10 Million Cows and Very Little Fresh Milk
Sale of milk is key to survival for local farmers in West Africa, but when the hungry season peaks during the rainy season, milk is discarded as there is neither capacity to store, nor to preserve it. Decades of scarce investments in the agricultural sector and lack of infrastructure coupled with the abundant availability of relatively cheap imported milk powder produced with EU subsidies, have made it very difficult for the local farmers to develop a competitive production and reap the benefits of a rising demand for dairy products in West Africa.
A low production which favours milk powder
In a region with tens of millions of cows, it is paradoxical that consumers hardly find any fresh milk on the shelves. Setting aside the social responsibility of the industrial dairies, this reality hides local production levels that are very low and very seasonal. It is often not for lack of will but because of the scarcity of the raw material that industrial dairies in the region are few to dare bet on developing products based on a supply of fresh milk.
Industrial dairies seek quantity and quality
The West African dairy industry is looking to diversify supply and improve the quality and range of their products using fresh milk. At the same time, they complain about not finding enough milk or of the proper quality to fill their tanks on a daily basis. This explains why to date only few initiative have developed supply chains of local milk and that the volumes collected remain low.
An unexplored local production potential
But to gain profits from local milk collection is indeed possible. It suffices to listen to the dairy farmers who are established close to an urban centre denounce the numerous refusals of purchase they face during the rainy season or the pastoralists breeders who do not benefit from any collection system to absorb the excess milk that they would like to sell during the rainy season. Similarly production gains are possible during the dry season if the milk producers’ access to agro-industrial bi-products for fodder can be secured.
A rising global demand for milk and liberalized markets
In an international context, there is a growing global demand for dairy products, not least in West Africa. After the lifting of the European milk quotas, European dairies expect their milk production to increase by 9 billion liters per year. About two-thirds of the increased production is to find markets outside the EU, including West Africa, which EU dairy companies are increasingly targeting.
For the European dairy companies producing milk powder, there is a balance to strike. On the one hand, they need to create short-term value for their farmers and shareholders by finding new markets for their products. On the other, they have a clear responsibility towards local farmers whose human rights their business may have a negative impact on. This demands a more long-term commercial strategy that takes into account their corporate social responsibility and considers investments in local collection.
Line Gamrath Rasmussen
Programme Coordinator, Niger
Tlf: 35 200 100