More milk for a brighter future in East Africa
Maria Chavez, Shared Value Consultant, writes about the importance of ‘white gold’ as we approach World Milk Day on June 1.

My son - now two years-old - understands that my work is linked to milk. He even sometimes asks for it by saying, “masiwa”, which means ‘milk’ in Swahili – a word he learnt from me after I travelled a few times to Kenya.

While for a German toddler, having two to three daily servings of milk or dairy products is a given1, for children in East Africa (especially those in Tanzania and Uganda), this is still a dream.

Protein, including animal protein, is a vital component of a healthy, nourishing diet. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum protein intake of 48-56 grams per day.2 Although several initiatives have been put in place to support these countries in increasing milk production, the reality is that much of the milk is not consumed in the areas in which it’s produced.

If we look at Kenya, the typical meal of a child living in poverty is made out of corn flour-based bread and cabbage,3 resulting in a diet that’s short in key nutrients like iron, vitamin A, and iodine.4 This has serious ramifications for their health and development and creates an unequal food system that prevents the country’s most vulnerable populations from thriving.

A landmark observational study in Kenya demonstrates that when children’s diets are supplemented with milk, learning and resulting test scores improve by an average of 28 per cent.5 While Kenya’s consumption is ahead of other countries in the region with 91 litres per capita, Tanzania and Uganda have a per capita milk consumption of just 50 litres per annum or less.6

As an international animal health business, Elanco aims to support dairy farmers in supplying their communities with more quality milk by helping improve animal health and reducing animal mortality. In East Africa, we do this through the East Africa Growth Accelerator (EAGA) project, an initiative possible thanks to a $3.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which I have the privilege to lead.

The initiative aims to empower dairy farmers and improve production, through making animal medicines accessible and providing training on disease awareness, prevention and treatment.

I am proud to be part of the EAGA initiative, which will help give children as young as my son a new reality – one where protein-rich masiwa is plentiful, and so are their opportunities for the future.

1 Dror, DK, Allen LH. 2013. Dairy product intake in children and adolescents in developed countries: trends, nutritional contribution, and a review of association with health outcomes. Nutrition Reviews® Vol. 72(2):68–81 73

2 National Academies Press. Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. Retrieved from https://iom.nationalacademies.org/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/DRI_Macronutrients.pdf

3 Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. Malnutrition: What barriers do the people of Kenya face? Retrieved from http://www.gainhealth.org/knowledge-centre/malnutrition-what-barriers-do-the-people-of-kenya-face/

4 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2012. The State of Food Insecurity in the World. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3027e/i3027e.pdf

5 Neumann, C.G., et al. 2007. Meat Supplementation Improves Growth, Cognitive, and Behavioral Outcomes in Kenyan Children. The Journal of Nutrition 137, no. 4

6 Makoni, N; Mwai, R; Redda, T; Zijpp, A. van der; Lee, J. van der. 2013. White Gold; Opportunities for Dairy Sector Development Collaboration in East Africa. Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen UR (University & Research centre). CDI report CDI-14-006. Wageningen.

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