Dairy Farming in Developing Countries Could Rapidly Take Off

A recent paper in the journal Animal Frontiers contains a warning for animal advocates. Dairy companies may be taking the fight to unexpected places: developing countries.

September 2023

Across Europe and America, companies are battling to be the foamy liquid in your latte. Dairy is currently attempting to fight off a growing mass of milk alternatives, made from oats, soy, coconuts and even potatoes. But dairy companies may be taking the fight to unexpected places: developing countries.  – Thomas Manandhar-Richardson 

A recent paper in the journal Animal Frontiers contains a warning for animal advocates

The paper (Heady, 2023) claims that increasing milk consumption among children in low and middle income countries (LMICs) can help with the malnutrition problems they face. In fact, no evidence is presented to support that claim. Nonetheless, the article has some useful insights for animal advocates looking to reduce humanity’s dairy habit.

The paper analyses data from over 50 LMICs, across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, in order to understand why children in some countries consume far more dairy than others. The measure they were interested in was the percentage of children consuming dairy every day. 


They find that two key factors in explaining childhood dairy habits are GDP and relative milk prices. Dairy is relatively expensive in many of these countries, sometimes costing 20 times as much per calorie as staple crops such as wheat and rice. But in richer countries, the % of children consuming dairy every day is much higher. And in countries with the same level of wealth, children consume a lot more dairy when it’s cheap compared to other goods. 

The paper looks at differences between countries, but these trends might also apply to changes within a country. As a country becomes richer, and if dairy prices in a country drop, childhood dairy consumption could increase sharply.

Indeed, the paper highlights an example of this happening in Vietnam. In less than 15 years, the number of Vietnamese children consuming cow’s milk daily catapulted from a mere 21% in 2000 to a staggering 71% in 2014, according to UNICEF data. This surge is especially remarkable given that most Vietnamese adults are lactose intolerant.

An alert for the animal advocacy movement

This is a clear warning to the animal advocacy movement: even in lactose intolerant countries, a thriving dairy industry can quickly take root by targeting children. We need to be alert to these global patterns and the possibility of rapid change. But it may also hint at a solution: if parents buy far more dairy for their children when it is cheap, perhaps even small price increases could rapidly reduce demand for dairy

Animal advocates are increasingly talking about meat consumption in low and middle income countries such as China, where increasing economic development is fuelling rising demand for animal products.

Organisations such as  The Good Growth Co and Tiny Beam Fund argue that animal advocates should be focussing more of their efforts on these countries. The logic goes that slowing/preventing rising demand for meat in these LMICs could be more tractable than reducing meat consumption in richer countries with strong traditions of regular meat eating. As well as this, these countries are relatively neglected by existing animal advocacy efforts, and the scale of the problem – with the combined population of China and India nearing 3 billion – is huge. When it comes to high meat diets, prevention (in LMICs) may be easier than cure (in the developed world).

This research informs that discussion, because it suggests that while many low and middle income countries consume little dairy, this situation could change rapidly. Advocates should remain vigilant for attempts to kickstart industrial dairy farming in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, and have response plans in place.