When the group of Zimbabwean farmers, who were invited by the Kwara State Government to start with commercial agriculture in Nigeria, first arrived in the country they had little more than GPS points to work from. The group’s dairy syndicate, however, took on the challenge and currently produces its own brand of milk and yoghurt drinks. Selling fresh dairy products in Nigeria, a market hooked on powdered milk, is however easier said than done. Jaco Maritz asked farmer Paul Retzlaff about Nigeria’s dairy industry.
The Zimbabwean farmers in Kwara State are finding it difficult to sell their fresh milk due to a preference for powdered milk in the country. Tell us more about this and how you are addressing the problem.
Powdered milk is firmly established in the marketplace in Nigeria and has satisfied the market. There are a lot of cows and milk around, but all in the informal sector. This is sold as a fermented product by the herdsmen to the villagers. There is no milk as such.
The reconstituted milk is of a very high quality and has been modified to suit local tastes, which is slightly caramelised, so that milk in the natural form does not fit the people’s taste buds. We are now selling our milk to the powder importers who are replacing the powder with fresh milk, albeit on a very small scale at the moment but hopefully to grow quickly.
What were the major challenges in first establishing the dairy farms?
The challenges were not out of the ordinary and included clearing virgin land, importing cows and equipment, dealing with a hostile environment for exotic cows, etc. We also had to deal with operating in a very difficult market.
Even though Nigeria has a large market for locally produced dairy products, there are still very few dairy farms in the country. Is this situation improving?
Not yet, but the government is very keen on establishing a local dairy industry so we are helping.
How does dairy farming in Nigeria differ from the situation you had in Zimbabwe?
It is very similar except that we have no back-up in Nigeria. We also experience a lot of veterinary problems.
What’s next on the horizon for the Zimbabwean dairy farmers in Kwara State?
We are slowly getting to grips with the challenges and hopefully can get an industry going!