Lessons from Integrating Gender and Nutrition Perspectives in the Dairy Sector

dairy cow and calf in a field

Milk is a widely consumed beverage of high nutritional value. It can also be processed to create other value-added products, such as yogurt, ghee, condensed milk, dried milk, and much more.

In 2023, global milk production reached 950 million tonnes, a 1.3% growth from 2022. The FAO’s “Dairy Market Review: Emerging Trends and Outlook in 2023 Report”  attributes this to high yields and the large number of cattle available. The situation in Africa is different,  even though the dairy sector serves as a major source of livelihood for many African farmers, it is grappling with decreasing milk production brought on by limited feed and fodder supplies, unfavorable pasture conditions, and disruption of livestock operations due to conflicts.

Meanwhile, a significant disparity often goes unnoticed: the gender gap. Women, who play an important role in dairy production and processing, are frequently marginalized from decision-making processes. They have limited access to resources and are often excluded from opportunities for advancement. These exclusions have an impact on gender equality that is reflected in nutritional outcomes.

Over the past five years, Tanager through its Impacting Gender & Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange in Agriculture (IGNITE) project has been providing technical assistance on gender and nutrition integration to African agricultural institutions. Our capacity building and institutional strengthening efforts has fostered nutrition- and gender-transformative approaches in various food systems, including dairy, and thereby bridging the gender gap and enhancing inclusivity in value chains.

cows in a field

The Road to Equality: Advancing Women’s Participation in Dairy

In Tanzania, women and youth tend to have limited access to and control over the resources and information needed for dairy production, value addition, and marketing. Milk consumption is also sporadic because of high costs (especially during the dry season); in addition, some households do not perceive it as a nutrient-dense beverage and there is limited availability of processed milk products, particularly in rural areas.

The TI3P project (Tanzania Inclusive Processor-Producer Partnerships in Dairy project), has been working to contribute to inclusive agricultural transformation by enabling public-private partnerships, increasing the incomes of small-scale dairy producers through improved access to reliable markets, increasing women’s participation in agriculture, and increasing the consumption of diversified diets at the household level. TI3P is a consortium led by the Tanzania Agriculture Development Bank (TADB)  in partnership with the Tanzania Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Land O’Lakes Venture37, and Heifer International.

To support these efforts, IGNITE helped TI3P conduct a gender and nutrition formative assessment and a study on the impact of financing on household dynamics, dairy productivity, and diet quality in dairy households. Further, Tanager led a joint review of TI3P’s training materials, tools, and strategies for integrating gender-responsive and nutrition-sensitive approaches in the dairy sector with the implementing partners. As a result, today, TADB has an institutionalized dedicated gender and nutrition experts to support the project’s implementation and partners’ institutional strengthening.

To leverage on opportunities identified in the formative assessment, IGNITE is also working with TI3P to develop a social and behavior change strategy that promotes women’s empowerment, increased consumption of milk and milk products for improved nutrition outcomes, and the transformation of social power dynamics.

Tanager through IGNITE has also been providing technical assistance on gender and nutrition integration to several institutions and programs in Nigeria as well. Among them is Advancing Local Dairy Development in Nigeria (ALDDN), a project led by Agriculture and Nutrition Limited that aims to improve smallholder women dairy farmers’ livelihoods, productivity, nutrition, and empowerment.

IGNITE conducted a diagnostic assessment for ALDDN to identify areas of support to advance and institutionalize gender and nutrition.  IGNITE supported ALDNN to co-develop and review its nutrition modules, nutrition strategy, and gender policy and strategy. To enhance staff capacity to implement the tools developed, tailored trainings were conducted for the technical teams and ALLDN partners.

Kenyan pastoralist with herd of cows

Lessons Learned While Providing Technical Assistance

The technical assistance offered to these partners has proved transformative for the organizations involved but have also provided specific lessons on gender and nutrition integration in the dairy sector:

  1. Both men and women are found at different levels in the dairy value chain, from input supply, production, processing, and transport to marketing , due to existing economic and socio-cultural norms. Gender-sensitive considerations need to be mainstreamed across the value chain for women to benefit to the same extent as men.
  2. Women’s empowerment is critical in the dairy sector to realize significant gains in terms of access to and control over resources and the ability to pursue income-generating opportunities.
  3. Gender norms maintain hierarchies of power between men vs. women. For instance, dairy cows are owned and controlled by men, since they are considered the heads of the households. They also have ready access to dairy inputs and control of dairy income. A majority of the dairy activities are managed by women, however, both men’s and women’s voices need to be equally heard and considered in on-farm activities.
  4. Human behaviors can be barriers to the adoption of nutrition-sensitive gender interventions. In the case of TADB, Tanager is developing a social and behavior change strategy to champion increased milk and milk product consumption, which will improve nutrition outcomes at the household level.
  5. At the institutional level, gender-responsive and nutrition-sensitive practices receive more support when awareness and sensitization is conducted for all team members. This provides institution-wide ownership to guarantee support and resource allocation.

Through this partnership with Tanager’s IGNITE project, the TI3P project led by TADB and ALDNN project at Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition Limited, as well as their partners, have enhanced their capacity to integrate gender-responsive and nutrition-sensitive practices in their engagement within the dairy sector. Notably, there has been increased women’s participation in decision-making at the household level, control of dairy businesses and productive assets, and increased women’s access to credit and other financial services. Sahel’s recent reports indicate that in the ALDDN program, the “men as allies” approach have successfully improved women’s uptake and usage of financial services while also increasing their household decision-making power.