Richard Mwebaze, a cattle farmer in Ibanda district, loves his indigenous cows.
If anyone dared advise him to sell them, he would add that person on his list of enemies.
"I loved my cows. I just liked keeping them around," he says.
While Mwebaze was smitten by his long horned Ankole cows, he had one problem: with about 40 cows, he would get about 15 litres of milk per day. Even then, it took him a bit of time to get convinced that he needed to adopt a new breed that is productive and would offer him more milk.
"It was after visiting one of my friends that I realized I needed to change the breed. I sold my 40 cows and bought 12 high milk yielding cows," Mwebaze narrates.
"Before, I never sold milk because it was very little. Now, I take about 80 litres of milk to sell in Ibanda town.
"I sell each litre at Shs 400, meaning every day I earn about Shs 32000. This is not bad at all."
Mwebaze paints a picture of how much transformation has taken place within the dairy industry in Uganda. More people have adopted improved breeds that guarantee high milk yields. Dairy farmers and the sector in general have transformed a lot in the last two decades - from the indigenous cows with low milk yields to high yielding milk cows.
The study, Dairy sector reforms and transformations in Uganda since the 1990 to 2011, done by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), shows that the livestock sector, driven mainly by the dairy industry has maintained positive growth rates averaging 3% per annum compared to the declining growth rates registered in food and cash crop subsectors.
According to Isaac Shinyekwa, a research fellow at EPRC, the growth in the sector can be attributed to the farmers being assured of daily income from selling milk.
"People have gone into dairy farming because they are assured of daily income. This is not the case when you grow beans, because then you have to wait for three months to sell after harvest," he says.
As such, more people are changing to exotic cows from the indigenous cows. The study indicates that a number of exotic cows shot up to 25% in 2010 from 19% in 2006. "With increased trade in milk, households undertook to improve herd productivity through the adoption of improved dairy cattle breeds -exotic and cross breeds," notes the report.
Milk production has also grown from 380 million litres in 1990 to 1.6 billion litres in 2011. Cattle population also grew from 5 million in 1990 to over 10 million in 2010. While the Western region remains the country's milk hub, dairy farms in other regions have improved in terms of average milk per annum.
Many jobs have been created along the way. "I employ about eight people, where some work on the farm in terms of maintaining it, others in transporting the milk among other activities related with livestock," Mwebwaze says.
Indeed, the study notes that the dairy sector has not only created employment for over 700, 000 dairy farming households, but also for farm input dealers, dairy equipment dealers, dairy ingredients dealers, raw milk traders, transporters, min-dairies and large scale milk processors and distributors.
While milk production has improved, the biggest percentage goes unprocessed. Only 20% of the country's milk output is processed. Local farmers, however, are getting together in their groups to process the milk.
"Co-operatives like Uganda Crane Creameries Cooperative Union (UCCU) in Mbarara process milk. They are able to make such products like yoghurt and cheese," says Shinyekwa.
But even with such visible successes, the sector faces a couple of challenges. Dr Swaibu Mbowa, a research fellow at the EPRC, notes that there is still a huge gap in infrastructure like roads and electricity to support the sector especially in the value addition development chain.
"The government needs to promote the public private partnership and support mini-dairies facilitated by farmer groups to increase the amount of milk processed," says Mbowa.
Also, farmers still receive low farm-gate prices for their milk, especially in Western Uganda, which is a disincentive.
Copyright © 2012 The Observer. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.
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