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Friday, February 12, 2010

Want Some Milk? It's 'Milk-Flooding' in Kenya

It had been long since I visited my shop to buy some milk. Reason? Well, I don't like milk, hence I only take some (extremely diluted as white tea) on the weekend. Sunday to be precise.

But with my dad yawning in bed with the loudness that one would mistake for a sex-hungry bloating he-goat, I had to pay a visit to the shop. Surprise. The last time I bought milk at the shop, I grinned in anger just how much I had to part way with. But on this day, I left the shop nodding in agreement with the much, read less, my favourite shopkeeper took from me. Never mind the difference was 15 per cent. Only.

That was then. Last week, after getting my salary for January, I raised my living standard. Instead of going to the shop, I took a trip down the road to a supermarket, not to buy one milk, but two, with three also a possibility now that my pocket could afford a cough of notes.

Okay. My trip ended when I landed at the milk-shelf, where I found the usual so many brands of milk, but with one difference. They bore the same tag: buy two 500ml packets of milk, get a 250ml absolutely free! Better yet, the 15 percent price reduction had also reached the supermarket. Now, it's at this point that customers normally have the chance to become choosy. Different brands, same price, same free milk? No price wars? Just perfect.

And even though I now can't remember which brand got my nod, whether Tuzo or Fresha, Ilara or KCC, or none of the four, I settled for the one that sounded freshest enough. Not Fresha though. Perhaps Tuzo because of so much television advertising, hence reputation, from back in the days. May be I went for Ilara (which means - scrambling for me) if directly translated into my Luo language.

One thing is for sure. There's a milk glut in Kenya. Cows had surfeit meal over the period of El Nino rains, they are returning back the favour to their keepers by producing milk, apparently in excess, dairy farmers are hurting and crying foul as the surplus overwhelms processors.

Kenya has been witnessing an upsurge in milk production over the last 6 years. This year, the milk levels have reached its peak. A peak that is now presenting enormous challenges to the dairy processors, who as expected, are ill-equipped and have inadequate capacity to take advantage of the prevailing glut in milk supply.

The government has shamelessly admitted it has no capacity to absorb the commodity that just last year, was in short supply in the country. The producer prices have been dropped (sorry guys), the consumer prices have also dropped as a result - guess you know who is affording the biggest smile - the consumer of course. It's called the seesaw effect, or "do me, I do you." When the consumer cries, the producer laughs best, and the reverse is true.

Since processors have also cut their intake besides reducing producer prices, it's a double disaster for the dairy farmer. But not all of them. 

Some dairy farmers are reportedly seeking to be registered as "milk bar" operators. Can you imagine getting into a "bar" where you are served with some nutritious, opaque white liquid produced by the mammary glands of a mammal? Oh mama!

I know someone is already thinking of a hangover. A milk hangover. Although I might not be one of the visitors to such a bar, I believe most people wouldn't mind visiting the milk den, even if it's for the sake of saying, "I just came from the bar and had glasses after glasses of... milk."

Of course the glut is only temporary and in 45-days or so, things would perhaps have reverted back to normal. And may be in 60-days time, the milk-bar owners would have changed their line of business and commodity of sale per se, from the healthy milk to some illicit brew.

But in the meantime, I say it is a good idea to pour the excess liquid in milk-guzzler's stomachs than let it go to waste. After all, the thing is healthy and should have no side effects. The milk bar operators however should think of diversifying their products. Traditional yoghurt already sounds like an idea out of a milk processing guru's mind.  

For someone like me though, I'll remain a teetotaler, at least until someone opens a juice or soda bar. Sounds impossible doesn't it? Those who say it's possible and those who say it's not are both right, for there is power in what you believe in.

But what can the government do to help the farmers and reduce the impending wastage? There are not so many short cuts.  

First, the government should stop the importation of powder milk and encourage processors to start converting milk from dairy farmers into powder. This will be a long term venture and has every potency of succeeding, granted that the necessary structures, and not bureaucracies, are put in place and followed. 

Secondly, the private sector should come out of their sleeping blankets and plunk massive investments in the dairy sector. Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden and Norway, the UK, Australia and Canada are among the top nations in the world known for their reputation of consuming a lot of milk. In short, there are markets. 

The third viable solution would be to revivify the school milk programme that was introduced by former president, Daniel Arap Moi in 1980. The objective of such a move should be the same; to boost the health and diet of children. Add other benefits like improving school enrollment and attendance, providing nourishment to children who report to school with empty stomachs, encouraging children to consume dairy products as part of a balanced diet, creating jobs through the milk chain, and eliminating milk surpluses and I guess there's every reason to reintroduce such a programme.

The programme which was totally funded by government and rolled throughout the country targeted primary school children aged between five and 13 years. By 2005 more than 4.3 million children from 11 000 schools were benefiting from the programme. Although my habit of not taking milk started way way some time back, I benefited when I enrolled for primary school in 1994 till the programme was sadly phased out. Sadly, because I would always collect my 200ml packet of milk and carry it home to my mum. 

Such a programme will also ensure teachers don't miss classes. My teachers back then frequented school and missed no lessons. I have even noticed that most of them were fatter than the modern day teacher. The teachers supervised the distribution process in school with the help of prefects. The possibilities of hundreds of packets remaining and reaching the teachers' households were always guaranteed. The prefects never benefited any less as our school headboy would report for term one lessons looking emaciated, and by mid-term, the guy's cheeks and body would have swollen, making it difficult to differentiate him with our chubby Swahili teacher.

Methinks reintroducing the programme, even if it's short term, would help revert the ridiculous situation of thousands of litres being wasted everyday.

In fact, any of the above moves by the Kenyan government would prove quite beneficial and smart, whichever way you look at it. It's a win-win situation.  

The other option would be to start marketing Kenya as a milk-tourism destination. All the tourists can come and rest in bars drinking gallons of milk instead of beers and cappuccinos, bath and swim in milk instead of wasting our water (the water levels in Kenya are still low), and even carry some milk home for the children. The milk-marketing gimmick can go under the tagline: "If you want some, come get some," and feature the minister for cooperative development wearing a disgusting moustache covered with milk.

In the fewest words possible, we have a glut, farmers are counting their loses as thousands of litres of fresh milk go to waste, and in a few months we will have shortages, the prices will shoot up, and someone will start importing milk. That's just the way we do things in Kenya. That's just the right way to do things in Kenya.

Now, let me get on the phone and ask a collegue of mine what he thinks of my ideas. And about the milk bar.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!