Dairy farming has the potential to form an important part of cattle production systems for resource-limited farmers, provide healthy cheese products to the local communities and generate additional income.
Cheese is a good source of proteins, healthy fatty acids, vitamins and minerals needed for the development and growth of children, especially in rural areas, where essential nutrient intake is limited.
This highlights the potential of artisanal cheese to help fight malnutrition and poverty in rural communities at both household and community level.
Read more about sustainable development in rural communities
in this LitNet Akademies article:
While the policy and legal framework emphasises the usual sustainable development approaches to economic growth and the improved management of natural resources, the vast majority of rural populations focus more on survival strategies in their livelihoods (especially the poorest of the poor). Baumgartner (2004:17) argues that rural development should rather be aimed at supporting rural communities as they continually adapt their survival strategies in order to create a more sustainable livelihood.
In Africa (and therefore also in South Africa) it is essential to note that sustainable development will be achievable only if poor and marginalised communities are specifically included in the process and if the improvement of the quality of life of these communities is prioritised (Pelser and Van Rensburg 1997:164).
A PhD study, which is the first of its kind in South Africa, has found that farmers who have a few dairy cows and enough space can start their own small-scale, handmade cheese industry for about R24 000. This is what Dr Faith Nyamakwere of the Department of Animal Science at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of AgriSciences believes. She recently earned her doctorate with research that could help people become small-scale cheesemakers.
As part of her study, she tested the viability of small-scale cheesemaking on four farms. Her proposed model for making so-called “artisan” cheeses takes into account, among other things, what basic equipment to use, which breed of cattle produces the best end product, hygiene practices and how to set up a reasonably inexpensive facility for aging the cheese.
Dr Nyamakwere believes that her model can also be successfully used by people who want to make their own cheese, provided they have enough space to tackle the aging process under hygienic conditions.
“The idea for her project comes from Europe, where there are still many small farms where people make cheese in the traditional way and with basic equipment. Their products are part of European culture and history. It is a niche product from which farmers receive a medium to high income,” explains her supervisor, Dr Emiliano Raffrenato of the SU Department of Animal Science.
Dr Nyamakwere tells more about this unique study.
Faith, you recently received your PhD in animal science for your research on how small-scale farmers can start their own artisan cheesemaking businesses. Please would you tell us more about your research?
The aim of the study was to develop an artisanal cheesemaking model for small-scale dairy farmers in South Africa. The model includes aspects such as the use of simple equipment, breed choice, hygiene practices and how to set up a reasonably cheap aging chamber for maturation purposes.
What were your findings?
Typical hard-pressed Pecorino-style and ricotta cheeses were successfully processed using simple equipment, and a step-by-step protocol was developed. This cheesemaking protocol can potentially be duplicated by resource-limited, small-scale artisanal producers. The Jersey milk was noted to possess good, qualitative characteristics for cheesemaking, and it ensures higher yields. The designed artisanal chamber – using the domestic humidifier and air conditioner to control humidity and temperature respectively – was noted to be ideal for on-farm cheese aging, yielding comparably good-quality cheese.
How did you ensure that your model stayed relatively affordable, so that small-scale farmers would be able to implement the model with a low budget?
We used affordable equipment and ingredients for cheesemaking, considering resources that were available and accessible to rural farmers. The adopted cheesemaking process is relatively easy and can potentially be duplicated by resource-limited rural farmers.
What made you interested in the topic, and what inspired your research?
My supervisors for this project, Dr Raffrenato and Dr Esposito, are originally from Italy, and most European countries have a long tradition or culture of cheesemaking using simple tools. With their moving to Africa, where the set-up is different, the idea was partially born. In addition, according to literature and from practical experience, we noted that small-scale farmers face several challenges, for example, stiff competition from bigger farmers, and milk production being seasonal and so affecting their cash flow. Therefore, artisanal cheesemaking was noted to be the key to help overcome these challenges.
What did you enjoy most about the process?
The on-field work: it was an amazing experience with the farmers in the Eastern Cape. Cheese is a wonderful piece of art, and the farmers were interested and very involved.
What were some of the most challenging parts of your research?
At first, it was difficult to sell our idea to the farmers, and we noted that they lacked sufficient information regarding cheese processing, for example, operation costs, production techniques and market opportunities.
Why is this research important? What is it contributing to society?
Dairy farming has the potential to form an important part of cattle production systems for resource-limited farmers, provide healthy cheese products to the local communities and generate additional income. Cheese is a good source of proteins, healthy fatty acids, vitamins and minerals needed for the development and growth of children, especially in rural areas, where essential nutrient intake is limited. This highlights the potential of artisanal cheese to help fight malnutrition and poverty in rural communities at both household and community level.
What are the next steps for you, regarding this research?
I look forward to having more farmers on board, and those who are interested can get in contact with us and see how we can work together. On the research side, we still need more funding and researchers willing to collaborate, so that we can fully profile the cheese from these small-scale farmers.
- Photos: supplied