Hi I am Karen Vega, and am responsible for oversight and monitoring for the Development Marketplace project portfolio. I am on mission visiting projects in Tanzania, Kenya and Burkina Faso. I am currently in Kenya visiting the Pro-biotic Yogurt project implemented by The Ministry of Health of Kenya in partnership with its research institute KEMRI and the University of Western Ontario.
The objective of this project is to establish a sustainable grass-roots food based development initiative for the purpose of improving the health and nutrition levels among vulnerable social groups in Oyugis-Rachuonyo district. The innovative character of the project is connecting the appropriate technology, training and local resources (dairy) to produce a community based intervention program. When pro-biotics are consumed in adequate amounts Canadian and Nigerian studies have shown pro-biotics to be effective in treating uro-genital infections and diarrheal disease including people living with HIV/AIDS!
The idea became a reality in 2007 when the University of Western Ontario, in partnership with the Kenya’s Ministry of Health was awarded a grant from Development Marketplace. This project was also based on a similar idea held in Tanzania by the ‘Yogurt Mamas’. Harvard Business Review has featured this group as one of their case studies. In Kenya, the project has recently finished activities under the grant so I am here to follow up and see what kind of impact they’ve made on the ground.
The project site is situated 80 kilometers from Kisumu, the 3rd biggest city in Kenya. I met with the project staff at JIKO LA JAM II DAIRIES. Dr Odawa, our contact from KEMRI took me out to see how the project was operating and to have the opportunity to meet with project beneficiaries.
While out in the village, I met with Mary a mother of 5 children, Jennifer a mother of 6 and Leonora a mother of 4. What do these ladies have in common? They run a business producing yogurt, which has helped them earn income while marketing the product and educating consumers on the benefits of pro-biotic yogurt in their localities.
Mary told me, “with the money I earn I can buy different food from the one I cultivate in my garden.” This allows for Mary to diversify her diet and increase the overall nutrition and health of her family. “I can also buy soap and lend to people who do not have anything”.” My life before the yogurt business was selling fruit on the market, now I can employ people to sell the fruits for me while I work making yogurt. In addition to the ladies comments, Dr Odawa, adds that some of the ladies that are HIV positive have also improved their nutrition by consuming the yogurt.
The key element in the yogurt is a type of lactobacillus. Dr. Issac Luginaah, Assistant Professor from the University of Western Ontario mentions that pro-biotic yogurt potentially boosts immunity in patients with HIV/AIDS helping alleviate complications and improve quality of life. These specific benefits were essential to the areas where the yogurt was being produced and sold. Studies about the health benefits of pro-biotic food from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are available clicking here.
The Oyugis-Rachuonyo district has 72% poverty level, which contributes to the spread of HIV. It is estimated that over 50% of people living with HIV aids and more than 45% children suffer from diarrheal disease and about 30% suffer from bacterial vaginosis.
Malnutrition is also a problem in Kenya. Up to 76% of the children under five are anemic or deficient in vitamin A and zinc. Preliminary results indicate that the control group had an increase in weight by about 2 kilos and there were 17.7% less cases of diarrhea by the end of the project study. People also suffering from uro-genital infections reported a decreased incidence of bacterial vaginosis.
On the capacity building side: there are around 47 “yogurt mamas” trained in yogurt production. Women earn an average of 4 dollars a day from the sale of pro-biotic yogurt. The community kitchen that was built started earning approximately U$15 a day for about 5 months after which it increased to make $67.7 a day and in the next month $84.4.
Talking with the project coordinator in the field, Roy from JIKO LA JAMMI DAIRIES , he mentioned that if they were to replicate in Kadogo, they would make sure that they own part of the supply chain and produce their own milk. Right now they are not reliant on KEMRI who buys milk from other districts if it is in short supply locally.
The project is a proof of how an idea turns into action. In this particular case, the recognition of the links between nutrition, HIV/AIDS and the interaction between economic empowerment and health have been very well linked. Women with little or no formal education are trained in probiotic yogurt production, business management and organizational capacity.
As a direct result of the training, women are now completing a clinical trial to assess the impact of pro-biotic yogurt on health and quality of life. They are also establishing trans-boundary linkages to transfer lessons from Kenya to Tanzania.
I expect that the kitchens can continue their work and can expand to other sites. But there is still room for further training to strengthen the capacity for financial management, bookkeeping and stock management of raw materials and product outputs.
Selling has started to get the attention of more local consumers in addition to people living with HIV/AIDS who receive it gratis. At the end of the journey I couldn’t walk away without trying a delicious glass of ‘Fiti’ pro-biotic yogurt. It was very good! Kudos to the “Yogurt Mamas.”