Smallholder dairy development

Dairying, based on European dairy breeds or crossbreds, is a relatively successful livestock intensification strategy in smallholder mixed farming systems. Studies on smallholder dairying show that dairying can give substantial income improvement. Households need sufficient resources to go into dairying; it is not an option for the really resource-poor farming households. Milk production levels are everywhere about the same, 5-6 kg per lactation day plus milk for the calf. This is what the local feed resources can support. Market is the pull factor, and this market is mainly informal. This market gives better prices for the farmers and lower prices for consumers, and creates a lot of employment.

Smallholder dairying has a competitive advantage over large-scale dairying: family labour is much more reliable than hired labour and less investments are needed. A prominent example of smallholder dairying is Kenya, where increasing demands, the reduction in farm sizes and the favourable ecological conditions in particular in the Highlands have resulted in a successful dairy intensification strategy. Intensification is done through a change in breeds and zero-grazing. The labour productivity in dairying is considerably higher than for crops or wage labour.

The livestock sector is widely challenged to reduce its impact on climate change. Global studies indicate that the carbon footprint of milk production in smallholder systems is very much higher compared to the carbon footprint of milk in intensive milk production systems, due to lower production levels and less efficient milk production in developing countries. Greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation options emphasize the milk production component of farming systems. Smallholder mixed farms, however, are complex systems. Livestock keepers will assess proposed changes (keeping fewer animals, improving feeding and increasing production levels) in their husbandry practices in the context of their objectives and resources.

A pilot study on the carbon footprint of milk production in contrasting farming systems in Kenya, differing in their degree of intensification, showed that if one allocates total GHGs of a smallholder farm to various functions of the animals, based on their relative economic value, GHG emissions per kg milk produced are not that different between large-scale specialized milk production systems and smallholder systems. Milk yields are much smaller in smallholder systems, but also much less feed supplements are used. Recommendations for innovations in smallholder dairy development focused only on marketed milk instead of broader livelihoods strategies of farming households will fail.

Relevant publications

  • Patil, B.R.; Udo, H.M.J. (1997)
    The impact of crossbred cows at farm level in mixed farming systems in Gujarat, India.
    Asian Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences 10 (6). – p. 621 – 628.

6 antwoorden op “Smallholder dairy development”

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you really know what you’re speaking about!
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  2. Spot on with this write-up, I actually feel this web site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to see more, thanks
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  3. Dairy farming remains a profitable enterprise, but many farmers who venture into it are unable to break-even, probably for lack of knowledge. It is therefore better for a farmer to hear and learn from a fellow farmer who has walked the dairy farming in Kenya path successfully.

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