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Ethiopia gets help to grow a sustainable dairy sector

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Arla Foods Ingredients is lead business partner in a GAIN Nordic project to connect Ethiopia’s malnourished children with milk from 11 million cows

A Danish-Ethiopian project is on the way to making better use of the milk from Ethiopia’s 11 million dairy cows and bringing more nutrition to local, low-income families. If all goes according to plan, a safe, fortified and locally produced yoghurt will be on the market by 2019 – at a price the families can afford.

The three-year project is driven by the GAIN Nordic Partnership with Arla Foods Ingredients as lead business partner and the financial support of Denmark’s development cooperation agency, Danida.

Collaboration for better nutrition
What’s special is the close collaboration between business and NGOs – in this case, GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition) and the Danish aid organisation DanChurchAid. The Confederation of Danish Industry, which represents 10,000 Danish businesses, is helping to develop the business model.

By drawing on their collective strengths, the goal is to upgrade the general health of Ethiopia’s children, 40% of whom suffer from stunting due to chronic malnutrition. Another important target group is the children’s mothers, who are often malnourished teenage girls when they have their first child.

The starting point for achieving that goal is the 11 million dairy cows and the dairies that receive and process their milk.

Local partners for a local supply chain
Following several field trips to Ethiopia, the GAIN Nordic partners have begun cooperating with two local dairies, which will produce the yoghurt for sale in Ethiopian markets and kiosks. DanChurchAid is working with the smallholder farmers, who supply the dairies with milk, to improve their milk quality and the yield from each cow.

This supply chain approach is closely aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals, particularly goal no. 8 to promote sustainable economic growth and decent work.

“Initiatives that create value for all partners are the way forward for ensuring long-term improvements to health and living standards in a developing country,” says Charlotte Sørensen, business development manager at Arla Foods Ingredients, which is developing the yoghurt recipe for production in Ethiopia.

Sharing knowledge - and a good recipe
Pilot tests with the initial yoghurt recipe have produced promising results. Arla Foods Ingredients is using its whey permeate, an ingredient rich in milk minerals and lactose, to maximise the dairies’ yoghurt production and ensure a good taste and texture. The yoghurt will be further fortified with a mix of vitamins and minerals, in line with GAIN’s nutritional standards.

Following that, the task is to transfer Arla Foods Ingredients’ knowledge to the two dairies in Ethiopia, upgrading their existing processing methods. Although this work has already started during visits to the dairies, the formal training will take place in 2018, when dairy representatives will come to the Arla Foods Ingredients application centre in Denmark. The dairies will then be ready to run commercial-scale trials.

“That’s when we make sure the yoghurt can be produced safely and always with the same good quality,” Charlotte Sørensen says.

Bringing more dairy to everyday diets
In the meantime, GAIN will lead the effort to raise public awareness of the importance of good nutrition and the role of milk-based products. This will include encouraging vulnerable consumers who are exempt from Ethiopia’s frequent fasting tradition - children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers – to include more dairy nutrition in their diet.

Senior advisor at GAIN, Charlotte Pedersen explains: “These groups have the biggest need for good nutrition. And, if they consume more dairy products, demand also becomes more stable, making it easier for the dairies to expand their production.”

Sustainable business in the making
Much has happened since the GAIN Nordic partners paid their first trip to Ethiopia in 2014. The launch of the three-year, Danida-supported project in September this year is, itself, the result of a strong collaborative effort.

“It’s highly motivating to experience how our expertise can make a difference for Ethiopia’s many malnourished children,” says Charlotte Sørensen.

“For us at Arla Foods Ingredients, it’s also good business to support the development of a sustainable dairy supply chain and the producers that will be our future customers.”

DanChurchAid has produced a film about the project. Watch it here.