Dairy sector players call for stringent regulations to streamline milk trade

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Transporting or using jerry cans as milk containers contravenes regulations. / Elias Hakizimana.

Sophie Munyana is always cautious whenever she buys a cup of sour milk or plain milk in neighbourhood milk bars.

The cautious approach is borne out of a bad experience she got after drinking contaminated milk from one of the milk bars, leading to terrible stomach problems.

“This has happened more than twice. I always drink milk from different milk bars and I have discovered that many dealers add foreign substances to milk, including maize flour and water. So, I am now selective on which bar I buy milk from,” says Munyana, a resident of Gatenga sector in Kicukiro District.

Munyana is one of the many milk consumers that have over the past months complained about adulterated milk on the market.

Jean Claude Uwimana, a milk dealer in Kimironko, says some vendors and milk bar operators are not honest.

“At times you find particles in fermented milk,” he says. Uwimana adds that he fell sick recently after drinking milk in Nyabugogo.

Cédrick Mutangana, a milk vendor in Niboye sector of Kicukiro District, blames the problem on vendors who buy milk from unregistered dealers, as well as the greedy ones that want ‘quick gains’.

“I buy milk that has already been tested from registered collection centres. However, we have heard of vendors who add water, flour and other strange materials to milk,” Mutangana notes.

What standards watchdog says

According to Jérome Ndahimana, the acting director in charge of the food and agriculture, chemistry and environment standard unit at Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), there are still some challenges that hinder implementation of quality standards in milk trade, adding that the fast growth of the sector requires more efforts to teach farmers and dealers about the hygiene and standard guidelines along the milk value chain, from the “cow sheds to the collection centres”.

He adds that some dealers are reluctant to invest in facilities that ensure standards, saying only a small fraction of sector players have embraced set standardisation. But this is the responsibility of every stakeholder, from the cattle keeper and milkman to dealers, collection centres and milk bars, among others, Ndahimana notes.

He suggests that middlemen should be kicked out of milk trade to stop the practice of vendors who buy milk from unregistered dealers.

“Restructuring the systems of transportation as well as reducing long journey to collection centres will improve milk quality,” Ndahimana adds.

What other stakeholders say

According to Sperto Gahiga Gashumba, the chairman of National Dairy Farmers Federation of Rwanda, the problem is the weak laws and enforcement, saying those that contravene guidelines and standards are not given deterrent punishments.

“The other key challenge is lack of special testing equipment at some milk collection centres as operators claim the gadget is expensive,” says Gashumba, who is also the second vice-president of the Rwanda National Dairy Platform (RNDP).

According to Gashumba, Rubavu, Burera and Musanze districts are among the places where the problem of poor milk quality is prevalent, saying dealers and farmers still use jerry cans to transport milk.

According to Rwanda Standards Board, this equipment cost between $200 (about Rwf168,000) and $400 (about Rwf336,000). There are 100 milk collection centres countrywide according to Gashumba, but some cannot observe the best practices due to challenges, like lack of power.

Consumer rights at stake

According to Damien Ndizeye, the president of Rwanda consumers’ association protection Rights (ADECOR), though they complain about the poor quality of milk sold by some dealers, no concrete action has been taken. He adds that some customers are also reluctant to report such cases.

The law

Article 8 of the Ministerial Order N°001/11.30 of 10/02/2016 regulating collection, transportation and selling of milk states, “Any person who transports milk must use well closed stainless steel cans covered by their own covers or an appropriate vehicle with a cooling tank that keeps the milk at a temperature that does not exceed four degrees Celsius ( 4°C).

Consumer sensitisation

Beatrice Uwumukiza, from the Rwanda Agriculture and Livestock Inspection and Certification Services (RALIS) at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, says more efforts are needed to sensitise consumers on the benefits of reporting unscrupulous vendors and transporters.

Uwumukiza says the public needs to understand the importance of channeling milk through collection centres and milk processing plants, which “have capacity to test the safety of milk”.

She adds that the agency always conducts sensitisation drives, educating dairy sector players on guidelines concerning milk transportation, collection and trade, as well as milk standards and code of hygiene.

Efforts to enhance safety

Uwumukiza says there are still many people involved in milk trade illegally. She says, however, that, through the dairy best practices certification programme, 20 milk collection centres and seven factories were certified by RSB.

Uwumukiza notes that the initiative seeks to “stimulate competitiveness among dairy actors and promote milk quality”.

Current figures indicate that Rwanda produces more than 1.5 million litres of milk per day, 18 per cent of which is collected through milk collection centres.

Meanwhile, Uwumukiza says they always monitor milk collection centres and milk bars, but adds that those that contravene guidelines as par the ministerial order requirements, are apprehended and punished, including closing their businesses and being scrapped from the list of accredited milk sellers. She, however, says the rationale of the law is not to punish people, but to encourage them to improve.

“Besides the pilot project conducted in Kigali, we have not done any other general assessment, especially to know the number of milk bars in the country, but we are always monitoring the sector to ensure stakeholders adhere to guidelines,” adds Uwumukiza. 

Milk consumption

Milk consumption in the country per person increased from 40 litres per year in 2012 up to 60 litres today, according to Gashumba. He says the target is to reach to 80 litres per person going forward.