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Nightshift in the North-East

Nightshift in the North-East

It is past 5 pm when I arrive in North-Eastern Uganda, after I had set of from a guesthouse in Kampala at 6 am that morning. At the dairy cooperative, the last farmers of that day arrive with their milk. The local cows give only around 1 or 2 liter milk per day, and are therefore only being milked in the afternoon. The six people who are involved in yoghurt making are all around.

Heifer International, a large development organization which whom Yoba collaborates, had invited me to this place. Their field office in the town is situated in the same building as the dairy cooperative. Some time back Heifer has given out 45 frysian cows to vulnerable farmers in the region. Evidently this has highly boosted the milk production in the region. Currently up to 150 liters of milk are collected daily. However, the market for fresh milk is very small. Therefore, just three months ago, the group contacted a person who taught them yoghurt making. In three months time the group has managed to increase their production and sales from 0 to 120 liters per day. No need to say that this group consists of hard working and innovative people who are not avoiding risks, and its my honor to work with them.

During the first day of the training of the yoba production process, 1 liter yoghurt is made as a ‘fresh starter’ in which the freeze dried bacteria can grow out. After 8-12 hours (in reality often just the following morning), this fresh starter can be added to up to 100 liters of milk, and after another 12 hours, 100 liters of yoghurt will be ready for packaging.

A little after 6 pm that afternoon the fresh starter is ready. Then it becomes all of a sudden clear that we are having a problem. Unlike other milk cooperatives I had worked with, this cooperative collects milk in the evening, since farmers prefer to milk their cow in the afternoon. Keeping this milk (un-cooled) till the following morning to continue the training would be too risky. The milk is usually processed that same evening by the people on ‘night shift’. A very unusual time to work in rural areas, thereby making the way this group operates even more admirable. If course, as the trainer, I cannot lag behind, and agree with the manager that he would pick me around 1 am at my guesthouse (please first a shower and some hours sleep after being bumped around all day on dust roads!). This way we make sure that I will be around at 2 pm (8 hours after the fresh starter was made) when the 1 liter is being added to the 100 liters of, by then, pasteurized milk. I leave the night shift while they are starting the fires to heat the milk.

Some minutes before 1 am I struggle to wake up, dress myself, and go outside to wait for the manager on his motorbike. I wait and wait. I get shaken up by an orange that falls besides me on the ground. Apparently I had been sitting under an orange tree. I wait more, but nothing happens. I cannot keep my eyes open and return to bed, where I sleep like a baby till the next morning.

The next morning I find out that the manager also had been sleeping like a baby until 3 am. After realizing that he overslept himself, his feelings of quilt kept him awake for the rest of the night.
However, still he and his colleagues are an excellent and interactive class for my training. After finishing my training that morning, I set off again for a journey that will be tiring, but it has been certainly worth it. I already know that I’m going to use this group and their successful business as an example for other groups I work with.

Nieke Westerik

Nieke Westerik

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