The dairy industry in East and Central Africa is a multi-billion-dollar business supporting millions of small to medium farmers as well as a vibrant retail and manufacturing value chain across the region. Dairy production plays an important role in supporting livelihoods and economies across East Africa.
According to the East and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA), 12 billion litres of milk are produced in East Africa annually, accounting for 27.5% of the continent’s 2017 output.
Over 30 companies are involved in the processing and distributing milk including the region’s largest dairy processor Brookside Dairy, which has a market share of 40% in Kenya and the largest distribution and retail network in Uganda. Brookside is a powerful enterprise that boasts of Kenya’s first family on its board and controls a majority stake in Kenya’s processed milk. French dairy giant Danone is also a shareholder though it controls most of its Tanzanian operations.
Despite having more than 10 percent of the world’s cattle population, Africa contributes less than 3 percent to global milk production but spends more than $500 million every year on milk imports from Europe and North America.
Eastern Africa is the leading first milk-producing region in Africa, representing 68% of the continent’s milk output. Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania are among the biggest dairy producers in Africa. As in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in general, cow milk production is predominant in Eastern Africa, followed by goat milk, sheep milk and camel milk.
Kenya produces over five billion litres of milk per year and is the leading milk producer in the region. The dairy sector contributes to approximately 40% of the livestock gross domestic product (GDP), 14% of the agricultural GDP, and 3.5% of the overall GDP in Kenya.
In a good year, Kenya’s dairy industries process over 500-600 million litres of milk. Processed milk accounts for just 20 percent of the national milk production. That means unprocessed milk from cows, sheep, goats and camels consumed on the farms and sold through local vendors exceeds 2.4 billion litres a year.
Kenya has dominated the market for processed milk in the region. Despite Ethiopia and Tanzania having more landmass and larger populations of cattle, Kenya’s industry is well organized and has seen its produce traded all across the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) region. There have however, been inroads being made mainly by Uganda and Tanzania.
Milk production in Uganda increased tremendously over the past two decades, from 160,000 litres per day in 1993 (when liberalisation began), to over 1.4 million litres in 2014. Production since February 2017 according to the International Growth Centre has grown at an annual rate of 7%, mostly attributed to expanding the national cattle stock, particularly the post-conflict restocking programmes. These inroads were part of a trade conflict with Kenya objecting to cheaper dairy products entering Kenya while Uganda saw this as an attack on its right to trade in the EAC.
But why is the Kenyan once–dominant market failing?
From a glass, everything looks fine, not until you take a journey, under which this precious commodity travels, from cow to consumer. Milk is one of the most important liquids consumed in Kenya, competing well with oil and beer. It supports a whole sector, greatly the most developed dairy sector in East and Central Africa and most famous among tea lovers. Yet, Kenya has not been able to control how this commodity is handled.
A new report published in the journal Elsevier, depicts an industry riddled with improper handling of dairy products, with immense cases of bacterial and human adulteration, rendering the product even dangerous for human consumption.
The report titled Milk quality along dairy farming systems and associated value chains in Kenya: An analysis of composition, contamination and adulteration found out that milk samples were contaminated with bacteria, mainly lethal Pseudomonas spp., Staphylococcus spp., and E. coli all which have been allowed to thrive. It was conducted by researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Wageningen University and Uppsala University in Sweden.
Kenya has banned the sale and peddling of unprocessed milk, but with an increase in the number of dairy farmers and oversupply of the commodity especially in rural areas, this directive has not been met.
The formal sector, though small in size is controlled by entities licensed to operate by the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB). These entities pasteurise or ultra-heat treat (UHT) milk, package and commercialise industrially-processed-and-packaged dairy products such as “liquid milk”, yoghurt and ice-cream. The key distinguishing feature of formal dairy value chains is that they sell packaged and branded dairy products.
Informal value chains commercialise dairy products which have not been industrially-processed, i.e. raw and traditionally-pasteurised milk and dairy products. Informal value chains include licensed and unlicensed entities selling milk or dairy products directly to consumers through milk-bars, milk vending machines, corner-shops, street vendors and mobile vendors on bicycles or motorbikes.
These informal markets are not well–empowered to wade off bacterial infections. Sometimes, the bacterial infection is found inside a sick animal and has been a concern for many due to the over–reliance on anti-microbicides by local farmers.
Microbial contamination of milk occurs when bacteria found in the cow’s udder (often causing mastitis), or from the cow and her environment, enter the milk through unhygienic milking and handling practices. Milk is handled by multiple value chain actors during bulking and transporting, which increases the risks of microbial contamination. Although milk is usually not cooled during bulking and transporting from the farm, cooperatives and processors in the formal value chain often have a central bulking location, where they collect, bulk and cool milk before transporting it to processing factories. This cooling process reduces microbial growth.
Contamination with bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp. is a sign of poor milk handling and hygiene practices. Zoonotic bacterial diseases, such as brucellosis and Q–fever (Coxiella burnetti), are a major public health concern for consumers in Kenya.
Milk adulteration is a very common practice among many players in the industry. Milk adulteration is the alteration of the natural composition of milk by the extraction of one or more of its components, such as fat, or the addition of substances such as water by value chain actors. Adulteration interferes with the compositional and processing quality of milk, but also the hygienic and nutritional quality of milk, while extraction of milk components lowers the value-for-money of milk purchased by processors and consumers.
KDB’s efforts to control the informal milk value chain has been frustrated by an aggressive political and trade representation that argues that this sector needs to be strengthened rather than put in check. However, with the rising number of infections being transmitted from animals to humans, the government will be forced to take measures and prioritize human health against misplaced or otherwise, political persuasions.