Discipline: environment; Keywords: GHG, soil health, waste management, water quality, biodiversity, socio-economics, dairy product quality, animal care.

The report is structured according to the FAO-IDF Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam (DDoR) and the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF), which endorses the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and provides guidelines for sustainable development. The report in particular pays attention to (1) environmental integrity as it pertains to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, soil health and nutrient supply, waste management, water quality and quantity, and biodiversity; (2) socio-economics in terms of market development, rural stability and farm worker conditions; (3) dairy product quality and safety, and (4) animal care.

Measurements show that GHG emissions of dairy cattle is 10% of the ca 30 000 Gg CO2 eq/annum for all livestock in the country and 1.3 to 1.5 kg CO2 eq/kg milk, which compares favourably with prominent dairy producing countries. Since 1990, the number of cows has declined by 24 % while total milk production has increased by 56 %. This implies that efficiency has improved, and GHG emissions, waste and water use per unit product have declined. A more effective way of reducing GHG is to sequester atmospheric CO2 into soils which can be achieved with regenerative and conservation driven agriculture methods. These methods can also improve soil quality and carbon stocks substantially. In an experiment on soil analysis from Swellendam to Humansdorp, soils from kikuyu-ryegrass systems and shallow tilled soils recorded carbon contents of 50.3 kg C/m3 and 54.3 kg C/m3 respectively, vs only 34.6 kg C/m3 for deep tilled (conventional) soils. In the Tsitsikamma it has been shown that carbon sequestration can nullify GHG emissions although much work is still required on many farms.

Healthy soils support proliferation of soil microbes and nutrient cycling, in turn supporting sustainable production and reduced costs associated with fertilizer application. Generally, an improvement of 1% carbon in the upper 30 cm soil will coincide with atmospheric N fixation of 25 kg. If soil health is also improved, turnover will increase and more NH4 –N which results from chemical fertilizer, and otherwise will be converted into the GHG N2O, can be utilized to the benefit of plant growth. The N and P use efficiency on pastures in the Eastern Cape was 29 and 36% respectively which compares favourably with figures elsewhere in the world. It should be noted that the variation from farm to farm is substantial (in the vicinity of seven-fold), which suggests that further input into research, extension and training is required.

Waste is of concern from pre-farm gate through to dairy processing plants. Most dairy farms have waste disposal and sewage systems that allow them to use the solids as fertilizers and the water either in irrigation or to recycle for cleaning. Some of the large dairy processing companies have waste reduction and water cleaning operations, some of which generate CH4 for electricity generation, whilst the purified water is recycled for cleaning operations. The best route for disposal or reuse of industrial waste depends on specific characteristics of the waste stream. In recent years there has been development in the ability of dairy processors to collect and harness the economic value of various waste streams, which ultimately also drives more environmentally sound methods of disposal. The threat which plastic pollution poses to the environment remains a topic of concern. South Africa is fortunate in that it has a fairly robust plastic recycling industry which contributes to the ability of dairy operations to divert this form of solid waste from landfill disposal sites. Cross-contamination of packaging with dairy product waste remains a limiting factor which can devalue the material before being received by recyclers. This highlights the need for efficient ‘at source’ separation of waste which has become a standard practice for dairy processors.

Water is a finite and vulnerable resource and must be dealt with responsibly, both as it applies to quantity and quality. Recent developments and initiatives around water in the South African Dairy Sector are steadily contributing towards creating a culture of circularity and sustainability. A water stewardship program has been introduced by the MPO in collaboration with the WWF-SA, encouraging innovative initiatives in water management, ecosystem protection, recycling, and effluent treatment in dairy factories. Participation by several processors and farmers in this initiative over the past year indicates that water is a growing concern in the sector and that the program has established a platform for knowledge-sharing. A second initiative is to develop best practice guidelines for determining aquatic and wetland buffer zones for dairy farms, and a third one is to establish minimum water requirements of forage species. The latter aims to compare and calibrate different irrigation scheduling systems of different pasture mixes for various topographic, soil and climatic conditions under normal and restricted water conditions.

South Africa is a country with a rich endowment of natural resources, which include its biodiversity and ecosystems. The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) is responsible to fulfil the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). With the adoption of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, the NBSAP has outlined a path to ensure that the management of biodiversity assets and ecological infrastructure continue to support South Africa’s development path and play an important role in underpinning the economy. As the demand for agricultural products has increased, driven by the nutritional needs of a growing population, the importance of developing a biodiversity-based agricultural system to ensure future sustainability should be regarded as a key driver for the Industry.  Dairy farms across South Africa have widely undertaken (although still not always to a formal extent, especially among smaller-scale farmers) to integrate biodiversity-conscious approaches in their businesses. The vast costs involved in repairing damaged soils are understood and therefore the benefits in monitoring soil health, structure, nutrients and biological activity are recognised. In general, therefore, the dairy industry supports the vision and strategies of the NBSAP.

The dairy industry is one of the most deregulated indus­tries in the world. The industry is not subject to any statutory interven­tion in the production and marketing of its products aimed at managing or influencing the supply and demand of unprocessed milk and dairy products, and it is not supported by govern­ment subsidies. A totally free and competitive dairy market prevails which creates a very dynamic industry that continuously adapts to the changing needs of consumers and industrial users. However, this results in other challenges which require sophisticated and continuous analyses of market signals and the collection of information, also from consumers. Consumers and dieticians are also trained and informed through a Consumer Education Project which has received accolades by the International Dairy Federation (IDF). Various important markets have been identified with the potential of serving as trading partners, with the Sub-Sahara African market perhaps being the most prominent, especially as an export market.

In rural development the core emphasis is to promote competitive, profitable, and sustainable existing black and new enterprises by contributing to the reduction of commercial venture constraints. The initiative is aligned with the South African developmental priorities, namely food security, poverty reduction, promoting equitable economic transformation and contributing to general economic development and growth. Skills and knowledge development are supported by Milk SA to ensure the continuation of an appropriate skills and knowledge dispensation. In the context of rural economy development, Milk SA's Skills & Knowledge Development Program supports training at new and black-owned dairy enterprises. However, the rural dairy economy is not only supported by the organized dairy industry through Milk SA, but also by several provincial departments associated with agriculture which drives entrepreneurial programs and training. There is a need to measure the impact of training in the formal and informal markets. This coincides with a need to measure the impact of subsistence/smallholder dairy farming on the rural economy. Such an initiative could provide a measure of success of general empowerment.

Working conditions in the Dairy Industry, as in other industries, are informed by several Acts associated with the Bill of Rights of the National Constitution. These provide regulations and guidelines for the right of freedom of association of both the employer and employee, the protection of employers and those seeking employment, the protection of the rights of employees, the organizational rights of employees such as access to the workplace by a representative of the trade union, collective bargaining rights, the right of employees to strike and the right of an employer’s recourse to lockout, unfair dismissal and unfair labour practices. Employers in the dairy industry should commit themselves to the following, if they have not done so already:

- Comply with the conditions legislated for fair labour practice.

- Contribute to employee unemployment benefits.

- Contribute to the skills development of employees.

- Provide for compensation of death or disablement resulting from occupational activities.

- Provide for the safety and health of the employees at work.

- Uphold the rights of labour tenants and farm occupiers to reside on land and to acquire

   land where appropriate.

- Ensure that recreational areas on the farm are available.

- Participate in actions towards establishment of a sustainable local economy.

In terms of product quality and safety, the dairy quality and safety initiatives of Milk SA are the responsibility of the Dairy Standard Agency (DSA), a non-profit company established by the industry. The DSA monitors and supports procedures to ensure product compliance with product composition and food safety standards. Promotion of compliance with standards relating to milk and other dairy products is a demanding and multi-dimensional task which the DSA fulfils. Complexity through regulations relating to product composition, food safety, animal health, animal feed, milking parlours, transportation of milk, processing plants and storage, all of which are regulated by different Acts (also managed in different government departments), requires careful monitoring. In terms of its mandate the DSA has progressively moved to a landscape where today it is well-recognised by the respective government bodies, the organised primary and secondary dairy industry and other stakeholders, for example national consumer bodies and the retail sector. The DSA has the capacity to maintain successful milk and dairy product monitoring programs; maintain a remedial action program for regular contraveners of legal standards; identify non-conformances in the industry in respect of milk and other dairy products; and maintain an effective communication program with all stakeholders concerned. The lack of a harmonised (standardised) system at national level for the calibration of laboratory instruments for the measurement of fat, protein, lactose, milk urea nitrogen, somatic cell count, and other quality parameters of milk, also created a need for the DSA to initiate a national independent laboratory service. Expansion to the services and tests provided by the DSA are continuously evaluated. To that effect methods of analyses need to be developed or compared, a recent example being a comparison of methods to determine antibiotic and other residues in milk.

Animal care in the DSF criteria is only defined in the context of welfare. However, health and production are also components of animal care, with the different components influencing one another. From a scientific and farmer perspective, an animal is in a good state of welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, relatively able to express its innate behaviour, and is not suffering from negative states such as pain, fear and distress. Good animal welfare requires amongst other disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling, transport and eventually, humane slaughter. The dairy industry is committed to the implementation of best practices to ensure animal welfare. As a member of the IDF and by consulting the IDF’s Guide to Good Animal Welfare in Dairy Production and the SABS SANS 1694 guide for dairy cattle welfare, the DSA with the assistance of other stakeholders has developed auditable criteria to measure compliance with relevant animal welfare standards. The purpose is to assist farmers in the process of risk identification, to evaluate the risks, and to implement management practises which can improve welfare. In animal health, research programs are running to control and prevent mastitis, liver fluke and hoof health. The focus is on prevention and alternative treatment to limit the use of antibiotics and drugs. New developments include the control of typical African diseases, a ketosis monitoring kit, APPs for various diseases and a Global Information System (GIS) for disease reporting. 

In conclusion, the Dairy Industry has recorded significant progress in most of the sustainability goals as defined in the DDoR and the DSF. It should be recognised that this is an endeavour which requires continuous attention through research, monitoring and training, and ultimately adoption by all role players across the dairy value-chain in the country. Several programs have therefore been documented. The report should be viewed as dynamic and will be updated regularly to reflect changes in the industry as additional information becomes available and new initiatives are developed.


H. Meissner & C. Ohlhoff, 2020. Sustainability in the SA dairy Industry: A Status and Progress Report. Milk SA, Brooklyn, Pretoria.