Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (3) 2011 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

A critical review of the performance of the dairy industry in Botswana

J C Moreki, O Koloka, L Nthoyiwa, I P Moloi and G Palai

Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture, Private Bag 0032 Gaborone, Botswana


The dairy industry in Botswana is growing slowly despite the high demand for milk and milk products. In 2009, dairy cows were estimated to be approximately 6000. From 1999 to 2009 dairy cow herd increased by an average of 333 cows per year and milk production by 0.42 million litres per year. Currently, the dairy sub-sector’s contribution to the national liquid milk demand is 17%. The per capita consumption of milk is estimated to be 25.2 litres per person per year.

Annual milk production is estimated to be 7.70 million litres and imports 38.6 million litres. The low milk production is ascribable to lack of quality dairy feeds, high feed prices and unavailability of good dairy breeds suitable for local conditions. Although the industry is faced with many challenges, opportunities do exist in processing, fodder and milk production. Milk production can be increased through improvements in husbandry management (especially feeding) and by setting up new dairy farms.

Key words: Dairy breeds, feed, imports, madila, milk production, per capita consumption


The economy of Botswana is highly dependent on the mineral sector with agriculture contributing little to the gross domestic product (GDP). According to the National Development Plan (NDP 10) (2009), at independence agriculture contributed 40 % to the GDP while currently its contribution is estimated to be 1.7 %. Although its contribution to the GDP is low, agriculture still acts as a backbone to the rural economy as a source of employment, food, draught power, animal products and sale (income). About 70 % of the rural households derive part of their livelihoods from agriculture. Currently, Botswana is a large importer of agricultural products in the form of fruits, grain, vegetables and products of animal origin such as pork and milk. Despite the importation of a variety of agricultural products, the country is ranked amongst one of the best quality beef producers in the world which supplies markets in Europe. Botswana also prides itself in commercial poultry production which rose from none existence in the early 1970’s to self sustainable levels to date (Ministry of Agriculture 2009).

The dairy industry is one of the underdeveloped agricultural sub-sectors in the country and the national milk production remains very low. According to Botswana Press Agency (BOPA) (2010), only 10% of milk is produced locally. In 2009, 7.70 million litres of milk were produced and 38.6 million litres of liquid milk imported (Ministry of Agriculture 2000a). The imports comprised 12.4 and 26.2 million litres of ultra high temperature (UHT) milk and raw milk, respectively. This implies that local milk production accounts for 17 % of total liquid milk requirements, which is slightly higher than an estimate of 10% reported by BOPA (2010). Milk imports augment local production to meet the national milk demand which is estimated to be 45.3 million litres per annum. Imports are not only limited to UHT milk and raw milk for local processing plants but also to dairy products. Aganga et al (2010) state that powdered milk, fresh milk, flavoured milk and a variety of dairy products such as cheese, whey, butter, dairy spreads, fats and oils derived from milk form part of the milk and milk products imports. To enhance milk production, government has included dairy in the five priority areas which are referred to as economic diversification drive (EDD). Other priority commodities are cereal grain, horticulture, honey and smallstock (sheep and goats). Assuming the human population of Botswana to be 1.8 million and annual milk consumption to be 45.3 million litres, the per capita consumption of milk is estimated to be 25.2 litres per person per year.

Although the Ministry of Agriculture is optimistic about the future of the dairy industry, local environmental conditions are less favourable. The country is largely arid or semi-arid, with mean annual rainfall ranging from over 650 mm in the north-east to less than 250 mm in the south-west. Rainfall is highly erratic and droughts are common (NDP 7 1991). Mpapho (2000) states that rainfall is unpredictable in both timing and quantity leading to seasonal quantitative and qualitative feed shortage which contributes to poor reproductive performance of dairy cows and low milk production. As a result, natural pastures cannot adequately support livestock throughout the year. Compared to the beef industry, dairy animals are affected more by inadequacy of feed as they require feed mainly for milk production. Usually, animals have very little feed to consume during the dry periods resulting in low milk production.

The dairy industry is perceived to be one of the agricultural sub-sectors with a great potential in economic diversification and import substitution as the bulk of liquid milk consumed in the country is imported. The objective of this review is to investigate the performance of the dairy industry in Botswana for the past 10 years (i.e., 1999 to 2009) with a view to identifying the industry’s challenges and opportunities.

Dairy production systems

A study by TAHAL Consulting Engineers LTD. (2000a) in Botswana classified dairy production systems according to the number of cattle reared and the total amount of milk produced per animal annually or the type of management system practised. According to TAHAL Consulting Engineering LTD. (2000a), the development of the dairy sub-sector is defined by four dairy farm types and gradually progresses from the lowest to the highest levels of feeding, housing and herd management. Production systems under such farm types can be characterized as small, comprising 15 milking cows with an annual average milk yield of 2000 litres per cow. The second production system is based on the same number of animals (15) with an average milk yield of 4000 litres per cow per year. The increase in the volume of milk from 2000 to 4000 litres of milk per cow per year is ascribable to improvements in the feeding regime. The third production system (also known as the intermediate development level) assumes an average milk yield of 4000 litres per cow per year with improved farm management and an average herd size of 30 milking cows. The fourth production system is characterized by a herd size of 50 milking cows maintained indoors with an average milk yield of 6000 litres per cow per year attained with improved feeding and advanced herd management (TAHAL Consulting Engineering LTD. 2000a). The fifth dairy farm type would be the one with over 50 milking cows.

As mentioned earlier, the production systems can also be classified according to herd management practices. The extensive herd management practices can be sub-divided according to their dependence on pastures. These include completely pasture-based, completely cowshed-based and production based on self production of fodder systems (TAHAL Consulting Engineering LTD. 1998). Pasture-based dairy production system is the most widely spread system whereby animals are kept in the pasture all the time. Cows are milked in shallow pens and are fed on concentrates during milking. Milking is usually by hand and in other instances there are no milking structures resulting in poor quality milk. This system is commonly practised in small-scale dairy production. The second system is the cowshed–based dairy farming system where crop residues and concentrates are used to supplement inadequate pasture. The last system is the self production fodder-based system where farms are designated for fodder production to nourish dairy animals.

Dairy breeds and numbers

Cattle population in Botswana is estimated to be 2.5 million and dairy animals account for only 0.24% (i.e., 6000). In Botswana, the dairy herd comprises six breeds: Friesian, aryshire, Guernsey, jersey, dairy shorthorn and the dairy swiss (commonly referred to as Brown swiss). According to TAHAL Consulting Engineers LTD. (2000b), Friesians constitute 47.8% of dairy animals kept in Botswana followed by Brown swiss (37%) and others (e.g., aryshire, dairy shorthorn, Guernsey and jersey) 5%. The large Friesian population is ascribable to the breed being readily available in RSA and its high milk production (i.e., litres of milk produced per cow day). Although Brown Swiss was introduced late, it follows Friesian in popularity mainly because it is a dual purpose and it adapts well to the local environment.

Distribution of dairy farm enterprises

As shown in Table 1, dairy farms are concentrated in Central and South East districts. South East district alone accounts for 60.1% of the total dairy herd in Botswana. The concentration of dairy farms in South East district is ascribable to the district’s proximity to RSA which is the main source of dairy animals, feeds and equipment. Furthermore, the district is closer to the urban centres (Gaborone and Lobatse) where milk processing plants are located. The cheese manufacturing plant is also situated in Otse, a village in South East district which is about 10 km away from Lobatse. There are no dairy farms in Kgalagadi district probably due to high environmental temperatures because of its desert nature. Kgalagadi district favours beef and smallstock production. However, the district is not suitable for crop production due to its soils which are sandy. Generally, sandy soils are poor in plant nutrients. 

Table 1.  Number of dairy farmers across the districts


Size (km2)

No. of farmers


147 730



7 960



106 940



22 052



117 910



35 980


North West

129 930


North East

5 120


South East

1 780



28 470



603 872


Source: Dairy Annual Report (2009); Ruminants Division Annual Report (2010)

Milk production

Milk is one of the foodstuffs rated highly due to its nutritive value. According to Yigrem et al (2008), among the 20 major food and agricultural commodities ranked by value in 2005, whole fresh cow milk ranked third. Milk contains proteins, vitamins and other essential minerals such as calcium and phosphorus which are required for growth and bone development. It is estimated that 30.1% of Botswana’s human population lives below poverty datum line (Ministry of Finance and Development Planning 2007). Therefore, for a country like Botswana with a high rate of poverty, dairy farming can be a tool through which poverty can be eradicated in line with the government’s policy of poverty eradication. Usually, milk is used as food in its raw state or is processed into milk products which can be consumed and/or sold to earn income. The income obtained from the sale of milk and milk products can be used to buy food and other essentials, as well as, to pay schools fees, medical bills or transport costs to a medical facility, especially in a country with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate such as Botswana.

Most people in the rural areas who keep livestock (both beef and smallstock) derive milk from the animals which is consumed as raw liquid milk or turned into sour milk (madila). Mosielele (1998) emphasised the need for promotion of consumption of safe, wholesome pasteurised milk sold at affordable prices. Unlike in other countries where a number of livestock species are used for milk production, in Botswana only cattle and goat milk are consumed as fresh or madila

Data on local milk production from 1999 to 2009 are presented in Table 2. According to Table 2, the highest quantity of milk produced was recorded in 2008 (i.e., 8.30 million litres) while the lowest was 3.50 million litres in 1999. The decline in milk production was experienced in 2006 and 2009 despite an increase in milking cows. The decline may be attributable to the collapse of some four large-scale dairy projects due to the low prices of milk offered in the market, poor management (poor feeding and poor herd health) and inadequate funds to enable purchase of feeds. From 1999 to 2009, the dairy cow population increased at an average of 333 cows per annum while milk production increased by an average of 0.42 million litres per annum. During the same period, the population of milking cows averaged 39.7% compared to 60.3% for dry cows. This indicates that the majority of dairy cows on farms are unproductive. Poor feeding in terms of quantity and quality and inappropriate breeding method used (natural service preferred over artificial insemination) are the major contributory factors to high proportion of dry cows on farms.

Table 2.  National dairy herd population and milk production from 1999 to 2009


No. of dairy cows

No. of milking cows

No. of dry cows

Milk production/ year (million litres)























1384 (51.8)

1458 (49.9)

2552 (64.8)

1838 (41.0)

1763 (33.2)

1779 (31.2)


1707 (33.2)

1989 (30.7)

1810 (33.8)

2000 (33.3)

1289 (48.2)

1461 (50.1)

1384 (35.2)

2640 (59.0)

3541 (66.8)

3915 (68.8)

3312 (66.9)

3431 (66.8)

4486 (69.3)

3538 (66.2)

4000 (66.7)












Values in brackets are percentages
Source:  Ministry of Agriculture (2009); Ruminants Division Annual Report (2010)

A comparison between milking and dry cows is illustrated in Figure 1. It is clear from Figure 1 and that dry cows outnumber milking cows. Figure 2 shows that the highest number of dry cows was recorded in 2007 and the least in 1999. As mentioned earlier, high feed costs results in poor nutrition of the animals which in turn contributes to cows becoming dry. Because of poor feeding dairy cows do not come on heat in time leading to failure of artificial insemination. In dairying, if a cow misses just one insemination, it misses the whole production cycle and will only calf the following year. The other reason might be failure to detect animals on heat well in time due to lack of expertise. For the dairy industry to develop, emphasis should be placed on fodder production. Therefore, a government initiative such as Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) (Ministry of Agriculture 2010b) through fodder component could play a role in improving dairy nutrition. In addition, government should consider subsidising dairy feeds.

Figure 1. Milking cows vs. dry cows 1999 to 2009

According to Figure 1and Table 2, dry cows were only less than milking cows in 1999 and 2001. This indicates that extension efforts should be concentrated on increasing the number of milking cows to significant levels. To achieve this, improvements in nutrition of the animals should be made. Also, the choice of breeds that do well under local conditions is paramount. In addition, the role of research is of utmost importance in developing breeds that are suitable to the local environment. 

Milk production vs. imports

Figure 2 compares local milk production with liquid milk imports. It is clear from Figure 2 that liquid milk imports are greater than local production. The highest import value of liquid milk was recorded in 2006 and the lowest in 2004. This indicates that in order to increase milk production there is need to expand existing dairy farms or to set up new ones. Dairy goat production is another option to be considered. Increased milk import in 2006 is attributable to a switch from powdered milk to liquid milk by government institutions, e.g., schools. Prior to 2006, milk powder was imported in large quantities and used mainly for institutional demand and for the low income population to balance human nutrition requirements (TAHAL Consulting Engineers LTD. 2000b).

As the dairy industry is considered an infant industry, it is protected from external competition under Article 26 of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Agreement (2002). For this reason, milk imports restrictions are in place to encourage local milk production. In Botswana, dairy milk and milk products are restricted through a permit system with imports reduced as production increases.

Figure 2.  Milk production vs. liquid milk imports (1999 to 2009)

Table 3 shows dairy products that were imported into Botswana from 2002 to 2009. Most of the imports are from RSA. Dairy products include skimmed milk powder (SMP), whole milk powder (WMP), butter, cheese and whey. According to Table 3, SMP/WMP and butter/yoghurt are the only dairy products that were imported in large quantities. Production of these products locally in the future would result in job creation and save the country foreign exchange.

Table 3. Imports of dairy products in tonnes


SMP/WMP milk






77 029

3 256

2 397




7 222






7 302

2 462





7 922

1 966

1 093




1 176






1 575






1 263

1 155










SMP = skimmed milk powder; WMP = whole milk powder
Source:   Dairy Annual Report (2009)


The performance of the dairy industry in Botswana is affected by a number of factors (technical and non-technical) including:


With appropriate policies, programmes, and adequate resources, the dairy industry can contribute immensely to food security and reach self sustainable levels. Some opportunities that exist in the dairy industry include: 



The authors wish to thank Ms. G. Mfolwe and Mr. K. Nketsang for providing some data used in this publication.


Aganga A A, Thobega M and Setimela S 2010 Dairy production in Botswana: Current status and prospects. Botswana Journal of Agriculture and Applied Sciences 6(3). In, Proceedings of Animal Agriculture Conference held at CICE, Botswana College of Agriculture Gaborone Botswana, 27-31 July 2009. 5.


Boitumelo W S and Mahabile W 1991 Improving milk production in small-scale dairy farms in Botswana Incorporating legume fodder in the farming systems.


BOPA (Botswana Press Agency) 2010 Botswana Daily News Thursday August 26, 2010 No. 160.


Dairy Annual Report 2009 Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana.


Ministry of Agriculture 2009 Dairy Annual Report, Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana.


Ministry of Agriculture 2010a Dairy Annual Report, Department of Animal Production. Gaborone, Botswana.


Ministry of Agriculture 2010b Guidelines for Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture (ISPAAD): Rainfed and Horticulture. Department of Crop Production. Ministry of Agriculture. 5.


Ministry of Finance and Development Planning 2007 Annual Poverty Monitoring Report, Rural Development Policy Coordination Section. Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Gaborone, Botswana. 3.


Mosielele S 1998 Current status and future improvement in the dairy industry in Botswana. In, Proceedings of the National Workshop on Food Industry in Botswana, presented at Gaborone Sun Hotel, 18-19th August 1998. 14.


Mpapho G S 2000 An evaluation of the nutritional constraints of dairy cows of Botswana In, Proceedings of Livestock Feeding Systems Workshop held at Centre for in-Service and Continuing Education, Botswana College of Agriculture Gaborone Botswana. 60-63.


National Veterinary Laboratory 2003 Department of Animal Health and Production. Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana. 69-73.


National Veterinary Laboratory 2004 Department of Animal Health and Production. Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana. 67-70.


National Veterinary Laboratory 2005 Department of Animal Health and Production. Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana. 65-70.


NDP (National Development Plan) 7 1991 Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Government Printer Gaborone. 3-5.


NDP (National Development Plan) 10 2009 Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Government Printer Gaborone. 182.


Ngatangue E L 2009 Milk production steadily increasing. Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana.


Ruminants Division Annual Report 2010 Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture. Gaborone, Botswana.


SACU (Southern African Customs Union) 2002 The Southern African Customs Union Secretariat. Windhoek, Namibia. 23-24.


TAHAL Consulting Engineers LTD 2000a National Master Plan for Agricultural Development Final Report Volume 2. 15, 25.


TAHAL Consulting Engineering LTD 2000b National Master Plan for Agricultural Development Main Report Volume 1. Gaborone. 3-4.


TAHAL Consulting Engineering LTD 1998 National Master Plan for Agricultural Development Inception Report Revised. 58-59.

Yigrem S, Beyene F, Tegegne A and Gebremedhin B 2008 Dairy production, processing and marketing systems of Shashemene–Dilla area, South Ethiopia. IPMS (Improving Productivity and Market Success) of Ethiopian Farmers Project Working Paper 9. ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute), Nairobi, Kenya. 62.

Received 19 October 2010; Accepted 21 October 2010; Published 6 March 2011

Go to top