The first two months of the Field Attachment Program Award (FAPA) was a unique opportunity that provided me with the opportunity to disseminate my research output with the aim of promoting packed milk product consumption for good health in Northern Uganda. The field activities started in November 2019 and lasted for a period of four months until February 2020. In this period, I had the opportunity to hold inception meetings and mobilized targeted project beneficiaries through media communication. The development partners such as Global Forum for Development (GLOFORD), ADINA FOUNDATION, and district health departments in districts of Lira and Gulu promoting public health education in the communities as well as media (Voice of Lango FM) were involved. The meetings yielded setting up implementation strategies, monitoring, and evaluation, identification of unique dissemination and sensitization needs relating to the project objectives. Through these, I have acquired a field-based experience of working at the community level and engaging with communities at various levels including working with the Non-Governmental Organizations as part of the wider sustainability plan. Cross-cutting skills and competencies such as initiative and leadership, networking and advocacy as well as teamwork were among other skills gained.
The above-mentioned stakeholders had different unique engagements and projects that supplemented our on-going project of promoting packed milk product consumption in Northern Uganda. The Global Forum for Development (GLOFORD) is a youth-focused NGO that operates in the Lango sub-region of Northern Uganda; with areas of focus on children and youth, community development, education, and health. This justifies why it was chosen as one of the partners in this implementation. ADINA foundation is also another NGO operating in the Lango sub-region of northern Uganda, mainly dealing with children having disabilities as well as rehabilitating formerly abducted children during the war. They as well do community outreaches especially because of community-based rehabilitation of children. The district health department was involved as well because they do community education on health-related issues. The health department in Lira district had received sponsorship RHITES north –Lango project for running health education activities, hence justifying their engagement as we believed this could be a potential avenue to ensure the sustainability of the project.
As part of the mobilization and community sensitization strategy, a radio talk show was held in November 2019 for 30 minutes hosted by Voice of Lango FM in Lira district. The radio station covers the entire districts in Acholi and Lango Sub-regions, broadcasting mainly in “Luo”, the language commonly spoken in the region. The talk show was moderated by Mr. Elvis Ogwang and guest speakers were Mr. Robine Okello, FAPA awardee, and Mr. Bonny Aloka, a nutritionist Lecturer in the Department of Public Health at Lira University. Listeners were made aware that this dissemination was being sponsored by RUFORUM, a body that supports agricultural sciences research and development in Africa. Contents of dissemination results were delivered according to the research output. Information on milk products existing in the market, production, processing and preservation technologies used to produce these products, quality, and safety of milk was thoroughly explained. One assurance Bonny told listeners is that packed milk is safe to consume as it undergoes heat treatment processes that kill/reduce the population of pathogenic micro-organisms in milk. Answering some of the questions such as “are packed milk products safe?” lactose intolerance! Fostered deep understanding among the listeners.Food values and their importance contained in packed milk products such as protein, calcium, energy, carbohydrates, fats and Vitamin A have been explained accordingly.
The field attachment engaged a total of 210 (beneficiaries/participants), out of which 160 were female while 50 were male representing 76% and 24% respectively. The representation of participants comprised of all the target categories of participants as consumers, traders, processors, and Non-governmental organizations of the communities of Kirombe, Teso Bar, Ngetta and Comboni Cura A village in Railway and Adyel divisions in Lira district, and Unyama trading center in Gulu district. The consumers in these areas had similar perceptions in regards to packed milk products in the markets. The testimonies during experience sharing sessions were alarming! Why one prefers locally produced milk to processed ones. For instance, a member from Kirombe had to say this;
I am suspicious of certain kind of packed milk products because of treatment with Varma-line, a chemical used to preserve dead bodies, that is why I like buying local produce fresh milk
On another hand, those who prefer packed milk products expressed their suspicion of local liquid milk sellers add some additives such as “Ngano”, a cassava flour used in making chapatti bread into milk to increase its volume. A participant had to say this;
I don’t trust local milk traders as they add Ngano to fresh milk to increase the volume after more water is added in to
Some of the accusations included adding swampy water to fresh milk as the sellers take them to the nearest market in the evening. These concerns are critical in the dairy industry if milk and packed milk products are to take root to gain a competitive edge in the market place.
For the above reasons, I was prompted to take spot market visits in the evening. Indeed, to confirm all these allegations, I took a survey to monitor liquid fresh milk sellers specifically those selling on spot market along the roadside in the evening in Teso Bar, a suburb in Lira Municipality. It was not surprising that there were more than 15 sellers standing in line with liquid fresh milk tight in measurement Jerri-cans of three, five, ten and twenty liters respectively. Through interactions with the sellers, I asked them questions regarding whether well water is added into milk to increase the volume. Whether they add Ngano into liquid fresh milk to increase its volume? Unfortunately, none of them could give a straight forward answer in regards to sanitation and hygiene of the process from milking to selling the product. Undoubtedly, one could say these bad practices could be true as liquid fresh milk is sold in the evening hours from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM; a strategy that could be in use to ensure consumers don’t observe what is being sold properly.
This calls upon all stakeholders promoting dairy farming in the region to design training programs in regard to the safety of milk and milk products. Due to limited nutritional knowledge evidenced among the consumers of food and dairy products. This needs aggressive actions taken to improve consumer health, nutrition, and food security. One such recommendation is advancing deeper understanding and knowledge generation on consumer behavior sciences at the Ph.D. level in regards to the coordination and performance of the dairy industry in Uganda. This could allow streamlining marketing and choice of coordination mechanism of fresh milk and packed milk products supply chains in the informal market. We, therefore, call upon development partners to join hands to fund this further studies.
I am grateful to RUFORUM, Gulu University and the Field Attachment Program Award (FAPA) grant to allow me to disseminate the research output back to the intended stakeholders in the community.
About Robine Okello
He is a beneficiary of the MCF@RUFORUM Scholarship and was among the first cohort who graduated with a Master’s degree in Agri-enterprises Development at the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Gulu University.
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