August 7, 2018 / 1:33 PM / 4 months ago

In Mogadishu, imported dairy cows jumpstart local milk industry

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Four Somali brothers have imported dozens of Holstein Friesian cows, the world’s top milk producing breed, hoping the high-risk strategy can build the war-torn country’s dairy industry from scratch.

A worker prepares to package a milk from Holstein Friesian cows into retail sachets at the Som milk farm in the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Parts of the country are still plagued by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, but a degree of stability in the capital in recent years has begun to attract investment from locals and Somalis living abroad.

Some businessmen see opportunities in the livestock industry, whose mainstay is traditional breeds of cattle, reared by pastoralists, which produce little milk. A devastating drought last year killed off thousands of cows and camels.

Yusuf Abdirahman Dahir, 49, who manages Som Dairy and owns it with his brothers, said they have so far spent $370,000 importing the cattle and infrastructure for milk production, processing and distribution.

“We want to revive the Somali dairy industry that got destroyed in the violence,” he said in an interview at the dairy facility, a high stone-walled compound where a couple dozen workers tended to the cattle.

The dairy, two kilometers outside the capital, produces 600 liters of milk daily from 35 cows that are being milked. There are 54 dairy cows in total on the property but some are not being milked due to calving.

Dahir, who sports hair dyed with red henna, said the new venture is not for the faint-hearted.

The first batch of Holstein Friesian cows, which are native to the Netherlands and Germany, died due to the heat in the Horn of Africa region, where temperatures average above 30 degrees Celsius.

FRESH MILK OVER POWDERED

Som Dairy imported its first cows in 2016 and has become profitable, Dahir said, without providing figures.

Local farmers have been impressed by the new breed of cows in town and several have brought their herds to crossbreed them with the imported bulls, Dahir said.

The venture is one of two by local dairies in the country of 14 million people, said Mohamed Omar, the government’s director of livestock. He said his office is preparing a proposal to present to cabinet on how government can support expanding the market for local dairy producers.

Residents of the Red Sea capital of Mogadishu are developing a taste for fresh milk, after years of drinking powdered milk imported from the Gulf that is mixed with water.

Shopkeeper Nuradin Haji Omar is buying 20 liters of milk daily from Som Dairy, up from 15 when he began buying from them last year: “We are very thankful to the dairy company for the good business.”

Som sells a liter of milk to retailers at $1.20 and shopkeepers like Omar mark it up to $1.50 per liter, cheaper than the camel milk sold by several farms just outside Mogadishu for $2 per liter.

Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Maggie Fick

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