuhl pastoralists

Large state-owned farms

Cooperative farms

Cross breeding

Small family farms with exotic cows


Kenya, Tanzania

Ethiopia, Kenya

West Africa





Breeds used


Boran, Zebu

Fulani, Gudali

Zebu, Peuhl

Local + Exotic

Local + Exotic



Milk collected, Kg/cow/lactation

< 200

200 -  300

< 200

> 2500

> 2500

1500 - 2500

1500 – 3500

Herd size

10 - 120

10 - 120

10 - 300

> 300

> 100

10 - 30

1 - 5

Main breeding objective


Beef *






Proportion of milk sold

< 10%

< 10%

0 – 30%

> 60%

> 80%

> 60%

> 50%

Source: Own estimates from field experience and literature collection

* In these systems, milk production is also important, mostly for subsistence
Exotic breeds = Mainly Holstein Friesian, Ayrshire and Jersey
Herd size = Milking cows, dry cows, heifers, calves and bulls

Pastoral systems

Pastoral systems are migratory, transhumant or sedentary. Sedentary farmers live in the same homes all year round while migratory and transhumance farmers move.. One of the oldest pastoral systems is practiced by the Maasai in the sparsely populated semi-arid range-lands of Kenya and Tanzania. The Maasai migratory farmers who live in extended families of 10-15 people with herds averaging 100-170 cattle and as many sheep and goats also. They produce and consume about 0.85 kg of milk per person per day; meanwhile, a greater share of the income comes from sales of livestock. Only a few of them grow crops while the majority purchases most of their foodstuff. In this system, milk surplus is shared with neighbours or exchanged in barter, but is rarely sold except by households living close (<5 km) to main roads and urban centres where there is demand for fresh and fermented milk, and butter. The Borana pastoral system is similar that of the Maasai. Here, the frequency and amounts of dairy products traded depend on herd size and distance to the market. Milk sales in this system is however of higher interest than is the case with the Maasai (De Leeuw et al 1998).

According to Tonah (2002), dairy production by the Fulani in Ghana is characterised by migratory pattern, which is changing over time. Similar to the Maasai, Fulani have a uniqueness which stems from the fact that they are culturally the least known to the indigenous population and share very few practices with the host population. Fulani settlements are typically located at the outskirts of the settlement and consist of several concentric huts arranged to form a single housing unit. In a study on Fulani Agro-pastoralists in central Nigeria, Waters-Bayer (1988) found that dairy production units had modal household sizes of 7 - 13 persons with almost equal males and females and 45% of members above 18 years.

Contrary to the situation of the Fulani in Ghana, milking by Nigerian Fulani is only done once daily by boys and men and exceptionally by women. The Fulani here have a more sedentary pattern of life. The modal herd size is usually between 40 - 60 cattle with majority of families keeping sheep and all keeping poultry. During dry periods, they graze their animals further away from their homes as compared to the rainy seasons when sufficient pasture can be got closer to their homes (within 5 - 6 Km). In the dry season, arrangements are made with local farmers for stubble grazing and manuring. During such periods, a woman or one of her children have to spend up to an hour on the way to such farms, taking along cooked food for the herders and returning with milk for the household (de Leeuw et al 1988 1998). In other cases, part or all of the family moves with the herd and only return home when conditions are favourable. Whenever part of the family remains home, a few cows with younger calves are left behind, to supply milk to the household and to prevent the fragile calves from dying during the stressful transhumance period.

Another pastoral system is that where herders are pastoralists who act as managers of communal herds with cattle, which are entrusted to them by local farmers who each own a few heads (de Leeuw et al 1998).

An improved system, the agro-pastoral system arises from the pastoral system, whereby cattle owners also cultivate crops in order to diversify production and reduce risks. The farmers here are sedentary, unlike the pastoralists who are mobile. They also graze their animals on communal grazing land, feed crop residues and also feed more supplements to their cattle than pastoralists.

Semi- intensive systems

This system is common in peri-urban zones, having farms which are owned by business men, civil servants and private individuals who employ labour in the catering of their animals, with milk production as their major objective (Diop and Mazouz 1995). Dairying is done with some degree of intensification by a combination of grazing and concentrate-feeding. Here, there is use of graded cows or crossbreeding, usually between exotic bulls and local cows or through artificial insemination (AI). The aim of crossbreeding is to upgrade for better milk production and at the same time retaining the adaptability of the animals in changing environmental conditions (Bayemi et al 2005). In such farms where management is moderate, it is important for the animals to have a natural resistance to environmental stress. Milk production here is much higher than in pastoral systems, though still less than in graded cows.

Intensive systems

Market infrastructure increases the importance of the dairy component in smallholder dairying. Increasing population growth and urbanisation have led to the intensification of dairy systems around urban areas in Africa which is also favoured by a higher demand in such areas. The farms here are small (about 1-2 ha with 1-2 cows generally Holstein Friesian or Ayrshire). Feeding is mainly cut-and-carry with planted Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and crop residues, especially from maize and bananas. Most work on the majority of such dairy farms is done by the family. Contrary to pastoral systems where large proportions and sometimes all the daily milk is consumed at home, only a small portion of milk produced in this system is left for home consumption and the rest sold (de Leeuw et al 1998).

Larger intensive farms are usually owned by rich individuals, cooperatives or the government. More investments are also made on buildings and machinery while the use of hired labour is unavoidable. These systems concentrate on the supply of milk in large towns and in most cases have one or more guaranteed delivery sources. There is a higher market orientation in this systems and more emphasis is laid on feeding and breeding management to assure optimal production (Diop et al and Mazouz 1995). In both intensive and semi-intensive systems AI plays a major role in breeding, as it is cheaper and less cumbersome than maintaining an exotic bull. Unfortunately, breeding programmes are poorly structured in some countries, leading to ineffectiveness in insemination. Farmers usually complain of poor heat detection and low success rates, leading to long inter calving periods and hence low productivity of animals.

Milk production status and trends

In the year 2004, total cow milk production in Africa was 21,244,474 tons produced from a total of 46 million dairy cows giving an average milk yield of 461 Kg milk per cow over the year, which is only one fifth of world average yield (FAOSTAT 2006).

The top five African milk producing countries in terms of milk volume are Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Algeria. Meanwhile, the first four countries alone produce 52% of total African milk (Figure 1).

Source: FAOSTAT 2006, IFCN Sector model 2006

Figure 1.  Volume of milk produced and annual growth percentages

Geographically, the production volume is higher in countries at the Eastern side of Africa and by those in the North. Though there is a slow overall growth in milk production in Africa, individual countries have witnessed different growth and reduction rates. Between the years 1999 and 2004, remarkable increase trends (>5%/year) were noticed in countries like Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Namibia. A considerably decreasing trend in milk production (between -5 to - 2.5%/year) was found in Eritrea, meanwhile Burundi, Congo, Senegal and Zimbabwe noticed smaller decreases (of -2.5 to -0.5%/year). The other countries either had a small increase or an almost constant production.

Generally, there has been an increasing trend in milk production in Africa over the years (Figure 2).

ME = Milk Equivalent: Milk equivalents are used to aggregate supply and demand for milk and milk products in one single figure, instead of balancing supply and demand for each product like milk fat or milk protein (IDF 2003). In this study, the combined butterfat and non-fat solids method was used, which takes into consideration all the solids in milk (IDF 2003).
Source: FAOSTAT, 2006; IFCN Sector Model, 2006

Figure 2.  Milk production, consumption, imports to and exports from Africa from 1990 - 2004

Between the years 1990 and 2004, the demand for milk and dairy products in Africa was growing at an average rate of 4.0% per annum; meanwhile production only grew at a rate of 3.1%. Growth in consumption was pushed both by a growth in population (of 2.8% per annum) and a small growth in per capita milk consumption (of 0.8% per annum) between 1990 and 2004.

Milk imports have also been increasing within the period of 1990 - 2004 (Figure 2) at a rate of 2.1% per annum, showing that the gab between production and consumption is also widening up. Meanwhile, milk export, though very little (consisting of only 1.2% of total production), was increasing rapidly at the rate of 7.8% per annum during the period of 1990 - 2004 (FAOSTAT 2006; IFCN Sector model 2006). Though this percentage increase in export volume is almost four times the percentage increase in import, the export increase seams lower on the figure due to the fact that the initial import value is much higher (about 30 times more) than exports. Increase in imports has also been favoured by a reduction of import duties. In Kenya, for example, local dairies couldn't sometimes buy all milk from local producers because the demand for their end products was lower, as consumers could get cheaper imports (ILRI 2003a). It is important to note here that, exports and imports here also include inter continental sales, where Nigeria comes on top of the milk import list.

Processing and consumption patterns for dairy products in Africa

As seen in Figure 3, only about 15% of the total milk produced is processed to standard products (cheese, yogurt, butter, etc). More than 70% of total production goes through informal markets or is consumed on the farm.

җResidual = Mainly fresh milk products + others not specified in chart
Source: FAOSTAT 2006; IFCN Sector Model 2006

Figure 3.  Production and consumption of dairy products in Africa from 1990 – 2004

The per capita consumption of milk increased from 35 Kg ME in 1990 to about 40 in 2004 (Figure 3). While the consumption of cheese and dry products slightly increased, that for butter and condensed milk slightly reduced over the years. While the production of milk powder is very little, its consumption is quite high, since this is the most common form of imported milk. Consumption of milk and milk products in Africa is greatly influenced by traditions and cultures. The countries with the highest per-capita consumption in Sub- Saharan Africa are Sudan, Mauritania, Botswana and Kenya (ILRI 2003a).

Dairy development policies in Africa

Dairy trends and production systems can be greatly influenced by policies. In Kenya, for example, the small-scale specialized dairy production system has witnessed enormous growth within the past years, due to the vast adoption of policies favouring this system (Thorpe et al 2000). Several policies have been suggested for development of the dairy sector of African countries, with each country laying emphasis on different parts of the dairy chain. Most policies sprout from a concept that, the dairy sector will realise a great impact if the production and productivity of milk is increased at national level to at least maintain self sufficiency, thereby reducing imports.

The major policy areas of intervention on the African dairy sector include have been discussed below:

Genetic improvement of dairy animals

On a comparative basis, traits like age at first calving, calving interval, milk yield per lactation, lactation length and fat percentage have been used to evaluate production in dairy cows. Many studies have shown that local African breeds are less productive than exotic breeds (Tambi 1991; Mwenya 1993; Bebe et al 2003). Some authors believe that, though local breeds are less productive, proper breeding schemes and management could greatly increase milk yields on a more sustainable basis (FAO 1990; FAO 2001; ILRI 2006). Others show that, the crossing of breeds within African countries could secure better production and adaptation to local hazards (Jordt et al 1986). A number of attempts to use exotic breeds in Africa have been successful, leading to a strong development of interest in policies which favour the introduction of such breeds. Exotic cow breeds are less adapted to African conditions are hence, more susceptible to diseases and environmental stress (Ahunu et al 1993; Bebe et al 2003; Bayer and Wanyama 2005). Additional labour and capital input requirements for exotic breeds are a major constraint to farmers, who in most cases do not usually have access to credit facilities (Tambi 1991; Per and Marc 2002 Missing). The introduction of exotic breeds to Africa is usually governed by policies and most countries set control limits for semen or livestock imports with an aim of preserving local genetic resources (Mwenya 1993). The situation was worsened from1986, by the outbreak of the mad cow disease, which led to several laws banning the import of semen, livestock and other cattle products (Marsh et al 2005), which in some countries have not been completely uplifted till date. A compromising situation could be reached at by the practice of cross breeding, whereby, the crosses are believed to be more adaptable to local conditions than exotic breeds and more productive than local breeds (Ogle 1990). It would be important also, to study the percentage level of introduction of exotic genes at which production is most profitable on an economic basis. From these examples, three policy areas for genetic improvement are highlighted; those that improve on local breeds by selection and management, those which promote crossbreeding and those which promote the replacement of local breeds with exotic ones.

Promotion of the marketing and consumption of milk and dairy products

Marketing is a very important aspect of the dairy chain. Presence of close by markets for milk and dairy products is a key motivating factor for milk producers. The promotion of marketing will require gathering of milk from several producers, transforming it to an acceptable marketable product and delivering it to consumers at the desirable time and at an affordable price. Due to high costs incurred in collection and cooling of milk, it is solicited that larger volumes are handled to reduce unit costs of transactions. A common means of doing this is the installation of cooling centres for milk in production areas and the organisation of farmers into dairy cooperatives (D'Haese et al 2005). It is also important to note that a minimal milk supply level is required for profitable operation of such units. Encouragement of formal and informal markets for milk is a common policy area looked upon (D'Haese et al 2005; Leksmono et al 2006). Marketing policies are most convenient when they go along with policies that encourage milk consumption, especially in Western and Central African countries, where the per capita consumption is still very low. In Uganda, for example the DDA (Dairy Development Authority) promotes milk consumption using adverts on printed posters, in newspapers and over the radio. Slogans like "so, have you had milk today?", "got milk"? "How often do you take a cup of milk?" … are common. Promotion of milk consumption through an adoption of the School Milk Programme in Southern and Eastern Africa has also led to great changes in the dairy sector, as it is seen to improve on the livelihoods of the milk producers and also on the nutritional status of benefiting school children (Saamanya 2005; Mutagwaba 2005).

Provision of appropriate veterinary and extension services

In order to produce milk, farmers first of all need knowledge which they can apply to intelligently combine all available resources to produce milk of acceptable quality, while optimising profit. Due to modernisation, technology is changing and more efficient methods of combining resources are evolving. African dairy farmers are in most cases of low educational background and need to acquire this knowledge through a simple and understandable approach. Provision of veterinary and extension services to farmers is such an important policy area in Africa (Tambi 1991; Kyomo 1993; Okwenye 1995 Missing; Urassa and Raphael 2004). The provision of government incentives on veterinary and extension services is very important; though the promotion of private services may also be good, since public services are hardly regular (Swai et al 1993). The impact of provision of such services could be measured in several ways. In Kenya, for example, training of farmers led to a reduction of calf mortality from 20% to less than 10%, within 4 years. The same approach also reduced mortality rates in Tanzanian cows (FAO 2001).

Provision of credit and farm inputs

The provision of credit to livestock farmers could promote the adoption of improved livestock technologies especially in rural areas where most farmers lack tools. However, credit provision to dairy farmers is usually a very complex issue having difficulties in the decisions on the amount and form of credit, the interest charged, targeting of specific farmers' groups and specific activities, and repayment schemes (Ahmed and Ehui 2000; Per and Marc 2002 Missing). Most formal credit institutions are reluctant to provide loans to dairy farmers because they often don't have good sureties and are susceptible to epidemics which could lead to inability to pay debts. For easy management and reduction of transaction costs, credit institutions prefer to loan larger sums of money to fewer clients than to loan small sums to many dairy farmers. Therefore specific credit facilities are required for these farmers. The formation of farmer groups and dairy cooperatives could be helpful in three ways: firstly a group has better access to formal credits than individual farmers and secondly, external support or trainings from the public and private sectors is easier in groups, finally credit schemes could be easily organised within the group. In some cases, it is possible to give credits in the form of farm inputs (feed, vet medicine, insemination, farm equipment, etc) and deduct credit refund directly from milk returns at cooperative level.

Milk import policies

In order to promote the local dairy industry, African policy makers tend to discourage the importation of milk and dairy products. The import situation could be worsened in subsequent years as the WTO globalisation policies are aiming at a reduction in tariff barriers hence, imported milk and dairy products will become cheaper. According to von Massow (1989), African governments have the following goals in selecting policies:

Provision of urban consumers with dairy products at affordable prices; generation of revenues from dairy imports; reduction of the amount of foreign exchange spent on dairy imports; and stimulation of dairy development, thereby generating income for producers and moving towards self-sufficiency in dairy products. At present, Nigeria is the highest importer of milk and dairy products in Africa (FAOSTAT 2006). This position has been maintained despite import reduction arising from two ways: first of all, by government regulations on milk imports through restricted import licensing, prohibition of fresh milk imports and imposing of specific import duties on dairy products (Ngwoko 1986), and secondly, after the devaluation of the Nigerian naira (N) in 2001, leading to a reduction in the purchasing power and subsequently a drop in importation of milk powder and butter oil (Yahuza 2001). The domestic industry also faces difficulties like lack of feed, low milk yields, competition from imports, inefficient extension services, lack of inputs and low milk prices which discourage local production. From this experience we could conclude that, restricting imports can only successfully control importation if favourable policies and suitable resources are allocated to the promotion of domestic production.

Institutional support to the dairy sector

If policies must be implemented to promote dairy systems then institutions must be present to determine the most helpful policies and develop the best strategies for their implementation. In Eastern and Southern Africa, dairy development is supported by a number of institutes:

At this juncture, it is clear that dairy development needs to be accomplished through policies that can attract various stakeholders to invest in this sector. The initial step will be seeking the right policies. Nevertheless, seeking the right policies is not enough for dairy development, but also having supportive institutions and services for stakeholders. Since African farmers fall within the class with a relatively lower educational background, these institutions face a challenge of simplifying knowledge to an acceptable form to these farmers which would also prevent conflicts with indigenous knowledge and traditional practices.



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Received 9 May 2007; Accepted 10 June 2007; Published 6 August 2007

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