On the milk trail – Food provisioning in Dar es Salaam

By Marc Wegerif. PhD Candidate, Rural Sociology Group Wageningen University, carrying out research on food provisioning in Dar es Salaam. Contact: marc.wegerif@wur.nl

It’s Saturday morning in Dar es Salaam, no rushing to school and work today. I walk to the duka (shop) a few metres from my house, (you can read more about the duka in http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/6/6/3747). After greeting the shop owner and another customer standing at the counter, I buy eggs, chapattis cooked that morning by one of my neighbours and fresh milk in a plastic half litre package for 1,100 Tanzanian Shillings (Euro 0.52). Ready for breakfast and I think it is time to write a few lines about where the milk I just bought comes from.

Man and Women after delivering milk to the collection centre in Pongwe Village

Man and Women after delivering milk to the collection centre in Pongwe Village

On a morning a few weeks earlier I was standing in Pongwe Village, Tanga Region, watching as buckets and other containers of milk were lined up at the Tanga Fresh milk collection centre. Most of the containers were brought by young men on bicycles and motorbikes, women of all ages came on foot buckets on their head or in their hands and some older men were there as well. Tatu (not her real name), in her twenties, dressed in a clean white coat, hair net and boots – the classic uniform of hygiene – was taking samples from every container to check the quality of the milk and for any impurities. The milk that met the standards (most of it did) was poured into a shiny stainless steel container, weighed, then filtered before being put into one of two large shiny and cooled tanks in the back room of the building. Later in the day a truck would collect the milk and take it to the Tanga Fresh dairy.

Within walking distance of the collection centre I sat on the porch of Mama Anna’s (not her real name) house as Rosanna Martucci, a Masters student from the Universiteit Van Amsterdam, interviewed her. Mama Anna has eight cows and three calves that graze on communal land and sleep at night in a small cattle boma (enclosure) next to her house. She milks the cows every morning and evening and takes the milk on foot to the collection centre. The first cow she got more than 12 years ago came from a ‘receive one give one’ cattle project. She was given a cow and then paid back through passing on a calf to another family. She depends for her income on the milk sales and farming maize, oranges and coconuts on land in a neighbouring village where she was born. While she sells most of her milk to Tanga Fresh she also keeps some for home use and sells some to neighbours.

Tatu testing the milk before accepting it at the Pongwe Village collection centre

Tatu testing the milk before accepting it at the Pongwe Village collection centre

Mama Anna has attended a two week training on caring for dairy cattle run at a local college. When her cattle are sick she takes blood samples to a veterinary laboratory in Tanga for analysis and to get medicine. There is a vet in Pongwe that assists with artificial insemination. She gets vitamins from the farmers cooperative that runs the Tanga Fresh collection centre and buys pumba (the husks and other leftovers after grinding maize) as supplementary feed from the maize millers in the same street. When she has financial needs, often for family reasons rather than for dairy production, she borrows money from the cooperative and her loan repayments are deducted from the money she receives for her milk supplies. When needing other advice mama Anna does not feel she gets from Tanga Fresh, but she explains how she benefits from sharing knowledge with other dairy farmers, mostly when they meet and talk at the collection centre.

Later in the day we went to the far edge of Pongwe Village where families are clearing space in the former sisal plantation to build and farm. We found a man in his late teens or early twenties, who, with his brother lives in a very rudimentary one room structure made of mud and wood. For now they have just one cow, which stood not far away chewing grass, yet they also supply some of the little milk they get to Tanga Fresh and twice a month get a cash payment of 700 Tanzanian Shillings (Euro 0.33) for every kg they have delivered.

Distribution of the milk around Dar es Salaam

Distribution of the milk around Dar es Salaam

Not far from the young men we found a couple in their thirties, with a brick and cement house. Their dairy cows are an important part of their income from which they support their three children. The mother laughs as she tells us how her son who is just a few years old drinks more than a litre of milk a day, but they still have some left to deliver to the collection centre. They got the land they are on as part of a land distribution project and both husband and wife have their own plots, registered individually, but next to each other. They are also both members of the dairy farmer’s cooperative that organises the local milk collection centre. This centre is smaller than the one we had been at in the morning; there is no weighing machine so the milk is measured manually in buckets. The storage tank is smaller and they cannot afford a generator, so have to call for urgent milk collection when the electricity goes off.


One of the refrigerated trucks that delivers the packaged milk from Tanga Fresh to Dar es Salaam

From over 5,000 farmers, through 47 collection centres, 30-45,000 litres of milk a day are taken in trucks to the Tanga Fresh dairy. There the milk in every truck is diligently tested again before being pasteurised and packaged. If any milk has gone off or found to be contaminated at this stage, the farmers are still paid for what they delivered, Tanga Fresh carries the risk. Some of the milk is turned to yoghurt and mozzarella cheese. Refrigerated trucks take the packaged milk products away and distribute around Tanzania, much of it to the largest city, Dar es Salaam 350kms away, where three independent agents distribute the milk, including to the duka in my street.

Tanga Fresh employs about 150 people to run the operation from collection to processing and marketing. What they guarantee is a market for any milk of good quality that the farmers produce and deliver. At the same time I expect to find my milk in the duka every morning. One of the main challenges Tanga Fresh faces is dealing with the large difference in the quantity of milk supply between the dry and wet seasons. One of the projects under development now is to produce long-life UHT milk that will help smooth these supply fluctuations.

A wide range of interventions have built a dairy industry in a region where there was not one before. Tanga Fresh is the largest dairy products producer in Tanzania and a key part of developing the industry in Tanga and beyond. It involves the Tanga Dairies Cooperative Union (who are a major shareholder), a number of Dutch individuals and companies, foundations and some individual investors. Tanga Fresh has brought technology that has ensured milk quality. They have, through the packaging along with collection and distribution networks, given even the smallest farmers access to markets for all of the milk they can deliver, thus encouraging increased production.

There is currently a large policy maker, donor and investor interest in increasing agricultural production (and profits) in Africa. Too often this is not bringing the hoped for benefits and is sometimes resulting in land grabs and displacement of local farmers from land and from markets. Does Tanga Fresh show a way to bring investment, improve technology and production in a way that is truly empowering to small family farmers? I look forward to learning more about it when Rosanna finishes her Masters Thesis.