Bridging the Yield Gap: Ethiopia's Dairy Sector at a Crossroads

Jul 8 , 2023
By Habtamu Lemma (PhD)

I was delighted to visit the agriculture and science exhibition at the Science Museum in Addis Abeba a few weeks ago. I appreciated the government's initiative to showcase and promote some of the existing agricultural science and technology.

As Ethiopia, one of Africa's agricultural powerhouses, contemplates bolstering its agricultural and economic potential, key stakeholders have pinpointed its dairy industry as a sector ripe for transformation. By combining scientific insights and cutting-edge technologies, the country hopes to realise the promise of its livestock sector, which has grown at an annual rate of nearly six percent over the past decade.

Yet, a majority of this growth has come from the sheer increase in livestock numbers and labour, not productivity enhancement - a balance that needs redressing urgently.

Ethiopia, whose economy rests heavily on agriculture, recognises that unlocking the potential of the dairy sector could significantly enhance food security, create jobs, and increase export revenues. A considerable 80pc of the country's export revenues, along with 21pc of government revenues, stem from the export of agricultural products.

The livestock sector alone accounted for a staggering 40pc of the country's agricultural GDP and 20pc of total GDP in 2017.

Nonetheless, despite the sector's impressive contribution to the economy, it is beleaguered with challenges – the most significant being low productivity. The problem is particularly acute in dairy farming, where productivity lags behind potential yield due to inadequate access to inputs, technologies, and veterinary and extension services.

A call for a permanent agriculture and science exhibition at Addis Abeba's Science Museum should gain traction. Such an initiative could inspire and educate future generations about food production processes and ignite a passion for agriculture, potentially leading them to a career in this critical sector.

In focusing on dairy farming, a multi-pronged strategy is required. The country has a unique advantage due to its large population of milking cows, favourable agro-ecology, (the temperate type of highland and mid-altitude), potential for high-quality feed production, and a growing demand for milk in urban areas.

However, these potentials are hindered by issues such as scarcity of livestock feed and weak institutional support, which prevents the industry from transitioning into commercial operations.

Interestingly, these setbacks are unfolding in the midst of a national tree-planting campaign, a commendable environmental conservation endeavour. Yet, this campaign might inadvertently exacerbate the feed scarcity issue as most of the plantations are taking place on pastureland. What is needed is a considered approach to tree planting that favours degraded lands and integrates fodder trees into plantations.

Investments in better genetics, feed, and health services could prove pivotal in boosting milk production. Strategies include introducing cross-bred cows, improved feeding and management techniques, and leveraging technologies to aid productivity. However, this requires significant backing from federal agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, its livestock directorate, the Livestock Development Institute and manufacturing industries as well as a robust livestock master plan, which currently seems to be lacking implementation.

The country needs a clear policy framework to stimulate productivity growth through better livestock extension and service delivery systems, better access to input and output markets for livestock producers, and improved education and awareness for farmers. Technology dissemination is an urgent priority, as are finance and durable working areas or land for market-oriented farmers, agribusinesses, and self-employed graduates.

The success of the dairy industry – and the wider agriculture sector – depends on Ethiopia's ability to incorporate scientific knowledge, innovation, and emerging technologies into traditional farming practices. Its future food and livelihood security hinges on farmers' ability to increase productivity, for which they need access to advanced inputs, knowledge, and training.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 08,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1210]

Habtamu Lemma (PhD) ( is an associate professor of dairy science at Wolaita Sodo University.  

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