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Milking their way to prosperity

Written by  Ida Kazembe

Blantyre, June 19, 2017: Doreen Kengelemu cannot stop reveling in the sea of prosperity she is in. She is a happy woman and satisfied member of Mpemba Milk Bulking Group (MBG) in Blantyre whose life has been transformed by one dairy cow.

Kengelemu is a beneficiary of a dairy cow pass-on programme under Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association (Shimpa), which is supporting a lot of female-headed households in Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Mulanje and Blantyre.

Her cow generates adequate income by giving out 25 liters of milk everyday, which she sells to Shimpa.

“I am getting over K100, 000 per month from the sales,” says Kengelemu.

Dairy farming has put a smile on most farmers’ faces with many women under the pass-on program boasting of owning an iron sheet fitted house and able to pay school fees for their children.

Doreen Kengelemu swims in this success story and says that her family also enjoys good health because of the readily available milk.

“If you see my children, they are healthy and this trickles even to the extended family members who also benefit from the milk,” she says with a sparkle of delight on her face.

Kengelemu is one of the 480 women reaping from the benefits of dairy production under Mpemba MBG. There are also 20 men in the group.

The women dominance is so telling and ideal for women empowerment, the very tenet on which the foundation of the grouping shares the vision of Shimpa project, which started in 1985, 15 years before the formation Mpemba group.

“At the beginning, the group only targeted widows and single women as beneficiaries to the pass-on project. It is just recently that less privileged couples are being involved hence the participation of men,” says Margret Ngulube, chairperson of Mpemba MBG.

Born in 2000, Mpemba MBG has seen steady growth in production levels of milk spurred by huge profits realized from sales.

On average, production ranges between 550 and 800 liters per day.

Shimpa’s general secretary John Njanji Phiri applauds Mpemba MBG for being one of the big suppliers to the association, which produces 94 percent of the entire milk in the country

He attributes the high levels of milk production from the group to the vast skills and knowledge in dairy cow management acquired through trainings provided by Shimpa.

“We have trained dairy farmers in producing improved feeds for the cows and how to maintain high standards of a healthy livestock. This helps in getting the best out of a dairy cow,” says Njanji Phiri.

He adds that Shimpa now boasts of producing up to 70, 000 liters per day through various groups like Mpemba; a great leap from the less than 2, 000 liters as initial production in 1985.

Despite enjoying success in dairy production, Kengelemu and most dairy farmers in Mpemba group are not immune to some challenges that rock the enterprise.

“Prices fluctuate and there are low moments when prices are not attractive. The other challenge is frequent power interruptions that affect storage and the condition of our milk,” Kengelemu says adding that sometimes huge liters of milk go to waste because of limited means of value addition.

But there is hope that such challenges will be a thing of the past.

Shimpa is planning to acquire a milk processing plant for adding value to the milk produced by farmers.

“We have approached Blantyre Agriculture Development Division (ADD) to help us find a donor.

The smallest milk processing plant from India or China is pegged at K20 million. We will also need help with the best expertise to operate and maintain the machine,” says Njanji Phiri.

Blantyre ADD’s programme manager Martin Kausi says his office is aware of Shimpa’s plans. But he was quick to caution that the association should develop proper strategies of sustaining the plant once acquired.

“Sustaining a milk processing plant is always a problem. Bvumbwe had one and it stopped functioning when the donor pulled out,” Kausi says.

Apart from addressing the challenges in value addition, Shimpa is also looking for way of improving storage of milk in times of electricity interruptions.

Njanji Phiri says they have requested solar powered cooling tanks (SPCT) from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR).

The tanks, sourced under the Rural Livelihoods Economic Enhancement Programme (RLEEP) project will be planted at some of the milk bulking group centers in Shire Highlands with Namahoya of Thyolo as a starting point.

“The cooling system is also crucial for the industry to succeed and once the cooling tanks are in place, we are going to cut other losses,” says Njanji Phiri.

He says that last year, Shimpa farmers lost milk worth K30 million due to electricity power interruptions through load shedding.

While Shimpa is looking into solutions to dairy production challenges, government is also doing its part.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Aggrey Massi assures milk producers of necessary interventions by government in improving their earnings.

He cites the lifting of value added tax (VAT) on processed milk in the 2017- 2018 national budget, which he says is already improving milk selling prices for farmers.

“With this action, we expect an increase in milk consumption that will expand the market, increase demand and triggers better prices for farmers,” says Massi.

Last December, government imposed a 20 percent VAT on processed milk that saw selling prices for farmers tumbling.

But current interventions by government, Shimpa and other players in the dairy production industry can inspire hope in the likes of Kengelemu that sustainability of their livelihood is somehow guaranteed.

As native as it may be, milk production is a potential gold mine for many people across the globe and Doreen Kengelemu’s anecdotal evidence of milking her way to prosperity attest to this.