Agribusiness deprives the poor of their livelihood and a vital food product

A new report from the organisation GRAIN highlights the importance of milk for the subsistence and health of poor people in many countries in the Southern hemisphere. Most milk markets are run by local vendors who collect the raw milk from small farmers and pastoralists. They are now threatened by large dairy corporations like Nestlé and others, such as PepsiCo and Cargill, which are attempting to take control over the milk trade in these countries, from the farm to the market.

Arrivée d'un bidon de lait à la laiterie de DiébougouLe devant de la laiterie de Diébougou“People’s milk” involves hundreds of millions of people across the world, from small farmers and herders to cheese makers and vendors of fresh local milk. They bring clean, nourishing and affordable milk to hundreds of millions of poor families.

  • 80% of the dairy markets in developing countries are supplied by these “People’s milk” networks, often called the informal sector;

  • 15% of the world population are engaged in milk production ;

  • Small supply networks in the South provide 200 jobs per million litres of milk/year in rural areas, compared to 5 jobs per million litres of milk/year in industrial milk production in the North;

  • In Pakistan, Kenya and Colombia, local “People’s milk” costs half as much as packaged milk in supermarkets.

Small farmers, herders and vendors carry out an impressive job to bring dairy products to the expanding markets in the South. The problem is that large corporations are taking an interest in these same markets and are using a heavy hand to take them away from the poor, aided by governments.

  • Through bilateral trade agreements multinational dairy corporations can periodically dump cheap subsidised milk powder on the market, undercutting the price of local producers;

  • Private regulations and standards are geared towards large companies and lead to the closure of the small local milk markets.

Financial investors and large dairy companies unite their forces to set up mega dairy farms in all the countries of the South. The Cargill hedge fund is now putting 300 million dollars into industrial milk farms in China and India. The world’s largest dairy cooperative, Fonterra, is building farms in China, India and Brazil of a size that would never have been permitted in its country of origin, New Zealand. In Vietnam a bank has started to set up a dairy farm for 137 000 cows. These are environmental and social disasters , causing hardship for millions of people.

Réception du lait à la laiterieA number of actions and measures have been put forward to stop the takeover of the dairy markets by large business companies:

    • High customs tariffs to prevent periodical dumping of imported milk powder and cheap dairy products; Reorientation of milk production towards domestic markets in exporting countries, combined with supply management programmes;

    • Food security systems directed to the needs of the population and not the profits of business companies;

    • Boycotts of large dairy corporations and supermarkets;

    • Disinvestment campaigns targeting funds aimed at industrial milk production in the countries of the South;

    • Solidarity inside and across frontiers between milk producers, small vendors and processors, consumers and workers in the dairy industry.

“People’s milk“ is up against powerful forces. But the experiences from Colombia and elsewhere prove that the case can be won, because vast numbers of people depend upon it for their subsistence and the well-being of their families. It is precisely the type of small scale food scheme that the world needs to fight poverty, hunger and climate change and we should all rally to support them.

The full report is available at

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This kind of milk robbery does not exist in Burkina Faso. However, milk powder and sweetened condensed milk substitutes (vegetable fats + sugar + traces of milk powder) are everywhere. Nevertheless, prevention is better than cure. Protecting producers against such trends was one of the reasons for setting up the National Union of Mini Dairies in Burkina.

A few days ago I took part in the recording of a national TV programme “Parlons-en”(Let’s talk about it) on the development of the milk trade in Burkina, to be broadcast shortly. Three members of the National Union of Mini Dairies and a representative of the Ministry of Animal Resources discussed the issue … It appears that the doors to dialogue are wide open today. It only remains to step forward!

In the meantime I invite you to watch out, not to miss the programme.

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