August 13, 2015

Food Systems for Improved Health: Dairy Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa

Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series

By Bettie Kawonga, PhD candidate in Animal and Food Science at the University of Kentucky and 2015 Next Generation Delegate
Milk is an important source of energy, protein, vitamins A and D, and minerals vital for growth, such as magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and calcium. The nutritional benefits from milk, however, are far from realized in smallholder dairy farming dominant in most sub-Saharan African countries. In many of these nations, consumption of animal products for the past 30 years has been low, with milk’s contribution to dietary protein and calories remaining constant. This lack of milk consumption is particularly low in Malawi. Milk contributes only 7.46 calories, 1.18 grams energy, and 0.27 grams protein in Malawi compared to milk’s already low average contribution in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa: 2.9 grams protein, 2.7 grams energy and 52 calories. In 2005, Malawi per capita annual milk consumption was estimated at 3.8 kg—nearly 200 kg lower than the recommended amount for Africa. The situation has not improved, as studies in 2011 and 2012 reported low protein (4%) and high carbohydrate (over 60%) contribution to the Malawian adult diet. This shows that dietary diversity essential for normal physical and mental development in Malawian society is far from being realized.
Dairying has shown potential for dietary diversity in sub-Saharan Africa. Several studies have reported an improvement in dietary diversity for dairying households. A study by Z. Kalumikiza reported that, in Malawi, 12% of milk produced at smallholder dairy farms was used for home consumption. In Kenya, Muia et al calculated a daily milk consumption of 1 to 3 liters for dairying households. Njarui et al reported an increase in milk consumption of 1 liter per week with increase in cattle ownership. The study in Malawi reported an increase in purchase of a variety of food stuffs including meat, cooking oil, salt, sugar and vegetables for dairying households which can improve dietary diversity and nutritional outcomes of family members.
Despite the many decades of dairy farming in sub-Saharan Africa, the productivity of smallholder dairying has remained relatively low due to a lack of appropriate dairy research. Lack of research in impacts of dairy intensification on human nutrition and health as well as milk handling and utilization creates tradeoffs without proper strategies for long term nutritional and health goals.  For example, although the Malawi government has for the past 50 years promoted the use of Holstein dairy cows due to high milk yield potential, milk from Malawi Zebu has a relatively higher butterfat content (4.6%) than milk from Holstein (3.2%), and an equal amount of protein. The ideal genotype for Malawi and many sub-Saharan African countries will therefore be what has been described as a small dairy animal that yields high milk and milk solids, and produces a calf annually under a simple smallholder system—on tropical forages with minimal environmental manipulation and low exposure to diseases. Dairy animals that utilize low-value feeds and remain productive without a need for high-value inputs and are more resistant to diseases and environmental challenges can increase farm income and contribute to dietary diversity.
Integrating nutrition in the dairy value chain should begin at the core of the value chain production, which includes breeding, feeding, management and reproduction. Human nutrition and health aspects should be integrated at this important level in the dairy value chain to ensure generation of appropriate technologies and should continue in milk handling and marketing. This can be achieved through promotion of multi-sectoral research in livestock and human nutrition and health. Governments and stakeholders in the dairy sub sector should prioritize such efforts in order to address the tradeoffs and harness the synergies that exist between dairy intensification, human nutrition and health.

  • Chagunda, Mizeck, Timothy Gondwe, Liveness Banda, Patritia Mayuni, Joshua Mtimuni, Thomas Chimbaza, and Agnes Nkwanda. “Smallholder Dairy Production in Malawi: Current Status and Future Solutions.” International Development Fund.
  • Gibson, Rosalind, Karl Bailey, Aurora Romano, and Christine Thomson. “Plasma Selenium Concentrations in Pregnant Women in Two Countries with Contrasting Soil Selenium Levels.” Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 25 no. 4 (2011): 230– 235.
  • Kalumikiza, Z. “The Effect of Increasing Dairy Production on Household Food Security and Nutritional Status of under Five Children in Central Region Milk Shed Area in Malawi.”  Master’s thesis, University of Malawi, 2012.
  • Mankhwala, F. “Evaluation of Feeding Management of Exotic Dairy Cattle in Smallholder  Dairy Farms: A Case Study of Bua Milk Bulking Group in Central Malawi.” BSc report, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2014.
  • Muia, J.M.K., J.N. Kariuki, P.N. Mbugua, C.K. Gachuiri, L.B. Lukibisi, W.O. Ayako and W.V. Ngunjiri. “Smallholder Dairy Production in High Altitude Nyandarua Milk-Shed in Kenya: Status, Challenges and Opportunities.” Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 no. 5 (2011).
  • National Statistical Office. “Household Socio-Economic Characteristics.” Integrated Household Survey (HIS) 2010- 2011. Volume 3. Zomba, Malawi, 2012.
  • Njarui, D. M. G., M. Gatheru, J. M. Wambua, S. N. Nguluu, D. M. Mwangi, and G.A. Keya.
  • Consumption Frequency and Levels of Milk and Milk Products in Semi- Rid Region of Eastern Kenya.” Livestock Research for Rural Development 24 no. 7 (2009).
  • Njarui, D. M. G., M. Gatheru, J. M. Wambua, S. N. Nguluu, D. M. Mwangi, and G.A. Keya. “Consumption Patterns and Preference of Milk and Milk Products among Rural and Urban Consumers in Semi-Arid Kenya.” Ecology of Food and Nutrition 50 no. 3 (2011): 240-262.
Read previous posts in the Next Generation Delegation 2015 Commentary Series:  


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