Shire Highlands Milk Producers Association (Shmpa) has called on policy makers to design supportive legislation for promoting widespread distribution of affordable milk in the country.
Currently, the distribution of milk in the main urban areas is restricted to few companies with a large-scale milk heating facility.
An advisor to the Shmpa committee, Brian Lewis, revealed in an e-mailed response to a questionnaire this week that residents of the cities are not allowed to buy affordable milk directly from farmers and do their own home processing (boiling in a pot at 96 degrees Celsius).
â€œHome cooking is obviously more effective from a hygiene perspective and the cost of home processed milk is about 30 percent of that of pasteurised milk. Lowering the cost of milk is crucial to improve accessibility for poor people,â€ he observed.
Lewis said the current legislation was introduced as a temporary measure to divert sufficient milk to government dairy factories to make them viable when they started production 25 years ago.
â€œToday, there is often too much milk for the factories, so the only outcome of the legislation is to enforce a monopoly on distribution which means that consumers pay up to five times the farm price for their milk. In 1998, the farmer to consumer mark-up was two times (100 percent)â€”about normal for a liberalised market.Â
â€œThe dairy companies have made good returns through exploiting the monopoly, but their profits are coming at a cost to the development of Malawian children who cannot consume milk because it is unaffordable,â€ he said.
Chapter 67, Section 36(4) of the Milk and Milk Products Act stipulates that the distribution of milk and other dairy products in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba shall be limited to products pasteurised and processed in licensed dairy plants.
However, Shmpa and other milk producers, in conjunction with Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet), have taken up the issue to try and lobby government for the amendment of the act.
The proposed legislation reads: â€œAll milk sold in Malawi should exceed the minimum quality standards for purity and hygiene as stipulated in the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) guidelinesâ€.
â€œThe reasoning behind the proposed legislation is that the old law no longer serves a useful function, it now has damaging effects on the industry and the nutrition of Malawians and that the law is rarely enforced, but its existence prevents the adoption of more useful legislation and actions to improve the quality and accessibility of milk for consumers.
â€œThe law was introduced in 1987 to ensure that sufficient milk was supplied to government-owned dairy factories for them to operate efficiently. The factories now have sufficient milk,â€ reads the proposal in part.
Cisanet national coordinator Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said the idea started with Shmpa following challenges they faced in Blantyre and they took up the issue last year.
â€œAll milk producers, including Mpoto Milk Producers Association, Central Region Milk Producers Association and Shmpa are facing the same challenges. We have discussed with a number of officials in the Ministry of Agriculture. But what we have seen is that government is not ready to change the Act,â€ observed Nkhono-Mvula.
Efforts to get a comment from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to find out the chances of amending the act proved futile.