Julia Koikai and Christine Nkoitoi in their yoghurt firm at Ololulunga area in Narok South Sub County.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Maasai community is synonymous with keeping large herds of indigenous livestock, which on many occasions give little returns as the animals trek for long distances in search of water and pasture.

However, things are slowly changing with the advancement of technology as a women group in Ololulunga area in Narok South Sub County has embarked on keeping exotic breeds and adding value to their milk to attract better returns.

What started as a table banking women group with only 20 members is slowly growing to be a Probiotic Yoghurt processing industry thanks to Fermented Food for Life Project (FFFP) for impacting skills to the womenfolk.

The yoghurt brand known as ‘Odupa’, a Maasai word for superior, has become a hit in Ololulunga, Narok town, Mulot, Maasai Mara and Bomet within a period of six months since the production begun.

Julia Koikai, the founder of the unit, says the idea was borne two years ago when FFFP invited 34 women from Narok County for value addition training at Jomo Kenyatta University of Arts and Technology (JKUAT).

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“The trainers encouraged us to venture into value addition business so that we could get high returns for our milk, since then, I developed a deep passion for the business,” says Koikai.

However, Koikai says it took her some time to start the yogurt production citing family commitments and unfavorable political environment in 2016 and 2017.

Kebs certification

When the time to start the business came,  Koikai together with her business partner Christine Nkoitoi did it like they meant it. After procuring the necessary equipment and recruiting two casual workers, they invited FFFP who trained the whole team.

With time, Odupa got certification from Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KEBS) and Ministry of Health who after visiting the cow sheds and the yoghurt making room gave them the relevant approvals to commence the business.

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This motivated them to hit the market with enthusiasm where they distribute the milk to supermarkets, schools and local shops at a price of Ksh 30 per 250 ml container. “A litre of yoghurt on wholesale is Ksh 120. This is far much more than selling unprocessed milk where one litre goes for less than Ksh 30 per litre.

Koikai confesses that in a week, the business makes a profit of between Ksh 25, 000 and Ksh 45, 000. “We make probiotic yoghurt which should always be preserved in cool places to avoid getting spoilt. The shelf-life for the yoghurt is about one month,” she explains.

This removes the urgency to sellout fresh milk to outlets and exploitation by middlemen. She adds that the group prefers to make probiotic yoghurt as it is medicinal and relieves stomach pains.

Strict hygienic standards

Odupa buys milk from the locals at Ksh 40 per litre but insists on cleanliness which is vital for the business hence every quantity of milk delivered is tested to be free from any contamination. They have given strict hygienic standards to their milk suppliers to ensure that public health standards are adhered to. “Upon delivery, the milk is tested for mastitis and or presence of any foreign material that can contaminate our yoghurt,” she says.

Koikai adds the women group has 12 Friesian cows that they bought at Ksh 200, 000 each which produces 200 litres of milk per day.

“Our cows produce half the milk we process daily while we buy the rest from the locals. We hope to increase our intake from 400 litres per day to 1,000 litres,” she explains.

Naeku Supat, a Member of the women group says before they used to keep hundreds of animals which gave little returns but currently, residents are slowly adopting exotic breeds and they are finding it easier to take care of.

“Our people are getting enlightened and are slowly shifting from the culture of keeping large herds of indigenous livestock to a small size of manageable animals that are more productive,” he adds.

Narok South Livestock Production Officer Joshua Kesios said they have trained the women group on animal production.

He says they have been supervising the women group and confirms that their products were fit for human consumption. “These women are very aggressive, they have been attending every seminar that we organize and follow instructions keenly hence the success,” says Kesios.

The National government, he adds, will provide a milk cooler system to the group to enable them boost their production.

According to County Livestock officer Christopher Kunder, the county has an average of 255 exotic dairy animals which produce an average of 12 litres per cow per day. Kunder says a good environment and quality feeds is crucial when keeping the exotic breeds which contribute to 60 % of production.

Organised groups

He observes the cattle at Odupa farm produce an average of 20 litres per day hence need for value addition as the milk is outstrips daily demand locally.  Narok County Women Representative Soipan Tuya has promised to help the women acquire the machinery needed for more production through the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF).

In a past event, Tuya challenged women to form groups and start small businesses that can earn them income instead of waiting for their husbands to provide them with basic needs. “I am ready to support any organised groups that are doing something meaningful to boost their livelihood,” she said.

Higher intake of probiotic yoghurt is directly associated with a reduced risk of developing diabetes as well as supporting digestion and the absorption of nutrients throughout the digestive tract which is essential for healthy blood sugar regulation.

Healthy bacteria that are added to yoghurt help to improve the microflora in the gut, which is responsible for digestion and a healthy digestive tract.

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Industrialisation and food security are part of the four key plans of the government aimed at ensuring every citizen has sufficient, affordable and nutritious food.

The value addition programme is the beginning of establishing a milk industry in the county and boost food production as farmers will be encouraged to keep exotic breeds for more production as there will be local market for their milk. (Story credit: Ann Salaton/KNA)

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