Selling milk is an important key to survival in the Western Sahel part of Africa. But lack of storage and preservation capacity means that locally produced dairy products almost never reach the market; not even during the rainy season when food is scarce. Furthermore, imported milk powder from commercial dairies has weakened the position for local small-scale farmers.
This is the backdrop for ‘The Milky Way to Development’, a multi-stakeholder partnership that aims at understanding the dairy market and work out new and better solutions for local and international producers.
The partnership ‘The Milky Way to Development’ was initiated by the Danish CSO CARE Danmark together with two local partners; CIRAD, a leading French/West African research institution and Billital Maroobe, a regional interest group representing West African pastoralists.
In Denmark, the partnership has three partners – the Danish dairy cooperative Arla Foods, who has become one of the main actors in the initiative together with CARE Danmark as well as the supporting partners; the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, who represents the farming and food industry in Denmark, and Copenhagen Business School.
“We decided to join the partnership because we see it as a great way to promote dialogue, cooperation and mutual understanding and because we think of ourselves as a socially responsible company,” says Irene Quist Mortensen, Head of CSR at Arla International. “It is very important for us to understand how our actions affect our stakeholders.”
Creating a network of knowledge
The main purpose of ‘The Milky Way to Development’ initiative was to create a roundtable forum for dialogue, learning and co-creation between international dairy companies, local dairy producers, CSOs, researchers and legislators in order to increase awareness and understanding between the different actors on the West African market.
The ambition is that ‘The Milky Way to Development’ will function as a platform for identifying innovative solutions to ensure a sustainable development of the local dairy sector with room for both local producers and international dairy companies.
“There has never been a direct dialogue between the different stakeholders in the dairy sector in Sahel,” says programme coordinator Line Gamrath Rasmussen from CARE Danmark. “The small scale producers felt threatened on their livelihood, so it was important to create a dialogue forum where everyone had a voice.”
Merging the objectives
The partners in ‘The Milky Way to Development’ come from a range of sectors and backgrounds. Therefore, communication has from the outset been essential, in order to acknowledge the partners’ differences and create a mutual understanding of the different partners’ operations and motives for participating in the initiative.
Even though the partners might have had different standpoints prior to the partnership, there has been a common goal focusing on knowledge transfer and sparring on how to ensure better and more sustainable business practices in the West African markets.
“Through Milky Way to Development we have gained access to a very large network in the region and direct links to the local dairy sector associations. We would never have conducted a field trip to local farmers in Senegal if it hadn’t been for this project. We have been able to accumulate a very large amount of knowledge and insights,” says Irene Quist Mortensen.
CARE Danmark has been facilitating that the partners were able to meet on an informed basis and listen to each other’s points of view. “I think you could describe our relationship with the private companies as that of a ‘critical friend’,” says Line Gamrath Rasmussen.
Impact on human rights
“Arla is based on a foundation of social responsibility. We have a code of conduct and are committed to following international and UN standards. Therefore we need to know, identify and address our human rights impact on new markets,” says Irene Quist Mortensen.
Through the project, Arla has conducted human rights studies of the link between imported milk powder and the local small scale dairy production in Nigeria and Senegal. The purpose of these studies has been to assess whether the company’s business activities potentially cause, contribute or are linked to a deterioration of human rights in the two countries.
There has been a special focus on working opportunities, working conditions and adequate living standards for local farmers, who depend on raw milk production, processing, distribution, marketing and sales of dairy products. These human rights studies and the roundtable discussions have been a catalyst for Arla Foods to gain an understanding of the different stakeholders’ worries, concerns and motivations.
As such, the partnership has provided Arla Foods with a platform for future activities with a focus on sustainable dairy sector development in the local markets in West Africa.
“The Milky Way to Development is a frame that should also encompass local initiatives and support the local dairy development,” says Irene Quist Mortensen. “It makes a lot of sense in relation to sustainability, but also business wise in order to secure Arla’s presence on the local markets.”
“The multi-stakeholder dialogue of Milky Way to Development has a great potential for developing solutions that benefits both dairy companies and small-scale pastoralists alike,” says Line Gamrath Rasmussen.
In 2016, the partnership will host its second roundtable forum in Nigeria to follow up on previous learnings, discuss future opportunities for collaboration and concrete actions to support a sustainable development of local dairy sectors in West Africa.