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Sowing And Reaping Poverty: Milking The Cow Without Feeding It 

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It does not stop on seeds, but transcends to other enterprises, including livestock. Take the example of the Friesian cow. According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), there are around 1.8-2 million hybrid cows in Uganda. However, for most Ugandan farmers who are keeping this or any other hybrid dairy cow, average milk production is 8 litres. However, a similar breed kept by farmers in Europe and Asia produces 30-35 litres of milk per day.

The reason is simple, Ugandan farmers are milking the cow without feeding it. And yet, feed it well, get more milk.

“To produce 20 or so litres, you need to give it at least 40kg of dry matter plus supplements,” Dr Jolly Kabirizi, a livestock nutrition expert, says.

However, few farmers do this, giving simple excuses such as ‘That cow eats too much’. At the end of the day, the resource is wasted.

And yet, if each of the milking cows was fed well and produced just 25 litres per day, annual milk production produced by Uganda would rise from just 2 billion litres at the moment to around 16 billion litres.

For those who think that this is not possible, the Netherlands, with a total of 1.4 million hybrid dairy cows produces an average 12.5 billion litres of milk every year. All that they do is feed and treat the cows rightly.

Years ago, when the high milk producing cows were introduced, adopting them was a big challenge. Most farmers in the traditional cattle keeping areas of south Buganda and western Uganda ‘loved’ the traditional, long-horned cattle.

“Farmers were scared of losing their heritage. They see this long-horned cow as a heritage,” says Dr Apollo Ataho, one of the directors of Frank Family Estates, a modern livestock farm in Ssembabule.

But then, these cows had little commercial value because they produced little milk ­- about half a litre a day and little beef because it takes 5-6 years to grow up. This certainly meant poverty for the population.

However, around 30 years ago, mass adoption of the hybrids started, especially around Ankole and parts of Ssembabule. Because of this, poverty levels in western Uganda have dropped to just 8.7% in 2014 from around 56% in 1992. This is largely because the population gets income from livestock.     

“There are no miracles in farming. But then, the average Ugandan farmer believes in miracles,” Salongo Robert Sserwanga, a farmer and farming consultant, says.

Sserwanga likes discussing poultry and rightly so, poultry is one of the fastest growing enterprises in Uganda. The country now has an estimated 40 million birds, with around 10 million exotic ones. However, he says poor care is making those who are keeping them even poorer.

“The profit margin on poultry is so thin that the moment you do not take care of it well, you will find yourself operating at a loss,” Sserwanga says. But then, he says Sserwanga, a well-fed bird will certainly give you what it has to.

Good care includes good shelter, medical care and feeding. However, few farmers do this 100%.

“They want the layers to produce at 98%, but they are feeding them at 50% or even 40%. This is certainly expecting a miracle,” he says. “They want broilers to gain two kilogrammes after eight weeks, but they are feeding them just a quarter of the required feed.”

At the end of the day, the chicken will produce nothing and instead of giving the farmer money, they will start taking even the little they have.

This ‘give little’ but ‘expect much’ behaviour cuts across the entire agriculture system and it is one of the reasons farmers remain poor.

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