Senegalese milk production trying to find its way

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This article is part of our special report Putting agriculture at the heart of Africa’s rising.

In Senegal, the dairy sector is facing competition from cheap European exports – that makes its development much harder, EURACTIV France reports.

In Western Africa, the campaign “Mon lait est local” (‘My milk is local’) seeks to promote the domestic consumption of milk in producer countries, such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad.

This is a challenge in Senegal, where – despite the fact that there are 200,000 farmers and increasing milk consumption – the majority of the milk consumed is imported from Europe, albeit in powdered form.

“In Senegal, milk is consumed in the form of milk powder enriched with plant material,” Christian Corniaux of CIRAD (the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development) explained.

This milk powder is sold 30% cheaper than locally produced milk. The situation is partly due to a customs policy which is particularly advantageous for imported milk. European milk is taxed at 5%, in accordance with the common external tariff imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Some 25,000 tonnes of milk are thus imported every year, representing 90% of the national consumption.

On this open market, European milk, which is heavily subsidised by Europe and in need of markets, has poured into West Africa. This trend has accelerated since the removal of European milk quotas in 2015 and reduction in European consumption. Skimmed milk powder exports have trebled since 2009, according to a study published by Oxfam and SOS Faim.

Domestic consumption

“Milk imports in Senegal are aimed at urban consumption, whereas local production – which is mainly pastoral production – is consumed in rural areas,” says Corniaux.

Currently, Senegalese milk production is growing at a slower rate than domestic consumption. While milk consumption per capita in Western Africa remains low (19kg/year in the ECOWAS), demand is growing sharply.

However, consumers are not looking for local dairy products, which are more expensive. Moreover, a desire to consume local products is not a selling point.

“Here, for example, consumers can’t really tell the difference between butter and margarine,” Corniaux explained. Furthermore, dairy products enriched with vegetable fat, such as palm oil, have made customers accustomed to sweet-tasting products.

Some local initiatives are attempting to establish local professional production, following the example of La Laiterie du Berger, which produces Dolima yoghurt made from local milk. By using milk from small pastoral producers, La Laiterie du Berger has partly succeeded in structuring a supply chain. However, since 2014, it has been incorporating up to 50% imported milk powder into its products in order to meet the demand.

Another obstacle is the lack of professionalization in the dairy sector. While Senegalese livestock is large in terms of volume, it is intended more for meat production than milk production.

“In terms of productivity, it’s a bit like if we were trying to milk Charolais cattle in France,” Corniaux explained. As a result, there is a low productivity per head of livestock. Senegalese cows only produce 300 litres of milk a year on average – far from the 7,000 litres of European breeds.

Furthermore, the issue of forage availability, particularly in the dry season, severely limits the opportunities for the dairy industry to develop.

At the same time, European milk powder imports allow access to dairy products at a low cost, in a country where the poverty levels remain high. With much more accessible tariffs, low-cost imported dairy products – such as milk powder – allow the poor urban population to be fed.

Economic partnership agreement

The matter of customs barriers is crucial to allow the dairy industry to develop. Currently, the customs duty imposed on milk powder is relatively low (5%) but would completely disappear under the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and ECOWAS.

How EU powdered milk threatens African production

The secondary effect of the common agricultural policy (CAP) on African agriculture is a source of concern for MEPs. In recent years exports of powdered milk have soared, threatening the African dairy sector. EURACTIV.fr reports.

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