RAW milk import quantities have tumbled by close to 200 percent over the past two years due to a drastic increase in local production.
The developments have also increased the earnings of local dairy farmers as the share of money spent on the purchase of raw milk improved from 46 percent of the total sales in 2016/17 to 79 percent in the 2018/19 financial year.
This was said by the Lesotho National Dairy Board (LNDB), the regulator of the local industry.
LNDB Chief Executive Officer, Abiel Mashale, said the actual quantities of raw milk imported by the national processor, Lesotho Dairy Products (LDP) decreased from 1, 3 million litres in 2017/18 to just 386 000 litres in the first 10 months of the 2018/19 financial year.
Due to inadequate production quantities of milk by local dairy farmers, LDP supplements the local production by importing raw milk from South Africa to produce pasteurised fresh milk, sour milk and long life milk for the local market under Maluti Maid brand.
Other dairy products consumed in the country are imported, which accounts for 80 percent of Lesotho’s total dairy product consumption.
“As you can see from these figures, there has been a significant drop in the amount of imported raw milk to LDP since we made changes in the sector,” Mr Mashale said.
“This is encouraging and we are driving to a situation where 100 per of the raw milk processed by LDP is produced locally. I have a strong believe that by this time next year, we will not be importing any raw milk for processing.”
Mr Mashale, who was appointed CEO in September 2017 to turn around the fortunes of the ailing industry, said the ultimate goal is improve the capacity of the local dairy industry to impact positively on job creation and poverty reduction.
He said this is being addressed through strengthening the value chain of dairy industry, which he said is still weak.
The value chain includes among others, farm input supplies such as feed for the animals, veterinary services and medicines insemination/reproduction services, equipment to milk; house and technical dairy husbandry; the actual milk production (milking process); processing; retailers and consumers.
He said with the industry ifacing the challenge of dwindling dairy animals and depending on South Africa to buy from, the LNDB has to date helped farmers to perform artificial insemination on over 60 cows around the country.
Under the leadership of Mr Mashale, the LNDB also managed to iron out the differences between farmers and the LDP that were preventing dairy farmers from sending their milk to LDP.
In the past, many farmers refused to sell their raw milk to LDP complaining that the price was too low for them to defray their costs. LDP buys a litre of raw milk from farmers at M5.
The LNDB has also successfully brought together farmers into forming the Lesotho Dairy Farmers Association (LDFA), a single national body for producers.
As part of encouraging increase in local milk production, LNDB has trained farmers how to take care of dairy animals, how to feed them, recognising signs of illness in animals in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
“When a dairy cow is healthy and well-taken care of, it can produce more milk that will also not be harmful to the consumer,” Mr Mashale said.
Mr Mashale further revealed that LNDB is resuscitating milk collection centres around the country as part of strengthening the value chain.
“There are milk collection centres around the country which were built by the government of Lesotho and that of Canada in the past. However, some of them are no longer functioning due to various challenges.
“So, we are working to resuscitate milk collection centres around the country so that farmers can send their milk there for cold storage before being transported to LDP.”
LNDB has also forged strategic partnerships with institutions that share a common interest of developing the dairy sector. These include the Rural Self-Help Development Association (RSDA), which is helping to establish a milk collection centre in Roma, the National University of Lesotho (NUL), which has piloted yoghurt and sour milk processing project, as well as the Department of Livestock Services in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.