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Study on hygiene practices and market chain of milk and milk products in Somalia

By Susan Momanyi and Andreas Jenet

Susan Momanyi joined Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) as a nutritionist in 2009 and has been working with fresh food vouchers in South Sudan. Since 2010 she has been based in Puntland, responsible for the food aid component in the ECHO intervention. Susan holds a B.Sc. in family and consumer sciences.

Andreas Jenet joined VSF in 2007 as Head of the Programme Department. He has worked for the research institutes CATIE, ILRI, ETHZ and the International Committee of the Red Cross. He holds a Ph.D. Natural Sciences.

The authors acknowledge the support of the European Union Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid for funding the action in Puntland/Somalia under which this assessment was carried out.

Since 2006, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières - Germany (VSF) has implemented several projects in Somalia. The VSF strategy focuses mainly on improving food security and value chain development. Past interventions have achieved significant improvements in supporting the production of 'safer' milk and compliance with minimum standards in milk marketing. Through training and capacity building for slaughterhouse staff, setting up quarantine and control points along the livestock routes, but also through management training for service delivery, significant improvements in food hygiene have been obtained. Other interventions have focussed on capacity building for communities, public and private sector institutions and enhancing the risk management associated with animal diseases that limit trade. The latter applies in particular to trans-boundary animal diseases, including some zoonoses.

Milk vendors in Garowe, Somalia

VSF project

VSF currently implements a European Union DG Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funded project 'Somali Livelihood and Food Security Assistance (SOLAFA)' in Mudug (Jariiban, Goldogob) and Nugal (Garowe, Burtinle and Eyl) of Puntland. The intervention aims at contributing to the minimum food basket through food distribution to the destitute and internally displaced population (IDPs), cash based interventions to resident pastoralists, and income generation through asset protection for the resident pastoralist groups using existing local structures.


The protracted crisis in Somalia, in which civil conflict among groups is further aggravated by natural calamities, loss of assets and economic pressure, has led to an increase of IDPs to more than 1.2 million people (UNHCR 2009). Many of those displaced people are leaving the urban centres in Somalia and taking refuge across the borders in Kenya or Ethiopia. With the spread of the radical religious groups in rural areas, the increase in areas under conflict and subsequent limitation of livestock movement, there is a growing number of pastoralists who have dropped out of their livelihood system. A large group of the internally displaced pastoralists are moving north and settling in Beledwein, Galkayo, Garowe and Bossaso. An estimated 60% of the Somali population is being considered as pastoralist, for whom 55% of their overall dietary needs are derived through consumption of meat and milk. Among these groups, livestock is considered to be the most valuable asset, generating approximately 60% of their subsistence income requirements. Pastoralist IPDs and drop outs only change their nutrition and feeding habits very slowly. Milk and meat are therefore still considered the most important food sources for this group and take a central position in their food basket.

Food distribution to destitute and IDPs

In order to improve the household nutrition basket and to encourage food diversification, food distribution for the destitute and IDPs included locally available food commodities made available through existing structures using a voucher based distribution system. An assessment was conducted to evaluate the availability of milk and the local capacities of milk marketing structures and to improve understanding of the dairy sector capacity.

Materials and methodology

Forty vendors, selected using stratified random sampling from five sections in Garowe markets, were questioned on the milk supply chain, their milk sales and prices. Focus group discussions were carried out involving Ministry of Livestock representatives, milk suppliers and local government authority members. Key informant enquiries were held at markets and fifteen milk collection centres in Mudug, Quardo and Nugal milk sheds.

Milk markets

The milk market in Garowe is an open market with no defined areas for selling dairy commodities. This contrasts with the market stands of other foodstuffs such as meat, fruits and vegetables which have specific market areas. The conditions around the milk market are harsh as there are no proper shelters, hence the vendors have to move from one shaded area to another during the afternoon heat. Small scale traders, predominantly women, are the major stakeholders in milk marketing, while men are mainly involved in transportation and the delivery of milk from the production areas to the main markets, and may act also as brokers.

The standard measurement of milk in the market is the kombo which is equivalent to 750 ml. While large scale traders prefer to trade in American dollars, small scale traders favour the Somali shilling. The latter currency is unstable and there is currently hyperinflation in the market.

Milk transport containers

Milk is stored traditionally in containers known as the dhiil, which are made from palm or wood fibres. The dhiil container is very expensive due to the craftwork involved in its manufacture, so most small scale vendors have only one, which they refill as they sell the milk. The dhiil containers are traditionally disinfected and sterilised by smoking which in turn provides the familiar taste which is requested by the consumers. In more recent years, the dhiil has been rapidly substituted with the cheaper, and more practical, recycled vegetable oil plastic container. Transportation is easy (e.g. they can be ferried without couriers on minibuses) and a loss is affordable when empty containers get sent back from the market. Precipitation of milk solids and fats settle in the container and are difficult to clean due to its small outlet. The plastic containers cannot be easily disinfected and even simple washing is difficult for most types of container. In spite of their high value, aluminium containers are easy to clean and get sterilised rapidly in the sun.

Milk contamination in the market chain

The assessment concluded that there are weak linkages between pastoralist milk producers and urban milk consumers due to the informal nature of the market chain. Raw milk collection and marketing was characterised by an absence of hygiene and cooling and the prevalence of cheap recycled plastic containers for transport that cannot be sanitised. In particular, the pooling of different camel milk batches along the collection and marketing chain led to a increased contamination, since milk has not been tested prior to the pooling. This practice increases prevalence of Streptococcus agalactiae. Most of the plastic containers are becoming porous and are difficult to clean; laboratory analysis in another study found high levels of Lactococcus, Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, Enterococcus and Streptococcus ssp. An assessment of an urban market in the same region found pathogens in 50% of transport containers taking milk directly from producing herds, in 62% of milk containers sampled at primary collection sites and in 70% of milk containers sampled in urban makets.

Trader structures and groups

In general, about 3,000 litres of raw milk per day were handled by the informal market and supplied daily to urban consumers. Milk traders were asked about organisational structures. Most of the traders (85%) were organised in trader groups commonly known as Shrika. These groups are responsible for milk transportation from producing herds to markets. Groups require consistent membership for them to operate well in the business. The main means of getting milk to the market for the traders is hiring transport (87.5%) while 12.5% used their own transport. Milk producers send the milk to the markets using trucks or any kind of transport that is available. Fifteen percent of the respondents were not members but were generally willing to join a group. The main reason for not joining a group was the expensive membership fee used for transport, especially during the dry season when milk income is low.

Most milk vendors are specialised in one commodity, only 0.5% of the vendors sell other goods (rice, soap, sugar) apart from milk. The most common form of payment was cash on receipt of milk (85%) while 15% of buyers pay at the end of the week. The main customers include families who buy on average 1.5 litres of milk daily, others are tea shops, restaurants and hotels. Tea shops and hotel owners mainly pay at the end of the week.

Milk production

The milk price fluctuates between seasons and is affected by livestock migration which creates seasonal scarcity of milk at the market. Transport costs during the rainy season vary as roads are impassable and the use of inappropriate containers causes rapid deterioration in the quality of the milk. The price of milk generally ranges from 0.3 to 1.6 USD per 750ml. Milk that has soured fetches a 25% to 40% lower price compared to fresh milk.

Table 1 shows how much and what type of milk vendors receive from the producers. All milk is received fresh. Camel and goat milks are sold both fresh and sour while cow's milk is discarded once it has turned sour. The value of soured cow's milk is reduced by more than 50% so that vendors end up making a loss.

Table 1: Milk batches of different animal origin received, sold and sour milk sold by traders in Garowe (n = 40)
  Camel Goat Cow
Traders received (n) Traders sold (n) Traders Sosac* (n) Traders received (n) Traders sold (n) Traders Sosac* (n) Traders received (n) Traders sold (n) Spoil (n)
0-36 1 9 19 10 12 26 24 30 36
37-75 14 13 10 9 11 4 9 4 3
76-150 9 9 9 9 11 2 3 3 1
151- 225 13 8 2 8 5 7 4 3 0
>226 3 1 0 4 1 1 0 0 0
Total estimate litres per day <6,000 <4,000 <2,000 <5,000 <3500 <1500 <1800 <1400 <400

* Sour milk

The roughly estimated overall daily traded amount of milk in Garowe during the Gu period was 12.8 tons. The quantities of fresh milk sold were higher than the quantity of fermented milk. There was slightly more camel milk traded than goat milk. In Garowe, fresh milk from cattle had a lower importance. The majority of the market sellers (92%) receive between 37 and 225 litres of pooled fresh camel's milk per day from the pastoralist production sites. In general camel's milk from small traders is more frequently sold as sour milk, compared to traders that sell larger batches. There is a larger variation among traders selling goat milk. Nearly a third is sold as sour milk. The majority of traders (67%) receive large batches of 37 to 225 litres daily. Trading of sour milk from goats and camels (sosac) usually involves batches of smaller size (36 litres per day).

The lowest milk offers in the markets are during the Hagaa (June - August), while the season with the highest sales turnovers is Gu (March - May). In line with findings from the FSNAU, our survey found that the highest milk prices are however expected in September (Deyr season) a period of relatively low milk availability in the markets but regular production in the dry season grazing areas. During this time there is a capacity for receiving about 3,000 litres a day in the market during this period (including morning and evening sales). The Deyr season therefore seems to be the best season for the traders to sell milk at higher prices but there are logistical challenges due to the large distance and difficult transport connection to the dry season grazing areas.


This assessment has increased understanding of the milk market in the area and allowed formulation of various strategies to strengthen livelihoods around milk marketing.

In order to reduce the milk contamination, appropriate milk containers and rehabilitation of milk market shelters are recommended. Based on the findings we concluded also that an early cash based intervention in areas of milk production would stabilize resident livelihoods, while voucher distributions to IDPs will ensure their access to high value commodities like milk at times of scarcity in the year. Findings indicated that households consume on average 10.5 litres of milk weekly. Thus, a voucher worth two litres per week provides economic support of 2-3 USD weekly and guarantees nutritional diversity for one or two children. Such quantities will not undermine the market but will promote and support local commodity trade. The combination of vouchers and cash based interventions for the producers could strengthen livelihoods and stabilise local markets as well as build the capacity of the traders.

The milk market assessment survey has also shown that it may be appropriate and feasible to distribute fresh milk to vulnerable households during the year and in particular during the deyr season (Sept - Nov) when there is a low milk availability and high milk prices. During the proposed intervention, milk price monitoring should be introduced as well as milk quality testing at the milk bulking places and markets.

Relatively high levels of bacterial contamination in the milk market chain suggest the need for greater milk hygiene awareness among consumers (e.g. IDPs). Though consumption of raw milk is the cultural practice in Somalia, additional education needs to stress the requirement for both boiling milk and making sure that raw milk is not used for feeding of children less than 6 months.

Further research in regard to food diversity, household economy and milk consumption patterns among the groups and within the households is needed to determine the importance and impact of fresh food consumption in dependent and resident communities in Somalia.

For more information, contact: Vétérinaires Sans Frontières - Germany (VSF G), Post Office Box 25653 - 00603 Nairobi/Kenya, email:

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Reference this page

Susan Momanyi and Andreas Jenet (). Study on hygiene practices and market chain of milk and milk products in Somalia. Field Exchange 39, September 2010. p23.



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