Have you wondered why the thickness of packet milk in the recent dry season was not the same as it usually is when the weather is good?
This week I had a chat with experts in the milk industry and learnt of a silent strain by dairy processors.
Milk is a source of nutrition to a large vulnerable population consisting of infants, children, pregnant women, invalids, and the elderly. Extremely reduced production is a direct threat to their health.
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During dry seasons, dairy cows do not get adequate fibre, leading to milk production with less butterfat. The result is extremely low density milk. Processors then lose on maximising fat and solid-not-fat substances in the packet milk, increasing the cost to bridge the gap of sales made from by-products such as cream, butter and ghee.
Others have stopped selling butter, and would rather use it to make ice cream to maximise profits. More survival tactics in the industry may involve processors indicating on packets that the milk’s fat variance is 3-5 per cent, as per Kenya Bureau of Standards’ quality requirements, but just have the minimum 3 per cent.
During dry seasons, farmers may use any dry seeds, sometimes containing antibiotics, whose traces may be found in milk. Such have effects in balancing inoculation on value added products, according to dairy industry experts.
Yet, because of the milk scarcity, factories have to take what farmers deliver, or it will be sold to competition next door.
The prolonged dry season has led to reduced milk supply from farmers. For some milk processors, daily milk production has moved from highs of 300,000 litres to 75,000 litres, yet the usual costs such as electricity, fuel, vehicle maintenance, rent and more continue to rise because of the Shilling’s weakness against the dollar.
Milk factories are not functioning to full capacity, leading to frequent layoffs and stress. You, for example still have to pay a driver the same even though they now transport to the market less than half the milk they used to.
Meanwhile, farmers are not getting enough money, because there is inadequate milk to supply, even when they have spent so much to feed the cows.
All these problems stem from climate change, and everyone in the supply chain suffers.
To solve this problem, processors must go beyond making strategies that cushion them from climate related risks and enlightening decision makers within the industry about their contribution to the problem, how they can be part of the solution in the foreseeable time, as well as in the longer term.
Besides adherence to government set conditions for industries, dairy businesses should use recyclable material to package milk. Dairy firms are some of the biggest consumers of wood fuel, a direct cause of deforestation and source of dirty smoke emitted to the atmosphere.
Why not invest in better technology that incorporates sustainable use of renewable energy?
To give back, the dairy industry can partner to help farmers that supply them use biogas to put cow dung which is also a source of dirt in the air for proper use. The farmers must also aggressively grow trees, and be part of the solution.
Slowly, everyone in the milk supply chain will be helping reduce Kenya’s carbon footprints, transit to renewable energy, increase tree and forest cover and reduce biodiversity loss.
These acts will help the government to achieve its Nationally Determined Contributions.
So let it rain, so we can get quality milk, farmers have money in their pockets and businesses run and employ more.
Meanwhile, the onus is on everyone to make climate action our business.