Quality & Safety Of East Africa's Milk & Dairy Products

Training and certification schemes for small-scale sellers of milk and dairy products in Eastern Africa can lead to better milk quality and help traders benefit from the growing demand for value-added dairy products.
calendar icon 29 September 2011
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Most sub-Saharan countries, including those in Eastern and Central Africa, are net importers of dairy products, with most of these products being imported from Europe and South Africa. In South Sudan, nearly all value-added dairy products are imported. At the same time, there is a growing demand for high-quality dairy products by the growing population and the tourist market.

The unmet demand is providing opportunities for value addition. However, significant technical and institutional barriers continue to limit the exploitation of these benefits by small-scale producers and small- and medium-scale enterprises engaged in value addition activities.

A study characterising value chains for both conventional and niche markets for dairy and meat products was carried out in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania in 2006 and in Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan in 2010.

The main objective of the project, Exploiting market opportunities for value-added dairy and meat products in the Eastern and Central Africa region, was to enhance the capacity of small- and medium-scale enterprises to meet demand for quality and safety of the various value chain actors and regulatory requirements.

Major concerns and opportunities for value addition are presented here to stimulate action by producers, processors and traders on key issues regarding the quality and safety of milk and dairy products produced and marketed by small and medium enterprises in the eastern Africa region.

Consumer perceptions

The issue of milk quality evokes different perceptions and reactions among different categories of consumers. Over 80 per cent of the milk is sold raw (unpasteurized). Colour, smell, thickness, perceived fat content and cleanliness of the milk handlers, milk vessels and premises from where milk is sold are some of the most important criteria used by those purchasing raw milk.

Adulteration of milk, often judged by observations on thickness and physical appearance, is a major food safety concern to consumers, counter-balanced only by personal judgment and mutual trust between buyer and seller. Most adults consume fresh milk in the form of tea or makyato (Ethiopia) while children drink fresh milk directly after boiling.

The quality of packaging, presence of quality certification mark, expiry date and reliability of supplier are very important considerations to consumers who buy value-added dairy products such as pasteurized milk, yoghurt, fermented (sour) milk, cheese and butter.

More than 50 per cent of consumers interviewed considered the quality of packaging to be an important measure of the quality and safety of products they bought and would be willing to pay more for well-packaged milk. This is not surprising as most of them were already purchasing considerably more expensive but better packaged imported dairy products.

Between the milk producers and consumers, various market intermediaries including informal milk traders, vendors, hawkers and formal dairy chain actors such as co-operative societies and processors play various roles in transforming milk into value-added products.

All processors consider milk producers as their primary clients. The primary concern of the informal traders is the quantity of milk supplied to them which can vary a lot by season, especially where traditional pastoralists are the major suppliers. Adulteration with water is a common problem especially in the dry season.

Milk quality

The main concern of the organized sector in all the six countries is the quality and hygienic level of milk handling. The use of plastic vessels for carrying milk is a major source of contamination as they are often poorly designed, not made of food-grade material and difficult to clean.

Most processors use lactometers to exclude heavily adulterated milk with a common lactometer reading cut-off point of 26. Seasonal fluctuation in the quantity, quality and prices of raw milk is yet another area of concern for processors.

Large hotels and supermarkets often demand quality and safety for value added products that are properly and attractively packaged and are endorsed by quality control bodies such as national bureaus of standards. Some high-end supermarkets demand packaged products to have bar codes for ease of sales and stock control.

Very few small- and medium-scale enterprises meet these demands for quality and safety. In some cases, there were poorly designed or inappropriately, inadequately, or erroneously labelled containers and wrappings of butter and cheese.

These shortcomings have tended to degrade the quality and safety perception of such products by potential buyers or, more importantly, acted as barriers to accessing high-end supermarket shelves in some of the major cities of the six countries.

All countries have food standards bodies and regulations that prescribe hygienic and food safety standards for milk and dairy products. Nevertheless, informal trade in raw milk is predominant in all countries and compliance by small- and medium-scale enterprises is still low.

High fees for quality testing and certification; lack of quality control facilities; the high cost of packaging materials; high cost of appropriate milk handling equipment such as milk cans and milk coolers; and lack of appropriate knowledge and skills were cited as major barriers.

Actions to address some of these constraints could include training and offering group concessions in quality certification schemes.

September 2011
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