Approximately 150 million households around the globe are engaged in milk production. In most developing countries, milk is produced by smallholders, and milk production contributes to household livelihoods, food security and nutrition. Milk provides relatively quick returns for small-scale producers and is an important source of cash income.

In recent decades, developing countries have increased their share in global dairy production. This growth is mostly the result of an increase in numbers of producing animals rather than a rise in productivity per head. In many developing countries, dairy productivity is constrained by poor-quality feed resources, diseases, limited access to markets and services  and dairy animals’ low genetic potential for milk production. Unlike developed countries, many developing countries have hot and/or humid climates that are unfavourable for dairying.

Some countries in the developing world have a long tradition of milk production, and milk or its products have an important role in the diet. Other countries have established significant dairy production only recently. Most of the former countries are located in the Mediterranean and Near East, the Indian subcontinent, the savannah regions of West Africa, the highlands of East Africa and parts of South and Central America. Countries without a long tradition of dairy production are in Southeast Asia (including China) and tropical regions with high ambient temperatures and/or humidity.


Milk production facts

  • In the last three decades, world milk production has increased by more than 50 percent, from 500 million tonnes in 1983 to 769 million tonnes in 2013.
  • India is the world’s largest milk producer, with 18 percent of global production, followed by the United States of America, China, Pakistan and Brazil.
  • Since the 1970s, most of the expansion in milk production has been in South Asia, which is the main driver of milk production growth in the developing world.
  • Milk production in Africa is growing more slowly than in other developing regions, because of poverty and – in some countries – adverse climatic conditions.
  • The countries with the highest milk surpluses are New Zealand, the United States of America, Germany, France, Australia and Ireland.
  • The countries with the highest milk deficits are China, Italy, the Russian Federation, Mexico, Algeria and Indonesia.