Innovation of the Week: Milk Processing

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Milk stored in plastic bags sealed with candlewax to sell at the market.

Milk stored in plastic bags sealed with candlewax to sell at the market.

By Abby Massey

As we’ve seen throughout Danielle’s travels, livestock is an important source of food, income, and culture for many people in sub-Saharan Africa. Livestock can also be a means of preserving local genetic diversity and a defense against climate change (see The Keepers of Genetic Diversity, Maintaining Links to Tradition in a Changing World.)

In Kenya, for example, the dairy sector alone accounts for 14 percent of the agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and smallholder farmers account for 80 percent of total marketed milk—making the ability to process dairy an essential defense against losing money on spoiled milk. Additionally, processing milk ensures access to its nutritional benefits while also reducing the risks of food borne illness.

Though it’s a top commodity, milk’s journey to the market is not an easy one, especially when the market is hours away, as most are in sub Saharan Africa. Unpasteurized milk can easily spoil by the time it gets to market, so pasteurization, which requires the milk to be heated to a specific point thereby killing pathogenic bacteria, is key. Reducing the number of harmful bacteria means that it won’t spoil as fast, allowing for milk to make it to the market unspoiled—increasing income and consumer base.

In Nairobi, Kenya, Danielle Nierenberg met a farmer, Margaret Njeri Ndimu, who is seeing an increase in her income by selling her goats milk in plastic bags sealed with candlewax. She learned this process through a training program provided by the Mazingira Institute. This very simple means of processing her product makes it easier to manage and sell, allowing her customers to purchase small quantities of the perishable milk in portable containers.

According to Innovations for Agricultural Value Chains in Africa produced by the Meridian Institute, unpasteurized milk is more popular with consumers than pasteurized milk because of the significant cost difference. And many farmers couldn’t afford to pasteurize their milk, or even have access to facilities that could pasteurize their milk, even if they had a consumer base that could afford to purchase it.

A project implemented by the FAO and WHO promotes the use of the lactoperoxidase system (LP-s)—where an anti-bacterial compound is mixed into unpasteurized milk, allowing farmers to keep it safe for longer periods of time. With the application of the use LP-s, milk will last 5-6 days in refrigeration (+4°C or +39°F) and up to 4-7 hours at high temperatures (from 31 to 35°C or 87.8 to 95°F), allowing the farmer time to transport milk to market.

An East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project also recognizes the benefits farmers see when they gain access to improved processing and preservation of their dairy. It encourages farmers to join cooperatives (See Innovation of the Week: Farmers Groups and Cooperatives) so that instead of processing the milk alone, farmers can turn to group owned and run refrigerated milk collection centers, significantly reducing the financial burden of the process. The milk is then transported to a milk processing facility and sent to market. EADD has projects in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda that not only provide help with processing, but also training and extension.

Proper milk processing is not only important for health reasons; finding ways to preserve a product as perishable as milk makes it more marketable and increases income, improving the livelihoods for smallholder dairy farmers and their families.

Abby Massey is a Food & Agriculture intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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