Since November last year, most of the districts in the Rwenzori sub-region have been experiencing drought and this has affected milk production. As a result, milk prices have soared, especially in Fort Portal town.
Farmers now move long distances with their animals in search of pastures and water due to their (farmers’) failure to adapt to new technologies of making hay and silage for the dry seasons. The grasses are dry and they cannot enable cows produce enough milk.
Mr Bernard Tibesigwa, the production manager at Tooro dairy, an outlet for farmers in Kabarole, says the quantity of milk supplied by farmers has reduced drastically in the last four months due to lack of good pasture.
“We used to get between 3,700 and 3,800 litres of milk from farmers per day but now the supply has dropped to 1,250 to 1,350 litres per day due to lack of pastures,” Mr Tibesigwa said.
Extent of effect
He said this has led to an increase of prices of milk from Shs1,200 to Shs1,500 per litre in Fort Portal town. He said prices are likely to rise to Shs2,000 if the current situation prevails.
“We have 70 farmers who supply us milk but the quantity of supply has reduced and yet the consumption is still high. This has really affected us because we have many outlets in Bundibugyo, Kasese, Kasusu, Mpanga, Kisenyi, among others, and they have been affected too since we have reduced on the litres we supply to them,” Tibesigwa said.
He added: “We used to run to Ankole (Kiruhura and Rushere districts) for milk supply in case of shortages but three weeks ago, we went there but spent about three days without even collecting 3,000 litres of milk because of drought that has hit the districts too.”
Mr Tibesigwa said the milk they receive gets finished early in the day when their customers are not fully served.
Mr Edward Basaliza, the Tooro Dairy Co-operative Society Limited board chairperson, says this is the first time Fort Portal is experiencing milk shortage because of weather hazards.
“There is need to sensitise farmers to adapt to the new technologies of making hay and silage for future to avoid losses,” he said.
He said some farmers are incurring huge costs in buying hay and silage for their cattle. He adds that out of the 70 farmers under the cooperative society, only six have maintained their usual supply because they adapted to making hay and silage.
Mr Charles Karamagi, a dairy farmer in Kijura parish, Kabarole District, said since November last year, things have not been going on well on his farm.
“Milk production has reduced on my farm because of lack of pasture and water. I used to milk twice a day - in the morning and in the afternoon - but due to the drought, I can’t milk in the afternoon,” he says.
He added that he used to get 100 litres in the morning and 50 litres in the evening but the production has now reduced to 50 litres a day.
The dry spell that has hit many parts of the country has impacted most cattle keepers and milk consumers in the sub-region.
In the cattle corridor of Ntoroko District, milk production has reduced putting people’s lives at risk, since most of them depend on only milk as their source of food.
Mr Alexander Mujwara, a dairy farmer in Bugando village, Bweramule Sub-county, Ntoroko District, said milk production has reduced due to lack of pastures and water for his animals.
“Milk production on my farm has reduced from 50 jerrycans of 20 litres of milk to 40 [jerrycans] and I think if this drought continues, it may reduce more and my cattle are at high a risk of dying,” he said.
Mr Robert Agaba, a dairy farmer in Migongwe in Kyegegwa District, said milk production has generally reduced because he has no pastures to feed his cattle.
“Dairy cows need to eat and drink a lot of water if you are to get more milk from them. During the rainy season, I get 200 litres because pasture and water are always in plenty. But during the dry season like this one, production reduces by 50 litres,” Mr Agaba said.
Wetland encroachers blamed
The Kabarole District environment officer, Mr Godfrey Ruyonga, said the reason the weather pattern in Kabarole has changed is because some people are degrading the environment by cutting down trees and encroaching on wetlands.
“I condemn the act of encroaching on wetlands and cutting of trees because this is the reason we are experiencing drought,” he said.
He urged dairy farmers to practise new technologies of making hay and silage to prepare for the future.
The Kabarole District production officer, Mr Salvatore Abigaba, said the drought has become so disastrous to the district as famers were not prepared for it.
He said farmers have been sensitised about making hay and silage but have been redundant to embrace the technology.