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Niels Halberg

Options and challenges for organic milk production in East African smallholder farms under certified organic crop production

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Mette Vaarst
  • Gidi Smolders, OrgANIMprove
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  • Raphael Wahome, University of Nairobi
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  • Charles Odhong, University of Nairobi
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  • Muhammad Kiggundu, Makerere University
  • ,
  • Fred Kabi, Makerere University
  • ,
  • Sylvia Nalubwama, Makerere University
  • ,
  • Niels Halberg

Many East African smallholder farms with certified organic crop production, also rear animals. Although farming systems are mixed, there is often very little integration and synergy between the different enterprises. The aim of this article is to suggest and discuss different development scenarios for organic dairy production, based on data from three East African studies of dairy production at certified organic cash crop farms. The following questions are explored for two categories of ‘model farms’ in Kenya and Uganda, respectively: 1) Can smallholder farmers benefit from keeping organic dairy cattle, and under which conditions can it be viable, given the current challenges? 2) How can the dairy production be integrated into the farm and create synergy with the different farm elements? 3) What would need to change if their milk was to become certified organic and farmers had to comply with organic principles and standards for dairy farming? Based on data and estimates from on-farm case studies at Kenyan and Ugandan smallholder dairy farms, in combination with literature, potential development scenarios are outlined. The study concludes that there are good possibilities for more local recirculation of feed and manure, although with limited benefits when there are only few animals with short lactations on the farm. Involvement of local communities in feed production and use of grazing areas seems to be a good option to the mutual benefit of both. If certified organic smallholder farms should diversify their income through sale of organic milk, they would need a secure market. Depending on the cost of certification, these farms will only benefit from sale of organic milk if they can produce milk year round at a scale, which allow them to benefit from the effort to give animals organic feed, an effort including establishment of grazing and local feed production that comply with organic standards. Outdoor stay and grazing continue to challenge many smallholder milk producers especially with Holstein Friesian types of cows, and more robust breeds are needed. In addition, many smallholders do not have sufficient land to permit grazing around their homesteads, where the animals live. Organic standards regarding animals need improvement and precision, especially requirements for grazing areas and feed. Certification comprising whole farms including the animals, and not only crops for export, will enhance crop-animal integration.

Original languageEnglish
JournalLivestock Science
Pages (from-to)230-240
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

    Research areas

  • Crop-animal integration, Dairy cattle, East Africa, Organic, Smallholder

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