The livelihood ’quandairy’ of milk producers in a disrupted market

Research team from the University of Göttingen explores what guides Cameroonian milk producers’ decision-making after a market disruption   When agricultural markets in the Global South are disrupted, what helps producers stay in business? In regions where work can be hard to find, educational attainment is low, and opportunities for economic diversification are often too few, it is essential to understand what helps smallholder producers maintain their livelihoods. An international team of researchers from the University of Göttingen investigated the factors that helped milk producers maintain their livelihoods one year after a supply chain disruption in Cameroon. Their results recommend, amongst others, more dairy-focused training and farm diversification. The research was published in World Development.

The researchers carried out fieldwork in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas of Bamenda, the capital city of the Northwest region of Cameroon. The sampling consisted of 320 household interviews with active and inactive milk producers. Based on the results, three main recommendations for future dairy initiatives were made: extend dairy transformation training within strong cooperatives, increase diversification of both crops and livestock on farms, and support the agribusiness potential of younger milk producers in non-urban settings.

One of the production systems in Bamenda is the result of 30 years of an international dairy development project that donated exotic high-yielding dairy cows to crop farmers. "This area has wonderful geoclimatic conditions for milk production," explains Jennifer Provost, first author and PhD candidate at the University of Göttingen. "However, the local demand for fresh milk is still low. When the only processing plant closed, Bamenda’s informal market could not absorb the milk surplus. Additionally, the international project ended about half a year before the shutdown. As a result, milk producers were left on their own with these exotic cows which require a lot of care, time, labour, and money. The cows kept producing large amounts of milk, but the producers had nowhere to sell it."

The study also raises questions about the role of milk powder imports in the shutdown of this processing plant. Professor Eva Schlecht, Head of the Division of Animal Husbandry in the Tropics and Subtropics at the University of Göttingen, comments: "On the one hand, international organizations foster livestock and dairy development programs, praising their economic and nutritional benefits. On the other hand, big dairy companies export cheap powders and UHT milk to African milk markets, which decrease the competitiveness and attractiveness of locally produced dairy. In the end, this kind of ping-pong is to the detriment of the smallholder producers."

Professor Bernhard Brümmer, Chair of Agricultural Market Analysis at the University of Göttingen, concludes, "Our research revealed that market disruptions can quickly turn well-intended development assistance into a rather difficult situation. However - and that’s the important message here - with adequate training in functional cooperatives in combination with diversification strategies, these negative effects can be mitigated."

This research was made possible thanks to funding from the BMBF for the UrbanFoodPlus project.

Original publication: Provost, J., Rosero, G., Brümmer, B., Schlecht, E. (2022). To sell, not to sell, or to quit: Exploring milk producers’ approaches after a supply chain disruption in Northwest Cameroon. World Development, 150. DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2021.105709 .

Text freely available here until 17 Dec 2021: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1d~ZA,6yxDH17l
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