The food and nutrition security potential of smallholder dairy farming in rural Eastern Cape, and evaluation of milk handling and hygiene practices.
Makakole, Atlehang Bridget.
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Milk is a leading nutritive food source. Rural smallholder dairy farmers in South Africa have the potential to contribute significantly to milk supply for own consumption as well as to the lucrative formal urban markets, which would contribute to enhanced rural household livelihood options and improve food and nutrition security of the country. However, milk is highly susceptible to microbial contamination and as such strict hygiene and quality management are required to ensure that the product is of acceptable quality and safety. The formal urban markets particularly set high standards of milk quality and safety. On the other hand, rural smallholder dairy farmers are generally resource poor- they rely heavily on Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in their dairy practices. The IKS-based dairy practices would probably not be adequate to achieve quality and safety standards of milk demanded by the formal urban markets, which would severely restrict the rural smallholder farmers accessing these lucrative markets. Whilst some studies have been conducted in other Sub-Saharan African countries on the dairy practices of rural smallholder farmers and the impact of the practices on milk quality and safety, it seems that similar studies have not been conducted in South Africa. The aim of the current study was to investigate milk utilisation patterns and assess dairy practices, including animal husbandry and milk handling and hygiene practices of rural smallholder dairy farmers of the Matatiele Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The potential impact of these practices on milk quality and safety was also investigated. A sample of 150 smallholder dairy farmers were selected from rural areas of Matatiele by simple random sampling and used to determine whether their dairy practices where informed by IKS. The perceptions of the farmers about the importance of milk quality and safety in relation to their dairy practices were also explored. The sampled farmers were interviewed using a pre-tested questionnaire on various aspects of dairy practices, namely the farm facilities; animal husbandry; milking practices; and the sources of the knowledge used to inform their practices. Focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted to explore the perceptions of the farmers about milk quality and safety and transect walks were done to observe the dairy environment. The study revealed that milk was an important protein source that was commonly consumed by 94% the farmers. The majority of the farmers predominantly used IKS in their dairy practices. The farmers housed their cows in kraals, milked by hand in the kraals, and the milk produced ii was stored at room temperature. However, some of the IKS-based practices were in line with the recommended modern agricultural practices. The IKS-based practices were, however, limited with respect to cattle husbandry and hygiene standards. Milk storage was a major challenge due to lack of refrigerators. The majority of the farmers had the perception that milk quality and safety was important, whilst the perception of 17 % of the sampled farmers was that changes that occurred in milk were due to natural fermentation and as such would not impact negatively on milk safety. There is a need to interface IKS-based agricultural practices with the modern science-based agricultural practices in order to address the limitations of the IKS-based practices as well as facilitate the adoption of the recommended modern science-based practices by rural farmers. The study further investigated farmers’ knowledge and awareness of dairy hygiene and quality management through questionnaires, FGDs and direct observation of the milking process. The microbiological quality and safety of the milk was assessed by analysing total plate and coliform counts of milk samples collected from 19 farmers. The questionnaires revealed that the hygiene practices of the farmers were quite in line with the recommended modern science-based practices, although there were few exceptions. The farmers had good knowledge of personal and equipment hygiene, but had poor knowledge of environmental hygiene. The milk was consumed raw and the study participants reported that milk was often contaminated with foreign objects such as grass, dung, and soil. This would impact negatively on milk quality and safety and ultimately the food and nutrition security of the households. Results of microbiological analysis showed that 79% of the samples collected had a Total Plate Count of 8.8 x 105 to 3.3 x 1010 cfu/ml; the coliform counts (2.0 x 101 to 1.6 x 104) 84% of the milk samples exceeded the legal limit (1.0 x 101 cfu/ml); and 57.9% of the samples tested positive for faecal E. coli. These results indicate that the quality and safety of the milk samples was poor. The study findings indicate that smallholder dairy farming is an essential source of rural household livelihoods- it produces milk for household consumption and income. The milk produced is well utilised by the rural communities of the Matatiele Local Municipality; it is used as the main source of protein, especially for children. The farmers aspire to access formal markets, however; they predominately use IKS-based dairy practices, which significantly reduces the ability to achieve the standards of milk quality and safety set by the formal markets. The farmers face serious challenges of limited resources, including finance, quality dairy iii facilities and refrigeration. This seriously limits their ability to achieve acceptable standards of quality and safety, especially the high standards set by the formal markets. There is a need to provide support to these farmers; one critical and essential support area is capacity building, through training of the rural dairy farmers to interphase IKS with modern science in their practices, to improve milk quality and safety. Provision of basic facilities such as taps to increase access to clean and safe water would be also helpful. The provision of cold storage facilities accessible to smallholder dairy farmers would also be helpful in assisting them to maintain microbiological safety.