The writing is on the wall that tobacco, Malawiâ€™s longtime lifeline, is fast losing its stature, at least, taking into account the revenue figures over the past three years. Government seems to also have realised this, albeit a bit late.
In the 2012/13 financial year, government has engaged an extra gear to find alternatives to tobacco by doing all it can to scale up, among other initiatives, the production of livestock through what is dubbed Presidential Initiative on Livestock Development.
â€œThe other two initiatives that have been allocated resources within the agriculture sector recurrent expenditures are the Presidential Initiative on Livestock Development and the Promotion of Special Crops for the export market. A sum of K900 million has been allocated for the promotion of livestock production [this financial year],â€ said Finance Minister Dr Ken Lipenga, in the 2012/13 budget statement.
The five-year initiative on livestock development will cost K11 billion, according to the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Professor Peter Mwanza.
â€œWe want to target as many farmers as we can. Governmentâ€™s intention is that by the end of the financial year, livestock farmersâ€™ livelihoods would have improved,â€ he said.
Mwanza said government targets to reach millions of farmers by the end of the five-year period.
Agriculture officials say that Malawi produces enough beef for local consumption, but there is a shortage of top quality beef.
Currently, the country imports about 120 metric tons of top quality beef, signifying that Malawi is not self-sufficient in meat production but has the potential to produce enough for export.
â€œWe need to have a working partnership between government and the private sector to empower smallholder farmers to produce more improved breeds so that we have top quality beef for both local and export markets,â€ said Mwanza.
But despite the country not producing enough beef to satisfy the local market, available figures from the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development (Dahld) show that Malawiâ€™s livestock production has been on the upward spiral for the past decade growing at 15 percent, on average, thanks to good animal husbandry practices.
The figures show that the livestock sector alone contributes about eight percent to the gross domestic product (GDP)â€”the value of all final goods produced in a country in a specified period of time, usually a year.
A write-up from Dahld says government has been improving livestock industry by emphasising increasing production and good management systems.
â€œWe have put in place the necessary infrastructure to develop industries such as livestock multiplication centre. We have also trained the adequate manpower for the job, put in place disease control measure and good supply of feed stocks,â€ says the statement.
Besides that, government has also been providing extension services to dairy farmers to increase production and improve their animal husbandry practices.
If government sticks to its plan under the President Initiative, the future for livestock production in Malawi looks bright.
This means that people will still be drinking milk, eating meat and eggs for years to come.
The industry, according to experts, has a number of opportunities and could develop fully and surpass its present levels of development.
Already, a number of dairy products are being exported.
Experts indicate that the most significant opportunities in livestock production are in cattle farming for meat products and milk production as well other dairy produce.
They cite Mzimba, in the Northern Region, as being highly recommended for beef and dairy industry operations because of the existing cattle population.
Particular areas such as Mzimba Boma, Champhira and Euthini have been earmarked for the industry because they have the basic infrastructure such electricity, roads, water and sanitation needed for industrial development.
According to information posted on Malawi Investment Promotion Agency (Mipa) website, other investment opportunities are in cattle breeding, both dairy and beef, feed growing and feed production, manufacturingÂ of cooling tanks and collection equipment, service provision such as artificial insemination, operation of dipping tanks, veterinary supplier, abattoirs and meat processing plant.
Data shows that in 2001, the country had about 20 000 dairy animals but the figure has currently gone up to around 50 000 largely due to increased efforts towards revamping the industry and improve security.
Meanwhile, the average milk yield per cover each day is 10 litres and this means that Malawi is now producing about 35 million litres of milk annually.