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Milking It: Boosting and Professionalizing Kenya’s Informal Dairy Sector

By Monica Evans

On the outskirts of Kenya’s Rift Valley town of Eldoret, many locals make money by selling fresh cow’s milk. Vendor Winnie Cherono (‘Mama Chumba’), who sells an assortment of staples from a small hole-in-the-wall kiosk, says her fresh milk is popular because it tastes better – and is healthier and cheaper – than the ultra-heat-treated (UHT) packaged alternative, which retails at around double the price.

More than 70 percent of Kenya’s milk is sold through outlets like this – kiosks and shops supplied directly by producers or through middlemen – in the informal market. But it’s not an easy enterprise. Most vendors don’t have fridges, so they need to sell all their stock on the day they receive it, and use careful hygiene and storage practices to slow down spoilage. Many also suspect that some of their suppliers also water their milk down or try to pass off older milk as fresh.

Government officials often push back on the unregulated informal sector with attempts to reduce, eliminate, or streamline it.

‘The government has traditionally handled informal markets with a hard hand,’ said Silvia Alonso, a principal scientist and epidemiologist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ‘They go around and inspect and if the vendors don’t comply with requirements, they have to shut down.’

Whilst regulations are important to ensure the food sold in markets is safe for consumption, enforcing standards that are not aligned with current realities results in significant negative impacts on livelihoods – as well as on nutrition amongst poor households that can only afford milk from informal sources.That’s why Alonso’s team of ILRI scientists – in collaboration with the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Institute for Environment and Development, and national partners – have been working with vendors in Kenya’s informal milk sector to help them up their game, through the More Milk project.

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