Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


More Kenyans Consume Raw Milk Due to Poverty

In Kenya's capital city, Nairobi, 80% of all milk consumption is unprocessed.

Please also read this more recent report on the subject by Amos Omore:
Why Hawked Milk Can Save Your Baby

By Henry Neondo


Ineffective marketing of milk and other dairy products by the government has seen the proliferation of unofficial marketing outlets run by dairy farmers around Nairobi, Kenya. Increased market demand for milk, necessitated by the increased urban population of Nairobi, has seen an increased number of raw milk vendors out to win over as many buyers in a low priced regime. But fears for public health abound within government policy circles, long incapacitated because of a lack of effective management of the dairy sector. Tetra pack, a private packaging and milk distributor firm however thinks that it has a solution. It is encouraging the government to come up with a policy that will incorporate vendors. But vendors argue that such a scheme is not workable in a free liberalised market.

More Kenyans Consume Raw Milk Due to Poverty

It is now official, more raw milk than processed milk is consumed not only in the rural areas in Kenya, but also in the urban centers including Nairobi, Kenya's capital city where 80% of all milk consumption is unprocessed.

According to a report by the Small-holder Dairy Project of 1999, Kenya produces 3.078 billion litres of milk annually of which only 200 million litres are processed.

Of the 3.078 billion litres, 36% is consumed on farm and 64% offered on market as surplus through either individuals or institutions which accounts for 55% of marketed milk, cooperatives, traders, self-help groups and private processors.

Partly as a result, milk processing factories work below capacity. A study by Staal and Mullins in 1996 at the Kenyan Coastal Urban Center shows a milk deficit of up to 60% while recent Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development data show a deficit of between 30-40% in the west of the country.

The deficits arise due to consumer preferences for raw milk over factory-processed milk, which is hawked at a price 70% of the Kenyans who live on less than a dollar a day can afford.

In Nairobi for example, a litre of raw milk sells at KSh 25 while the same amount of processed milk, with a much-reduced butterfat at 2.5%, sell at Ksh50 ($0.64).

"I just don't buy the packaged milk as it is not only expensive for me, but it tastes flat", says Catherine Otieno, a Nairobi housewife who with Ksh10 can buy a cup of milk that would just make tea enough for her three member family.

In some parts, processed milk has no market. The over-burdened, poor Kenyans with meager incomes can hardly afford them. For decent meals they prefer raw, wholesale milk with higher butter fat content to processed milk.

Consumer preference for raw milk over pasteurized, fermented, powdered or Ultra High Treated (UHT) milk, are said by the Small-holder Dairy Project report to be as high as 100% even in areas far from farming districts.

According to George Gichungu, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, preference for raw milk is because "Africans use lots of manpower, eat less nutritious food because they cannot afford better food and thus tend to compensate this with high energy diet, which is well met by the raw milk".

This has resulted in thriving, unregulated, milk market outlets around Kenyan urban centers and has attracted more farmers as they get paid promptly.

The marketing chain involves not only farmers, but middlemen as well who buy milk from farmers to sell it to vendors around estates who in turn sell it to consumers.

Despite the alarming situation, milk market regulating body, the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB), has neither the resources nor infrastructure to rectify the situation.

Although KDB requires milk for sale to pass through Established dairy processing plants, the requirement is rendered impossible owing to lack of capacity to handle the 3.08 billion litres annually produced.

Naomi Mogaka, a vendor says that since liberalization of the milk sector some two years ago, she has seen preference for milk change towards raw milk.

She said that whereas she may sell only 9 half litre packets of processed milk, there is however a booming business in raw milk. She sells not less than 20 litres of raw, whole milk daily.

But vendors are worried that there is an increasing trend of milk dilution as some middlemen have been found to dilute milk with water and add margarine to make it it appear creamy.

It has been alleged that middlemen are using hydrogen peroxide, soap and other dangerous chemicals as milk preservatives.

Tests carried on some samples by the KDB have revealed that milk has been treated with chemicals such as formalin, hydrogen peroxide, sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate and boric acid. Quite often it is also adulterated with water.

The use of hydrogen peroxide, formalin and boric acid is normally for the purpose of arresting bacterial or viral growth.

Sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate on the other hand are used as neutralizing agents to lower the acidity of milk.

According to KDB, adulteration usually affects the percentage of lactic acid to either above or below the recommended range of 0.16 to 0.18. "This is in total contravention of the KDB Act which does not allow any addition of additives to milk, be they preservatives, neutralizers or sterilizes", says Dr. Mercy Ochola of Tetra Pack, a quasi-government packaging company.

She says that normally, after milking, the bacterial count in milk is about 10,000 counts per milliliter. After five hours, this rises to about one million counts per milliliter.

The need therefore to have the milk get to the consumer quickly cannot be overemphasized. However this is complicated by the fact that the distance involved in ferrying the milk from farms to consumers is usually long and many consumers always end up with coagulated milk.

This and the fact that there is little organoleptic tests done to this milk that sells directly to consumers, is now worrying policy makers over milk-borne public health hazards.

Policy makers are concerned, according to the Small-holder Project report, by the possibility of increasing zoonotic diseases such as Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, and Brucellosis that can be transmitted from animals to man via milk.

The trend is a cause for concern in another respect, it leads to a shortage of milk during low peak. Milk should be processed for longer storage. However, preference for raw milk, ensures that none is stored to tide over the dry spell.

According to Gichungu, the bulk of this is produced during and after the long rains starting from late March to early August while the cyclic short fall is experienced between Septembers to October, but becomes acute between December-February.

He said however that the short fall is not as a result of the country not being self sufficient in milk production, "but to a lack of sufficient mechanisms by both the formal and informal milk players to level off its impacts".

The problem of hawked milk is traced back to 1992 when the dairy industry was liberalized bringing to an end the monopoly formally enjoyed by the quasi-government Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) with an installed capacity to process 1.2 million litres of milk per day in 11 plants spread countrywide.

Liberalisation occasioned entry of 45 private dairy processors, "Most however only utilise between 5-10 % of their installed capacity".

Although less than half of these factories operate at between 60-80% capacity, the total combined capacity by the private firms however process 400, 000 litres of milk per day which is far less than their combined installed capacity of 600,000 litres daily.

3 million dairy animals of which 2.5 million are in small- farm holdings produce eighty one percent of the milk. The indigenous herd, dominated by the Zebu type of cattle, goats and camels mainly in the hands of pastoralists, produces the remainder 19% of the milk.

The Small-holder Dairy Project report shows that although dairy producing areas have good seasonally passable road networks, they are rarely maintained, limiting collection and transportation of milk to markets.

In two leading milk-producing districts of Kericho and Nyandarua, milk wastage is estimated to be as high as 30%.

Gichungi said that the solution is for an investor capable of producing instant milk powder to be found with capacity to convert the liquid milk into powder form with the required World Health Organisation's bacterial count level below 500,000 bacteria per milliliter for it to be fit for consumption.

According to KDB, although hawking milk is still illegal even after liberalization, it may not be in the farmers' best interest to absolutely eradicate the hawkers as they fill an important vacuum.

Consequently, it has been suggested that instead of doing away with the hawkers completely, a more acceptable arrangement be worked out by stakeholders such as enabling hawkers to purchase processed milk from the dairies for later distribution to consumers.

However such an arrangement is only receiving lukewarm response from the hawkers used to doing their business freely without red tape.

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Revised July 3, 2002

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture