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February 16, 2010

Senegal's cattle sidelined for imported powder milk

by Laurence Boutreux

Senegal has three million cattle, but it is imported European powdered milk that is found at the breakfast table, in coffee or local yoghurt as poor infrastructure keeps fresh milk from consumers.

In a Dakar suburb, "milk powder with vegetable fat content" from France is poured into large tanks and mixed with filtered water at the Jaboot factory to make local favourites like curdled milk and yoghurt and cereal mix, or "thiakri."

In five years, Senegal has more than doubled its bill for imported milk from 25 billion CFA Francs (38 million euros, 52 million dollars) in 2002 to 58 billion in 2007, said Djiby Dia, researcher with the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research.

While Jaboot has stated its intention to "gradually substitute imported powdered milk for local milk," its rapid expansion has led to import higher quantities.

"It is because the biggest problems remain the collection and transportation of fresh milk," director Pierre Ndiaye said in an interview.

Milk abounds in the largely rural country. But its mainly traditional methods of production are irregular, according to the seasons and are unable to cover the needs of the entire population.

Mostly impassable farm roads and an insufficient number of refrigerated trucks make reaching consumers all the more difficult.

When the rainy season arrives in the isolated northern region of Ferlo, an abundance of milk and a lack of infrastructure means "some farmers pour their milk on the ground to be licked up by the cows," said Dia, the author of a thesis on the "geography of milk" in Senegal.

Production channels need to be organised, professionalised and encouraged - but the imported powder has already invaded city markets, as well as those in the bush.

In the village of Niakhar, 155 kilometers (91 miles) from Dakar, farm technician Mamadou Niassy admits his own family consumes powdered milk every day.

"I prefer unpasteurized milk but it is not available, although I live few kilometres from a farmer," said the 55-year-old.

In Dakar, the director of the agriculture ministry, Mamadou Ousseynou Sakho, explained that "at the moment, conditions to collect and process the milk are still quite rudimentary." He said the government was encouraging an increase in the booming mini-dairy industry, "that is to say the small rural plants where milk is pasteurised, put in a sachet, processed into yoghurt etc." In 2009 government acquired an additional 10 mini-dairies "that we will put in place soon," he said.

Researchers increasingly question the inequality of international commerce laws, as milk from poor countries finds itself in competition with milk from rich countries. A debate over whether higher customs duties should be imposed on imported milk powder has largely fallen by the wayside as the biggest importers constitute an influential lobby and have little interest in paying more.

Bagoré Bathily, director-general of the Berger Dairy -- the first industrial unit for the collection and processing of local milk -- wants "fiscal incentives" for those who give priority to the local product.

In 2008 in the midst of a global food crisis, "the government suspended taxes on certain imported foods such as milk," said Sakho.

Presently, "small industries want Value Added Tax on milk produced in Senegal to be lifted, so that the local product is more competitive, but it is a big problem .... there is a comprehensive reflection to be carried out," he said.


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