Arla Dairy: Setting up in West Africa

The fifth largest dairy in the world is setting up in Nigeria and Senegal. Arla Foods, a Danish company, intends to increase its revenue in the region fivefold by 2020. What impact will this have on local producers and consumers?

Strengthening Senegal’s local milk industry will help meet consumers’ needs. Photo credit: Kamikazz photo agency

The Danish dairy cooperative, which includes 12,700 European farmers among its members, is set to take over the West African dairy market. In Nigeria, where it already has a presence, Arla Foods plans to triple its turnover.

To achieve this, Arla Dairy Products has been created which, since September 2015, has been responsible for packaging, marketing and distributing Arla products under the Dano brand within the country.

In Senegal, where it does not yet have a presence, the company has created a subsidiary for which it holds 75% of the capital. Arla Sénégal SA will have the same roles in Senegal as its counterpart in Nigeria.

The Senegalese milk market already contains several large companies, such as the French companies Lactalis and Danone, which have partnered with a local company, Laiterie du Berger.

“West Africa faces a milk deficit, which gives Arla an opportunity to provide milk powder and other dairy products that meet consumers’ needs. We are here to build a long-term business, and that requires strong local partners,” says Steen Hadsbjerg, head of sub-Saharan Africa at Arla Foods.

However, in Senegal, the ‘local partners’ are not milk producers. Arla argues that the low quantity and quality of local milk means that supplies should come exclusively from imported goods. However Arla also highlights possible negative impacts of mass imports on the local markets, with consumers switching to powdered milk exclusively and dairy farmers being unable to sell their products.

For this reason, Guillaume Bastard, an expert in agricultural sectors and representative of the French development NGO, GRET, in Senegal believes it would be better to support the milk industry and help producers improve the quality and quantity of the milk produced.

“Of course, building up the local milk sector is a real challenge, but milk products are currently Senegal’s second most imported foodstuff, amounting to CFA 65 billion (€39 million) annually. Local businesses, the government and dairy farmers all have an interest in seeing it done so that income can be redistributed to the most marginalised rural populations,” he concludes.

This article by Anne Perin was originally posted on the Spore website at http://www.spore.cta.int/en/business/setting-up-in-west-africa.html

Traditional fermented milk is good for your health

Kenyan boy drinking milk
A Kenyan boy drinks milk. Research shows that traditional fermented milk products are beneficial to health (PHOTO/ILRI)

Kenya is home to a variety of traditional fermented milk products such as mursik of the Kalenjin community and kule naoto of the Maasai community. These sour milk products are produced by leaving fresh milk to ferment spontaneously in a smoke-treated gourd for up to two days at room temperature.

Spontaneous fermentation takes advantage of the actions of various species of lactic acid bacteria that occur naturally in milk. Smoking of the inside of the gourd with smouldering acacia twigs is said to increase the milk’s storage life and gives the sour milk its characteristic flavour.

For generations, fermentation has been used as an effective means of  extending the storage life of milk in Africa. Cow, goat, sheep or camel milk may be used as the raw material. In some cases, a mixture of milk from different animals may be used.

During fermentation, the lactic acid bacteria in the milk convert the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, which gives the product a distinct sour taste. Some of the lactic acid bacteria also produce antimicrobial substances called bacteriocins that inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria (pathogens).

Microbial safety of raw milk is of concern primarily because milk is a highly nutritious product that readily supports the growth of spoilage microbes. Fermented milk is, however, safer than fresh milk (microbiologically speaking) since the lactic acid and the bacteriocins kill coliforms and other disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli.

In addition to enhanced microbiological safety, regular drinking of fermented milk is said to offer various health-related benefits to the consumer, such as lowering of cholesterol, boosting of the body’s immune system, and protection against diarrhoea and constipation.

The findings of a seminal study by Mann and Spoerry in 1974  suggest that consuming traditional fermented milk can help reduce serum cholesterol levels. These researchers studied a group of Maasai men in Kenya and found that despite their consumption of large amounts of red meat, the level of cholesterol in their serum was low and there were few cases of coronary heart disease. This was linked to their practice of consuming up to five litres a day of fermented milk.

Fermented milk is also easier for lactose intolerant people to digest. Up to 80 per cent of East African adults suffer from lactose intolerance, a condition in which lactose is not completely digested due to a lack of the enzyme lactase.

Lactose intolerance often manifests in uncomfortable sensations in the digestive system like bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea soon after drinking fresh milk. People with lactose intolerance can, however, drink fermented milk without experiencing gastric distress, thanks to the breakdown of lactose by the lactic acid bacteria.

Probiotic foods contain live microorganisms which actively enhance health by improving the balance of intestinal bacteria. The most commonly studied probiotic microorganisms are members of the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which are found in probiotic yoghurt and other traditional fermented dairy and vegetable products.

They act by adhering to the lining of the intestine and preventing harmful bacteria from multiplying. The increasing incidence of colon cancer globally has drawn scientific attention to the probiotic effects of the microflora in traditional fermented products, especially among populations whose diets are high in refined foods.

The anticancer properties of the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus have been established by microbiological studies carried out in the US in the mid 1980s. In addition to activating the body’s immune system, the organism decreased the levels of the enzymes responsible for converting procarcinogens in the colon into cancer-causing agents. Research continues into conclusive evidence.

Among food microbiologists, there is now renewed focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the nature of traditional fermentations, especially the identity and functional properties of the microorganisms involved.

Research studies have been carried out to isolate, identify and characterise the microorganisms involved in producing kule naoto and traditional fermented camel milk (suusac).

Results of a study of the functional properties of Lactobacillus species isolated from kule naoto show promise for development of suitable starter cultures. This would offer a useful opportunity to standardize and scale up production of kule naoto and other traditional fermented milk products.

NOTE: Modified from the original published in the Daily Nation (October 2003). 

Milk-drinking media campaign in Kenya: Is the message accurately framed?

Why Milk Campaign ad

The Kenya Dairy Board and several large-scale milk processors in the country recently launched a media campaign aimed at encouraging the Kenyan public to drink more milk. The campaign, it would seem, is targeted at the younger generation, seeing as the slogan is “Stay young, do milk”.

Pictured above is a recent newspaper advert featuring an image of milk-drinking, “bling-bling” toddlers below which is some brief information on why drinking milk is good for general health, nails, skin and muscles.

While I’m all for a campaign to get Kenyans to drink more milk, I wonder as to the effectiveness of using an image of toddlers drinking milk (which is what toddlers do anyway) to encourage teenagers/the youth to drink milk because it’s something “cool” to do.

Another issue I have with the whole campaign is that it seems to be encouraging the consumption of processed, packaged milk (considering who the sponsors of the campaign are) yet it is well known that in sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of lactose intolerance in the adult population is as high as 80%.

That being the case, why not instead encourage the consumption of our traditional fermented milk products? After all, studies have shown them to have probiotic properties, and the fermentation of lactose to lactic acid helps to minimize the gastric distress experienced by lactose intolerant persons when they drink fresh milk.

I think I’ll expound more about the health properties of traditional fermented milk products in another blog post…

Small-scale dairy production: A pathway out of poverty

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released a report that examines the potential of smallholder dairy production as a pathway out of poverty for the millions of small-scale farmers globally who depend on livestock for their livelihoods. The report titled The Status and Prospects for Smallholder Milk Production – A global Perspective is jointly published with the International Farm Comparison Network (IFCN).

Download the report here.

Source: FAO Media Centre

Super bugs in local milk

The Daily Nation’s Horizon magazine of 1 November 2007 carried an article titled Super bugs in local milk. The article cited a study by researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) which revealed that raw milk hawked in Nairobi’s Kahawa West area contained harmful bacteria with high levels of resistance to commonly used antibiotics.

I was drawn to this article largely because of my professional interest in microbial food safety in general and the safety of milk and dairy products in particular.

While the article is an eye-opener to potential milk-borne public health risks, I felt that there were a couple of issues that were not very clear.

First, one of the researchers argued that the high levels of drug-resistant pathogens in milk poses a major health risk because 90 per cent of milk sold in Kenya is raw. While it is true that the sale of raw milk is predominant in Kenya, almost all consumers who buy raw milk boil it first before they drink it, often together with tea leaves.

And boiling of milk effectively kills all pathogens, whether drug-resistant or not. Thus the question of consumption of contaminated milk being a likely cause of emerging multi-drug-resistant pathogens, as reported by the study, does not arise.

The same is true when milk is pasteurized (heated to 72 degrees centigrade for 15 seconds). Indeed, as would be expected, the JKUAT team did not find drug-resistant pathogens in the pasteurized milk samples.

Still, that is not to say that high levels of pathogens in raw milk are acceptable because the milk will be boiled anyway. On the contrary, good quality raw milk is necessary in order to prevent it from getting spoilt quickly. Training of milk handlers and traders on milk hygiene is therefore imperative in order to improve the quality of marketed milk in the country.

Another issue is that the article didn’t say whether the raw milk samples were tested to see if they actually contained antibiotic residues. This is a more likely cause of the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, especially because neither pasteurization nor boiling will get rid of antibiotic residues in milk.

Drug residues can end up in raw milk if a dairy cow is on antibiotic treatment. After such treatment, there is a specified milk withdrawal period when the milk should not be sold in order to protect consumers from being exposed to the high levels of antibiotic residues.

It would be useful to know more about the prevalence of antibiotic residues in marketed milk (both raw and pasteurized) in Kenya, as this poses a worrying prospect of consumers unknowingly ingesting small amounts of drug residues as they drink their daily chai ya maziwa. Such a scenario can only worsen the existing problem of antibiotic-resistant super bugs.