Every day is a celebration for Ethiopian dairy women

Every day is a celebration for Ethiopian dairy women

As people around the world tip their glasses to salute World Milk Day and draw attention to the entire dairy value chain throughout June, an Ethiopian woman says every day is a celebration for her and her neighbouring smallholder dairy farmers.

“My business has helped to change the lives of many women in my collection areas,” says Hirut Yohannes, proprietor of Rut and Hirut Dairy Plc. “Every day we celebrate new opportunities we’re creating for ourselves and our families.”

As a dairy farmer, Yohannes was among the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers—43% of whom are women—producing 70% of the global food supply yet barely make enough money to raise her family out of poverty. After connecting with SNV Ethiopia’s Support to Business and their Access to Markets (BOAM) programme, her dairy finesse changed in big ways. In turn, Yohannes is helping change the lives of women and young farmers in the ChaCha area of the Amhara region by adding value to their milk and connecting them to new, urban markets.

Yohannes was already collecting milk from neighbouring farmers and selling it together with milk from her own two cows—15 liters a day—to consumers in Addis Ababa when she started to dream of more. She was determined to learn more to build her dairy despite the facts that women in rural Ethiopia have limited opportunities to earn money, generally have fewer assets than men, and have difficulty getting credit to set up small businesses.

“With BOAM support, I expanded the collection of milk, bought a plant, and set up a credit system for other farmers. Whatever I learn for myself, I share with the farmers so that we all benefit,” she says.

BOAM stimulates value chains through: 1) sector development that creates networking opportunities for farmer entry, 2) business development that helps figure out ways to turn these opportunities into proven results, 3) knowledge development in both soft skills and technical assistance so actors have right information to make decisions, and 4) business development services that help people and their businesses sustainably scale up.

Yohannes is a thriving business proving that the pioneering SNV approach works. Her business model is both innovative and unique in Ethiopia, which underscores the critical role of the private sector—in particular processing companies and wholesalers—in ‘pulling’ smallholder famers into the chain and connecting them to markets. It has also helped bridge the gender gap found across many country’s agribusinesses.

Today, Rut and Hirut Dairy supplies the market with 4,500 liters of milk daily. Yohannes bought a dairy processing plant in 2013 which employs 22 people and buys milk from over 400 smallholder farmers via her three collection centres plus two dairy co-operatives which contribute to the livelihoods of over 2,000 people.

BOAM grew out of the stark reality that agricultural development cannot just focus on productivity improvements among farmers and pastoralists. Rather, supply and demand must follow from producer to consumer for each link in the value chain to benefit—farmers with equitable prices, processors with quality products, consumers with the foods they want to eat. SNV ensures women and youth are included in its value-chain projects such as BOAM.

Both World Bank and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report that closing this gender gap, such as Yohannes is doing in Ethiopia, will give women worldwide the same access to productive resources as men. This could increase yields on their farms by 20–30% and raise total agricultural output by 2.5–4%. These gains alone could lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger, according to an FAO estimate.

“Enabling women farmers to be more productive may also benefit Africa’s next generation--families in which women influence economic decisions allocate more income to food, health, education and children’s nutrition. Improving gender equality through agriculture could therefore translate into a generation of Africans who are better fed, better educated and better equipped to make productive contributions to their economies, within agriculture and beyond,” World Bank reports.

BOAM helped Yohannes improve her management—soft skills—as well as the technical knowledge of her staff, who add value to locally collected milk by processing it into provolone, Cheddar, gouda, feta, ricotta, cottage and smoked cheeses. Other dairy products include pasteurized milk, cream, butter and yoghurts. Products are sold directly to restaurants and supermarkets in the Addis Ababa area and she owns Tsega and Family, a dairy outlet, in the capital city.

“Around the world, people celebrate milk and dairy products especially in June. We like to do it all year,” smiles Yohannes.