When Wycliff Muyanje graduated from college in 2005, he had big dreams. Armed with a degree in dairy technology, youthful determination and zeal, he was ready to conquer the world. They had been few in class, and he was certain his speciality would give him an edge over other graduates who had avoided agricultural courses.
He started tarmacking in earnest. He was in his early 20s, desperately hoping to be absorbed into a white-collar job. Each rejection letter he got and every time he was turned away by prospective employers, he got disillusioned.
DESPERATE FOR ANSWERS
“I started wondering if I had made a mistake. I was desperate to do something with the knowledge I had,” he says.
He finally got employed as a trainer of farmers in Vihiga. It was a job that he says did not offer much, since most projects were anchored by non-governmental organisations that were not consistent. He trudged on through the years, his job application forms piling up and gathering dust in the many offices he approached.
While still working on a plan, something struck him. In his village Magada, Vihiga County, people would make long treks looking for shops that stocked milk products.
“It was ironic that shopkeepers would wait for stock from cities for many days, yet we had milk from our local farmers going bad because they did not have ways to preserve it,” he says.
He decided to invite some of the youths in Vihiga for a consultative meeting. He had discovered a ‘cash cow’ in milk, and he needed to bring young people like himself on board.
In 2014, they formed a youth group. The Gold Vine Diaries, made up of about 30 young people, would source for milk from local farmers and make yoghurt.
The first challenge came barely a month after he set up. Constant power outages and struggle to develop starter culture – one of the main ingredients of making yoghurt – almost threw him out of business.
“It dawned on me that the main reason people are not doing yoghurt business in rural areas is because starter culture cannot be stored outside the deep freezer,” he says.
They hanged on, but admits that they constantly battled with thoughts of abandoning the business altogether. The loss was too much, and the money they had invested as capital was slowly sliding down the drain.
Their hopes were rekindled two years later when a friend shared about dry probiotics that could be kept at room temperature and would only become active once removed from the package.
The dry probiotics were developed by several stakeholders in a project dubbed: ‘Fermented Food for Life’. The probiotics are packaged in airtight sachets, each containing 1g of culture meant to be used once to make 1 litre of yoghurt. The one litre batch is then used as mother culture that is fermented to produce much more probiotic that can make up to 100 litres of yoghurt.
Professor Arnold Onyango from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology who was involved in the research that developed the product says once they had the product, they consulted with county governments to identify groups that could pilot its usage.
“We were mostly interested in areas where access to electricity is a challenge, with a vibrant group of farmers or entrepreneurs who were interested in value addition,” he says.
Gold Vine was one of the beneficiaries. Muyanje says all they need to do is to add the powder culture to milk and leave it for 16 hours, before active fermentation begins. The fermented products are then used to make yoghurt that is packaged for consumption.
One sachet of the dry probiotic goes for about Sh200, an amount he says allows for a huge profit margin once he starts making yoghurt.
Gold Vine Dairies was also contracted to supply yoghurt to pupils in a nearby school. International donors, in a bid to improve health in an area prone to malnutrition, identified the benefits of probiotics and entrusted them with supplying to one of the schools daily.
When Smart Harvest visited Emakuenje Early Childhood learning centre, little children excitedly waved their cups when the bell signalling break time rang. It is a routine they have mastered. They report in the morning, go through their lessons and at 10am, it is yoghurt time.
“We have seen increased enrolment,” says director of the project Irene Ngochi.
Godfrey Were, one of the implementers of the programme, says they have noticed a decline of absenteeism, and have also seen a reduction of health complications previously associated with malnutrition.