Dairy farming in Nigeria: Past, present and future

CONSIDERING the wide gap between the Nigerian ever growing population and its rising demand for the available dairy products, one is forced to seek to know when the nation will significantly improve domestic production to meet consumption. According to statistics provided by the National Livestock Transformation, Nigeria, and ridiculously so, produces 526,000 litres as against the demand for about 1.2 million litres per annum. Hence, the country has been reportedly paying close toa whooping sum of $1.3 billion annually onimporting powdered milk to be re-constituted into various products.

Literatures and records of events show that modern dairy production (averagely sustainable) in Nigeria is dated back to about 2-3 decades ago. It is within this period that Shonga Dairies located in Tsonga, Edu Local Government in Kwara State, the basic reference of this article, was birthed. During this period, the government policy on backward integration for processors was to source 5% raw materials locally.

According to a story published on Reuters in 2011 with the title ‘Zimbabwe farmers, a boom for Nigeria agriculture,” the Kwara State Government under Dr. Bukola Saraki received white farmers who were ejected from Zimbabwe by the late President Robert Mugabe. A thousand hectares of land was allocated to each farmer, 5 of which formed dairy milk clusters. They were reported to have the capacity to produce around 50,000 litres of milk daily, hoping to bridge a significant gap in the domestic production and supply of raw milk to a dairy industry feeding Nigerians with apparently inferior powdered milk. That was promising! About 800 gravid jersey cows were imported from South Africa and multi-million facilities were set up. However, as of 2013 when I interned at one of the dairy farms, only an average of about 2,500-3,000 litres were delivered to the central collection plant where Friesland Campina WAMCO came to pick them and moved to Lagos every two days.

Shonga Dairies was supposed to be the biggest establishment delivering raw milk to processors and replication of its structure would have seen Nigerians consume healthy, hygienically processed milk. This would have also reduced importation of dairy products significantly.



As I write today, the 5 cluster dairy farms of Shonga Dairies are a shadow of themselves. The massive investments in the past decade has gone down the drain. During my last visit in 2015, at least 3 of the farmers already left while the remaining 2 are possibly drawing their exit plan. Though I do not want to talk about the financial misadventure and terms’ inconsistencies and failure that led to this fatality, it is important to mention that for a Public-Private-Partnership as such, it is crucial that the terms aretransparent so that successive government can easily continue with the project.

This failure seems to be recurring and consistent when compared to how in 1992, a census undertaken for processing plants built by the government put the number of plants to 63 across the country. According to the National Livestock Project Division in a 1992 National Dairy Survey, most of these plants are no more functional and never delivered any return on investment.

The only source of raw materials for processors today remain agro-pastoralists/herders. Their production is inefficient, inconsistent and unhygienic. There is a need for more community of milk producers, and collaborations to produce efficiently to be able to deliver to processors. Without this, bulk of our dairy consumption will still be imported, and unabated foreign reserves depletion will continue.


What this means for Nigeria

If this cycle of wastes continues, we will spend more money importing inferior dairy products and will never get to develop our local dairy industry. The massive dairy market will remain untapped, just as we will have millions of unemployed individuals that could be productive in building the dairy industry.


The new government policy and the potential impacts

In a report published earlier this year, the Central Bank of Nigeria listed the 6 companies licensed to import milk and its products into the country. These include FrieslandCampina WAMCO, Chi Limited, TG Arla Dairy Products Ltd, Promasidor Nig. Ltd., Nestle Nig. Plc and Integrated Dairies Ltd. These are the companies that keyed into the backward integration policy (revised) of the federal government, demanding that 10% of their raw materials (milk) be locally sourced. This is to improve local production and develop the country dairy industry gradually. FrieslandCampina WAMCO started the backward integration before now and an impressive transformation has been witnessed in the local dairy sector with social and economic development as evidence.


What we should be doing towards the next 10 years

Breeding – Nigeria cattle population is reportedly estimated to be around 20 million and less than 2 million are producing milk. These 2 million have an average production of about 550,000 litres per annum, with a poor production of 1 litre per cow. If in the next 10 years we hope to significantly bridge the gap between local production and importation, we should be (cross) breeding aggressively now. Records from offspring of successful crosses between milk type breed like Holstein and our native white Fulani showed average of 10 litres of milk per day being produced. With 3 million of these offspring before 2030, we can be confident of producing about 70% of our consumed milk. For this to happen, we must be deliberate and long-term oriented.

Unfortunately, cross breeding success in Nigeria is poor especially via artificial insemination technique. I had direct conversations with many farmers who are now willing to buy dairy breed bulls as an alternative. This means stakeholders in the industry must be ready to invest in training experts abroad. A two-week visit to Netherlands is never going to be enough to learn the art of economically viable and sustainable dairy production and management. There are lots of scholarships available to students across multiple fields which has not amounted to much meaningful progress in such fields. Sadly, a promising field like Agriculture has little or none of such. It is not possible to grow by chance. I should also add that a strong research and development laboratory must be created for the dairy sector and be utilized by these trained experts so that they will be able to catch up with global developments and trends in the industry. The result of this will be adequate training of livestock extension agents that will be able to train agro-pastoralists and herders on hygienic milking procedures, so that our food safety is well guaranteed. WAMCO and a few processors are doing a good job establishing milk collection centres to offtake milk from agro-pastoralists. However, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of most of this milk failing microbial and somatic cells count test – these, coupled with fat and protein percentage form the legislation definition of milk in Europe and other developed nations and, this being the standard, ours should not be different.

Another crucial point to focus on is feed availability which may cause major shifts in production seasonally. We need to start growing lots of pastures, fed on irrigation if need be. This will reduce the traditional nomadism and allow herders to embrace ranching – which is a needed program if we want to improve our livestock industry and reduce herders-farmers clash to the barest minimum.

In conclusion, it is important that as individual, conglomerates, and organizations are eager to invest in the dairy industry, establishing a strong dairy farmer cooperative will be necessary. It is noteworthy to mention that the major reason for the revolution in India dairy industry (India is the second largest cattle milk producer in the world after the U.S.)was an efficient farmer’s cooperative. In fact, some of the top world dairy processing companies are cooperative owned. An example is Amul in India jointly owned by about 3.6 million milk producers in Gujarat. Fonterra in New Zealand, Arla foods in Sweden and Denmark, FrieslandCampina in Netherland are other common examples. Dairy cooperatives are perfect examples of actors of policies and are important stakeholders when it comes to making decisions that affect them. It also makes elimination of middlemen easy and enables market and price determination and regulation. It is also important than the government provide subsidies for farmers because dairy farming is rarely profitable. This probably explains why farmers in countries with favourable weather and high yielding cattle breed still enjoy good subsidies from their government; Nigeria should do the same.

  • Ayandele, a dairy scientist writes from Christian Albrechts University, Kiel, Germany



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