Global sustainable dairy needs focus on developing countries

Improving sustainability in global dairy production is a process that needs to take place first and foremost in developing countries. They have three-quarters of the world’s dairy cattle, the fastest growing dairy market and a dairy farming sector facing huge problems because of low productivity and poverty. Moreover, the land is under heavy strain and greenhouse gas emissions are high. Global investment in the sector is mainly in Europe and the US, but the highest impact can be achieved in developing countries. This growing inequality is unsustainable, says Solidaridad on the eve of the World Dairy Summit in Rotterdam.

Smart Dairy's first production centre in Kenya.

Lack of ambition and initiative

According to Solidaridad, the dairy sector lacks the ambition and initiative to realize sustainability in global milk production. Yet the sector is responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and a large proportion of the 150 million dairy farmers and their families still live in poverty. For most farmers, keeping dairy cattle is not a profitable enterprise, but a means of survival. Marginal dairy farming leads to inefficient use of land, higher greenhouse gas emissions and insufficient milk to feed the growing population.

Growing market offers economic opportunities

Demand for dairy products is growing rapidly worldwide. This requires the modernization of dairy production in developing countries. Efficient and sustainable dairy production in these countries could play a large part in feeding the world’s growing population. Not least because many women and children benefit from the day-to-day income from milk sales. Modernization will also lead to much lower greenhouse gas emissions, better milk quality and commercial opportunities for local dairy processing.

Modernizing milk production and sales

Dairy production in developing countries cannot be made more sustainable by supporting the smallest farmers (2 cows giving 2 litres per day). But professionalizing slightly bigger farmers (10 cows and 10 litres per day) has a lot of potential, as evidenced by Solidaridad pilot projects in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and elsewhere. Support in the form of knowledge, technology, credit and co-operation in the supply chain can help farmers professionalize, create jobs and strengthen the local economy. This is dependent on stable demand from the dairy industry for locally produced milk. Investments by governments, the private sector and civil society organizations for the development of production and sales are also needed.

Smart Dairy as model business

A prime example of Solidaridad’s approach to sustainable dairy is the Smart Dairy business in Kenya. Smart Dairy is a franchise that provides entrepreneurial farmers with prefabricated farms. The farmers then receive training, technology and starting capital that enables them to provide a daily supply of milk to the dairy factories as soon as their production volume and quality is up to standard. Return on the initial investment is expected within five to seven years of operation.

The foreseen benefits of this approach include much higher production levels while also drastically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions per litre of milk. At the same time, jobs are created, the local economy gets a fresh impulse and Kenya is more able to provide for its own citizens with locally produced milk.

The Smart Dairy approach is not unique to Africa. Similar successful initiatives are currently taking place in Indonesia and Bangladesh. New programmes of this sort are also in development for India, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Nicaragua.

Innovation platform has benefits

Solidaridad believes that a globally accessible platform, such as Bonsucro in sugarcane and Better Cotton in the cotton sector, would have great benefits for the dairy sector. It will enable ambitious players in the sector who have achieved concrete results to share their experiences with others and develop new initiatives. The task is enormous: producing more and better quality milk for 9 billion people in 2050, ensuring far lower greenhouse gas emissions and realizing a respectable income for farmers, workers and their families.

Read more about the vision for a global dairy sector from Solidaridad's dairy expert Catharinus Wierda.

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Learn more about the World Dairy Summit to be held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, from 16 to 21 October.