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On the road to yoghurt May 9th, 2014 by

It’s not easy to write a video script that farmers will relate to. But writing a fact sheet first can be a relatively fast way to make sure you are on target.

I was in the field with four Kenyan colleagues near Kiamba, to validate their draft fact sheet on making fermented milk, called “mala”.  The traditional way to make mala was to put fresh, raw milk in a gourd, where it would ferment. The more times a family used a gourd to make mala, the faster the milk fermented, thanks to a culture of micro-organisms living in the gourd. The mala-maker would pour off much of the whey, leaving a thick, creamy fermented milk.

Then the modern, industrial dairies plants entered Africa and began making yoghurt, which many people soon liked. Like mala, some people who were lactose intolerant and could not drink fresh milk, could drink yoghurt. Then the government outlawed the sale of the old fashioned mala, but they did approve a modern, pasteurized version of it.

As yoghurt began to replace mala, our colleagues thought of teaching farmers to make modern mala at home, so farm families could have something to sell. The milk is scalded in a double cooker, then cooled, and yeast is added.

This is why I found myself in a farmhouse in Kenya, with a fact sheet about fermenting milk. Mrs. Nduta, who had a small dairy herd, invited us in out of the rain. Dairy was good to her. Her living room was nicely furnished, had polished cement floors, a TV, a stereo set, and a very smart wedding photo of her and her handsome husband.

Mrs. Nduta read the fact sheet and then said that she didn’t make mala. She made yoghurt, which people liked better. She also sold some excess milk through the cooperative, and took us to see the chairlady.

The chairlady, Peris Njenga, had an impressive operation with some 30 cows in a modern, clean dairy bard, including a milking machine, clean, scrubbed floors and a special room for the calves. “I used to make mala, but nobody would buy it,” Mrs. Njenga said after reading our fact sheet. “Why make a video on Mala?” she asked. “It has become a joke. When someone’s milk spoils we say ‘Oh, you have made mala.’”

Her next-door neighbor, Mr. John, a large man with white hair and kind eyes, read the fact sheet and then explained that he liked mala and still made it, in a gourd, the old way. “It’s great stuff. You drink one glassful and go straight to bed and you sleep all night.” But his kids won’t drink mala. They only want yoghurt. He also criticized our fact sheet for suggesting that the milk be heated, to sterilize it. He tried that once, and the milk would hardly ferment.

Professor Janet Riungu explained that when one kills all the microorganisms in the milk it takes a while for it to be re-colonized by the good germs. So pasteurized mala must be made with yeast from the store. But the domesticated yeast is a specialty item, hard to find, and it makes a watery, insipid mala that the connoisseurs don’t like.

So we decided to leave mala alone. The new technique isn’t an improvement. Fortunately, we were able to edit our fact sheet from mala to “how to make yoghurt.” Later, the Kenyan researchers will follow up by making a video on yoghurt. Inviting farmer criticism is crucial.

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