2020: Start small, think big - and learn fast

Sunday December 29 2019


On Thursday, December 26, 2019, The Citizen published in these pages a news-report titled ‘Cow breeder who envisions starting a milk factory.’

Penned by the veritable Rosemary Mirondo, the report was about one Ms Mwanaheri Juma, a resident of rural Bagamoyo District in the Coast Region who has been breeding cattle as a business.

Ms Juma started the business with three cows in 1994, and has since then grown her cattle herd to 180 head – no doubt comprising several bulls among the milch cows.

According to Ms Juma, her herd is currently producing an average of (only) 195 litres of milk daily. Yet, she still has difficulty finding a ready a market for the milk in the raw form.

In any case, rightly or wrongly considering her dairy farming a success story, Ms Juma is mulling expanding her business by adding a milk processing factory to her portfolio of business assets.

The case for dairy plant for exports


This sounds reasonable on the face of it – and especially considering that, although Tanzania currently produces approximately 2.4 billion litres of milk annually, the country still spends the goodly sum of Sh30 billion in scarce foreign exchange on milk imports yearly.

Generally, a milk factory – also known as a dairy factory – is used to process milk onto cream milk, skimmed milk, milk powder, butter, yogurt, cheese, lactose, casein, whey/milk serum, kumis, etc.

More often than not, the milk input is collected from cattle farms surrounding the factory where it is located. This alone tends to suggest that, for a dairy factory to be a feasible, viable project, it must be founded on more than a mere 180 head of cattle on a single farm.

For starters, dairy farming itself requires a relatively huge capital investment in land, buildings, equipment and cows – to say nothing of the (few) bulls needed on the farm to ‘catalyse’ milk production!

There’s, of course, nothing against a dairy farmer also establishing a dairy factory in due course of time and events – as Ms Juma is proposing to do.

But – as we already noted in The Citizen on May 24 this year – the dairy industry in Tanzania comprises about 74 dairy plants, all of them small-scale businesses operating at only 30 percent of their installed capacity, and mainly producing short shelf-life products like pasteurized yoghurt, etc.

Why is this the case in a country which is blissfully blessed with so many livestock herds, pray? Why, indeed?

In such a situation, what Tanzania now needs is not another processor of yet more ‘short shelf-life products,’ but a serious producer of long-lasting dairy products not only for the larger domestic market across the sprawling country, but also for export markets across the world.

However – for the avoidance of any and all doubt – we are NOT saying that dairy farmers and others the likes of Ms Mwanaheri Juma should not proceed with dairy farming and plans to industrialise Tanzania the best way they can.

Or rather, given the extensiveness of the country and the fact that cattle herders can be found all over, incentives should be provided to investors so that they would start more milk processing factories in every region to ensure pastoralists have a ready market for their products.

Joint ventures may also be the way to go for the likes of Ms Mwanaheri. They may start small and later grow and expand.

As the ki-Swahili proverb goes: ‘Mbuyu ulianza kama mchicha!’ Therefore, ‘Think Big; Start Small – and Learn Fast!’