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Last week USAID granted USD 100,000 for machines to establish chilling centers, collection points, network and distribution centers for milk to Elemtu Integrated Milk Industry Share company located in Suluta and another company.  Belachew Hurrisa, board chairperson of Elemtu and the Ethiopian Dairy Processers Association has a MA in Economics. He says the nation’s huge cattle population can cover domestic milk needs and even make Ethiopia a milk exporter. During the grant ceremony he said, “we are not getting what we deserve we are still using old methods in milk production so we must improve.”

Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Belachew to talk about the untapped potential of milk production in Ethiopia. Excerpts;

Capital: How is dairy performing in Ethiopia?

Belachew Hurrisa: Ethiopia has the largest number of livestock in Africa and ranks fifth or sixth in terms of world livestock of volume. Even though most milk comes from cows, in Ethiopia goats and camels are used as well especially in the lowland areas where camel milk is the major source of milk.  The lowland areas which hold 63 percent of the country land have 22 percent of cattle population, 60 percent of goats and 40 percent of sheep and this area holds 15 percent of the total population which over 103  million. Eighty five percent of Ethiopia’s population lives in the highland areas and most milk comes from cows. The area accounts for 37 percent of the land and 78 percent of the cattle, 40 percent of goats and 60 percent of sheep. Ethiopia has about 56.8 million cattle and 10.3 million are milking cows, which bring in about four billion liters of milk per year. Ethiopian cows average about 1.5 liters per cow a day for 180 days.  From the nation’s total milk production 70 percent of is used at homes and 30 percent goes into the market. From 30 percent of the marketed milk, organized milk processer companies received five percent and the additional 95 percent is sold by individuals or traders to shops, hotels, cafés, restaurants or houses.belachew-hurrisa2

Capital: How can the country increase its milk production given that it has so many cattle?

Belachew: Some of the cattle are not milk cows and feed is scarce because grazing lands have been taken over for crops or other uses. There are also disease that kill cows or reduce their yield and lack of market infrastructure. When you simply look at figures of the four billion liters of milk production It looks high but 70 percent of that is consumed at home. The thirty percent that goes to the market does not travel through an organized system. There are not really big milk processing plants that can produce millions of liters of milk per day. If you look at Kenya one factory can process millions of liters of milk per day but in Ethiopia these 34 small and medium milk processers bring in less than 250,000 liters of milk per day. There is not a legal frame work to prevent selling raw milk in urban areas or forcing it to go through processing companies. There are also not regulations enforcing the quality of milk so processing plants receive inconsistent quality of milk. Except for the pastoral areas Ethiopian’s tend not to be big milk consumers. They don’t see it as an important part of their diet except for kids and cats. Milk is an essential part of the diet for all people because of its high nutritious value.

Capital: During the fasting season and every Wednesday and Friday milk is not consumed by Orthodox Tewhado Christians because they don’t eat any animal products. Does this contribute to low milk consumption?

Belachew: We need better technology to store milk over a long period of time and to make condensed powered milk in the country because that will encourage people to keep buying milk during fasting periods.

Capital: Do you think milk prices are effecting milk consumption in Ethiopia?

Belachew: In some developed countries milk is subsidized but here that is not really economically feasible. The best way to make more affordable here is to increase production which of course means getting people to consume more milk. At its price right now it is considered a luxury item (it is much more expensive per liter than soda, beer or water). In Ethiopia there are producers everywhere but not that many consumers so it is much harder to subsidize. In addition feed prices need to be reduced which is also a challenge because there is no surplus production of crops for animal feed.   There are not any special farms for animal feed production and the scarcity of feed forces farmers to purchase extra for their animals which affects the price.

Capital: Is the future bright for Ethiopian milk production?

Belachew: I believe so despite the challenges. Recently an exclusive livestock and fishery institution was established and a livestock master plan was designed. Better breeds of cows can cost over 100,000 birr so attempts are being made to do this through artificial insemination. Now there are 0.9 million higher breeds of cows here but by the end of GTP II that will jump to five million. Through the government’s artificial insemination system farmers will only pay 10 birr per cow, if it is privately done it will be around 400 birr.  This needs to be supported by good feed and marketing.

Capital: Some processers say the milk market is driven by brokers who buy it at a lower price from farmers and then sell it at higher prices. What are your thoughts about this?

Belachew: Yes, of course there is a problem with distribution channels.  Brokers get enough space in the market when the consumer society is not strong. When they have more power it is more accessible. Now intermediaries get more than farmers and the milk processers which affects the consumers.

Capital: Some milk processors say imported milk products should be banned, would this help?

Belachew: We have to see this point from the side of the government and producer. From the government side you make sure that the product is available on the market for those who can afford to buy it. For  consumers and processers there must be protection when more foreign products come into the market it negatively affects domestic production.

We are becoming more globalized but there are things that can be done like increasing the tax on imported products.  We should ban the heavy TV promotion of imported milk powders which brain washes our children to not use domestic products.

When consumers prefer local production processors’ work at high capacity which attracts investors to place their money into milk products. However, banning is not an answer because when we ban one product they will also ban our products taxing imports is the best option to help the domestic market.

Capital: Two years ago, you founded Elemtu Integrated Milk Industry Share Company,do you think it has made a difference in milk production?

Belachew: Elemtu is one of the key players in the diary industry. We committed ourselves to purchasing quality raw selling great processed milk. Due to our presence the price for raw milk paid to the farmers has increased because our modern market strategy incorporates farmers which are the first line in milk production. Since we’ve been working on milk quality, government stakeholders are now drafting regulation that will improve the quality of milk. We currently process 20,000 liters per day and we are working tirelessly to train farmers and people participating in our milk process value chain.

Capital: Last year aflatoxins which can be dangerous, were found in milk, is that still a problem?

Belachew: Aflatoxins can occur in milk, red pepper and other agricultural products. They are not unique to Ethiopia, they are found everywhere. During one test in a small area of the country there was high amount of alfatoxins in a sample likely because of low feed management from cows. No study said that Ethiopian milk had high alfatoxins. Misguided information leaked by irresponsible media and citizens confused the population and caused some milk processers to quit their business a year ago but now it’s ok.