Productivity Gains in Dairy and Livestock In 2019 PAD began developing advisory content for smallholding families who raise animals

An Opportunity to Empower Smallholder Farmers and Mitigate Poverty

Ethiopia’s dairy sector is demonstrating greater sophistication. A proliferation of mini-markets and dairy outlets in urban areas, particularly in and around Addis Ababa, is driving a sustained increase in demand which, in turn, is generating specialization across the dairy supply chain with concurrent quality improvements.

In light of the number of smallholder households who keep cattle for milk production, there is significant scope for smallholders and other poor farmers to benefit from the development of the dairy sector. However, milk productivity per cow in Ethiopia is extremely poor and a majority of farmers are ill-equipped to benefit from increasing demand for dairy products, and the growing sophistication of dairy value chains.

Empowered with the right mix of information, access to new inputs, improved breeding stock, and optimal practices, Ethiopian smallholder dairy farmers will be well-placed to gain from developments in the sector. As practitioners of digital development, with a strong track record of delivering information to Ethiopian farmers via their mobile phones, PAD is well-placed to promote access to valuable dairy-related information on the part of smallholder households and to ensure that such information is relevant and actionable.

Of Ethiopia’s 18 million rural households, more than three quarters own cattle. At a national level there are more than 60 million head of cattle, of which 11.9 million - or one in five animals - are milk cows (CSA, 2018). The overwhelming majority of households who tend cattle are smallholders, with only 1 percent of households reporting ownership of more than 20 head of cattle. Livestock contribute between 12 and 16% to national GDP, and 40% of agricultural GDP.

Ethiopian milk productivity is extremely poor

In Ethiopia dairy productivity is extremely poor and among the lowest in the world. Indigenous breeds of cow, which dominate the national herd, average only 1.5 liters of milk production per day, and 260.5 liters per cow per lactation period. Very low on-farm productivity, poor market orientation, infrastructural deficiencies, the absence of cold supply chains in rural areas, and other logistical and information challenges result in limited amounts of milk production being sold on the market. These factors also contribute to widespread milk adulteration, and low quality milk and other dairy products.

Notwithstanding the importance of cattle as a source of milk, meat and income, and as a depository of savings for a majority of Ethiopian households there are fewer than 10,000 Animal Health Professionals (AHP) - extension agents who specialize in promoting animal health - in the country. With average ratios of approximately one AHP per 6,000 head of cattle and one AHP per 1,365 cattle owning households, as well as the resource constraints on Ethiopia's in-person extension system, it is difficult to see a pathway to empowering a majority of farmers with livestock-related productivity enhancing information using traditional extension systems.


With financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), and in conjunction with a consortium of partners including Digital Green, Awaaz.de, the national government’s Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), PAD is developing a nationwide digital advisory platform, dubbed #Farmstack, to empower smallholder farmers to improve farm productivity and income generation.

Farmstack aims to empower a minimum of 3.5 million Ethiopian small-scale farmers over five years.

Farmstack will deliver to farmers timely and location-specific digital extension services and information about commodity and input markets, with the goal of reducing informational asymmetries, promoting more productive farming practices, and sharing information across the dairy, wheat and other value chains. The Farmstack platform will be integrated with, and complement, existing digital services, including the 8028 Farmers Hotline which is delivered by ATA. PAD has been assisting the ATA with improving the Farmers’ Hotline since 2017 with a focus on improving user experience, analysis of attrition, optimization of service delivery and to develop content for farmers. We are optimistic about the poverty reducing potential implicit in these services.

The project incorporates a strong emphasis on the provision of digital extension services to female farmers, who have historically been excluded from both traditional and digital extension. The focus on the dairy sector was selected in part because women traditionally have more decision-making power in dairy farming than in other areas of agricultural production. Farmstack includes the very ambitious target that female farmers constitute 40% of all beneficiaries.

Farmstack will have the ability to deliver comprehensive and location specific information to farmers relating to the following topics, among others:

  • Digital advice about improving and reproducing the breed of dairy cattle;
  • Localized alerts for disease outbreaks;
  • Timely advice on animal feed and feeding practices;
  • Information on artificial insemination services;
  • Customized advice on veterinary services, animal diseases, and animal health;
  • Information related to the animal feed supply;
  • Milk prices and other market information; and
  • Digital advisory on milk handling, storage and distribution.
Kate Kuo, Program Officer, and Stewart Collis, Senior Program Officer, both of the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development Program, at the launch of #Farmstack in Addis Ababa, October 2019.

This initiative was formally launched in Addis Ababa on 31 October, 2019 and is intended to enable a more comprehensive, customized, and user-friendly extension experience for both farmers and extension workers. PAD is leading the provision of the “direct-to-end-user” component of this initiative by providing advisory content via mobile phones, with an initial focus on the dairy sector.

Farmstack has been launched at an opportune time for dairy farmers in Ethiopia. Sustained and strong economic growth and rising levels of income, complemented by rising urban demand for dairy products, make dairy a potentially reliable source of sustained income for smallholder farmers, and could be an invaluable tool for empowering women farmers.