News Story Leads to Help for Dairy Industry

Jun 192010

I have for a while been aware of the ironic “equality” between Africa and America that the rate of food wastage on the two continents is about the same at 30 to 50 percent: In America it is spoilt in people’s refrigerators while in Africa it is spoilt on the way to the market.

But this disturbing African reality hit me again hard in the face last month as we were gathering information about the Tanzania dairy industry ahead of the Milk Week at the end of May. It transpires that nearly half (47%) of the milk collected from the farms every morning gets spoilt before it reaches a market or collection centre. So the country ends up importing 70 percent of the milk it consumes.

It is nearly six months since we started producing weekly supplements on agriculture in The Guardian (English) and Nipashe (Swahili) newspapers, and few discoveries have been as disturbing as this one. We decided to dig deeper and produce a special edition over the milk situation, which came out on June 1st.

At first it looked like an overkill – three articles dedicated to milk in one edition whose main theme was whether a “White Revolution” was possible within the Green Revolution, declared last year and code-named “Kilimo Kwanza” (Agriculture First). But so alarming was the situation that we gave them it all. The first piece was a special report based on the disturbing statistics that 70% of the milk consumed in Tanzania is imported despite the fact that it has the third highest cattle population in Africa at 19 million (low quality) heads, while nearly 50% of the milk produced in the country (nearly 1.8 million litres of the 3.8 produced daily) is wasted due to lack of processing capability. As a result, the county imports milk from 37 suppliers outside, and consumption of milk is growing at 9.8% per year. The story also demonstrated with examples of other countries how encouragement of the dairy sector by enhancing processing capacity can bring about faster poverty elimination through linking rural households to the cash economy. Milk is terribly perishable and is virtually rendered useless if not treated within a few hours after it comes from the cow.

The second piece was graphic juxtaposition of the “ten pillars” of the Green Revolution with the requirements of the dairy industry got from the stakeholders. In specific terms, we called for “accommodative taxation to stimulate investment into dairy sector” in line with the sixth pillar of the Green Revolution.

Finally, we ran an editorial comment calling for special support of the sector, in which we reminded the country’s political leadership of their earlier stated commitment to the sector. (_Guardian," "Kilimo Kwanza," No. 15)

When the 2010-11 budget was presented a fortnight later, we received it with triumph that the sector requirements as demanded in our edition had been specifically addressed. A senior editor at the Guardian exclaimed, “It is as if the finance minister was reading straight from our supplement!” Declared the minister: “Exempt VAT on machines and equipments used in the collection, transportation and processing of milk products. This measure is aimed at promoting investment in the diary sub-sector and improve the income of livestock keepers.”

This year’s national budget was possibly the hardest for the government to draw up in many years. It was still being adjusted up to the last minute following donor withdrawal of hundreds of millions of dollars in support. Tax reductions were therefore not to be expected in such mean times. Important sub-sectors like fisheries were not lucky. It was with immense satisfaction that we took note what has been scored for the dairy industry.

Editors note: Fellow Joachim Buwembo investigates the Tanzania dairy industry.