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Earth Day Q&A With Joachim Balakana, Expert in Animal Science and Livestock Management
On Earth Day, Joachim Balakana shares insights on why the dairy sector should not be overlooked to meet global sustainability goals, and how a program in Tanzania is working towards sustainable dairy solutions.

Joachim Balakana is the National Coordinator for the Dairy Nourishes Africa program. Mr. Balakana is an animal scientist with more than 23 years of experience in the Tanzanian dairy sector. He is experienced in livestock management, livestock genetics, program development, and implementation and capacity strengthening of dairy value chain actors.

By 2050, the world’s population will be nearly 10 billion people. Yet, we are behind on global nutrition goals: malnutrition remains a global challenge, especially for children. In 2020, approximately 22 percent of children under the age of five were affected by stunting. This means that it’s critical to re-imagine food systems in a way that can both feed a growing population while sustaining the health of our planet. Africa’s food systems are especially important to consider: By 2050, the continent’s population will be 2.5 billion.

This Earth Day, as our climate emergency accelerates, the global community is convening around this year’s theme: “Invest in Our Planet. What will you do?” The agriculture industry is no exception — radical transformation is needed to ensure that our global food systems align with global sustainability goals. Today, we speak with Joachim Balakana about his work on the Dairy Nourishes Africa program in Tanzania to ensure that dairy market actors are investing in our planet.

Tell us about Dairy Nourishes Africa. What is the program doing to invest in our planet?

Working with the Global Dairy Platform (GDP), Land O’Lakes Venture37 and Bain & Company implement a public-private partnership called Dairy Nourishes Africa (DNA) that is serving smallholder dairy farmers in Tanzania. In Tanzania, DNA worked with farmer-allied enterprises, supporting 803 smallholder farmers to enhance on-farm productivity.

DNA supports enterprises to recruit, train, and deploy extension agents to smallholder dairy farmers to provide additional training and support for improved technologies and practices that are shown to enhance productivity. Productivity improvements are the surest way to reduce emissions intensity, since most methane emissions comes from “enteric fermentation” (digestion of feed) of the animal; therefore, more milk from each cow reduces the need for additional cows.

Data collected 12 months into the pilot has shown DNA’s embedded extension services model improves productivity by an average of 57%, largely through optimizing animal nutrition. These productivity improvements have reduced emissions intensity by an estimated 33%, based on on-farm data and FAO databases.

DNA also leverages these training opportunities to generate awareness and adoption of climate-smart agriculture technologies and practices, including planting of herbaceous trees and shrubs. Integrating this vegetation has shown to improve soil fertility and soil health, which reduces the risk of erosion and run-off and builds the capacity in soils to sequester carbon.

Apart from sustainable dairy intensification, DNA also helped farmers plant shrubs and herbaceous trees, which improved soil fertility, and accretion of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and reduction of running water to control soil erosion. 

Why the focus on dairy in East Africa, specifically? What action is required from the dairy sector for global sustainability goals?

The dairy cattle sector in Tanzania contributes approximately 16 percent of national emissions, or 28.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time, dairy is also an essential pathway for improving incomes and nutrition status of the population. In Tanzania, stakeholders recognize that it is increasingly critical to find channels through which the country can  sustainably increase local dairy production in climate-smart ways, and they have recognized that improvements in cow feeding and management can contribute to the reduction of emissions.  Actions to reduce emissions intensity in Tanzania are therefore contributing to a global effort towards achieving “net zero” emissions from the dairy sector: in 2021, GDP launched Pathways to Dairy Net Zero Initiative to “demonstrate the global dairy sector’s commitment to reducing GHG emissions while continuing to produce nutritious foods.”

Improving dairy productivity with sustainable approaches —  like the ones DNA is embracing, including for growing feed/fodder — of smallholder farmers improves their incomes and their families’ and communities’ nutrition. By increasing milk production and reducing emissions per cow, smallholder dairy systems are able to cut down their emissions by half, according to a feasibility research report by Hayden Montgomery, special representative to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases – Pathways to Dairy Net Zero. It also means there is less of an incentive for deforestation to expand agricultural production into forested areas to feed dairy cattle, instead improving productivity on the land in production (for “virgin” cropland, or to sell firewood/charcoal as a source of income, etc.). When done correctly, integrated livestock systems that include cattle and crops can serve as a way to regenerate the health of the soil and planet, rather than causing detrimental harm.

Tell us about the results you’ve seen in Tanzania. What innovations are you seeing that are transforming the industry?

In Tanzania, the dairy sector is being transformed through different innovations. Improvement of genetics of dairy cow is on the agenda to transform the industry. In areas with high population of cows, over 85 percent of farmers use artificial insemination to improve cow genetics towards cows that produce more milk.

Another innovation that I’ve seen is the improvement of pasture and quality forage for feeding dairy cows, which is so important for increased milk production and smallholder dairy farmers’ incomes. Typically, farmers in Tanzania rely on poor quality hay or degraded pastureland. The government and several development projects in the region, are investing in forage research to identify nutrient-rich forage varieties that are suited to different growing regions and dissemination of quality forage seeds to forage producers to achieve better dry matter yield per hectare.

On Earth Day, what advice would you give to other implementers in the development industry as we’re thinking through ways to better invest in our planet?

Dairy should not be overlooked in global efforts to sustain the health of our planet — the sector will play a critical role in sustainable development efforts. That means that old school dairy projects can’t keep focusing on simply increasing the quantity and quality of milk: programs need to consider the environmental impact of their outputs.
 
Likewise, global industry players have the resources and technical background to support supply chain improvements and share lessons learned with their smaller peers. It’s really going to take a collaborative, all-hands-on-deck approach to invest in our planet’s future.

Banner photo: Dairy Nourishes Africa millet forage demonstration plot in Tanzania.
By Joachim Balakana 04/21/2022