Dairy imports hit US$400m; as local demand soars amid untapped prospects

president of GNACAF, Imam Hanafi Sonde

Dairy import data from the Ghana National Association of Cattle Farmers (GNACAF) indicate that the country imports in excess of US$400million dairy products annually, as demand for fresh milk and other dairy products rise.

Despite this increasing demand, the local dairy industry is stagnating; thereby creating a deficit that can only be offset by importation.

Whereas special breeds have been grown and nurtured in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and the west to give a maximum 30 litres and minimum 15 litres of fresh milk per cow each day, the situation is different in Ghana according to the GNACAF.

The president of GNACAF, Imam Hanafi Sonde, confirmed to B&FT that just about eight out of every 100 milk-cows in Ghana are able to give 3 litres of fresh milk per day; a phenomenon that he said demands more investment into domestic production to lessen the country’s reliance on foreign dairy imports.

The need to focus on milk

“The reason for low milk production is due to focus on meat, though the quest for fresh milk is rising incessantly. To increase milk output, the country must put emphasis on special breeds through insemination; and the introduction of technology for milk extraction,” Imam Sonde said.

The demand for milk has been increasing incomes of cattle owners more rapidly than meat in recent times, as Imam Sonde said milk has become a growing alternative source of income for farmers.

An estimated US$90million worth of dairy products were imported in 2017, according to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture; but the amount, Mr. Imam Sonde said, has reached a staggering US$400million in just four years, by 2021.

New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium and regional neighbours – key among them being Nigeria, remain the country’s top trading partners for dairy products. But the GNACAF said other countries are venturing in, since Ghana is experiencing an increase in dairy product consumption as diets continue to change, coupled with a growing population that is more urbanised.

Historically, limited access to cold storage and transportation has limited Ghana to the consumption of ultra-high-temperature pasteurised products.

Although these products have a long shelf-life, improved infrastructure is causing a push for fresher dairy and a bigger local dairy industry.

In 2018, MoFA released a statement that the country would start to import cattle from the United States to help build the domestic dairy industry. The imported cattle were supposed to be special milk breeds for insemination and to grow the local industry here.

But Imam Sonde said the animals are yet to be imported since the announcement was made, adding: “Maximum attention has not been given to the industry, as the sector continue to face biting challenges”.

In Ghana, cattle farmers rely heavily on natural grazing – which is not ideal for milk production, especially in the dry season when there are no pastures. The Association maintains that special improved imported breeds for insemination are the solution to increase production and close the escalating import gap.

On the national level, the Amrahia Dairy Farm – which is designed as capacity building centre for local cattle farmers to boost dairy production for industrialisation – is defunct.

But the GNACAF said it is currently scouting for investors to collaborate on insemination for special breeds which can increase milk output and enable local farmers to concentrate on milk production. The value chain includes breeders, shepherds, traders, transporters, butchers, veterinary products and the hospitality industry, among several others.

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