UdderCheck Tackles Milk Quality in Rwanda
In East Africa, mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder, affects a third of the region’s 35 million cows. With the infection causing estimated net losses of more than $80 USD per cow each year, the total income loss for East African farmers can be significant. In Rwanda, about 110,000 smallholder farmers work in the dairy sector, which may grow as the government provides an additional 350,000 families each with one dairy cow by 2017 under its GIRINKA program. Yet mastitis affects more than half of the country’s dairy cows, reducing milk production, quality, and safety, which often makes the milk unsellable. Improved udder health is essential in increasing milk production, saving on veterinary costs and antibiotics, and reducing milk rejection at collection centers.
To help address this problem, in 2013 Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation joined with PortaScience, a New Jersey-based company, to introduce UdderCheck, a rapid testing dipstick for mastitis, into the Rwandan smallholder market. UdderCheck sticks detect the lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) enzyme in milk, which shows an infection in just two minutes. Other tests are more expensive and complicated.
PortaScience has been selling products in the US and Europe as well as to large-scale farmers in East Africa for more than a decade, but the package sizes and prices were not accessible or affordable for smallholder farmers. In addition, UdderCheck is most effective when combined with cow hygiene practices, which are currently unfamiliar to many smallholder farmers. To remedy this, PortaScience joined with African Breeders Services Total Cattle Management (ABS TCM) to conduct hygiene training and provide complementary sanitation products.
Meanwhile, to lower UdderCheck’s price, PortaScience purchased production equipment, identified a manufacturer, and created Rwanda-specific packaging with fewer dipsticks and with instructions written in the country’s most commonly used language, Kinyarwanda. Finally, to help increase demand and calculate willingness to pay, PortaScience sold the product at a cost of about $0.36 per dipstick.
Ultimately, PortaScience sold more than 4,200 individual UdderCheck dipsticks, while ABS TCM trained more than 600 farmers in good dairy management practices. Most importantly, PortaScience gained a foothold in East Africa with a local partner as well as an understanding of how to commercialize in this large and underserved market: (1) Reduce costs by outsourcing production; (2) provide education on mastitis’s risks as well as ways to improve dairy cow health, and (3) highlight the financial benefits of cow health, rather than focusing primarily on milk quality.
Overall, early indications show that dairy quality in Rwanda is improving. According to a recent update from ABS TCM, changes to government policies are afoot, including incentives for farmers to supply healthy milk and regulations prohibiting the sale of poor quality milk. If so, PortaScience is ready to reboot UdderCheck to thwart mastitis once and for all.