Eastern Province grapples with drop in milk production

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The dry spell Rwanda is experiencing has affected milk production. (Kelly Rwamapera)

Mutesi, a resident of Kabarore town in Gatsibo District, looks worried as she waits for milk at Kibondo Dairy Farmers Cooperative. The cooperative run out of supplies, and Mutesi and a dozen other buyers had to wait for milk to be brought in from another branch out of town.

Dealers and farmers say milk production has dropped over the past month due to the dry spell the country is experiencing presently.

George Kalisa, a manager at one of the big livestock farms in Akayange, Karangazi sector, Nyagatare District, said their milk production has declined by more than 50 per cent so far “because of shortage of water and pasture”.

“We used to produce over 300 litres a day before the dry season, but this has since dropped to 130 litres,” said Kalisa.

According to Wilson Muhawenimana, the veterinary officer at Kibondo Dairy Farmers Cooperative, the amount of milk they receive has been decreasing steadily since early last month.

Muhawenimana said, compared to the last rain season, milk production in the area has already dropped by almost 40 per cent. However, we will not increase prices of milk from the current Rwf250, he added.

The farmgate price for milk is now at Rwf150 per litre in Karushuga, Rwimiyaga sector in Nyagatare from Rwf100 previously, and goes for between Rwf150 and Rwf200 in Murundi sector, Kayonza District.

The country usually experiences a dry spell during the months of June, July and August, which affects animal production due to shortage of water and pastures, particularly in the Eastern Province, where outdoor animal husbandry is still dominant.

The province is the top milk producer in the country.

Efforts to address the challenge

Following last year’s prolonged drought, leaders and dairy sector stakeholders in the area launched a campaign urging farmers to grow fodder crops for hay making.

Most farmers embraced the campaign since they had lost their animals besides low production that resulted from the long dry spell.

The majority of those that have been hard-hit by the current dry season did not grow improved pasture when rains came.

According to Kalisa, some farmers hesitated to grow grass because they think that only those with indoor Friesian cows are the ones that require hay.

In Gicumbi District, Northern Province, the fruits of growing fodder crops are evident with farmers saying their milk production is stable.

The district is famous for indoor and zero grazing.

According to Theophille Nshimirwa, the veterinary officer of Kageyo sector, long dry spells rarely affect milk production in the area.

“Most farmers in the district have indoor cattle that are fed on fodder and other processed animal feeds. The few farmers who used to graze have long been discouraged from the practice because we don’t have enough pasture lands as Gicumbi is a mountainous area,” said Nshimirwa.