Dealers in raw milk have gone on strike, protesting government ban on sale of raw milk directly to the consumers.
The Association of Dairy Milk Traders and Suppliers, which brings together about 1,000 member-based groups, took the decision on Good Friday in a meeting in Katwe, a Kampala suburb.
The government has said the strike is unjustified.
“It’s uncalled for, because they have not been stopped yet although they will eventually be stopped from selling raw milk,” said Mr Bright Rwamirama, the state minister for Agriculture and Animal Industry that overseas dairy business in the country.
He added: “I’m aware of the strike, but we are always looking to protect the consumers. Since 2007, we have been warning them (traders in raw milk).”
Mr. Benon Mbabazi Kanyima, a veterinary doctor and an expert in the dairy industry, told this newspaper yesterday that the impact of the strike could be enormous given that the majority of dairy farmers directly sell to the traders rather than the processors.
He said: “Farmers will be among the first casualties of this action. This is because the traders reach more farmers than the processors. And next to be hit are the low-income earners who are unable to afford the processed milk in supermarkets, but depend on raw milk to feed their families.”
An unregulated direct supply of raw milk by cattle keepers or middlemen to consumers without formal oversight carries with it the risk of endangering the health of Ugandans, the government says.
Dr Kanyima, however said since majority Ugandans do not buy packed milk, stopping the sale of raw milk will cause widespread suffering to poor households that do not buy groceries from the supermarkets. “This is enough to make you understand how serious the impact of this strike could turn out [to be],” he said.
According to the Association of Dairy Milk Traders and Suppliers chairman, Mr Justus Kabandize, his members who are spread across the country are unhappy with the government’s ban announced last week.
Factory owners and other dairy product processors do not have adequate capacity to buy or deal with all of the milk supplied each day, he said. “Many times our milk goes bad because the processors say they do not have the capacity to take all the supply,” said Mr Kabadize, who is also the Managing Director of Abesigwa Dairies Ltd. The processors, he said, do not pay us “what is due to our effort”.
“We get peanuts compared to the services we provide. And importantly, it is also wrong to say that our supplies (milk) are adulterated, because as an industry we have invested over Shs30 billion over the years so as to conform to the required [industry safety] standards.”
The strike was initially to last a week, but Mr Kabandize said there is a possibility they will extend it if the government does not budge.
Minister Rwamirama yesterday said he will meet the traders on Wednesday to resolve the dispute that has shaken one of the country’s key agricultural sub-sectors.
The government would not compromise on safety of the population, he said, clarifying that they will instead take additional measure to guard citizens from consuming adulterated milk vended by the unregulated traders/suppliers.
He accused middlemen of exploiting dairy farmers, warning that their strike could prompt the government to direct cattle keepers to directly supply processors.
This, however, would require that the dairy farmers have the capacity to bargain favourably with milk manufacturers, buy appropriate containers and transport raw milk, either individually or as a group, to the processors mostly based in Kampala.
Dairy farmers on average earn Shs400 for every litre of milk, which is sold to processors at Shs1, 000.
Meanwhile, Sameer Agriculture and Livestock Ltd (SALL), one of the country’s biggest processors of milk said in an interview that it does not rely on traders for milk supply.
Mr Sudhir Mathulla, the SALL’s head of business, said: “We have more than 20,000 farmers who supply us with all the milk we want and the contribution of the traders (other supply) is minimal and unreliable. I don’t see the impact given that we don’t rely on their services.”
• The move to ban the vending of raw milk started in 2007. It took a halt, according to the government to allow the vendors develop capacity to process.
• There are less than 50 processors around the country with majority being petty milk vendors (raw milk)
• The consumption of milk per person in Ugandan is estimated at 60litres per year much lower consumption compared to 200litres expected/recommended per person by WHO annually.
• Marketable milk in Uganda is valued at $317million annually and shared among th estimated 1.7 million households that keep cattle. Dairy farming is concentrated in 42 districts found in the cattle corridor that stretches from south-western Uganda through the central region to the northeastern part of the country