Post-harvest loss costs East African milk market $90m

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Post-harvest spoilage and waste are costing the dairy sectors of
East Africa and the Near East up to $90 million a year, claims a
report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United
Nations (FAO). Tom Armitage reports.

The report, which the FAO says is the first of its kind to detail the losses incurred by Africa's dairy sector, was conducted across four East African countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda - and also the Near East's Syria.

According to Anthony Bennett of the FAO's Animal Production and Health Division, the $59.7 million combined loss shared between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, is, "a lot of spilt milk"​, which "adds up to a significant amount of money."

FAO statistics highlight the distribution of waste across three categories in the milk production process - those incurred at farm level and those involving transport and marketing.

In Uganda, for instance, 27 per cent of milk produced is wasted, with 11 and 10 per cent being lost to spillage or spoilage respectively during transport or marketing - which leaves a comparatively small 6 per cent loss at farm level.

Similarly, Kenya loses up to 95 million litres of milk annually, accounting for a loss of up to $15.4 million - the impact of which is being felt the most at farm level.

In a bid to halt post-harvest losses incurred across the three areas of production, transport and marketing, the FAO has already engaged in projects with a number of local producers and government agencies in East Africa and Syria.

"We wanted to hear directly from people on the ground what they saw as necessary to solving the problem,"​ said Bennett.

"The thrust and design of this project are not coming from FAO, but right from the stakeholders themselves,"​ he added.

The FAO has now devised a three-point action plan, designed to halt post-harvest losses by targeting three areas: the training of farmers and distributors, improving transfer and the adaptation of milk-preserving technologies, and providing farmers with technical information which may help solve some of the problems associated with milk processing.

The plan also outlines an ongoing effort to improve the safety and quality of East African milk and dairy products - according to FAO statistics, an estimated 20 per cent of dairy herds are currently infected with diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis.

The significance of dairy farming and the African milk market is reflected across a number of levels - from providing quick returns for small-scale livestock keepers to enabling improved household food security.

Dairy imports to developing countries reportedly grew by 43 per cent between 1998 and 2001. But the FAO claims these imports are unnecessary and could be reduced by the simple expediency of post-harvest loss reduction.

The report also suggests that the East African milk market is due to double by 2030.

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