Options and challenges for organic milk production in East African smallholder farms under certified organic crop production
The aim of this article in the Livestock Science journal is to suggest and discuss different development scenarios for organic dairy production, based on data from three East African studies of dairy production at certified organic cash crop farms. Many East African smallholder farms with certified organic crop production, also rear animals. Although farming systems are mixed, there is often very little integration and synergy between the different enterprises. Three questions are explored: 1) Can smallholder farmers benefit from keeping organic dairy cattle, and under which conditions can it be viable? 2) How can the dairy production be integrated into the farm and create synergy with the different farm elements? 3) What would need to change if their milk was to become certified organic and farmers had to comply with organic standards for dairy farming? The study concludes that there are good possibilities for more local recirculation of feed and manure, although with limited benefits when there are only few animals with short lactations on the farm. If certified organic smallholder farms should diversify their income through sale of organic milk, they would need a secure market. these farms will only benefit from sale of organic milk if they can produce milk year round at a scale, which allow them to benefit from the effort to give animals organic feed, an effort including establishment of grazing and local feed production that comply with organic standards. Outdoor stay and grazing continue to challenge many smallholder milk producers, and more robust breeds are needed. In addition, many smallholders do not have sufficient land to permit grazing around their homesteads, where the animals live. Organic standards regarding animals need improvement and precision, especially requirements for grazing areas and feed. Certification comprising whole farms including the animals, and not only crops for export, will enhance crop-animal integration.