Almost a year after the owner of a giant camel milk processor Vital died in Nanyuki, hurting its operations, another plant has been set up in the same town.
The entrepreneur, Jama Warsame, has teamed up with John Oguk, a former employee of Vital, once a thriving processor owned by German Holger Marbach who died in December 2016.
Mr Oguk is the general manager of the new milk firm WhiteGold.
Mr Warsame, who has been living outside the country for a long time, says he wants to turn around the lives of the herders and ranchers who supplied camel milk to Vital, a leading company in East, central and Southern Africa, but were yet to find alternatives after the collapse of Vital.
“We are unlocking the cash potential of camel milk to benefit people in the semi-arid communities as we endeavour to make Nanyuki a hub for camel milk countrywide,” said Mr Warsame, the CEO.
Mr Warsame, a sole proprietor, says he poured his Sh20 million savings into the camel milk business that he says should break even before mid 2018.
He is banking on health benefits of the milk and the vagaries of climate change that is decimating other livestock that the pastoral communities rely on to predict a thriving future of the venture.
Research has found that because of its browsing of many plants, the humped animal used heavily for transporting cargo produces medicinal and nutritious milk.
Mr Warsame returned to Kenya in April this year and immediately, together with his wife Zamzam Haji, started setting up the milk pasteurisation plant in Nanyuki, relying on supplies from the wider Nanyuki County.
A father of three, Mr Warsame, 41, went to University of Georgia for bachelor’s degree in Law and Kennesaw State University for his Strategic Management MBA.
WhiteGold processes approximately 500 litres of milk daily, but targets more than 3,000 litres from next year.
The company opened its doors in August. They have branded 500ml bottles of the product that retail for Sh125.
Herders and pastoralists sell a litre of raw milk at Sh120. Using a pasteuriser that has a capacity of processing 50 litres, the camel milk is processed at 80 degrees for 40 minutes, cooled for an hour and packaged manually.
Pasteurisation prolongs shelf life to a month.
“We stepped in to help herders cash in like any other farmer in the county and because not so many people know about the curative elements of the camel milk. We are creating awareness,” the investor said.
“Most of our clients are referred by doctors on cases like allergy, diabetes, and lactone intolerance in children. Camel milk is medicinal.” Jama said.
He has listed 30 herders as suppliers, but is working on how to spread its wings to more producer counties like Isiolo, Marsabit, Meru, Wajir and Mandera.
“We have been training all these farmers in ensuring they deliver to us quality milk,” he said.
They are also urging “semi-zero grazing; we want the herders to desist from the traditional rotational way of grazing where they keep moving” he said, adding that the situation has got worse in the heat of the clashes between herders and ranchers.
Zero-grazing of camels can reduce conflicts, he said.
“We are seeking to ensure we receive standardised milk from the herders and thus we collaborate with vets to ensure they are doing the right thing and the animals are in good health,” said Mr Oguk, the general manager.
Contaminated milk is responsible for prevalence of zoonotic diseases among Kenyans, Mr Oguk said.
Last month, the Kenya Dairy Board raised the alarm over heavy presence of drug residues in milk.
“We want the Kenya Dairy Board and the Camel Association of Kenya to collaborate and control the sale of milk in the country,” Mr Oguk said.