Rogers Ssenaki transports milk by bicycle in Kinyogoga Village, Uganda.
Rogers Ssenaki transports milk by bicycle in Kinyogoga Village, Uganda.

By Donna Stokes, World Ark managing editor
Photos by Russell Powell

Rogers Ssenkasi, age 10, stops for a moment on his journey delivering milk by bicycle in Kinyogoga village, Uganda. Two large yellow plastic jerry cans, scratched and dusty from use, are tied to the back of his bike. An image of Ssenkasi and his milk-laden bike appeared on the cover of the February 2013 issue of World Ark, and a couple of readers wrote in with concern about the quality of the milk arriving in such a way.

The openings in such cans are small, and dairy farmers go to great lengths to ensure they are meticulously cleaned inside between deliveries so their milk will meet quality standards at the chilling plant and not be turned away.

Yet you can imagine how difficult the cans would be to clean through those tiny openings, said Jane Maindi, East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) program manager, who traveled from Nairobi, Kenya, to Heifer headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., to show off an innovative milk can that farmers in Heifer’s East Africa Dairy Development project are testing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds the project, which is led by Heifer International.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates to invent technology that improves life in developing countries, developed the Milking and Transportation System for Kenya after Gates visited an EADD cooperative there in 2009, said David Keogh, program director.

During that visit, Gates saw that the biggest challenges for the smallholder dairy farmers trying to deliver milk from their cows twice a day were spillage and spoilage. He suggested Global Good develop a better way for farmers to address the key problems that cut into their revenues.

“The dairy farmers are very happy with the new innovation,” Maindi said. “They have told me that milk spillage has been reduced, that they are now able to easily detect mastitis in their cows, and they use less water and spend less time cleaning the cans.”

Jane Maindi, East Africa Dairy Development program manager, demonstrates an innovative milk can developed by Global Good that Heifer Farmers are testing in Kenya.
Jane Maindi, East Africa Dairy Development program manager, demonstrates an innovative milk can developed by Global Good that Heifer Farmers are testing in Kenya.

To demonstrate the quality and durability of the new cans, made of food-grade, U.S. Food and Drug Administration compliant plastic, Maindi hurled one across the room and invited any challenger to try to stomp a dent into it. Nothing doing. She showed how an accompanying funnel can be used to test the cows for disease before milking and demonstrated the easy cleaning involved with the wide-mouthed vessel that’s smooth inside with no corners that could collect residue.

The attached locking lid on the ultraviolet-light protected plastic prevents spillage, even when tipped upside down. She also showed how indentations on the bottom of each can make them easy to stack.

Although the project originated in Kenya, Global Good has plans for the can in neighboring countries as well. They’ve signed royalty-free licensing agreements with two organizations that will manufacture and distribute the containers in eight African countries. Nairobi-based Ashut Engineers Limited will manufacture containers locally and sell them in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda beginning in 2014. Separately, SNV-Ethiopia—an affiliate of the SNV Netherlands Development Organization—will coordinate local manufacturers and supply chains throughout Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

In line with Global Good’s focus on delivering social impact, profits will remain with the local partners, and the containers will be sold at price points that are accessible to smallholder farmers and other low- income stakeholders in the dairy value chain. The goal is to eventually find manufacturers in many countries to work toward global distribution, Keogh said.

Kenya does not allow the use of inexpensive plastic cans like Ssenkasi is using in Uganda, Maindi said. Still, she cknowledged that you see those yellow cans being used for that purpose on every path and roadway across East Africa. The reason?

The ubiquitous yellow can costs $3. The Kenyan government-approved metal milk can costs $30 and easily dents and spills. The new Global Good can costs roughly $11, Maindi said.

“People are obviously looking for a new solution,” Maindi said. “So far the results are promising.”

EADD

EADD Phase II

The East Africa Dairy Development program entered its second five-year phase in January, building on the first phase which saw the program grow into one of the leading market-oriented development initiatives in eastern Africa. The intention of EADD II is to strengthen the model implemented in its first four years, and to replicate the program in other developing countries. By improving the value chain, another one million people will have access to food, jobs, income, education and financial and medical services.

Learn more about EADD II