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    In a move that promises to increase Kenya’s milk shelf life and diversify milk products offered locally, members of the Tarboi community of Western Pokot are making yoghurt from goat and cow milk then adding ash made from the native Cromwo tree as a disinfectant and preservative, giving the yoghurt a distinctive aromatic flavor and speckled grey colour.

    The fermented milk is stored in a special gourd that is also treated or seasoned with ash in a practice that has now brought the group to prominence in world fairs such as the world food gathering in Turin Italy. The ash yoghurt was recently on display at the Slow Food Cheese Fair, a biennial event in Italy that brings together cheese makers and cheese lovers from all over the world.

    The group has also been invited to the next Cheese fair to exhibit the yoghurt again and has learnt from other Italian farmers how to make cheese and preserve milk. Behind this international acclaim is a group of 21 pastoral households who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the chain of milk production is strictly high quality and hygienic. The group has enjoyed support from Slow Food international, an international movement dedicated to providing alternatives to fast food by preserving traditional and regional food and encouraging the farming of plants, seeds and livestock that are in line with local ecosystems.

    Based on the fact that good milk comes from the type of fodder eaten and the care given to livestock, the group has monitored the fodder given to the livestock with the pastoralists moving off synthetic feeds. Cows, for example, are only allowed to feed on natural pasture with supplementary organic feeds like milllet, sweet potatoes, napier grass being given once in a while.

    The Slow Food members, who are Kenyans who graduated from the International University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, which was founded by Slow Food, frequently organise training for the pastoralists on veterinary services, feed management and have even employed a local veterinary officer.

    Stringent rules are laid out for anyone wishing to produce the ash yoghurt for sale, which include providing a statement of activities specifying the location of their farm and the history of milk production of the cattle. This is then submitted to the Slow Food Western Kenya Office and the Tarsoi group for approval.

    Once both groups are satisfied that the group has met the production standards, a certificate is issued by Slow Food Western Kenya declaring the yoghurt is produced in accordance with the required rules.

    Where there is failure to comply with the standards contained in the specification, the producer incurs penalties and the Commission will evaluate from time to time, depending on the severity of case, any disciplinary action be taken against the producer. The commission will then make a report whereby it will result in the suspension of the mark.

    Peter Namianya is one of the graduates who has seen the Tarsoi group grow and accompanied the pastoralists to the Cheese fair. “The kind of quality that any product that is to be exhibited at the cheese fair has to meet is very high and international. That explains why we have to be very strict with the yoghurt producers who want to be part of us. But we are glad all of them are adhering to these practices and they see sense in this,” he said.

    Depending on the availability of milk, known as Lolon a large quantity of the milk  is prepared at once or alternatively small quantities of milk can be poured into a prepared gourd on a daily basis until it is full. The fermented milk provides the culture for the new milk and accelerates the process of ripening. The milk is left to settle in a quiet place.
    Once it is coagulated, some whey, the watery part of the milk that remains after the formation of curds, is removed and subsequently, some more fresh milk is added on top.This process is repeated until the container is full of partly-drained curd.

    The whole process takes on average one week depending on the size of the container. When the milk ripens a certain amount of ash is added to preserve and flavour it. The ash is obtained by burning the trunk and the bark of the Cromwo tree to get charcoal which is then crushed into powder. The concentrated fermented milk is then shaken before consumption and can last up to a month before going bad.

    The market for the ash yoghurt is currently concentrated among  neighbours, markets and restaurants in Kapenguria town, but the group now has its eyes now set on big cities like Kitale, Eldoret and Nairobi once the production of the yoghurt stabilizes and producers increase from the 21 households currently involved in the venture.

    “At the moment, we are working on production phase to make more available to meet the local demand before going regional,” said Peter. The group also hopes to now diversify into cheese making based on the successes they learnt from Italian farmers.

    The group is also now looking at cross-breeding the local Zebu cow to give more options of milk source. “Our ultimate hope is that we can manage to promote these products and community so that they are sustainable on their own in future and revolutionize milk production and value addition,” said Peter.

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    In a move that promises to increase Kenya’s milk shelf life and diversify milk products offered locally, members of the Tarboi community of Western Pokot are making yoghurt from goat and cow milk then adding ash made from the native Cromwo tree as a disinfectant and preservative, giving the yoghurt a distinctive aromatic flavor and speckled grey colour.

    The fermented milk is stored in a special gourd that is also treated or seasoned with ash in a practice that has now brought the group to prominence in world fairs such as the world food gathering in Turin Italy. The ash yoghurt was recently on display at the Slow Food Cheese Fair, a biennial event in Italy that brings together cheese makers and cheese lovers from all over the world.

    The group has also been invited to the next Cheese fair to exhibit the yoghurt again and has learnt from other Italian farmers how to make cheese and preserve milk.

    Behind this international acclaim is a group of 21 pastoral households who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the chain of milk production is strictly high quality and hygienic. The group has enjoyed support from Slow Food international, an international movement dedicated to providing alternatives to fast food by preserving traditional and regional food and encouraging the farming of plants, seeds and livestock that are in line with local ecosystems.

    Based on the fact that good milk comes from the type of fodder eaten and the care given to livestock, the group has monitored the fodder given to the livestock with the pastoralists moving off synthetic feeds. Cows, for example, are only allowed to feed on natural pasture with supplementary organic feeds like milllet, sweet potatoes, napier grass being given once in a while.

    The Slow Food members, who are Kenyans who graduated from the International University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, which was founded by Slow Food, frequently organise training for the pastoralists on veterinary services, feed management and have even employed a local veterinary officer.

    Stringent rules are laid out for anyone wishing to produce the ash yoghurt for sale, which include providing a statement of activities specifying the location of their farm and the history of milk production of the cattle. This is then submitted to the Slow Food Western Kenya Office and the Tarsoi group for approval.

    Once both groups are satisfied that the group has met the production standards, a certificate is issued by Slow Food Western Kenya declaring the yoghurt is produced in accordance with the required rules.

    Where there is failure to comply with the standards contained in the specification, the producer incurs penalties and the Commission will evaluate from time to time, depending on the severity of case, any disciplinary action be taken against the producer. The commission will then make a report whereby it will result in the suspension of the mark. 

    Peter Namianya is one of the graduates who has seen the Tarsoi group grow and accompanied the pastoralists to the Cheese fair. “The kind of quality that any product that is to be exhibited at the cheese fair has to meet is very high and international. That explains why we have to be very strict with the yoghurt producers who want to be part of us. But we are glad all of them are adhering to these practices and they see sense in this,” he said.

    Depending on the availability of milk, known as Lolon a large quantity of the milk  is prepared at once or alternatively small quantities of milk can be poured into a prepared gourd on a daily basis until it is full. The fermented milk provides the culture for the new milk and accelerates the process of ripening. The milk is left to settle in a quiet place.

    Once it is coagulated, some whey, the watery part of the milk that remains after the formation of curds, is removed and subsequently, some more fresh milk is added on top.

    This process is repeated until the container is full of partly-drained curd.

    The whole process takes on average one week depending on the size of the container. When the milk ripens a certain amount of ash is added to preserve and flavour it. The ash is obtained by burning the trunk and the bark of the Cromwo tree to get charcoal which is then crushed into powder. The concentrated fermented milk is then shaken before consumption and can last up to a month before going bad.

    The market for the ash yoghurt is currently concentrated among  neighbours, markets and restaurants in Kapenguria town, but the group now has its eyes now set on big cities like Kitale, Eldoret and Nairobi once the production of the yoghurt stabilizes and producers increase from the 21 households currently involved in the venture.

    “At the moment, we are working on production phase to make more available to meet the local demand before going regional,” said Peter. The group also hopes to now diversify into cheese making based on the successes they learnt from Italian farmers.

    The group is also now looking at cross-breeding the local Zebu cow to give more options of milk source. “Our ultimate hope is that we can manage to promote these products and community so that they are sustainable on their own in future and revolutionize milk production and value addition,” said Peter.

     

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    Francis Ondier 52 is very particular about visitors to his livestock farm. Any visitor must wash their hands and disinfect their shoes. It has not always been this way, but as a pioneer chicken for business farmer in Western Kenya he has learnt the hard way how to take care of his precious birds.

     “I don’t want you to bring any diseases from other farms here,” he said. Ondier is used to having visitors from across Kenya come and see his farm. They want to learn how a small-holder farmer can raise chickens as a business. Things are going so well for the former train mechanic that he recently turned down a salary job in Nairobi.

    Most families around western Kenya own a chicken or two. The few eggs produced are collected and usually fed to the children. The chicks that do survive may be sold or eventually eaten. For most families, a chicken is a source of food. For Ondier, it is money. “Few people realize this is an income generator,” he said as he pointed at a group of new chicks.

    They are kept in a tiered coup on the side of a shed to keep them out of danger from hawks. Without the ability to provide artificial warmth, Ondier collects the chicks in a ventilated cardboard box to spend the night on the kitchen counter. Squeezing them in together provides the warmth they need overnight.

    In the morning, he returns the birds to their rows to warm up in the morning sun. The location was picked so that the chicks can warm up as the day begins. When the chicks grow they make it to a larger coop before finally getting to go outside once they are too big for flying predators to take away. Ondier’s inspiration is Nelson Mandela. The South African leader’s quote, “It only seems impossible until it’s done,” can be found around the farm.

    He knows that hardship well. When he started raising chicken for selling he did terribly. The 120 chicks that were initially born saw a mortality rate of 70 percent to 80 percent. He did not know how to protect them and keep them healthy.

    Opportunity came through a training event put on by Winrock International and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), the goal was to train farmers in chicken rearing methods so that they can put the knowledge to work and train fellow farmers. Ondier was not supposed to go. The MVP initially completely paid for farmers to attend such trainings. Community members traveled well, had food covered and stayed in nice hotels, he said. By the time Ondier was farming, the MVP only supported transportation costs.

    When spots opened up due to farmers refusing to pay their own way, Oinder lept at the opportunity. He called it an easy decision.
    “Why would I turn down the opportunity?” he asked rhetorically. Armed with the knowledge on how to raise chicks, he started to work by building coops. The MVP taught him how to make his own compost pile from the few cows he owns. It is then used as fertilizer for the farm which produces the wood for making the coops and storage facilities.

    “I want to do everything at the doorfront,” he said. The compost also feeds the maize and vegetables that Oinder grows for feeding his animals. He uses a hybrid varity maize seed and a local one to create different feeds. Although he does not say it is his goal, Oinder’s farming methods are both organic and nearly completely self-sustaining. It is more of a sign of his entrepreneurial spirit.
    When he worked on the trains in and around Nairobi, Oinder saved the metal sheets that were to be discarded with the used filters. They now act as the siding for his coops.

    Raising chickens was not in Oinder’s plans. He hoped to continue working as a train mechanic, but left his job after ownership changed and it affected his work. Returning to the Yala area, he thought that it would be a good idea to put his skills to use as a car mechanic.

    That idea quickly failed. People were not willing to pay for the services or expertise of a mechanic. They would rather tinker themselves or get someone to do it for free, even if it was not a solution to the problem. The only thing left for him to do was return to the farm. Oinder has big dreams for the future.

    “Come back here in five years and you will find five thousand chicks,” he boasts. He is hopeful that a transformer will be installed closer to his house so that he can invest in electric warmers for the chicks. Once he has that up and running he can take on even more that his personal best of 1,950.

    That was when the demand was lower. Now he says he can’t keep up with the demand. Chicks are sold in batches to people as far as central Kenya and they want more. “That is your bank,” he said looking at the few week old chicks. “That is your ATM.”

    If all goes to plan, the bank of Oinder will be flush with capital soon.

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