Friday, March 05, 2010

The 217th good thing about Lagos: Fresh milk is now available!

Living in Lagos makes expatriates realize how many things they have taken for granted in their home countries. Take fresh milk, for example. When I'm in the States, I may complain about the price of milk when it takes a sudden jump. But I buy it anyway, and never worry about it not being available. In Nigeria, good quality, fresh milk has been unavailable until recently. When I first came here, once or twice I saw fresh milk in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. I bought it once and, even though it was within the freshness date, it was sour. I heard this was a common problem with the milk, with the perils of refrigeration with a unstable electricity supply. So I stocked my shelves with the UHT milk which doesn't need refrigeration. UHT stands for "ultra high temperature." This milk is heated to partially sterilize it to make it shelf-stable. There is only one advantage to this milk, and that is its long shelf life. I can keep it in my kitchen cupboard and when the cold one in my fridge is gone, I always stock enough so I have one on my shelf to take its place. So in that respect it's a great food storage item. But taste is not a plus with this milk. I've gotten accustomed to it on cereal and I don't mind it in cooking, but I would never want to drink a glass of this milk. (There are other brands of this UHT milk -- I took a picture of what was on my shelf. They're all the same blah to me.)

But there's a new dairy in the country that is now delivering fresh milk to one area supermarket on one day of the week. I learned some interesting facts about the dairy industry here recently when the owner of Shonga Dairies came to speak to the American Women's club.

He was a dairyman in Zimbabwe when the government seized his home, land and animals and he left the country with just a suitcase. After some time, he was invited by the governor of Kwara state here in Nigeria (north of Lagos) to start a dairy here. His is just the second dairy in the entire country. Jack said that the average consumption of milk among Nigerians is just 3 liters per year which is incredibly low. He told about the many challenges of getting a dairy going here. Nigerian cows just don't give much milk, so he had to get cows up here from South Africa. It was too far and treacherous by road and he said it would have been cruel to the cows to transport them by ship, so he flew his cows into the country. I'm sure he used some kind of animal transport plane, but I can't help visualizing these cows (flying business class, I'm sure, since they were coming here for work) buckling into their seats and choosing their inflight moooovies. So he made quite an investment in his cows just getting them here, to a country where the climate is quite inhospitable and there are all kinds of diseases and insects that threaten their health. Growing their feed is challenging and, though he has the support of his state government, he said Nigeria has more crazy laws regulating the dairy industry than he's ever seen for a country that doesn't have a dairy industry. He said one of his greatest challenges is training his workers to understand the importance of hygiene in every aspect to guarantee a quality product. So he did a fair amount of complaining about the difficulties of doing this business here, but the Americans at the meeting hope he'll keep at it, because we all lined up to purchase the milk and yogurt he brought to sell to us. He's also doing good things in Kwara State, where he's providing school children with one small sachel of milk on one day a week. That doesn't seem a lot, but I'm sure it's much more than they had been drinking. I'm used to drinking skim milk at home in the States, and here I've bought lowfat UHT milk, but Shonga Dairies just sells whole milk with 3.5% milkfat. He said his cows give milk with 5% fat, so he has to skim some cream off to get his milk within the 3.5% limit that the dairy regulations here require (he didn't know why they have that law -- it was left over from the colonial era.) He also sells cream, but I haven't seen that yet. I can't drink whole milk in the States -- it seems too rich. But, maybe because of the contrast with my available alternative here -- this milk tastes heavenly to me. It only costs about 30% more than the UHT milk, so for me it is well worth it. So, for the next while, I'll be making a point to go to La Pointe supermarket on Wednesdays to get fresh milk -- one to keep in the fridge and a few more for the freezer to last through the week. Now, if I could just find some Oreos to have with it.....

4 comments:

yankeenaijababe said...

I must confess to loving your blog even though I don't currently live in Nigeria, keep up the good work in Nigeria, quite impressive to read about your everything you do in Nigeria...I love it, really do.

rusted sun said...

Fresh milk is so nice to have...we drank boxes milk on my mission in the Dominican Republic. We could find fresh milk there but it was often sold by someone who carried it around town in a bucket on their head and then scooped out the amount that you wanted to buy. The fresh milk was good, but you never knew exactly what you were getting.

olayinka said...

Hi there, do you have a contact for shonga dairies? I really would love to buy some of their products. Thanks.

Carolee said...

Olayinka, I've been away from Nigeria for almost a year, but I assume Shonga is still in business. You could buy their milk at many supermarkets that cater to expats. I usually bought it at La Pointe, but I've also seen it at the Mega Plaza supermarket on VI and other places.