The amount of milk lost annually from farm to market through spoilage and waste in four East African countries and Syria could feed millions of children, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) which has launched an action plan in response.
In preliminary findings from the first study ever of economic losses in the continent's dairy industry, FAO has found that the milk lost during production, transportation and marketing in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania totals about $59.7 million each year, with losses in Ethiopia and Syria likely to bring the amount up to $90 million.
"That's a lot of spilt milk, and it adds up to a significant sum of money," says FAO's Anthony Bennett, who is coordinating a new three-year project to eliminate losses and improve quality. "If you think about it in terms of what it costs to run a school milk programme in eastern Africa - well, with this money you could feed 6 million kids for a whole year."
After consulting local agricultural experts, milk producers and marketers in East Africa and the Middle East, FAO drew up a work plan that would include training agricultural extension workers, farmers, distributors and vendors on milk safety and preservation technologies and improving their access to technical information on how to retain output.
Selected trainers have themselves been trained in a month-long FAO workshop in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, which ended Friday. They are headed home to tailor instruction programmes for their own communities, with the help of FAO experts.