Esmira Latifova, likely the province’s most knowledgeable person on Ontario’s water buffalo industry, participated in the recent REAPontario workshop in which she described a number of challenges and opportunities.
- Can marketing co-operatively build this new industry?
- How can we narrow significant gaps between consumers, producers and processors?
- Is it time to make promotion of this emerging industry a priority?
- How do we grow supply of milk production to meet accelerating market demand?
- Would farm-gate marketing build the meat market?
In terms of opportunities
In terms of opportunities, there has been growth in Ontario’s Ethnic Consumer Market: almost 6 in 10 (58.3%) have been born in Asian countries [includes Middle East], according to Latifova. She also viewed the unique and healthy products made from water buffalo as an opportunity. Buffalo milk has less cholesterol than cow milk, no link to digestive problems or allergies, and it is high in protein. She also pointed to prospect of exporting high value-added products (a recent policy thrust of Ontario government), the ability to leverage new workforce expertise, and that this market contributes to economic diversification.
By Latifova’s estimation, a minimum of 100 water buffalo is required to generate enough income for a successful business. The cost of each buffalo is C$2500-3000 minimum. Italian water buffalo are considered higher quality and cost about C$5000 apiece.
Given the above, producers would require at least $250,000 in animals alone to get into the business, not to mention land and labour costs. In the case of Ontario farmers, most were already established farmers and some financed their operations by selling their own beef cattle.
Solutions, and the role of rural communities
According to Latifova, small communities could better support water buffalo enterprises in a variety of ways. They could support research that could contribute to improved quality of animals, including genetic improvements for milk and meat. Ensuring regulatory compliance (food safety) is also important. They could also find creative ways to help producers finance their operations and build collaborative partnerships.
Producers need better collaboration as well as industry association or breeders association. Advocacy around frozen semen importing and distribution would be one important role for an industry association. They could also work on joint marketing initiatives to increase awareness of the industry outside of gourmet circles, also brand management (package + label).
In closing, the arrival of water buffalo to Ontario was accomplished without much fanfare in 2007 but attracted some media coverage and general interest within a few years. Other than the research commissioned by the province in 2013, there has not been much ‘buzz’ in recent years. There appears to be a lot of potential for breeders in Ontario, but the various factors described in this article appear to be holding this industry back.
Ontario farmers embrace water buffalo, Toronto Star
Water buffalo in Ontario, Edible Toronto
Ontario Water Buffalo Co., Website
Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator