Tag: nutrition

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.

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

A new Global Food Security programme paper tallies votes to focus action. John Ingram reports.

John Ingram

As part of its work to understand the drivers of food security, colleagues and I in the UK’s Global Food Security programme (ably assisted by colleagues from the University of Cambridge) launched a six-month project to identify priority research questions (PDF) for the UK food system. The full results are published online in the journal Food Security.
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Genetics, genomics and gene modification

What does the future of animal production hold? David Hume looks forward.

David Hume

We need to plan for increased production of animal products.

Major funders such as the Gates Foundation and CGIAR have recognised that livestock are the major route out of poverty for the poorest farmers.

And there is increasing recognition that protein malnutrition has long-term effects on development of cognitive ability. Vegetarianism is not an option; there is evidence of subclinical malnutrition on vegetarian diets even in Western countries, and in developing countries high quality vegetable protein sources are no more available than animal protein.
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Linking African smallholder farmers to markets

Agricultural markets in sub-Saharan Africa are fragmented for the people who need them most. Two new reports set out the solutions, says Michael Hoevel.

Michael Hoevel

Population in Africa is set to almost double to two billion by 2050, and current food production systems in Africa will only be able to meet 13% of this increased demand (PDF).

At the same time, across Africa it is estimated that 80% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. Transforming this sector’s markets will not only help address food insecurity and undernutrition, but it can also unlock Africa’s trade and development potential more broadly, if implemented responsibly and sustainably.
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Food insecurity and nutrition

New insights are needed for an age-old problem, says Sara Kirk.

Sara Kirk

A recent survey (PDF) undertaken for the Global Food Security programme has revealed that more than half the UK population felt that ‘food security is not an issue that affects me, rather it’s more a problem for people in developing countries’.

This finding is notable when considered in the light of comments by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, who condemned Canada over what he saw as unacceptable rates of food insecurity in that country, where one in ten families with a child under six is unable to meet their daily food (PDF) needs.
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The Global Hunger Event

UK hosts meeting to highlight agricultural innovations that deliver improved nutrition for women and children. Tim Wheeler reports.

Tim Wheeler

On 12 August 2012, the last day of the London Olympic Games, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron will bring together government, business and civil society leaders to define a set of actions to reduce global hunger and undernutrition rates. He will seek to gather support for a global legacy for the London Games, looking ahead to the next Games in Rio in 2016. Ensuring that the growing global population can be fed sustainably and equitably is an unprecedented challenge for the global food system and the UN Secretary General recently pressed the global community to act with urgency on hunger.
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The global dimension of food research in Scotland

Pieter van de Graaf on how Scottish science links to food security issues worldwide.

Pieter van de Graaf.

Scotland’s main food-related policies, the national Food & Drink policy Recipe for Success and the Prevention of Obesity Route Map, both recognise the important role that scientific research plays in achieving the Scottish Government’s policy goals.
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It’s time to rebalance the scales for African researchers in agriculture, says Jo Seed.

Jo Seed

During the launch of the Montpellier Panel Report last year I was inspired by the talk on women in agriculture presented by Vicki Wilde. She is the Director of the CGIAR’s Gender and Diversity Programme and the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) project – a professional development program that strengthens the research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science.

After Vicki’s speech, something inside me seemed to click and I decided from this point that I really wanted to help make a difference for women in African agriculture. 
Continue reading Food, families, and women in science

Women and the fight against hunger

Anita McCabe reports from the field on efforts to improve food security in Malawi

Anita McCabe

As the hot dry breeze wafts through the lakeside district of Nkhotakota, Malawi, a group of women sing as they take turns to water their near-ripe crop of maize. Further downstream, another group is busy making seed beds in preparation for another crop.

Like many women in developing countries, these women face a particular set of responsibilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to providing food for their families. Not only are they the primary caregivers, they are also the food producers and income earners.
Continue reading Women and the fight against hunger