Kenya’s Happy Cow ups milk quality through reward system

The Kenyan dairy company Happy Cow has made significant progress improving the quality of milk delivered to them by farmers by paying these farmers according to the quality of their milk.

One of the major achievements was the reduction of the occurrence of antibiotic residues in milk to less than 4%, Teresiah W. Ndungu, project manager of milk quality at Happy Cow, told delegates at the 13th African Dairy Conference and Exhibition, held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Thanks to the implementation of the quality-based milk payment system (QBMP) the total solid content of milk and levels of adulteration now often adhere to standards. Total place count (TPC) still remains a challenge though, Ndungu said.

Happy Cow is a privately owned dairy processing firm in Nakuru, Kenya, and was founded in 1996. The company mainly focuses on producing milk and cheese.

It introduced the QBMP system about two years ago to improve the quality of its products, but also to ensure that sustainable practices are used to increase milk production and quality.

The embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Nairobi supported the project through the Dutch organisation SNV’s Kenya Market-led Dairy Programme.

The QBMP system weighs farmers’ performance and rewards those who perform well. “The milk that is not of the best quality is not rejected. However, underperforming farmers will not receive a bonus. Those who produce quality milk, receive two shillings extra. This system is used to encourage farmers to produce the best results,” Ndungu said.


A baseline study showed that milk contained high bacterial load, high rates of antibiotic residues, high incidences of mastitis, high levels of adulteration cases (where water and preservatives were added to milk), a lack of correlation between results of the Resazurin test (a milk quality test which provides a rapid bacteria estimation) and total plate count, and that the installed milk coolers were inefficient.

Before the QBMP could be implemented, a milk quality tracking and tracing system (MQ-T&T) was introduced, to be able to identify raw milk quality at critical points in the collection chain, and to identify milk cans, farmers and routes.

One of the practices that had to be changed, even though it was difficult, was transporting milk in proper milk cans instead of jerry cans. In addition, laboratories had to be built at cooperatives to enhance testing, and farmers had to be advised on hygiene measures to apply.

Ndungu said the Kenyan dairy industry’s regulatory institutions are financially constrained, which means that standards are reluctantly applied and enforced.

Challenges of milk collection in rural settings include poor infrastructure such as roads, the fact that there are more than 1.5 million small-scale farmers in the supply chain, and the high initial cost of setting up cooling centres. The lack of potable or reliable sources of water and trained milk graders and handlers, the informal milk market of milk hawkers and traders, and the lack of traceability of raw milk also remain issues.

“One of the great challenges that we deal with is that the smallholder farmers have about 2 to 3 cows, which only produces 5 to 8 litres of milk a day,” Ndungu said.

This hobbles efficiency as it takes time to fill a 50 litre can of milk. The quality of the milk is compromised by the long time it takes to collect it, as well as insufficient milk coolers.

Cooperatives face challenges to observe cold chain rules and unfair competition by milk hawkers. If they reject milk of low quality, this milk would be bought by milk hawkers or other cooperatives and processors. Ndungu said the Kenyan dairy industry is volume-based and consumers have a low awareness regarding quality and food safety concerns.


The benefits of the programme include the expansion of markets, longer shelf-life for products, improved quality, and guaranteed food safety.

Processors can reduce their processing costs and losses, while farmers can improve their income through bonuses and reduced losses.

Payment based on the composition of the milk – fat and protein – furthermore encourages proper breeding with higher total solids per litre.

  • This article was written by Sbusile Mndawe and Carien Kruger

share this