Consumer-led alliances for improved milk quality in Kenya (Story of Change)
The Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) leads the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) in collaboration with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and in partnership with the Dutch Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS).
V4CP is working with 51 locally-based civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world to bridge the gap between the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their implementation within society, especially amongst low-income and marginalised communities. It does so by strengthening the capacity of CSOs to influence stakeholders and decision-makers with solid and contextualised evidence in order to get the interests of communities embedded into government and business policies and practices.
This story is about the V4CP CSO - Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS) - and how they are actively engaging with public and private sector actors, as well as other civil society platforms, to ensure that consumer voices are heard and that food safety is put on policy agendas at both national and county levels.
The food production market in Kenya
Kenyans are used to waking up to alarming headlines in the news. Some of the biggest stories in recent years have been about unsafe food on the market, such as maize contaminated with aflatoxin or sub-standard imported sugar, allegedly laced with mercury and copper.
More recently, concern is increasing about the quality and safety of milk consumed by millions of Kenyans every day.
The lack of quality control along the food value chain makes it almost impossible to know which products can be trusted. In addition, consumers’ lack awareness of the prevalence and scale of unsafe food - and its health impacts - and there is minimal consumer lobbying to ensure that food safety is high on the public agenda.
Dairy products play an important role in the diet of infants and children under the age of five, providing proteins, calcium and other essential nutrients; it is an important contributor to health and nutrition security. With the recent relaunch of the free school milk programme across the country, which aims to enhance food and nutrition security, concern is growing about the safety of milk supplied to vulnerable children.
A recent study  by IFPRI (carried out under the V4CP) on the compliance to milk safety standards in Kenya, shows that between 43% and 96% of milk samples taken from various counties (Kisumu, Nandi, Nairobi, Kiambu) exceeded microbiological standards. Other contaminants found in the milk samples included aflatoxin, antimicrobial residues and harmful preservatives, such as hydrogen peroxide. This takes a high toll on public health as shown in another study by 3R Kenya Project (Ndambi et al, 2018) which estimates that, on average, 855 lives are lost every year in Kenya due to milk-related infectious diseases, such as brucellosis and salmonellosis, and that the related health costs amount to over 400 billion KES (over 3 billion euros).
There are a number of reasons for these high contamination levels. These include inadequate practices at the farm level and lack of cooling facilities and equipment along the dairy value chain. Up to 80% of milk produced in the country is sold through informal markets so enforcement of quality standards is complicated. This, coupled with the high demand for milk, means that there is little incentive for actors along the value chain to adhere to these standards. In some cases, milk that has been rejected by dairy cooperatives and processors easily finds its way back onto the market.
With Kenya’s dairy sector valued at an estimated 162 billion KES (US$1.7 billion), accounting for 8% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is critical to secure the contribution and competitiveness of the sector by making sure that all sections of the value chain are aware of - and adhere to - safety standards.
“There are some products that should not even be called milk.”
- Paul Njagi, Acting Director, Livestock Production, Nakuru County
What is CUTS doing?
As one of the leading consumer organisations in Kenya, CUTS has been working through the V4CP to engage key players in the dairy industry in order to change the sector.
The V4CP programme provided capacity strengthening to enable CUTS to mobilise a range of public, private and civil society actors that are committed to ensuring that food safety is taken more seriously. This support included basic technical knowledge of the dairy industry, advocacy skills and connections to dairy experts. Together with dairy experts, CUTS carried out field reconnaissance visits to farmers’ associations, milk collection centres, processing units, and other key links in the dairy value chain.
Over time, the engagement of CUTS has expanded to informal elements of the sector, such as milk dispenser owners and motorbike milk collectors. In addition to the evidence generated by IFPRI on food safety, CUTS has also been able to tap into a large body of technical experience built up by SNV’s Kenya Market-led Dairy Programme (KMDP). This process has made CUTS a credible and important partner for key actors in the dairy industry and has opened up opportunities for the organisation to represent consumer interests in this important economic sector.
“V4CP plays a very crucial and very facilitative role, especially in reaching farmers groups. I’ve seen it bringing positive results.”
- Paul Njagi, Acting Director, Livestock Production, Nakuru county
Every journey begins with a single step: Paving the way for transformation in the dairy sector
Building on an online portal (https://safefoodkenya.com) developed by CUTS that went live in December 2016, CUTS organised a consumer roundtable in September 2017 with support from V4CP. The event was attended by representatives of the Kenya Dairy Board, and other key actors in the dairy industry. One of the issues that was highlighted during the discussions was the need to ensure that consumers have better access to reliable information on food safety, and a platform to voice their concerns. Today, the portal serves as a “one-stop-shop” for consumers to access the latest information on food safety, and is also an accountability mechanism where consumers can lodge direct complaints to dairy regulators.
As CUTS became more visible in the sector, it began to receive requests from industry players at both national and county levels to provide inputs into the review of dairy regulations and policies. At the county level, some of the new policies that were created as a result of these efforts include the Laikipia Dairy Development Policy, Nyandarua Dairy Value Chain Strategic Business Plan and the Murang’a County Dairy Strategic Plan. CUTS was also invited to provide a consumer perspective on the first-ever Strategic Plan of the Kenya Dairy Processors’ Association. The strategy identifies collaboration with consumer organisations as a key objective in ensuring improvement in milk quality and safety standards in the country.
In other activities at the county level, CUTS has actively lobbied government departments to pay greater attention to food safety in their planning processes. As a result, three county governments have included issues of food safety that were outlined by CUTS in their County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs). County governments have also asked CUTS to support specific policy reviews aimed at promoting milk quality and safety. The CSO is also working closely with the Kenya Dairy Board and other institutions to provide training on milk quality and hygiene for milk collectors, milk dispenser operators and other actors in the informal milk market.
“Because of the support we got from CUTS and the Voice for Change Partnership, we were able to train our farmers on milk safety and have
introduced procedures to trace contaminated milk. For the last two years I have not come across a single case of adulterated milk by our
members." - Solomon Ndegwa, Vice Chairman, Laikipia Dairy Farmers Cooperative.
Consumer interest in food safety is growing. While the number of complaints to the online consumer portal is yet to pick up, the number of visits to the site are on the rise with enquiries coming in on issues such as how to get compensation for unsafe food products.
CUTS is also playing a leading role in mobilising other consumer organisations to lobby for safe food in the country. In response, the Kenya Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (KECOPAC) – a government institution mandated to protect consumers – has adopted food safety as a priority agenda and has indicated its commitment to support consumer organisations in this area.
Whether at national or county level, an important lesson learnt is that better results are more likely to be achieved if food safety is taken up by a broad variety of actors across thematic sectors. Highlighting this lesson, James Kariithi, Coordinator of the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) in Laikipia county, gives credit to CUTS for strengthening linkages across sectors that previously operated in isolation. For the first time, the department is reaching out to colleagues in the Public Health Department to raise awareness on food safety, which he directly attributes to the engagement with CUTS.
“We value our partnership with CUTS and the Voice for Change Partnership. They have added value to our work
by increasing our awareness that food security is not only about volume but also about nutrition and safety.”
- James Kariithi, Coordinator of the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP), Laikipia county
One of the most effective ways to promote food safety is to ensure that all actors, including producers, traders, cooperatives and processors, are well trained in safety and quality measures. This also helps to boost the limited capacity of regulators, such as the Kenya Dairy Board and the Kenya Bureau of Standards, in regulating the huge informal milk sector in the country. Inspired by the success of the clean cooking champions at the grassroots level, CUTS and its partners have recently embarked on a process to build a network of food safety champions to articulate consumer voices and to monitor quality issues in the dairy industry.
A partnership approach is also critical in generating high-quality evidence to inform advocacy efforts. Through close collaboration with the IFPRI, Wageningen University’s ‘Resilient, Robust and Reliable’ (3R) project and other knowledge partners, CUTS has been able to gain greater access to cutting-edge evidence that is used in awareness raising and advocacy efforts.
However, it is also becoming clear that such knowledge resources need to be tailored to different contexts. By collaborating with its partners at the county level to generate locally relevant data, CUTS is helping to strengthen the consumer agenda in two important ways. Firstly, it demonstrates to dairy farmers and consumers that this issue is closer to them than they may think. Secondly, localised evidence of the impacts of unsafe milk is more likely to spur decision makers to act and it can also motivate authorities to compare their progress with other counties, which helps scale up quality improvements across the dairy sector.
Even though there is still a long way to go before all milk in Kenya’s markets is completely safe, CUTS has been able to make considerable progress under the V4CP by tackling the multiple dimensions of milk safety. With enhanced awareness and knowledge on milk safety issues, consumers are becoming a driving force behind accelerating the food safety agenda and are putting pressure on policy makers to guarantee safe milk. Through its engagements with key actors along the value chain at county and national level, CUTS is also advancing the necessary policies, regulations and coordination mechanisms.
Consumers are starting to become more aware of the risks related to unsafe milk, as well as the policies and regulations that should be in place to tackle this. They now have an effective channel to find information and voice their concerns.
In this way, CUTS is making important steps towards enhancing the safety of milk, a product that is a crucial part of Kenyans’ diets,. In doing so, it is helping to reduce the burden of foodborne diseases on the health of Kenyans and on the economy as a whole.