Both in the scientific community and the media, there are a lot of talks about sustainable livestock systems, what they are and how to promote them. A sustainable farming system is one which is economically viable, socially acceptable, environmentally friendly and transferable to the future generations. But achieving sustainable smallholder milk production systems in developing countries, including Tanzania, is limited by many constraints including low cow productivity, shortage of feed, limited access to inputs and outputs markets and degradation of natural resources.
Smallholder dairy production systems are dairy farms which have up to five dairy cows, where majority are crossbreeds of local and pure exotic breeds and milk is considered the main source of income. On the other hand, a traditional cattle milk production system consists of cattle farms keeping mainly indigenous cattle and milk is not considered the main source of income.
A recent study concluded in 2018 by the Maziwa Zaidi project assessed the sustainability of smallholder dairy and traditional cattle milk production systems in Tanzania in four districts in Morogoro and Tanga regions. The study first measured sustainability at farm level. Candidate indicators for assessing farm sustainability were identifiedby 44 diverse experts and stakeholders using a two-round Delphi approach. The identified key economic indicators were milk hygiene, cow productivity, income per litre of milk and access to milk market. Social indicators included participation in organizations, women’s empowerment and the education level of the farm manager; while environmental indicators were water conservation and access to water. Based on the 15 most relevant indicators, a milk production farm sustainability assessment tool was developed, and data collected on 431 randomly selected farms in the study districts.
The second step was to measure the sustainability at producers organizations (PO) level, using the existing ‘Producers’ Organisation Sustainability Assessment tool (POSA)’. The sustainability performances at farm level were computed for PO-member and non-PO-member farmers. Then the relationships between the farm and POs sustainability performances were established. Moreover, the factors influencing farm sustainability were analysed.
The study showed that local experts and stakeholders considered some currently used indicators of sustainability like greenhouse gas emissions less relevant in the Tanzanian context. The exclusion of the currently used indicators, particularly the environmental indicators could be justified by the subsistence nature of milk production systems in the study area, where the milk is produced in low quantity and has limited access to market. The most relevant economic indicators were milk hygiene and cow productivity; social indicators were participation in organizations and women’s empowerment; environmental indicators were access to water and water conservation. These findings show the importance of matching any set of indicators to the characteristics of the specific production system being examined.
Further study results showed that the overall farm sustainability performances and the economic, social and environmental dimensions were all very low. It was also established that members of producers’ organizations had higher farm sustainability performances, especially the economic and social dimensions. Producers’ organization sustainability performances, particularly its provision of dairy inputs, have a strong positive relationship with farm sustainability performances, particularly the farm economic dimension. Moreover, provision of dairy production inputs and services has strong positive relationships with the farm economic sustainability and related ‘cow productivity, forage self-sufficiency and feed conservation’ indicators. Results also showed that the key factors affecting milk production farm sustainability were the use of stall-feeding system, acquiring credit, distance to trading centre and farm size.
The study recommends the following:
Promoting use of the milk production sustainability assessment tool to guide farm level decision making towards sustainability of their milk production farms. However, the tool may be improved based on the objectives and dynamics of sustainability in order to stay relevant to the context being studied.
Using sustainable milk producers’ organizations as a strategy to improve the economic and social farm sustainability especially in case of dairy inputs and services (e.g. training, artificial insemination, credit and feed) provision which are difficult to access at individual level.
The stall feeding system should be encouraged, where applicable, by supporting farmers to gain access to graded cows, inputs, reliable markets, service provision and training on dairy cow management, in order to further improve farm sustainability.
Distinct programs targeting women and young farmers should be put in place in order to make dairy farming attractive to young people and more workable among female-headed households.
Even so, producer organizations should be strengthened particularly in inputs and service provision, linkages with inputs suppliers and reliable milk markets, as well as effective leadership and management.
The dairy sector remains one of the key sectors in Tanzania. To further aid progress towards improved sustainability of its milk production, a detailed assessment that would provide more insight on the sustainability of milk production in smallholder dairy and traditional cattle production systems is recommended. If conducted at higher levels, especially at village and country levels, it would properly cover features which are not covered at farm level, like overgrazing and allocation of land for livestock in traditional cattle keeping systems and support decision-making among stakeholders.
Access the full thesis paper here as written by Célestin Munyaneza, assistant lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture, Environmental Management & Renewable Energy, University of Technology & Arts of Byumba, Rwanda.