ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe dairy sector was once a force to reckon with in Africa. Milk from this South Africa nation was highly sought after for its quality and the sector was admired for its organization and efficiency. At its peak in the early 1990s, Zimbabwe was a net exporter of milk and milk products, producing over 260 million liters per year.   

 However, years of mismanagement had started weighing in on production resulting in year-on-year declines. By 2008, production had dropped to 40 million litres which was less than sufficient to meet the demand of the country’s population, which at the time had risen to 15 million.   

 As the condition worsened, the country’s monthly import bill for milk and milk products rose to US$22 million in 2014, according to Zimbabwe Dairy Industry Trust Chairperson Theodora Marimo.   

 Collaboration efforts between the Zimbabwean government, the private sector and development partners, has however seen the country wean itself from over reliance on exports through improved local production.   

 In July 2018, ZDIT had reported that import powdered milk and other milk-related products had since come down to US$7 million thanks to numerous investments in the dairy sector both at the farm and processing level, resulting in improved production of milk.  

 To accelerate growth, the country however established the Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) in 2019 with support from the European Union.  The objective was to address the challenges affecting dairy production with the goal of raising milk production by 150 million liters by 2025. This would hopefully restore the country’s status as a net exporter of milk as Zimbabwe requires 130 million liters of milk annually.   

Dairy producers are also supported under the Command Silage Programme facilitated by the Agricultural Finance Corporation and CBZ Bank of Zimbabwe. Similarly, the Presidential Silage Programme supports more than 1,500 smallholder dairy farmers with a standard input package comprising maize seed, basal fertiliser, and top-dressing fertiliser for one hectare of silage. This has improved milk productivity levels of liters of cow per day from 8 liters per cow per day in 2018 to 12 liters in 2022.   

Through the initiative of Transforming Zimbabwe’s Dairy Value Chain for the Future (TranZDVC), the country imported 200 in-calf heifers from the Eastern Cape in South Africa in February 2020 to improve the genetic base of Zimbabwe’s dairy cattle.

The animals were distributed to various regions throughout the country through a heifer matching facility spearheaded by three organisations, namely DenDairy, Nestle Zimbabwe, and ProDairy.  In 2023, the country reported that the national herd population has since grown to 39,000 heads of cattle.  

The effect of these programs has been year-on-year double digit growth in milk production. In 2019, statistics from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe showed that milk output in the last quarter of 2018 grew 18 percent to 21 million liters from 17.8 million liters. In 2021, Zimbabwe reported a rise in milk production to a record 79.6 million liters. The country improved on this record in 2022, reporting a 14% rise in milk production to 91.4 million liters.   

Improving milk fortunes has attracted investments, mainly from local investors.  In 2020, Local investors in Zimbabwe injected US$5 million in the country’s dairy industry in the first  six months of the year, despite the global corona virus pandemic which has severely affected the world economy across a broad spectrum of sectors. Dairibord invested US$1.1 million in plant upgrade while Dendairy invested US$3 million during the second quarter.   

More capacity enabled the dairies to process more milk. According to data reported by the Agriculture Ministry’s Dairy Services Department, during the first half of 2022, milk intake by processors rose 17% to 38,96m litres from 33, 42 million litres in the comparative period. Dairibord utilised 12,29 million liters, representing 32% of the total intake by processors in 2021. This rose to about 28.51 million litres in 2022, cementing Dairi Board’s position as the processor with the highest milk intake.   

With steady flow of milk to processing factory, Dairibord Holdings recorded a 48% jump in sales volumes in the year ended December 2021, the highest in five years. The company’s liquid milk business grew by 10% during that year.   

What is observed through all these initatives is a deliberate effort to address the root causes of under-performance in the dairy value chain in Zimbabwe by strengthening the linkages between production, processing, and financing. The country is not yet close to its goal of achieving milk self sufficiency.

The lack of infrastructure, technologies and adequate management still continue to affects milk quantity and quality, the latter being a major bottleneck for milk processing. Whats not in doubt is the fact that Zimbabwe has made commendable progress thus far.

A 2022 SNV report even concluded that increased productivity in the dairy sector could return Zimbabwe to being a net exporter of dairy products and contribute toward meeting the national goal of transforming the nation into a middle-income country by

This feature appeared in the September 2023 issue of FOOD BUSINESS AFRICA. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE