Having traveled around the Ethiopian highlands for a while and trying to understand the dairy value chain, I often wonder about the uniqueness of the Ethiopian farmers and how we are trying to assist them.
During the IPMS project and now the LIVES project, we tried to highlight the difference between the liquid milk and local butter value chains, each having a different set of value chain actors and processes. So far so good.
But observing and discussing many dairy operations, I believe there are still some additional opportunities we can explore. Most dairy processing activities in Ethiopia focus on fresh milk, sold in raw, boiled or pasteurized forms to consumers. The unsold fresh milk is usually processed into fresh butter. Any remaining skimmed milk is either sold to consumers or is heated to get a soft cheese known as “ayeb”.
In a recent visit to a milk bar in Mekelle town, I found the unsold fresh full milk being naturally fermented into “irgo” (yoghurt). Part of the fermented “irgo” was also creamed off to churn it into local lactic butter – the system used traditionally in the rural areas.
So what is the lesson I draw from this? If we could increase demand for dairy products obtained from soured milk, then processors might buy sour in addition to fresh milk from producers. This strategy could increase the volume of milk (fresh or sour) that enters the small scale dairy processing business. Based on demand for dairy products, differential prices may be paid for fresh and sour milk.
However, we need to be aware of any human health issue from the processing of raw soured dairy products. Are we not passing on tuberculosis and other diseases? The solution may be to boil the fresh milk at farm level before allowing it to sour. The problem is that we also then kill the lactic acid bacteria which stimulate the natural fermentation process. The answer could be to add pasteurized yogurt to the boiled milk – to allow it to ferment. I am not sure though if you can churn lactic butter from such artificially fermented yoghurt. Maybe dairy experts could shed some light to this.