Global Food Security blog

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Milking it in Malawi

The ‘white revolution’ could bring food security and economic benefits to Africa. Cesar Revoredo-Giha from Scotland’s Rural College reports from the field.

Cesar Revoredo-Giha

In recent years there has been talk of a ‘white revolution’ in milk production in Africa. Countries such as Tanzania and Uganda have looked to follow India in increasing per capita consumption of milk and dairy products.

We take the white stuff for granted in the West. It is so cheap and plentiful that it has even become derided as a source of modern ailments like allergies. But so long as you are not genuinely lactose intolerant, the balance of evidence favours milk as a good source of sugar, fats and nutrients. And in developing countries, this can be the difference between health and malnutrition.

Testing milk in Kenya's informal market. Copyright: IRLI

Testing milk in Kenya’s informal market. Copyright: IRLI

But it’s a living liquid. To get milk from cows to people needs refrigeration, a reliable infrastructure and an efficient supply chain. Supply chains that are fragmented or not operating properly can become a barrier for the development or sustainability of agriculture. Malawi has the lowest consumption of milk per capita in Africa – estimated at 4.7 kg/capita/year compared to an Africa average of 15 kg/capita/year). In addition, a high percentage of the milk is rejected by processors due to quality issues – an estimated 17%.

Feeding the people

I’ve been working in agri-food supply chains for about 22 years, and in Malawi on milk and dairy supply chains for the past three years. It’s a beautiful country; the Great Rift Valley runs from North to South with Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest inland lake, running down much of its eastern border (see map).

Milk in Malawi: yields across  the country. Copyright: S.Thomson

Milk in Malawi: yields across the country (click to enlarge). Copyright: S. Thomson (2013)

Approximately two-thirds of the 11M rural dwellers (of a population of 13M) are smallholder farmers with an average land holding of 1.2 ha. This has led to land being heavily worked which, with a lack of inputs, has resulted in low productivity and some degradation. While food surpluses are regularly produced, malnutrition is prevalent with 2006 figures suggesting stunting affecting 45.9% and being underweight in 19.4% of the population, hence the need for extra nutrition from dairy products. 

I came to work there not only because of my background in agri-food supply chains and development economics but also due to the close links of Scotland’s Rural College with Malawi through dairy scientist colleagues and students from the country. 

The analysis of agri-food supply chains and how to make them sustainable is one of the topics of Global Food Security programme partner the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) portfolio of Strategic Research over 2011-16.

Dairy supply chain was selected for the project because dairy is a key investment sector for the Malawi’s Government. Donors such as USA, Japan and Belgium have focused part of their development aid on the sector, but despite this, domestic production response is still unimpressive and large segments of the population do not have access to dairy products of nutritious and safe quality.

Drinking for development

The dairy sector in Malawi is complex and a number of factors hamper its development:

  • A processing sector comprised of five firms employing between 20 to 40%  of their total capacity
  • Some domestically processed products are actually made from imported powder milk that has been reconstituted
  • The processing sector makes profit despite high costs by targeting the affluent part of the urban population
  • Only a relatively small percentage of the milk produced domestically is destined to processors, the rest is sold unpasteurised to the rural population and less affluent urban segment

We have learned much about the importance of a collaborative relationship among the different participants in the supply chain. This improves not only both efficiency and competitiveness but also is the basis for further investment – we hope to encourage win-win collaboration for all the parties in the Malawi dairy sector.

Farmers delivering milk by bicycle to Chandamale Milk Bulking Group, Image: P. Leat

Farmers delivering milk by bicycle to Chandamale Milk Bulking Group. Copyright: P. Leat

However, behind any collaborative relationship there must be trust, and this is difficult to grow when the relationships are adversarial. For farmers it would imply decent prices for their milk and not a price that is quickly eroded by inflation; for processors it will mean working at full capacity with the subsequent reduction in costs; for consumers it would imply safe and cheaper milk. 

The outputs of this ongoing project will be disseminated at different levels. At government level in Malawi, the target for the project dissemination strategy is policy makers at the relevant ministries. At the local/sub-national level, the focus is producers, consumers’ associations and other organisations working with the dairy supply chain. At the international level, the results of the project will be disseminated in the form of policy briefs and presentations to international development agencies currently operating in Malawi and other potential donors.

Like my colleagues in the project, I believe that despite the challenges the development of the dairy sector in Malawi has the potential to improve not only the living standards of poor smallholder farmers, but also contribute to the nutrition of the country. We acknowledge that dairy farming is a small part of the Malawian agriculture, but it is clear from our interactions with farmers that when the activity works well it can make a difference in their life.

(Part of this work was applied to the ongoing project ’Assessing the Contribution of the Dairy Sector to Economic Growth and Food Security in Malawi’ funded as part of the DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme, which runs from 2012 to 2015, is multidisciplinary and partners Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) with Bunda College of Agriculture in Malawi and the African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC), Malawi office.)

About Cesar Revoredo-Giha

Dr Cesar Revoredo-Giha is senior economist and team leader of Food Marketing Research at SRUC, specialising in the industrial organization of food markets, international trade and econometrics. He holds PhD on Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California-Davis.

Revoredo-Giha worked for the University of Georgia (USA) and the University of Cambridge (UK) before moving to SRUC (former SAC) in 2005. In addition, he has worked as a consultant for United Nations, The World Bank, The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the UK Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the UK Home Grown Cereal Authority (HGCA), the Food Standard Agency (Scotland), and the Scottish Government.

How can young agricultural entrepreneurs make the most of the continent’s opportunities? Sir Gordon Conway of Agriculture for Impact reports on the Montpellier Panel’s latest report.

Gordon Conway

The time has come to debunk a common myth about agriculture. It is not a dead-end profession that requires eternal, back breaking labour on a farm. At least, it does not have to be. With the right investments to support entrepreneurs in agriculture beyond the production stage, in processing, retail, marketing and even business management, profitable careers await Africa’s young population.
Continue reading Why Africa’s youth should not shun agriculture

Fertilizers: quality over quantity

Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals must be chosen with care, says Jørgen Ole Haslestad of the International Fertilizer Industry Association.

Jørgen Ole Haslestad

When considering the sustainable development of our planet, one sector sits squarely at the cross section of protecting natural resources, feeding the world and reducing carbon emissions: agriculture.

Within that sector, it is often the role of natural and especially mineral fertilizers that could yield the greatest benefit, but also attracts the most criticism. 
Continue reading Fertilizers: quality over quantity

More than food for thought

At the launch of a new report on food security and climate change, the British Consulate in Chicago’s Jack Westwood is optimistic.

Jack Westwood

Having previously worked in a laboratory trying to find solutions to prevent and control the spread of crop disease, food security issues are often on my mind. However, being a scientist often means focusing on a very specific problem, so when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA), an independent think-tank committed to educating the public and influencing policy debate, launched its latest report ‘Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Changing Climate’ on May 22 in Washington DC, it put my previous work into sharp relief.  
Continue reading More than food for thought

Politics and economics are getting in the way of better food. The Global Food Security programme’s Sarah Nicholson reports.

Sarah Nicholson

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the number one cause of death globally and are predicted to increase by 15% between 2010 and 2020 (PDF), and the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as CVDs and diabetes are to a large extent determined by dietary factors. In Europe, our diets have changed to include higher levels of saturated fats, sugars and salt and lower levels of dietary fibres, fruits and vegetables.
Continue reading Do European agricultural policies encourage the adoption of unhealthy diets?

Why a mother’s nutrition is so important

Diet before conception affects a baby’s genes. Paula Dominguez-Salas from the MRC International Nutrition Group reports from the field.

Paula Dominguez-Salas

In recent years evidence has been accumulating that nutrition during pregnancy can have a profound effect on the offspring. Our group, the MRC International Nutrition Group, works in maternal and child nutrition and is particularly interested in this ‘fetal programming’ idea, because a child’s health (and possibly even its children) could be effected throughout its whole life – not just its early years.
Continue reading Why a mother’s nutrition is so important

We need to be better prepared for shocks, says Rajul Pandya-Lorch of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Rajul  Pandya-Lorch

Poor countries and vulnerable people are being hit hard by a barrage of shocks: economic shocks such as volatile food prices and financial crises; environmental and natural disasters like droughts, floods, and earthquakes; and social and political upheavals including conflicts and violence. Climate change, competition for resources, and growing inequality and social exclusion are likely to intensify the risks for food and nutrition security.
Continue reading Bouncing back: building resilience for food and nutrition security

The Africa fertilizer gap

If 2014 is truly to be Africa’s Year of Agriculture and Food Security, then Africa’s production potential has to be addressed, says IFA Vice President for Africa Alassane Diallo.

Alassane Diallo

Africa has awoken. Ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are now in Africa, with around one third of our 54 countries seeing annual GDP growth of over 6%.

However, this momentum has not yet spread to all sectors. Cereal crop yields in Africa are only one-third as high as in developing Asia, and only one-tenth as high as the United States. When one in five Africans still goes to bed hungry – how can this sector be ignored?
Continue reading The Africa fertilizer gap

Vertical farming and friends

Jodie Clarke explores innovative projects that use unusual spaces and intriguing technologies to farm fresh produce for urban populations.

Jodie Clarke

Urban centres are expanding across the globe. Today, half of the world’s population live in urban environments, and by 2050 this figure will rise to 70%.

In countries such as China and India, this process is unfolding at an exceptional rate, with skyscrapers and highways appearing where farms and fields existed only a decade ago.
Continue reading Vertical farming and friends

An Insight on food price spikes

What causes sudden increases in commodity costs, and can we stop them in the future? Theresa Meacham introduces a Global Food Security publication.

Theresa Meacham

‘Banks making millions out of starving millions through food speculation’ was the headline in the Metro following the food price spikes back in 2012. Prior to this, the Telegraph was also asking ‘Should food be a protected commodity?’ following the 2007/08 price spike and 2010 price rises.

But how much can we blame bankers (or food commodity traders) for causing the food price spikes? And will there be more food price spikes in the future?
Continue reading An Insight on food price spikes