Rwanda’s first milk powder factory in Nyagatare District, Eastern Province, is set to start its operations in December 2023, The New Times has learnt. ALSO READ: $45m milk powder factory to start production in May The operations of the plant owned by Inyange Industries, Rwanda’s largest agro-processing firm, at an estimated investment of $45 million, were initially set to kick off in May. While there has been progress in terms of numbers to achieve the national target to increase milk production by 34 percent in one year since December 2022, Eric Rwigamba, the State Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, said the overall success was minimal compared to the intended projections. The target was to produce 1,250,000 tonnes of milk every year by 2024, so as to satisfy milk demand. ALSO READ: Rwanda seeks to increase milk production by 34% in one year He linked the slow progress to the fact that the factory’s works had been delayed but commended the current stage of development of the plant’s infrastructure. “The construction of the factory, installation of all equipment, and interior work are all done. We believe that by the end of this year, it will start collecting and processing milk,” he said. While milk production across the country currently stands at 2.2 million litres per day which is channelled through different milk processing factories, according to the Ministry, the dairy sector’s output heavily depends on weather seasons. During the rainy season, the country has a surplus that factories cannot consume. And during dry or low seasons, there is scarcity. The milk plant was introduced as a solution to bridge the gap between the two seasons by storing the powdered milk for times of scarcity. However, the challenge is still in meeting the plant’s capacity of processing 600,000 litres per day for powdered milk during the low season. The plant also needs 200,000 litres for other by-products. On October 26, Rwanda received a €23 million in dairy financing from a Polish development bank, funding which is instrumental in setting up different coolers and other necessary equipment to store milk whenever there is a surplus. ALSO READ: Rwanda, Polish bank sign Rwf29bn deal to improve dairy sector Right cow breeds to meet milk demand To address the milk scarcity, Rwigamba noted that the ministry changed the policy on grazing from open to zero-grazing to improve overall milk production. The Ministry of Agriculture ordered 70 percent of pastureland in the districts of Nyagatare, Gatsibo, Kayonza, and Kirehe, in Eastern Province, to be put under the cultivation of crops that provide cow fodder while 30 percent is set aside for cow sheds in a bid to enforce the zero-grazing system and increase milk production. In September, Eugene Kwibuka, the Agriculture Information and Communication Programme Manager at the Ministry, told The New Times that the four districts have a big size of pastureland compared to other districts. “The guidelines aim to help livestock farmers increase milk production by securing reliable forage and ensuring zero grazing,” he said. “Instead of promoting open grazing, we are moving towards zero grazing for proper use of land and to enhance milk production. Under open grazing, a cow gives 3.4 litres per day on average while under zero grazing practices, the right breed cow can produce between 15 to 40 litres per day,” Rwigamba explained. This strategy is coupled with modern technology of acquiring artificial insemination to get cross-breeds that would give the intended level of milk production after practicing better farming practices. According to Rwigamba, the decision came after weighing options of importing breeds from neighbouring countries like Kenya, Malawi, Botswana, and South Africa, or actually getting artificial insemination or embryo transfer. However, he said, the ministry is yet to establish the exact number of cows needed to achieve this. The implementation of this initiative is an addition to various other interventions to increase milk production countrywide. These include; forage cultivation and training of dairy farmers on appropriate technologies for forage preservation, as well as support to dairy farmers (especially those in areas mostly affected by drought such as in Eastern Province) to access water harvesting and preservation equipment through a subsidised scheme. Other interventions include the maintenance of feeder roads in Gishwati milk sheds to enhance the collection and distribution of milk.