By Vyalema Kaluluma-Phiri:
Every Thursday between 9am and 12 noon they gather under Muwale (Erythrina abyssinica) tree. While most men sit on benches and plastic chairs, women humble themselves on a bareground. To them, the sitting plan matters less.
“We encourage each other on how we can improve dairy farming and also promote unity, transparency and accountability. There are a number of activities that we run through during such gatherings like financial report, lessons on kraal maintenance and concentrate feed marsh making among others. We also encourage members to honour registration and contribution fees to help propel the group’s developmental activities,” Mpasa Milk Bulking Group Chairperson, Rodrick Mbango said.
Located in Dowa West, Mpasa is well-established milk bulking group that dates back to June 6, 1986.
Mbango said the group, which started with only 32 members and 12 dairy cows, has grown over the years to 401 members and a herd of about 365; out of which 133 are dairy cows.
He added that milk production too, has also increased from less than 120 litres per three days in the years prior to 2014 to over 1, 000 litres per day.
“Malawi Milk Producers Association ranked us on first position in the Central Region in terms of milk production, beating Magomero Milk Bulking Group in Dedza District. This was after we registered accumulative volume of 264, 000 litres in 2019. As a reward, Heifer International Malawi installed a 1, 000 litres solar-powered cooling milk tank to reduce milk losses caused by frequent power cuts and enhance our milk production,” Mbango said.
Mpasa has membership drawn from 36 villages around Traditional Authorities Ntema in Lilongwe District, Kayembe and Dzoole in Dowa District.
The group, which sells its milk to Lilongwe Diary, has a number of assets including a 1.7 hectares land, a building that houses milk, compressor set machine, cooling and storage tanks, an emergency power generator, farm input stores room and a borehole among others that are helping to improve their dairy enterprise.
Esther Kapondela is the treasurer for Mpasa Milk Bulking Group and said all these projects have been successfully executed during the three-year Central Dairy Scale-up Project (CDSP) implemented by Heifer International Malawi.
“Heifer came in the nick of time in 2014 when dairy farming was dwindling due to local crossbreeds and lack of health services. Some farmers could easily lose their dairy cows to curable diseases while others got as low as 5 litres of milk a day. But when we got 101 exotic breeds like Jersey and Holstein-Friesian, it helped us to improve milk production from 200 litres in three days to 300 litres per day, and the trend has now increased further to over 1, 000 litres per day. Our immediate plans are to invest in a feed milling enterprise that will directly benefit us as well as livestock farmers in the Central Region,” Kapondela said.
Heifer organisation, with financial support from the Department for International Development (DFID) implemented the project in the Central Region districts of Dowa, Mchinji and Lilongwe targeting 5, 514 smallholder dairy farmers from 16 milk bulking groups.
Kapondela singled out the pass-on programme, which Heifer International Malawi promoted, that encouraged more farmers especially women and other vulnerable groups to embrace dairy farming.
“The pass-on programme where the first female off-spring, produced from the originally placed animal, is passed on to the next farmer within the group and community has helped to improve dairy farming. We were provided with 101 dairy cows and the number has gone up to 362 in the past five years. The group has also special considerations to ensure that women and other vulnerable groups benefit from dairy farming, and as I speak we are 261 women against 148 men,” she said.
Kapondera added that the group rakes in about K4.3 million from their buyer Lilongwe Diary and that the least members get K50, 000 while the highest cut home K100, 000 a month depending on their accumulative volume of milk bulked.
An end-line evaluation conducted in July 2018 on the CDSP shows that the percentage of farmers introduced to dairy and are practicing improved animal management increased by 47 percent between the baseline in 2014 and the end line in 2018.
Chikondi Chakwera, is one of the beneficiaries from Chikuyakuti Village in the area of Traditional Authority Ntema in Lilongwe and she said since venturing into dairy farming in 2015, she has been able to support the livelihood of both her aging mother and her four children.
“I divorced my husband in 2014 and I had no hope as I could only harvest two bags of maize weighing 50 kilogram. But after I joined dairy farming in 2015, I was given my first cow in 2016 and this was my turning point in life as I now have three dairy cows. I use manure to boost my farming and it has helped my home to be food sufficient. This year I have harvested eight ox-carts and I expect to sell the surplus because my family only needs about four ox-carts in a year.
“I get on average K55, 000 per month as the proceeds from the milk. This is the money that I use to support my family with other necessities,” Chakwera said.
In Mchinji District, a 70 year-old granny, Perejiya Alick, is defying odds as to her credit she has two dairy cows that produce between 15 to 20 litres of milk per day.
“I used to be a subsistent groundnuts farmer until 2015 when Heifer International introduced me to dairy farming. Some people discouraged me for being a widower and also not energetic enough by looking at my age to carry out this type of farming. This home is self-reliant when it comes to food because I use manure to boost maize farming. I used to harvest only half of an ox-cart, now I am able to harvest seven ox-carts from the same one acre land. In addition, every day I make sure I save two litres of milk for the family to ensure that they are in good health,” Alick, a member Chioshya Milk Bulking Group in Traditional Authority Siphasi in the district, said.
The project evaluation data for 2017/18 season show that there has been significant improvement of household incomes, food security as well as nutrition of the project beneficiaries.
To be continued next week