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During this rainy season, in mid-July, the ten cows of Michel Doudou Sène graze all day long in the green bush around Kaolack, 200 kilometers west of Dakar. But in the evening, at the barn, only a few will go to milking. The Senegalese breeder is sorry: “We are limiting production because we are struggling to sell it. Customers prefer imported powdered milk, which is cheaper and easier to find. ” To match the price of imports, Michel Doudou Sène had to lower the price of a liter of milk from 700 to 500 CFA francs (from 1 euro to 75 cents). “However, our milk is of better quality! But it is also more expensive to produce ”he annoys, watching in despair as his three heifers are about to give birth.
In Senegal, powdered milk represents 84% of milk imports, mainly from the European Union (EU). “Since 2018, our markets have been flooded with unprecedented stocks from the EU, which compete with our local milk”, summarizes Fatou Cheikh Ndione Sané, director of animal industries at the Ministry of Livestock.
A situation that risks being further amplified by the surplus stocks of European milk powder built up during the Covid-19 crisis, while demand for dairy products collapsed under the effect of confinements. These surpluses are likely to be dumped in West Africa, at the risk of permanently weakening the already fragile and poorly structured dairy sectors.
The means of self-sufficiency
“We are concerned about the situation of breeders, and especially women who make up the majority of this sector”, alert Khar Ndiaye, director of programs at Oxfam Senegal. Imported milk, of low nutritional quality, is 30% cheaper than local milk thanks to subsidies from the European Common Agricultural Policy, argues Mme Ndiaye. Under these conditions, Senegalese producers can hardly resist the competition, already suffering from the low productivity of their cows, the high price of livestock feed and a complicated logistics circuit.
However, with 3.9 million cattle in the country – including 70% of females, half of which are of milk producing age – Senegal has the capacity to be self-sufficient. One of the challenges is to get the local milk from production areas to processing units and then to points of sale. To achieve this, “We are raising awareness about changing consumption habits”, explains Mme Ndiaye.
In Kaolack, only a small artisanal processing dairy run by five women buys the production of breeders located not far from the city. Dressed all in pink, Awa Diallo shows the manual stainless steel machine that produces curds, cheeses or yogurts. On a shelf are aligned bottles of vanilla, banana or strawberry flavoring. “My milk, I like it local”, proclaims a slogan written in green letters at the entrance to the premises. “We are fighting against powdered milk to help our breeders”, says Mme Diallo, who herself struggles to sell her dairy products, which customers consider too expensive.
The dairy sector will not be able to develop until the large processors incorporate Senegalese raw materials or too little into their products. “Our milk is of no interest to manufacturers, based in Dakar and who do not come to collect it”, notes breeder Michel Doudou Sène from Kaolack. And again, its exploitation is relatively accessible from the capital, compared to most of the breeders who concentrate in the distant Fulani regions of the northeast of the country.
Only two Senegalese industrialists make the effort to promote local milk. The Kirène group has set up a collection center in the Fatick region, in partnership with the Ministry of Livestock. But the pioneer company in this field is La Laiterie du Berger (LDB). Between 2007 and 2019, it went from 200,000 liters of milk collected to 1.1 million liters. LDB general secretary Arona Diaw admits that their products are not “Not very competitive” compared to powdered milk products. Result, “Some are made with a mixture of local and imported milk, while the state takes more protectionist measures”, says Arona Diaw.
A first government decision has relieved the dairy players with the exemption from VAT on pasteurized milk produced in Senegal, which entered into force in February 2019. But this is not enough to structure a resilient local dairy sector, Arona Diaw analyzes. One way to lower production costs could be the establishment of a subsidy regime for energy tariffs, suggests Mme Sané, at the Ministry of Livestock, ensuring that “Reflections are in progress”.
The various players in the sector, supported by Oxfam, are mainly asking for an increase in customs duties, currently 5%, on powdered milk imports from the EU. This advocacy is carried out at the level of Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to develop a more competitive regional industry. Breeder Michel Doudou Sène dreams that “Be subsidized milk kiosks” installed in several places in the city of Kaolack, as is done in Dakar. Within reach of all consumers.