Dairy Foods Blog

A Bill Gates venture finds a safer, more affordable way to collect, store, and transport milk in Kenya

Mazzi is a durable food-grade plastic container designed with a wide mouth that better enables farmers to milk using both hands.

July 30, 2014

Kris Natarajan, Global Good
Kris Natarajan

According to the World Bank, approximately 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, where the majority of families depend on crops and livestock for their livelihoods. Many smallholder farmers rely especially upon milk, as a key source of income and a significant source of calories and nutrients in their families’ diet.

But unlike the efficient processing and supply chains we’re familiar with in developed countries, when these rural farmers collect and transport their cows’ milk from the farm to local collection centers or chilling stations, all too often the milk is spilled or spoiled, at a significant loss for the farmer.

Take for example the milk collection buckets and repurposed jerry cans so widely used by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa: the buckets tip easily during milking, and pouring what’s left of the milk into jerry cans that originally may have contained pesticides or gasoline clearly is not safe. The jerry cans’ very narrow openings also make them nearly impossible to keep clean and thus can add significant bacteriological burden that decreases the shelf life of the milk. On top of all this, these jerry cans are unwieldy and fragile burdens to carry long distances by hand, bicycle or draft animal.

These challenges came into sharp focus for Bill Gates when he visited smallholder farmers in rural western Kenya in 2009. He was there to better understand how innovation in the agriculture sector could reduce hunger and poverty.

In Kenya alone, approximately 80 percent of the country’s marketed milk is produced by more than a million smallholder dairy farmers. What tools were available to these farmers to get their milk to market, increase their income, send their children to school and live better lives?

Global Good, a collaboration between Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures to invent, develop and deploy technology that improves life in developing countries took this question to heart.

Global Good and the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory originally approached the problem from the perspective of farm-level pasteurization, but soon realized what these smallholder farmers really needed was a much better, low-tech method for collecting and transporting milk in a hygienic and safe way. Moreover, we knew from our extensive work in Africa with dairy farmers that they wanted a simple, low-cost solution to help maximize the quantity and quality of milk they were able to sell, and we needed to design a product that could be manufactured locally, not imported from overseas.

With a working prototype of a milking and transportation container, Global Good partnered with Heifer International’s East Africa Dairy Development project to test its performance. Our months of field work in Kenya showed promise—and revealed unanticipated challenges. For example, in many parts of East Africa, stunted breeds of dairy cows are the norm, and the prototype that we originally developed was just too tall to fit under the udders. With our partners, we later modified the design for a shorter, stouter 10-liter version.

We also saw how important durability was. Farmers and transporters who collect and deliver milk to dairy cooperatives frequently encountered unpaved and muddy roads – especially in the rainy season. We needed to design a leak-proof container that could keep valuable milk from spilling, but in a safe food-grade material that was far sturdier than plastic jerry cans and much less costly than government-approved aluminum cans.

Derived from “maziwa,” the Kiswahili word for milk, the result was Mazzi, a durable food-grade plastic container designed with a wide mouth that better enables farmers to milk using both hands. Mazzi has a detachable black funnel that is screwed on before milking to facilitate mastitis detection and, with its integrated sieve, also prevent macrocontaminants from entering the container. After milking, the funnel is removed and the secure lid tethered to the container is screwed on to prevent spillage and enable stacking for easy transportation from the farm to collection centers. Once emptied, Mazzi’s fully-accessible and smooth interior surface also makes it much easier to clean, and with much less water than required for jerry cans.

Today, Global Good is working with two partners in East Africa, Ashut Engineers Limited in Kenya and SNV Ethiopia, to manufacture and sell Mazzi in markets including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia starting this year, with additional plans to expand into Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan next year.

Based on our model of royalty-free intellectual property transfer, we can ensure Mazzi will be sold at price points that are affordable for smallholder farmers in the region, and profits from the sale of the containers and funnels will remain with our local commercialization partners. It’s what we refer to as catalytic invention. Bill Gates put a spotlight on a significant challenge for smallholder dairy farmers, we invented the technology solution now being delivered by our partners, but it is a sustainable market that will make Mazzi a success in the long term.

For more information about Mazzi and to stay posted on its availability in other developing countries, please visit www.mazzican.com.

Kris Natarajan is the principal of partnership development at Global Good, 

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