COVID19: Another blow to the Milk Processing Industry.

The COVID 19 pandemic has no doubt interrupted the complex interdependence of key players along the various stages of production today, this has had an inverse effect of consumption due to delayed/inconvenienced movement of products.

Although agricultural producers were left the room to continue operations, the same lockdown measures including restrictions on public and private transport have blocked the access to inputs like veterinary medicines. Previously, smallholder farmers could transport these inputs cheaply via buses and taxis who operate some kind of courier service. Lockdown Restrictions also mean that majority of the would-be consumers can not go to work and hence are suffering from diminishing finances meaning that they do not have the economic ability to purchase farm produce.
The closure of schools, hotels, and restaurants has also punched a hole in the market.

However, it’s easy and to an extent valid to blame COVID 19 for the current problems facing the dairy industry but to be honest, dairy consumption has always been low in Uganda.

Per capita milk production today stands and 62 litres as of 2017, a positive change from the 25 litres of 1986. This seems good but it’s still below the recommended 250ml of milk per person per day. Milk consumption in the family unit is low due to a number of reasons right from meagre finances to backward cultural practices where women and children are denied more nutritious foods. You may think times have changed but take a trip out of the city, you’ll be surprised.

According to the dairy development authority (DDA), 33% of milk produced in Uganda is processed while 67% is marketed and sold raw by smallholder farmers. Milk is a perishable product that needs processing to achieve a longer shelf life. To address this, private players like Pearl Dairy set up a processing plant in Western Uganda with a production capacity of about 800,000 litres per day. This was with the intent to help the local dairy farmers to be able to access the processing plant easily and also be in a position to easily educate these farmers to adapt to cleaner and more hygienic milk production techniques to contribute towards the growth of the dairy industry as a whole. Currently, the company employs about 2,500 people and buys milk from almost 10,000 farmers.

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Some of the powdered packs of Lato Milk on the Market today

The plant is engaged in processing liquid milk to various types of dairy products namely butter oil, ghee, skimmed milk powder, full cream milk powder and recently launched their first flavoured vanilla and strawberry yoghurt product.

The government of Uganda should adopt an aggressive drive to create a market for Ugandan milk through trade agreements within the east and central African region and beyond.

In cases where agreements exist but are abused like in the case of Kenya denying entry of Ugandan milk, going against the intentions of the East African Community and “fair play” considering the number of Kenyan commodities on Ugandan shelves. And the closure of the Uganda Rwanda border, Uganda should go to further lengths, even if it involves some necessary “arm twisting diplomacy”, to protect the interests of its citizens. There’s no doubt that local milk producers can sufficiently satisfy both the domestic and international markets. With Pearl diary extension program, local smallholder farmers benefit from the services of extension workers. They are trained in modern farming practices in order to meet the required quality and amounts.

The problems facing the dairy industry in Uganda go beyond the current challenges posed by COVID 19. Major stakeholder, including governments and development partners,  need to adequately cover their bases to address the actual issues facing the industry.

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