The smallholder dairy herd in Malawi numbers approx 7,700 cows owned by 5,100 smallholders who supply approx 60% of processed milk in Malawi each year. To a smallholder farmer, milk is economically important and provides dietary protein to both family and local community. However this aspect of Malawian agriculture faces many challenges: infrastructure, milk quality, herd health and genetics, human health, availability of information. SRUC Dairy Centre, in partnership with Bunda College, Mzuzu University and other organisations within Malawi, through a range of projects, aims to be part of the maximization of the smallholder dairying potential by focusing on knowledge exchange to meet these challenges.
Levels of poverty among smallholders in Malawi is high; often cultivating less than a hectare of land with dairying being only one of the enterprises undertaken. Low levels of equipment and machinery are available. Veterinary services and availability of extension workers is also low. Any attempt to optimise output from this system must operate within available resources and only provide additional technological inputs where this is sustainable.
By working in partnership with colleagues in Malawi we hope to ensure that the work we are involved with remains relevant and in touch with requirements of local agriculture. Projects have included knowledge transfer workshops in the UK aimed at sharing information with partners in Malawi so that information can flow from those who have been involved in research into best practice through to application on Malawian farms. The projects have the ambition of improving levels of technical information available to the farmer, improving herd health, AI services, production methods and recording, together with increasing both quality and quantity of product to market.
Optimising management and production in this way has the potential to increase farmer income and as a consequence be part of improving ability to take up education and health care as well as improve nutrition - both by the availability of milk protein and the ability to purchase food.
By ensuring that projects build on existing knowledge, practical skills, business management, whilst fully acknowledging the challenges faced, it is hoped that each individual project will contribute to long-term sustainable and viable businesses and social systems.
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