Re-engineering milk buckets that capture better returns for African farmers

Re-engineering milk buckets that capture better returns for African farmers

Global Good, Bellevue, Washington, USA, began the commercialisation of an invention to help smallholder dairy farmers maximise the quality and quantity of milk they are able to sell.

The invention - a container designed specifically for milk collection and transportation will be manufactured in Africa and sold in eight countries across the continent with support from SNV Ethiopia and Kenya-based Ashut Engineers Ltd. The product, called Mazzi(tm), is the second commercialised invention from Global Good, in collaboration with Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures to invent, develop, and deploy technology that improves life in developing countries.

In Kenya alone, approximately 80 percent of the country's milk is produced by more than a million small-scale farmers who rely on it for subsistence and, in many cases, income. Unfortunately, this milk often spills or spoils before it can be sold. This is due in part to the fact that farmers have limited options available for collecting, storing, and transporting milk. Traditional milk pails can be kicked over during milking and gather contaminants that accelerate spoilage. From these pails, farmers often pour milk into repurposed plastic jerry cans that break easily and are difficult to clean. To address these breakdowns in the dairy supply chain, Global Good and Intellectual Ventures Laboratory set out to invent an improved milking and transportation system optimised for farmers in developing countries.

The result is a durable, 10-liter container designed specifically to help reduce costly spillage and spoilage. Farmers milk directly into the container, whose detachable black funnel helps to identify signs of a cow's udder infections, limit contaminants, and prevent spillage if the container is tipped over. This better enables farmers to milk using both hands, which increases the yield from the cow. The attached lid is then secured onto the container, which itself is stackable for easy transport from the farm to collection centers that purchase milk. Once emptied, the food-grade plastic container can be easily cleaned, thanks to an extra-wide opening and a fully-accessible interior.

"Smallholder dairy farmers are a crucial part of the dairy value chain in this region, but the proper equipment often isn't available to support them," said Jane Maindi, who managed Heifer International's East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) Program research and piloting for Mazzi in Kenya. "The container is a perfect example of how innovative thinking specifically for these farmers can make a significant impact. Kenyan farmers who participated in our pilot programme have been raving about Mazzi and crediting it with reducing wastage and spillage, improving yields, and increasing their incomes."

SNV Ethiopia, a local office of the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, will invest $1 million USD as part of an ongoing dairy project in the region to coordinate local manufacturers, as well as supply chains throughout Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. SNV Ethiopia has already contracted Addis Ababa-based Universal Plastic Factory PLC to begin production of Mazzi, and will create a voucher system to ensure that they are even more affordable to the poorest stakeholders in the dairy value chain.

"Global Good's milking and transportation system is exactly the type of impact-focused innovation that SNV Ethiopia looks for. By addressing the needs of smallholder farmers, it's developed a product that has the potential to strengthen the entire rural dairy value chain," said Jan Vloet, country director of SNV Ethiopia. "Working with local partners and manufacturers, we plan to realise this potential by getting Mazzi into the hands of smallholder farmers throughout the region."

Separately, Ashut will manufacture Mazzi locally and begin selling the product in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda starting this year. To support this effort, the company has expanded its manufacturing capabilities and invested in regional marketing and distribution channels for Mazzi.

"Given the size and importance of the smallholder dairy sector in this region, there's an undeniable market opportunity for a product like this. Mazzi offers a superior and cost-effective alternative to traditional plastic jerry cans," said Amit R. Shah, director of Ashut Engineers.

"Even with a product designed specifically to improve life in developing countries, it can only have a sustainable impact when local markets make it affordable and accessible. That's why organisations like Ashut and SNV Ethiopia are so important to Global Good's work," said Maurizio Vecchione, senior vice president of Global Good and research at Intellectual Ventures. "When we're able to combine Global Good's inventiveness, the capabilities of local companies, and the expertise of international development agencies and NGOs, the result is catalytic. It creates shared value for everyone involved."

In line with Global Good's focus on delivering social impact, profits from Mazzi will remain with the local partners and the containers will be sold at price points that are accessible to smallholder farmers. Global Good is also in talks with partners about expanding the Mazzi product line and its availability in other developing countries.