HomeOpinion & AnalysisMilk as a global food in a changing climate,the plight of a...

Milk as a global food in a changing climate,the plight of a small-scale dairy farmer


Peter Makwanya

World Milk Day is celebrated every year on June 1 and this year’s theme was, “sustainability in the dairy sector”, with regards to activities connected to the dairy sector. This important day in the lives of the dairy farmers and also milk lovers, passed quietly just like any other day.

The reason is that it was overshadowed by the World Environmental Day, which was held in the same week. As the environment is the motherbody, obviously it took centre stage and took all the glitz and glamour from the Milk Day. As climate change is one of the defining challenges of the 21st Century, it has impacted negatively on food security and the milk sector has not been spared.

Milk, as a vital food component, has been an integral cog in the dietary requirements of people ever since.

Over the years, there has been a marked improvement in the supply of milk in developed economies and the same cannot be said in developing countries are hamstrung by viability challenges.

These challenges include climate change and recently the COVID-19 pandemic, adding on to lack of capacity to fund and more still, lack of knowledge and information.

For the budding small-scale dairy farmer life has not been rosy as the challenges are numerous.

Before the small-scale dairy farmers joined the sector, everything was bright and beautiful, hence the sector had exciting and empowering life-changing experiences.

Milk is significant because of its nutritional value and it’s on demand.

Dairy products are an essential component of the human well-being.

Milk is a source of vitamins and proteins for children and adults, making it the product of choice for body growth for both people and animals.

The milk sector is one of those ventures that relies so much on the natural processes and unfolding of events.

Beneficiaries of this discourse always see milk flowing but climate change impacts are reversing the trend.

In Zimbabwe, milk and its associated products were a common sight in the shops and supermarkets but to everyone’s surprise, large supermarkets can go for three days or a week without fresh milk.

With seasons shifting, weather patterns have been erratic resulting in depletion of pastures. Although dairy cows need natural pastures for grazing, they also require supplementary processed feed.

The agricultural sector, which is the major source of greenhouse gases (GHG), has also been hit hard by climate change impacts.

Prolonged droughts, extreme weather conditions, flooding, forest fires and human activities, like expansion of human settlements, have led to shrinking forests and diminishing of pastures for grazing and fodder. Prolonged dry seasons, poor rainfall patterns, deforestation, land degradation and siltation of rivers and dams have contributed to moisture stress while flooding has contributed to washing away of top-soils and erosion of soil nutrients which keep the soil healthy and fertile.

The increasing demand for milk products and the mortality rate of dairy cows have presented unprecedented challenges for the small-scale dairy farmers.

The small-scale dairy farmers right now, do not have everything they require to make meaningful impact on sustainable milk production.

They lack knowledge and information on how to deal with climate change impacts. Their climate literacy is limited hence they lack essential skills to interpret and interrogate climate change phenomena or come up with pathways necessary for adaptation and climate action plans.

Carbon emissions that have accumulated in the atmosphere for hundreds of years are having their impacts felt right now and the small-scale dairy farmer has little knowledge on how to deal with the changes. They are also not aware that they also need to be part of the solution to curb climate change.

While small-scale dairy farmers lack capacitation and coping mechanisms, they are severely hit and cannot compete. As such, they are no longer able to make positive changes in communities.

On June 1, the small-scale dairy farmer had no reason to celebrate because climate change has impacted heavily on the developing countries’ economic growth.

The present-day small-scale dairy farmers cannot buy feed, essential livestock drugs, cannot abide by and conform to regular dipping patterns, they are faced with challenges to access clean water and above all market prices are low and demotivating.

Furthermore, they lack progressive and proactive leadership and representation. An individual, who has been leading for four decades still wants to be in the leadership matrix thereby barring entry by modern leadership.

The small-scale dairy farmer cannot access funding from local and established global donors and implementing partners. They are made to fill in forms that are too technical in content and scope but after having done so not even a grain of funding comes their way.

Come next season, they will be made to fill in the forms again and the cycle of abuse continues, without anything coming out it.

In this regard, the small-scale dairy farmers faced a myriad of challenges ranging from abuse by people who are supposed to capacitate them, poor and archaic leadership, lack of regular training, poverty, poor infrastructural development, lack of knowledge of smart dairy farming and above all lack of knowledge and information on how to combat the effects of climate change.

These are all negatives militating against the desire to grow and thrive in the sector.

The SDGs, which are supposed to be inclusive and leave no one behind, are already excluding these small-scale dairy farmers.

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