In the 1990s, the local dairy industry was virtually wiped out. Trade policies facilitated the importation of cheap milk powder from developed countries, and many farmers — large and small — were forced out of business.
Even the world-class Jamaica Hope breed of cattle was at risk. The few dairy farms and cattle that exist today represent a mere fraction of what the industry was like in its heyday.
Currently, with just 20 per cent of the domestic demand of 60 million litres of milk being produced locally, a competitive market exists for this dietary staple. This figure is a far cry from the 38.8 million litres produced in 1990 to 1994, which subsequently dropped to 14.5 million litres – a decline of 63 per cent – in 2000 to 2005. But the downturn was not over. Production dwindled yet again by 15.65 per cent to 12.2 million litres between 2005 and 2010.
In January 2016, the Drink Real Milk campaign was launched to help revive this important industry. It was spearheaded by Nutramix, in partnership with Seprod, Newport Fersan and the Jamaica Dairy Development Board. Since then, the industry has been experiencing a slow but steady rebirth.
Focused on educating the public and the farmers, the campaign aims to improve production and increase the consumption of milk.
“It’s about education on both sides – improving production and increasing consumption, but doing it simultaneously. It’s a 10-year campaign, because changing consumer behaviour and changing farming behaviour takes a long time,” states Tina Hamilton, brand manager at CB Foods and Nutramix.
However, there are obstacles that must be overcome. According to Corporate Affairs Manager at CB Group, Dr Donald Keith Amiel, Jamaica must determine how prepared the country is to relaunch the dairy industry on the scale required to achieve success.
“A cow will take 1 to 3 acres of land, so for a dairy herd of 150 you would need a 300-acre farm. Politically that has not happened for the last 20-30 years. When you have 300 acres of land, you divide it up into one-one acre and give it to 300 people and the land becomes non-productive, because economies of scale have been breached. This is one of the difficulties in restarting the dairy industry,” Amiel pointed out.
He went on to explain that the Bog Walk area once hosted more than 400 milk rooms, where local farmers could milk their cows and the Nestle trucks would then collect them.
“Small farmers don’t have the infrastructure, so you’ll have to support them with machine shops and yards that have the tractors, ploughs and so on. Also, they need agronomists and horticulturists to teach them how to grow proper pasture, supplemented with extension officers who would provide insecticides, fertilisers and so on,” Amiel explained.
The Drink Real Milk programme has already made a difference.
“The campaign is doing its part. Nutramix has done a number of activities in terms of educating farmers. We have put in place a livestock support team which goes out and focuses on the health of the animals, whether they buy Nutramix or not. Fersan also supports with help in training, fertilisers and grazing techniques, and provides free soil samples.”
And some farmers are buying into the campaign. “In one case, a farmer has increased production from six litres of milk per cow to 10 litres,” states Hamilton. “This is a significant increase for that farmer, as he can produce more on his farm and create more employment for his community. This contributes to more Jamaican products and supplements imports coming in.
“We’ve also seen so many farmers who had left dairy coming back, and even some younger farmers, who wouldn’t have considered going into dairy, wanting to go into it because they see where they can actually make money, and also get support from Seprod and Serge.”
— Hanniffa Patterson