An epidemic of old is resurfacing across Africa: childhood nutritional stunting. In developed nations, this debilitating lack of nutrition in a child’s diet has been declining, however in Sub-Saharan Africa, it remains a salient issue that effects 3 in 10 children under the age of five. Nutritional stunting hinders a child’s genetic potential whilst growing; a lack of essential protein and key nutrients is the inevitable cause, however the rise in dairy farming across East Africa is helping to mitigate the problem.
Over three quarters of Tanzanian business or ‘biashara’ is small-scale agriculture, but the proportion of dairy farms is surprisingly and worryingly low. Due to this lack of dairy development in Tanzania, Raleigh International has partnered with the NGO ‘East African Dairy Development’ (EADD) who help educate dairy farmers in the skills needed to farm sustainably. Together, Raleigh and EADD are aiming to support and fund entrepreneurs who are looking to set-up and improve dairy farms. One of the most ambivalent, unanswered questions surrounding African dairy farming is why support offered by EADD in East Africa has been successful in almost all countries other than Tanzania? To help understand this question, the current position of dairy farming in Tanzania and its future, we sat down and interviewed an archaic local dairy farmer – Christmas Yovenary Kapoma.
It is a mild, misty morning over Usengelindete; the sun has yet to rise, the homes are quiet, the village is lifeless, but the benign figure of Mr Kapoma – the owner of the village’s largest dairy farm – is already tending to his twenty cows. It is a strenuous schedule for the fifty-eight year old father of four. Working alongside his sons, the laborious day is spent feeding and milking the cows; cultivating the land and ensuring the health of the cattle – his upmost priority. We are surprised to find that he is not the sole dairy farmer in the village, in fact, there are seven others, but why are there so few and why have they chosen dairy?
The ownership and farming of cattle is far from a new enterprise. It is traditionally family-run, with cows being passed through the generations. Mr Kapoma had little more than primary school education before joining his parents to rear chickens and goats, the usual Tanzanian livestock. At eighteen, he took the initiative to enter ‘profitable dairy farming,’ where although costs can be high, the rewards can be equally large. A fully grown cow can be sold to a butcher for up to 600,000Tz Shillings (£200), with milk production awarding Mr Kapoma one of the village’s highest weekly wages of 50,000Tz (£16.50). But most income does not come from Usengelindete, the village is small and the residents are poor. Instead, a hub called the ‘Iringa Dairy Association Development,’ purchases the surplus of milk to distribute throughout Tanzania. The size of this national market is encouraging. There is room for competition, there is demand for milk, there is a need for dairy, but there is no rush for Tanzanian entrepreneurs to seize the obvious opportunity.
The meat and milk produced from cows is an essential source of protein across the world, providing our bodies with essential amino acids in a substantially more efficient way than crop-based proteins, the predominant protein source in Africa. Dairy and therefore protein consumption is especially low due to the issue of cost. One litre of milk sells for 1,500 Tz Shillings (£0.50), comparatively expensive to traditional wheat-based foods that sell for only a few hundred shillings. This is the natural result of low supply nationwide. Tanzanian farmers do not prioritise dairy for enigmatic reasons, but Mr Kapoma believes there are two main contributory factors. Firstly, and most obviously, capital. This is a big issue in a community stricken with relative levels of poverty. To purchase a calf, it costs 500,000Tz (£165). Breeding is a difficult, arduous, and expensive process all whilst revenue is neither initially large or instantaneous. The costs involved put the most lucid and intelligent off the business, however the level of skills and knowledge for breeding and maintaining cattle is low, creating the other factor which is dismantling dairy farming. But all hope is not lost. The knowledge gap is closing through EADD and mentors such as Christmas Kapoma who are empowering the future generations of farmers.
There are two main types of cow kept in Tanzania: natural and hybrid cows. Natural cows produce 1.5L of milk per day, compared to the 4L from hybrid cows, bred artificiality through modern advancements. This breeding technique, animal welfare and milking skills are the crux of the training provided by EADD to dairy farmers. Mr Kapoma highly lauded the education, claiming to have seen a rapid proliferation in milk production, up by 70L per week. It is this type of education which is required to promote and ensure dairy farming becomes sustainable, however EADDs work in Tanzania is soon coming to an end.
Mid-interview, in a Tony Blair-esque fashion, Mr Kapoma makes a remedial call for more ‘education, education, education.’ His reaction is an adverse one due to the withdrawal of NGOs such as EADD, the very ones he believes should be responsible for education and training. This is an argument which I would rebut however due to the work being done by Raleigh International to ensure economic sustainability. As part of our entrepreneurship scheme here in Usengelindete, we encourage the wise, experienced and best current business owners to act as mentors to young entrepreneurs. Once we leave the village, they can take the lead, they can impart their knowledge and they can be the ones, rather than NGOs, responsible for ensuring that education is continued for a sustainable future.
“In my opinion, we need more help to breed hybrid cows.”
The room is dark. But, I feel that Mr Kapoma has lightened to us throughout our time with him. We have been given the opportunity to understand his life, his work, his family, his cows. We still want more though, what does he think of the big picture? What does he think of African dairy farming? What does he think of Tanzania’s future? Most potent of all though, why have other East African countries flourished under the aid of EADD and Tanzania has not? Mr Kapoma laughs, before pausing to think. ‘This is a challenging question,’ he says, slowly continuing, ‘when EADD go to other countries in Africa, they find many farms already set-up with cows, so it is easy [to educate farmers] but in Tanzania the farms have no cattle.’ We push for an understanding as to why other countries have this seemingly unassailable lead. ‘The government promotes that every farm must have cattle, for example, in Burundi it is law.’ Mr Kapoma’s explanation of this edict makes sense but does not solve the problem, however, he continues to show a savvy understanding by suggesting, ‘through education…on how to breed hybrid cows, the problem will be solved.’ By increasing the supply of cows through better knowledge of effective breeding, dairy farming can become more accessible to new entrepreneurs who can subsequently push down the price of milk and meat in Tanzania through higher production, helping to combat nutritional stunting.
The strain of almost fifty years farming is beginning to take its toll on the crinkled Christmas Kapoma; his light grey hair suggests he is soon to switch his attention to educating the next generation of Tanzanian dairy farmers. He has already taken a disingenuous interest in becoming a mentor, inquiring about the new entrepreneurs on Raleigh’s scheme, a number of whom have already expressed a desire to enter dairy farming. By facilitating the transfer of knowledge from old to young, we hope to see a sustainable future in dairy farming across East Africa. Young entrepreneurs will gain the confidence, the skills and the desire to improve their own livelihoods as well as the livelihoods of young children who, with greater access to protein, can now reach their full genetic potential whilst growing.