The emergence of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has affected farmers and several other businesses for the last 6 months. However, this is no longer the plight of the dairy farmers in South-Western Uganda.
According farmers in the districts of Lyantonde, Kiruhura, Rubindi and Mbarara, their day to day activities have continuously been highly affected by pests and diseases that continue to attack and kill their animals.
Tugumya Posiano, a farmer in Kiruhura who inherited the farm from his grandparents and his father Festo Bashaija in 1986, said the family entirely depends on the farm for survival but expressed his dissatisfaction for the poor quality of pesticides in the market as well as low milk prices.
With 72 cattle including those lactating, young ones and the bulls, Posiano milks between 70-80 litres a day during dry seasons and in the rainy season, around 150 litres and above. This, he said, does not meet the family needs even with that huge production “because the cooperatives pay us Shs 650 per liter of milk.”
“We suffered badly when the prices dropped to Shs 200 per liter because milk wasn’t going to Kenya, people in Mbarara town had moved to villages and no one was consuming the milk yet the prices of the acaricides and salt shot up. I reached an extent of selling cows so as to meet the daily needs such as salt, sugar, soap and acaricides among others,” Posiano lamented.
The farm employs over 3 workers and Posiano said he had to continue paying them during the hard time since they were still doing their job even when he was selling milk at Shs 200 that saw the farm lose over Shs 9 million.
“Our major call to the government is to carry on research and come up with improved highly effective pesticides to put on the market.”
Posiano further urged government to intervene in the situation and increase on the milk prices to boost dairy farming in Uganda.
“I wish the prices of milk can reach Shs 1, 500, that would really meet our needs,” he said.
Due to low prices, Posiano revealed that most farmers are now planning to reduce the number of animals to at least the reasonable numbers that they can easily maintain.
“We intend to go back to local breeds because maintenance is very low as compared to cross breeds. Sometimes I see we are keeping these cows for just prestige because we really get little out of them yet we have to incur high expenses.
If it wasn’t for Covid-19, we would be having fewer animals because I would have already sold some for fees because the milk I get from these cows doesn’t give me enough money to pay school fees for my 2 students at University, one in S.5 ,one in S.4 among others,” he said.
Glorious Ankunda, extension worker at Pearl Dairies Ltd said farmers lacked knowledge on how best to manage their farms which was causing a lot of losses.
“These farmers had a very big challenge of mortality of the cows and when we came in, we trained them on how to manage the young calves since they are the most affected. We trained them on how to control and prevent pests and diseases which highly contribute to mortality,” said Ankunda.
Ankunda also added that the mortality rate has gradually gone down ever since they equipped the farmers with such knowledge trough their routine trainings, “The mortality has gone down because from the time we reported to this farm for example, the farmer had lost over 18 cows in just 2 months.
One Eldard Turyazayo, farmer in Nyakatokye village Mbarara, said his business faced serious problems that tempted him to almost sell off all the cows.
“When the milk prices dropped to Shs 200, the only plan I had in mind was to sell off these cows and maybe start something else. What is annoying with dairy farming is that even with little milk prices, I have not received that money from Amos, one of the factories up to now,” Turyazayo stated.
He now wants to embark on bull fattening for beef business other than dairy farming.
Commenting on the farmers’ plight, Stephen Aikiriza, Dairy Advisor at SNV, a Netherlands Development Organisation noted that dairy farming in Uganda can only survive if farmers start considering it as a business other than keeping dairy animals for pleasure.
“We saw this coming way back in 2014 when the greater Bushenyi, well known for milk production then, started losing the grip and then all of a sudden, surfaces Rushere and Kiruhura among others. These farmers have failed to know that in business, their losses and profits and seasons change, they think every day is a good pay day and this is seriously affecting them,” said Aikiriza.
“Middle men have highly affected dairy farming in the Country; they are the ones responsible for these farmers’ excitement and disappointments. Honestly, if Lato Milk, Tip Top and Brookside among others had not come, then we wouldn’t be here discussing this. In 2017,these factories were buying milk from farmers at Shs 1,500 and now the farmers want the price to remain as high as that which has been part of their disappointment,” Aikiriza further explained.
Uganda records over 2.5 billion litres of milk per annum but according to Aikiriza, “some of the milk does not come to the market. Milk is becoming a commodity that if we don’t fight for it, we are most likely to lose it.”
Aikiriza further called upon the youth to tap into cattle farming for beef production which he says is soon taking over dairy farming if nothing is done about the situation.