Women group turns fortunes with yoghurt-making venture
After going through the rigorous process of rearing a dairy cow, feeding it with expensive feeds and taking good care of it, the returns one women’s group was getting from milk was miserably low.
“Imagine we were only getting Sh15 per litre for the milk despite the heavy investment on the dairy cow. We had to think outside the box to stay afloat,” says Julia Koikai team leader Odupa Women Enterprises Society.
Based in Ololunga village in Narok County, the group comprises 30 Maasai women who came together in 2017 to form the cooperative - Odupa Women Enterprises Society, having realised they weren’t making any profits through the sale of raw milk.
Pour surplus milk
Many were the days they had to pour the surplus milk from members.
Ms Koikai says the group took advantage of a training course sponsored by the county government at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology on how to add value to raw milk by making yogurt.
Armed with the technical know-how, Koikai and the rest of the cooperative members formed a small cottage milk processing unit and hit the road running. Albeit slow due to lack of the necessary equipment, they processed their first consignment of probiotic yoghurt, which they sold to neighbours and traders at the local markets. To test the waters, the group began with the 100ml and 250ml cup packaging, processing about 200 litres of milk per day. To their amazement, the yoghurt which they named ‘Odupa’ meaning superior was received well, especially by the men who were pleased to see what their women were doing.
Koikai says: “We could hardly meet the demand.”
The new flavours - strawberry, vanilla and natural (with only honey added as a sweetener) - were also received well. They had to go back to the drawing board and re-strategise.
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The group leaders took a loan to equip their cottage industry with state-of-the-art equipment for cooling, heating, pasteurising, processing and packaging the milk. On top of these, they had to invest in better dairy cow breeds and train their suppliers on best practices for a healthy herd. Having met all large-scale production standards like hygiene and volumes, they approached Kenya Bureau of Standards and were issued with a standardisation mark of quality.
So how do they process the milk? Koikai explains: “Milk is a delicate product and should be handled with care. We had to train our farmers on how to clean their animals before milking and handling the milk hygienically as well as using the right containers for storing and transporting the milk. Milk should only be transported or stored in aluminium containers approved by the Kenya Dairy Board.”
“When we receive the milk from the farm, we measure and record the weight of each farmer’s delivery, test for freshness by stirring.”
Thereafter they do a lactometer test to measure purity and the richness of the milk. The next step is sieving any impurities. They then heat the milk to 90 degrees celsius, a process known as pasteurisation to eliminate pathogens and extend the milk’s shelf life.
Koikai adds: “When we started, we used to heat the milk in huge ‘sufurias’ on a gas stove and stir it continuously to the required temperature but this was exhausting and inaccurate’.
“The next process is incubation or cooling to 40 degrees celsius using the pasteuriser. This temperature is just right to aid in the growth of the starter culture.”
From here they add the probiotic fermentation culture and let it to incubate for a while.
Koikai explains: “Afterwards we add the flavours and package for delivery.” In a bid to sharpen their skills, the group visits processors in Githunguri, Kiambu county to learn about the best dairy breeds, management practices and technologies.
Koikai however laments that the current effects of Covid-19 have affected their business due to disruption of transport of raw materials and the yoghurt outside Narok County. To counter that, they have embarked on aggressive social media marketing.