Zimbabwe has been hit by a serious milk shortage, with dairy farmers citing viability challenges emanating from poor producer prices, it has emerged.
Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers (ZADF) chairperson Kudzai Chirima told Standardbusiness that prices offered by milk processors to farmers were not viable.
Some farmers have quit dairy farming.
"We have a milk shortage in the country. Farmers realised that it's not viable to produce milk at the moment because of the prices that are being paid by processors," Chirima said.
"The prices are ranging from $42 to $48 per litre, yet some are selling at $157 while others at $127.
"They can't even pay the farmer who is producing, at least half of that. Stockfeed prices have also gone up."
To produce a litre of milk, Chirima said farmers would require about $57 as compared to the $42 or $48 which they are being paid.
"We have engaged the processors and some of them have responded positively, they have increased their prices to about $50," he said.
"It's still slightly lower.
"What is happening is that farmers are not feeding their cows well because of the prices and cows are producing less milk."
Milk production declined by 11,26% to 5,4 million litres in February this year.
Output declined by 4% in January.
"We were down by about 555 000 litres as at end of February and we attribute that to low prices," Chirima said.
"We have two farmers who have closed saying it's not viable to produce milk."
Despite these challenges, Chirima said farmers were targeting to produce 85 million litres of milk this year, against the national requirement of 120 million litres.
The country imports approximately 48% of its annual milk requirements.
Chirima said major challenges faced by farmers included stockfeed shortages, high cost of drugs and chemicals.
"We are looking at measures to try and mitigate milk shortage, but naturally as Zimbabwe we have always imported milk because our requirement is around 120 million litres per year and we produce about 80 to 85 million litres," he said. "That's the gap that we are trying to close."
Farmers said they require foreign currency, vaccines, cleaning detergents, semen for artificial insemination and equipment.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu expressed dismay over the milk shortage, urging the government to intervene.
"Yes, I can confirm that there is a widespread milk shortage in the country, rather with a fewer milk suppliers struggling to meet the local demand and unfortunately it is happening at a time that we are approaching winter where milk demand sometimes doubles," he said.
"A lot of consumers are complaining bitterly.
"It has also coincided with the schools reopening and that development has got to be sorted out as soon as possible.
"We also believe that it is always critical to be proactive as an economy to meet such shortages by allowing imports. Right now, they have also escalated the prices."
Mutashu said the government should do away with monopolistic policies and allow retailers to import milk.
"The dairy industry was given sufficient time to retool and take the market by storm after the enactment of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2015 and we should not be talking about the protectionist policies more than five years after the policy was implemented successfully," he said.
"The shortages are actually worrisome and unfortunately, we have not seen the government taking action through the responsible ministries."
He said the milk should be sufficiently available and supplied in quantities that the wholesalers had ordered and the customers accessing the quantities that they require.
"Some shops are limiting quantities and the moment you begin to limit quantities it may also be misinterpreted by the consumers and we begin to see some tendencies of hoarding. Fortunately, milk is a perishable product," Mutashu said.
Dairy farmers are struggling to access funding from banks because of high interest rates.
Milk production has plummeted from the 1990s peak of 260 million litres per year to 79,89 million which was achieved in 2019.
In 2018, milk output stood at 75,4 million litres.
Government is targeting to increase milk production by between 97 million and 100 million litres per annum.
Government and the European Union have launched a US$45 million Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme fund which is expected to boost the livestock sector, maximise smallholder farmers' profits and improve competitiveness on domestic and international markets.
At least 1 000 in-calf dairy heifers will be distributed to farmers on a revolving basis under the programme.