Agriculture / ASSP / Dairying / DFATD / East Africa / Ethiopia / Gender / ILRI / LIVES / Tigray

Quest for the holy grail of butter: LIVES tests modern and local churns in quest for the best

Butterballs for hair treatment prepared in dairy cafes/shops (Photo:ILRI\LIVES)

Butter balls for hair treatment prepared in Ethiopia’s dairy cafes/shops (photo credit: ILRI\LIVES)

Butter is a delicious and popular dairy product in Ethiopia. Improving the churning efficiency to reduce the time it takes to produce butter is key in making the dairy business profitable for many small-scale producers (including farmers) in the country.

To improve butter churning by local farmers and dairy processors, the Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project tested a manual plastic churn that is used for small scale processing in Europe.

The device was recently compared with a traditional clay pot churn more commonly used in Ethiopia in a test carried out in Arbegona District in Sidama zone and in Ejere District in West Shoa zone. In both districts no significant improvements were observed in processing time of soured milk, neither was there a significant improvement in fat/butter extraction using the plastic churn. In fact, the tests showed negative results i.e. more labour was required and less butter was generated. These deficiencies may perhaps be overcome by getting more practice/experience and making modification to the device.

The ‘improved’ manual plastic churn was also tested in Agula town in Tigray region among urban dairy farmers with whom the LIVES project works. These market oriented farmers usually sell fluid milk to their cooperative, but at times, when the demand for milk is limited, they churn soured milk into butter at home.

They begin by storing the unsold milk in plastic containers of 5-10 litres and let it sour for about three days. They then pour the soured milk into a plastic jerry can, which is hung from a beam with a piece of rope or cloth. The can is shaken to churn the soured milk. We observed that churning time was very short (less than half an hour), which is much shorter than using the traditional clay pot churn. The process used in Agula is different from process used in the rural areas, perhaps because daily quantities of milk soured by urban farmers are much larger than in rural areas. The small daily quantities by rural farmers are accumulated in local churns over two to three days.

Jerry can for churning soured milk by farmers (Photo:ILRI\LIVES)

Jerry can for churning soured milk by farmers (photo credit: ILRI\LIVES).

The modern plastic churn was compared with the local jerry can-based churning process but the result of using the modern plastic churn was disappointing. It was much slower than the local jerry can technology.

Jerry can for churning soured cream in a dairy cafeshop (Photo:ILRI\LIVES)

Jerry can for churning soured cream in a dairy cafe/shop (photo credit: ILRI\LIVES).

The project staff also visited dairy café/shop in Mekelle town which purchases milk from smallholders in urban and rural areas and from the Agula dairy cooperative. Depending on the market situation, part of the milk is soured in plastic buckets.

At the café, the soured cream that accumulates on top of milk is scooped up with a large spoon, every three days, and put in a jerry can. Once sufficient cream is accumulated, the jerry can is rolled on the floor to churn butter from the sour cream. According to the staff, this is easier than churning whole soured milk. Another dairy café uses an electric churn with no manual labour involved.

Both cafés sold diversified butter products such as small butter balls which are sold for cosmetics use and boiled or solidified spiced butter packed in plastic containers for cooking traditional dishes. Both processors were also selling soured milk (irgo) as well as skimmed milk turned into soft cheese (ayib).

So what did we learn and where can we go from here?

  • Churns: Data on fat extraction efficiency and labour consumption should be collected for the different churns. Results should be presented to potential users – individual farmers and small businesses.
  • Processing of soured milk/soured cream: Churning cream instead of soured milk appears to reduce the labour required and could be the preferred option when larger quantities of soured milk need to be processed manually. Processing time and fat extraction from soured cream should be compared with processing the same quantity of whole soured milk from which the cream is obtained. Results should be presented to potential users – mostly small businesses.
  • Food safety: Traditional yoghurt (irgo) is fermented from raw milk and may have a negative influence on human health. Boiling the milk prior to processing could reduce this threat but results in a different type of souring. The latter may be adjusted by adding dried yoghurt culture. This technology could be tested by some of the dairy cafés.
  • The product diversification observed may be presented to LIVES sites in other districts to stimulate sales.

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Written by Dirk Hoekstra, Yayneshet Tesfaye and Dawit Woldemariam.

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