ILRI news

Kenya farm boy drinking milk

Kenyan boy drinking milk (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

A new research paper by scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partner organizations confirms that milk, meat and eggs are widely consumed by poor people in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi: these animal-source goods make up nearly 40% of the food budget and half of this is spent on dairy products.

Economic analysis revealed a high propensity to consume animal-source foods and elasticities showed that, if their prices could be lowered, consumption of animal-source foods would rocket, benefiting both the nutritional status of poor consumers and the livelihoods of small-scale livestock producers.

‘Malnutrition, including undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, is a chronic problem in most developing countries. Animal-source foods (ASFs) provide essential sources of proteins and micronutrients, yet little is known about ASF consumption patterns or household preferences towards animal-source products among low-income populations. This is particularly critical for malnourished children…

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Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels

Aflatoxin-contaminated groundnut kernels from Mozambique (photo credit: IITA).

A special issue of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND) published in July 2016 and sponsored by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) features 12 peer-reviewed scientific articles on aflatoxins in eastern Africa.

The three broad objectives of the special issue are to understand the health consequences of aflatoxins, characterize the extent of the problem and identify key elements to underpin the way forward to mitigation.

The papers, listed below, are all open access and the PDFs are freely available for download at the AJFAND website.

Aflatoxins in East Africa: The importance of getting the full picture (http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76526)

Understanding the health impacts

Extent and location of the problem

  • Aflatoxin B1 occurrence in millet, sorghum and maize from four agro-ecological zones in Kenya (http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76499)
  • Prevalence of aflatoxin in feeds and cow milk from five counties in Kenya (http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76501)
  • Survey of informal milk retailers in Nairobi, Kenya and prevalence of aflatoxin M1 in marketed milk (http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76502)
  • Assessment of pre-harvest aflatoxin and fumonisin contamination of maize in Babati District, Tanzania
  • Aflatoxin and fumonisin contamination of marketed maize and maize bran and maize used as animal feed in northern Tanzania
  • Mapping aflatoxin risk from milk consumption using biophysical and socio-economic data: A case study of Kenya (http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76503)
  • Examining environmental drivers of spatial variability in aflatoxin accumulation in Kenyan maize: Potential utility in risk prediction models

Finding the way forward to mitigation

  • Farmer perception of moulds and mycotoxins within the Kenya dairy value chain: A gendered analysis (http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76495)
  • A review of agricultural aflatoxin management strategies and emerging innovations in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Potential of lactic acid fermentation in reducing aflatoxin B1 in Tanzania maize-based gruel
Testing milk in Kenya's informal market

Testing the quality of raw milk in Kenya’s informal market. A new study has identified options that could help improve milk quality in Zambia’s Western Province (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

Solar pasteurisation and quality-based pricing of milk are among interventions whose feasibility should be explored towards improving the safety of milk produced by smallholders in Western Province of Zambia, a new study says.

The study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (July 2016) was carried out to assess the microbiological quality of fresh cow’s milk along smallholder dairy value chains in Western Province of Zambia. The focus was on milk sold through dairy co-operatives near Mongu, the main town in the province.

Milk samples were collected at the farm level from 86 cows from nine herds and from the container of pooled milk from the herd. Samples were also collected upon arrival at the two dairy co-operatives (Limulunga and Mongu) to which the pooled milk was delivered. Additional serial samples were collected at the co-operatives and refrigerated to simulate the recommended storage conditions after purchase or at the co-operatives.

Microbiological analysis of the milk samples assessed the counts of total bacteria and coliforms and tested for the presence of Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Bacillus species and Streptococcus species.

The milk at the farm level initially had low levels of bacteria but the microbial counts increased along the value chain as the milk was transported to the co-operative. This is in part due to the absence of a cold chain between milking and the point of sale.

Although coliform counts were low, a high proportion of samples were contaminated with S. aureus and E. coli, suggesting poor handling and faecal contamination, respectively. However, the most critical observation with regard to milk safety was the lack of pasteurisation or boiling, which would eliminate almost all microbial pathogens present.

The study therefore proposes that more work should be done to look into the feasibility of various interventions that could improve the quality of milk produced and sold in the region.

“Sustainable methods of milk pasteurisation should be investigated, as a microbial-kill step is needed to mitigate upstream contamination,” the authors observe.

Solar pasteurisation has been suggested as a possible option to be explored, in light of unreliable electricity supply, low levels of technical support and low volumes of milk handled at the dairy co-operatives.

“Paying producers more for safer, higher quality milk would create an incentive for producer investment in milk quality,” they add. Currently, all farmers receive the same price for their milk, regardless of the quality.

Selling milk to large dairies is not feasible at the moment because the quantities of milk produced are low and inconsistent. Also, most consumers prefer to buy milk from the informal sector.

Therefore, raising awareness of the need to boil milk before consumption is another important intervention that would improve milk safety at the consumer stage of the value chain by eliminating the pathogen risk. In addition, it may increase consumers’ willingness to pay for pasteurised milk.

Theodore J.D. Knight-Jones and others. Microbial contamination and hygiene of fresh cow’s milk produced by smallholders in western Zambia (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 21 July 2016).

Safe Food, Fair Food

Man sells raw milk along railway tracks in Côte d'Ivoire Man selling raw milk along the railway tracks in Abobo, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (photo credit: CSRS/ILRI/Sylvie Mireille Kouamé-Sina).

Interventions to improve food safety and nutrition may be some of the best investments for improved health of populations. Ideally, these investments should target multiple disciplines to link health and education to agricultural systems.

Fermentation of dairy products is one such intervention that helps to extend their shelf life and improve microbial safety and nutritive quality. Sylvain Traoré, a postdoctoral scientist at Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques in Côte d’Ivoire, has been continuing with research he started through the Safe Food, Fair Food project on the use of participatory methods to improve the safety of dairy products in informal markets.

Traoré recently carried out a cross-sectional study in Korhogo, northern Côte d’Ivoire to assess local dairy fermentation technologies and map the local dairy supply chain to identify areas where interventions can be…

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Typical milk bar in Kenya

A typical milk bar in Kenya. Packaged milk in supermarkets has been found to be no better at meeting food safety standards than raw milk sold from kiosks (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

Kenya’s informal dairy markets are central to the livelihoods, food security and nutrition of the majority of its citizens, particularly the poor, women and children. Kenya’s informal dairy market is significant in size – 86% of Kenya’s milk is sold by unorganized, small-scale businesses in informal markets or consumed directly at home. The sector generates 70% of the 40,000 jobs in dairy marketing and processing.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has been working in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya to explore the impacts of efforts to govern Kenya’s dairy sector in a way that works with, rather than against, informal, small-scale milk vendors. We looked at the impact on milk vendors, on food safety and on sustainability, with the findings published in the final briefing in a series on innovations in policy approaches to informality.

Read the rest of the blog post, Lessons in informality from Kenya’s dairy sector, by Emma Blackmore. Originally posted on the IIED website.

ILRI news


Transporting fresh milk by motorcycle in Tanzania (photo credit: ILRI/Ben Lukuyu).

‘. . . Researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and partners have developed and piloted an institutional innovation—a training, certification and branding scheme for informal value chain actors—with good potential to improve the safety of animal-source foods sold in informal markets.

‘Past development policy often focused on formal markets, which at best meant neglect of informal markets and often resulted in harassment and penalties for informal agents.

While in the long term markets are likely to formalize, in the short term, interventions that seek to suppress informal markets can be both ineffective and antipoor.

‘Recent evidence suggests that a more constructive, incentive-based approach to informal markets could improve their contribution to economic development as well as increase compliance with standards in areas such as the environment, public health, and labor.

‘There is a growing recognition of…

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Indian newspaper The Telegraph reported on Monday, 20 July 2015, that a program by researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) that trained smallholder dairy producers in Guwahati in Assam, India led to an increase in milk production through improved methods and practices of dairy farming.

The milk market in Assam is dominated by informal and unorganized milk market actors, consisting of producers, vendors, sweet makers and cottage processors. Altogether they handle 97% of the total milk market but are not formally recognized and are not integrated in the milk value chain in the state. Milk quality and milk safety are also key concerns for governments and consumers alike.

According to the article, the increase in dairy productivity was reported in an impact assessment carried out by a team of students from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in 2014.

Certification distribution ceremony in Guwahati, India On 17 July 2015, a certification distribution ceremony was…

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ILRI aflatoxin infographic

Aflatoxins are highly toxic fungal by-products produced by certain strains of Aspergillus fungi in more than 40 susceptible crops including maize and groundnuts. Aflatoxins can be separated into aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2.

When ingested, aflatoxin B1 is metabolized to aflatoxin M1 which is secreted into milk. Aflatoxin B1 is particularly important because it has been found in most foods and animal feeds and is highly carcinogenic.

Aflatoxins cause around 90,000 cases of liver cancer each year and are strongly associated with stunting and immune suppression in children. Aflatoxins in contaminated animal feed can lead to reduced animal productivity. They can end up in products like milk, meat and eggs, thus presenting a health risk to humans, with children being particularly susceptible.

In Ethiopia, previous studies have investigated aflatoxin contamination in staple cereals, red chili pepper and ground peas. Now, a new research study published in the journal Food Control (6 July 2015) has, for the first time, documented aflatoxin contamination in milk and dairy feeds in Ethiopia and the results show that milk and dairy feeds in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed are highly contaminated with aflatoxins.

The cross-sectional study by scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) was carried out in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed between September 2014 and February 2015 in order to detect and quantify the levels of aflatoxin M1 in samples of raw cow’s milk and aflatoxin B1 in samples of dairy feed.

The Greater Addis Ababa milk shed was selected because it is a rapidly intensifying system where aflatoxins are likely to be an increasing problem. A value chain approach was used, whereby production, processing and marketing of dairy feeds and milk were examined, as well as milk sold to consumers in Addis Ababa.

A total of 110 milk samples (100 from dairy farmers and 10 from milk traders) and 156 dairy feed samples (114 from farmers and 42 from feed producers, processors and traders) were collected and analysed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).

The study analysed all the commonly used dairy feeds such as mixed concentrate feed, brewery by-products, maize grain, pea hulls and silage. The most common ingredients in concentrate feeds were wheat bran, noug cake, pea hulls and maize grain.

All the milk samples were found to be contaminated with aflatoxin M1. Over 90% of the milk samples contained aflatoxin M1 levels that exceeded the European Union limit of 0.05 micrograms per litre. Out of a total of 110 milk samples, only nine contained aflatoxin M1 levels below 0.05 micrograms per litre.

Similarly, all the feed samples were contaminated with aflatoxin B1, with levels ranging from 7 to 419 micrograms per kilogram. Along the value chain from farmers to feed manufacturers and traders, the levels of aflatoxin contamination were fairly similar.

Out of a total of 156 dairy feed samples, only 16 contained aflatoxin B1 at a level less than or equal to 10 micrograms per kilogram. At the same time, 41 feed samples contained aflatoxin B1 at levels exceeding 100 micrograms per kilogram.

There was a significant association between aflatoxin B1 contamination in concentrate feeds and the presence of noug cake in the feed.

Noug (Guizotia abyssinica or Niger seed) is an oilseed crop that is indigenous to Ethiopia. Noug seed is pressed to produce noug oil while the remaining noug cake is sold as animal feed to feed processors and dairy farmers. Noug cake is becoming increasingly popular among dairy farmers in Ethiopia because its high nutrient content increases animal productivity.

Noug cakes were found to be highly contaminated with aflatoxin B1 (290–397 micrograms per kilogram) while the other feed components (wheat bran, maize grain and Brewer’s dry yeast) had relatively low levels of aflatoxin.

For this reason, the authors of the study recommend that further research on aflatoxin risk mitigation should focus on noug cake so as to effectively reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination in peri-urban and urban dairy value chains in Ethiopia. Risk assessment of aflatoxins in noug seed and its by-products in other food chains should also be carried out.

In addition, there is an overall need to increase awareness of aflatoxins and to support risk mitigation practices along the entire dairy value chain.

“Policymakers and development organization need to support the dissemination of information about good agricultural and storage practices and other simple risk-reduction measures,” the authors conclude.

Gizachew D, Szonyi B, Tegegne A, Hanson J and Grace D. Aflatoxin contamination of milk and dairy feeds in the Greater Addis Ababa milk shed, Ethiopia. Food Control 59(2016): 773-779.

You may download a 4-page brief of the research article at http://hdl.handle.net/10568/67116

Mozambique, Tete province, Pacassa village

Harvested maize in Tete Province, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).


As part of celebrations in Nairobi last week to mark Europe Day 2015, the Finland-funded FoodAfrica program took part in an exhibition at the residence of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Kenya where several project outputs were showcased.

FoodAfrica is a research and development program aimed at providing new knowledge and tools for researchers, decision-makers and farmers towards improved local food security. The program works in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda.

Sara Ahlberg, a Finnish associate professional officer and PhD student attached to the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, presented a poster that highlighted research approaches by the FoodAfrica program to reduce the risk of mycotoxins in the feed-dairy value chain in Kenya, namely,

  • Integrated risk and economic assessment of the Kenyan feed-dairy chain
  • Investigation of technologies and strategies to reduce mycotoxin risk in the feed-dairy chain
  • Impact assessment of a package of post-harvest strategies for reducing aflatoxins in maize

View the poster, FoodAfrica – Reducing risk of mycotoxins

The following is an excerpted version of a blog post originally published on the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) website.

Some of the foods that would most enhance nutrition in diets in the developing world are also the riskiest in terms of food safety. Numerous health risks exist along the value chain for livestock and fish products, from production to consumption. In this post, Sophie Theis (Research Analyst, Poverty, Health, Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute) and Delia Grace (Program Manager, International Livestock Research Institute) relate findings from a recent A4NH/International Livestock Research Institute analysis of 20 livestock and fish value chains in Africa and Asia that reveal how gender differences in value chain participation influence risk exposure.

The results from the participatory risk assessment of these value chains are published in Grace et al. (2010) and a paper analyzing the gendered dimensions of risk is underway by Delia Grace, Sophie Theis, Kristina Roesel, Erastus Kang’ethe and Bassirou Bonfoh.

Selling milk

Selling milk in Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI).

In rural Mali, a Fulani herder finishes milking a cow and hoists the calabash to his head, the milk sloshing gently in the vessel as he carefully carries the milk to Mariam, the woman he works for. By custom, Mariam has never milked a cow, but once the milk is in her domain, she is in charge of its business and use. Today she decides to keep this calabash for the family, since she has been able to sell milk at a favorable price often in the past week. She sets most aside to naturally sour, which will preserve it in the absence of refrigeration; the fermentation gives a sharp taste that consumers find thirst quenching in the hot season.

In the outskirts of Nairobi, Faith works the udders of her dairy cow. A male relative she has hired to help with the milking approaches with another pail of milk. She accepts it absentmindedly; she is already estimating the prices she will get selling the milk to neighbors and the local milk bar and considering whether she should invest the revenues in hiring another person.

In rural Mali, periurban Kenya, and many other parts of Africa, women play important and varied roles in livestock and fish value chains. The milk that Mariam and Faith helped to produce goes both to their families and to the market; it is also valued as gifts and in Mali as a sacrifice that brings blessing and protection against evil.

The decisions that Mariam and Faith make have bearings on many people’s nutrition: the quantity of milk that they keep for their household, how they apportion milk amongst household members, the use of the income from milk that they sell, and – less often acknowledged, but critical – the extent to which they effectively manage food safety risk, preventing contamination of the milk.

Many of the most nutritious foods, including animal source foods, are amongst the riskiest in terms of pathogen transmission. Meat, milk, fish and eggs provide plenty of nutrients for pathogenic organisms and can also carry infections from animals that harbor them to people. Food-borne disease persists as a major public health problem in Africa and Asia, where the majority of these foods are produced by smallholders, marketed through the informal sector, and sold in wet markets.

Food safety in these products is a major concern, as informal markets are important sources of food for the poor and tend to provide food that is more accessible, affordable, and compatible with local preferences for certain varieties of food and quantities than supermarkets.

Women like Mariam and Faith manage risk as they interact with informal markets by selling and buying food for their households. Informal value chains are complex, shaped by a number of actors. While risk management training interventions tend to focus on the owners of livestock or on actors only in one node of the value chain (e.g. butchers), risk management relies on all the actors along the value chain, from production, aggregation, processing, retail, and consumption. Many of these actors are women, and attention to local norms in the division of labor is critical for targeting food safety assessments and interventions.

Read the complete blog post on the A4NH website

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