Milk preserving technology extends shelf life by 30 days, boosting farmers’ revenue

A new milk preserving technology that preserves up to a month has helped over 3,000 dairy farmers cut losses they have been experienced in milk going bad and the glut that has dominated the dairy industry in the recent past.

The Extended Shelf Life (ESL) technology, works by applying heat indirectly to the milk and reducing the levels of lactose, the natural sugar in the milk that makes the milk go bad, while allowing for better freshness, a natural taste, and no loss of vitamin content. Pasteurised milk last only 32 hours and although UHT milk (ultra-heat treatment) lasts longer, consumers dislike it because of its taste.

The project which had a successful pilot in Limuru benefitted over 1,000 farmer was first  implemented by the Limuru Dairy Farmers' Union. Philip Karanja, a farmer from Limuru and a beneficiary of the technology has now managed to increase the quantity of milk he sells. "What I like most is that farmers can sell their milk at a later date when they do not get customers immediately," Karanja explained. Before, he produced 25 litres of milk every day but 50 per cent was spoilt due to poor storage and preservation methods.

The 28 extra days on the shelf is also seen as a huge benefit to dairy companies, allowing them to consolidate operations and extend their distribution chain while opening up new opportunities for marketing milk products to consumers demanding quality and safety.

The Extended Shelf Life technology is music to majority of dairy farmers who recently struggled with a national milk glut due to limited preservation facilities in the country that saw farmers pouring stale milk into sewers. Heavy rain at the end of 2009 caused a milk glut in 2010 that put a lot of pressure on milk processors in the country. Leaders New Kenya Co-operative Creameries Ltd and Brookside Dairy Ltd even had to turn down some of their suppliers as they could not cope with the extra input.

Experts however argue that Kenya’s milk safety needs a comprehensive action plan, Dr Paul Lindwe from the Department of Milk production of the University of Nairobi warns that substandard quality control can hurt consumers. According to Dr Lindwe, processors tend to collect milk for volume and not for quality.

Cows produce milk that rarely contains more than 10 bacteria per mililitres, he says. “The fact that processors have to deal with millions of bacteria per mililitre is self-inflicted.”

Data from the Ministry of Livestock indicate that the dairy industry forms a significant part of rural economy in the country accounting for 14 per cent of agriculture's gross domestic product and 3.5 per cent for the total gross domestic product while providing income to an estimated 625,000 rural households representing 10 percent of Kenya’s population.