A multi-million shilling milk processing plant owned by Gulu Women Dairy Cooperative Society remains non-functional, two years after it broke down.
The milk pasteurizer was donated to the 200-member cooperative society by the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), in 2016. The plant, installed at Bardege Division in Gulu Municipality, was originally equipped to collect, process and cool 3,010 litres of milk daily.
Later that same year, it was upgraded by a donation of a milk cooler from the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) valued at 250,000 USD (approx. Shs 925m), bringing its processing capacity to 10,000 litres daily.
“We continued operating at the original capacity of 3,010 litres per day despite the NAADS upgrade because the market had not yet grown to absorb 10,000 litres daily,” Martin Ocan, the Production Manager at Gulu Women Cooperative Society said.
In June 2018, barely one year and a half after its capacity had been upgraded, several of the plant’s components started to break down in quick succession, until production ground to a complete halt.
Ocan explained that the homogenizer that lubricates milk with treated water was the first to break down, and then the packing unit suddenly jammed and failed to pack milk. Days later, the power control unit which regulates the pasteurizing temperature, also developed a technical snag, forcing them to stop using the whole milk factory.
“Because of the problems with the power control unit, the holding temperature does not come to the required temperature for pasteurization (73°C) even when you set it. This means that the milk cannot be pasteurized properly, which compromises quality,” Ocan said.
Prior to this, members of the cooperative had been battling with the machine’s problematic boiler.
“Before we stopped using the machine, even the boiler was already disturbing us. And since it has been grounded for two years, I think it is even spoilt,” said Ocan.
Two years after it broke down, Margaret Odwar, the Chairperson of Gulu Women Diary Cooperative Society says they have still failed to repair the damages on the milk processing plant because its spare parts are not available in Uganda.
“The machine was brought in without any spare parts. We communicated with the supplier, because the machine was still under their warranty when it got spoilt, but their response has not been satisfactory,” Odwar said.
Odwar explained that the plant’s technical problems have affected not just the cooperative society and its members, but also more than 700 dairy farmers in Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts, who relied on it for pasteurizing their milk.
“The milk plant would pasteurize the milk at 73°C and package it in 500 ml packs which were then sold at Shs 2,000 each,” she said.
Odwar revealed that since the plant broke down, the cooperative has resorted to using five ordinary fridges to store fresh milk in Pece Vanguard where their office is located.
“With the five fridges, we had to reduce the litres of milk purchased from 2000 litres to only 500 litres per day. The situation has made worse with the current pandemic because we now sell below 100 litres daily,” Odwar said.
Odwar estimates that the cooperative has lost out on potential profits of about 50 million shillings that it would have made if the machine had continued in operation during the past two years.
Martin Ocan, the cooperative’s Production Manager, said that following the technical glitch they now produce only two dairy products- fresh milk and yoghurt, while production of cream and ghee have been suspended..
“We are operating manually and on a very small scale. Back then we could pasteurize between 1500-3000 litres of milk daily, and 500 cups of yoghurt which was bought in a week. Production of yoghurt has been reduced to 50-100 cups because we now use a manual machine, while production of cream and ghee has been suspended,” Ocan said.
Joska Otto, the vice Chairperson of Gulu Women Dairy Cooperative Society said that when the machine broke down, it contained about 3,000 litres of raw milk valued at Shs 6m, sending them into an immediate loss.
She said they have written proposals for assistance to many organisations, individuals and NAADS, and are waiting for responses.
“This machine is the first of its kind in Northern and Eastern Uganda and we need help to bring it back to life,” Otto said.
Besides this grounded milk processor, Gulu Country Dairy operates a mini milk processing plant that is not capable of processing the milk volumes currently being produced in the region. Northern Uganda’s share of national milk production currently stands at just 11 percent.