Modern technology improves traditional livelihoods in Kazakhstan

FAO’s Collect Mobile app is improving dairy farmers’ incomes and lives

Key Facts

In Kazakhstan, between 2 and 2.5 million families earn a living from the dairy sector and 80 percent of all the country’s milk comes from smallholder farmers who own four or fewer cows. Within the vast borders of Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth largest country, livestock are an important part of people’s livelihoods and food security.

The dairy industry in Kazakhstan faces many challenges, but most of them are directly related to the vast distances that the milk must travel for processing and the high fragmentation of milk supplies. The country does not have enough milk collection centres to serve the large number of milk producers or meet the demand of milk processors, and the route from farms to dairy processing plants can span hundreds of kilometres, leading to high transport costs and risk of spoilage.

Applying the power of technology for creative solutions, FAO, together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has designed and adapted to the dairy context a mobile app, Collect Mobile, which helps milk processors geo-locate current and potential raw milk suppliers, most of whom are smallholder or family farmers. This connection helps to improve their production and therefore their livelihoods.

Inclusive and efficient food systems create better livelihoods and ultimately help to end hunger.

A long tradition

Milk has a history in Kazakhstan. Nomadic pastoralism was once the way of life here and the country’s name reflects that: Kazakhstan means the “land of wanderers.” Livestock have been an intrinsic part of Kazakh lives and this is clearly demonstrated in their cuisine and culture. Sour or boiled milk plays a part in many traditional dishes. For example, kurut is an important traditional product made from boiled milk that ferments, separates and becomes a salty and dry cheese. Kajmaḳ, a cream made from raw milk, is another popular dairy product often served with tea.

Dairy farming has a long tradition. However, this traditional way of life is changing. As in several countries, many young people are moving from rural areas to cities looking for better opportunities.

Often living off of meagre pensions, the older rural people who remain try to supplement their income by selling the surplus milk from their cows. But sales are usually localized and informal. Over 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s population living in rural areas obtain milk from their own or their neighbours’ cows. 

Everything is done locally

Victoria from the Zhaman Zhol village in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan describes, “Before we got the milk collection centre here, I had to cool down the milk manually. I would take many plastic bottles, fill them up with water and freeze them. These would serve as a fridge for milk. In warm months, I had to replace bottles several times until the pick-up truck would arrive. It was a lot of work and hassle.”

This changed with the creation of the milk collection centre. “When the factory announced they would organize a milk collection and cooling centre in our village, we were all against the plan: no one wanted to carry their milk all across the village. However, now that the centre is operational we truly understand its benefits for our community. Firstly, we don’t have to freeze those bottles. Secondly, I do not have to get up at night to check milk temperature. And finally, we have more time for farming, thus for our livelihoods. We are so grateful to have this centre in our village.”

The collection centre was one of the first steps to improving the capacity and product quality of small producers. 

Then came the App

Kazakhstan’s milk industry has significant potential for growth, but it still faces many problems. Smallholders currently produce approximately 80 percent of the national milk output. However, owing to long and complex value chains, milk producers and processors are often not in contact with one another leading to a lack of mutual understanding of the challenges related to producing and delivering high-quality milk. When direct linkages are missing, it is difficult for processors to convey quality requirements and for producers to provide the information necessary to enable efficient milk collection.

That’s where Collect Mobile comes in. Milk processors conduct field-based surveys using the Collect Mobile app, an FAO-borne app adapted from the OpenForis suite, to capture, validate and analyse data on milk availability. With GPS-equipped Android devices, processors use the app to geo-locate potential and current raw milk suppliers.

Kazakh dairy companies rely on hundreds of milk suppliers scattered across the expansive country. The app helps to locate and better manage these large lists of producers, saving time on paperwork. It also helps to optimize collection routes in order to reduce transportation costs and forecast the capacity needs of cooling tanks and refrigeration transport.

Furthermore, Collect Mobile promotes direct interaction between processors and farmers and enables dairy companies to provide advice on various topics from improved hygiene to farm management. Through this app and data-collection method, processors receive accurate information about existing sources of raw milk including volume, seasonal availability, quality characteristics and, most importantly, the growth potential of each supplier, helping to diagnose what is preventing farmers from producing more and better-quality milk.  

A modern touch improves traditional methods

The goal of the app is to modernize practices to help farmers become more competitive and to build trust between the farmers and the milk processors. In other words, Collect Mobile helps to boost the capacity of dairy farmers, in particular family and smallholder farmers, to increase their production and quality of milk. It also assists the private sector in taking informed decisions on their supply chain management and expansion.

Everybody benefits from the approach: farmers boost their incomes because of stable sales to a factory and improve their production thanks to the increased availability of knowledge; processors gain efficiency in their supply chain management, and the final consumer is offered a high-quality Kazakh product.

As an additional initiative of the project, FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have also created animated videos called “Smart Milk” to raise awareness about good practices in dairy farming. EBRD is the largest institutional investor in Kazakhstan. By helping to strengthen the country’s agriculture sector, FAO and EBRD are together boosting Kazakhstan’s potential and supporting diversification of the economy.

Ensuring that smallholder farmers are included in agri-food systems is one of FAO’s aims. Inclusive and efficient food systems create better livelihoods and ultimately help achieve zero hunger.

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