Robert Kariuki, (pictured above) the CEO of Family Milk Processing PLC, describes it as a, “simple portable and mobile device that swiftly analyzes milk density and contents, and gives a set of results that immediately print out depending on what you need.” It is called a Lactoscan and represents the trend of how ICT permeates almost every aspect of our life, including how a jug of milk makes it onto a grocery shelf. With 132 employees, operations at Family Milk Processing PLC begin in the late morning as staff prepare to receive milk from farmers. When trucks transporting milk drive into the company’s compound in the Lafto area of Addis Ababa, quality assurance officers employ specialized equipment to test the quality of milk brought by the farmers and cooperatives. The verdict of whether their milk will be accepted is given before it enters the factory for processing.
Family Milk Processing PLC collects large quantities of milk from more than 2,000 individuals and six farmer groups before packing and selling it to various supermarkets, small and large shops, as well as its selling center. The company must ensure a high quality standard of milk as well as swift processing of the milk during its daily drop off. Before partnering with the USAID AGP-LMD project, Family Milk employed conventional milk testing equipment. This conventional equipment had a number of issues and frequently provided inaccurate results.
For example, sometimes deceitful individuals would add water and salt to increase the quantity of their milk to make more money. The old equipment, called a lactometer, would only test the density of the milk to determine whether water had been added. But suppliers learned how to trick the system and would add sugar or flour to their milk already diluted with water. This increases the density, making the contaminated milk pass the lactometer test.
These tactics do not work on the more advanced, digital Lactoscan. The Lactoscan is more sophisticated, using conductivity tests which measure the ability of a substance to conduct electricity. It is a one-stop technology that tests various milk parameters — such as water content, fat, protein and solids.
Knowing how much Family Milk would benefit from this new technology, the AGP-LMD project provided ICT capacity building training to introduce the Lactoscan to the factory’s personnel. The training demonstrated the correct usage of the digital milk analyzer machine, which would enable a quality based milk collection and payment system. After seeing how fast and comprehensive the Lactoscan’s results were, Family Milk purchased one.
“The training from LMD made things easy for us,” described the Factory Production Manager Hailu Eshetu. “We put some milk in the machine, we select what [information] we want and press the start button. Then we get a print out of results within seconds, as simple as that. We can also insert a flash disc into the digital machine to save the results.”
Three months after their purchase of the Lactoscan, Family Milk’s milk quality is increasing. The factory provides training to its suppliers to show them the new device, its capabilities and how they were now going to monitor the milk coming in during their daily drop-offs. At first, milk rejection rate increased with the introduction of the machine as it caught errors that the lactometer did not. But over time, the suppliers are much more conscientious about the product they supply Family Milk.
This is how ICT is becoming the judge on what milk makes it onto the shelves of a supermarket. In Ethiopia, where the dairy sector is dominated by smallholder farmers, technology like the Lactoscan is significantly and positively impacting the quality of agricultural products. In the long run, this technology will help improve the health and nutrition of Ethiopia’s growing population. As one of the leading milk brands and fastest growing dairy processors in Ethiopia, Family Milk is a living testament of this.