Senegal: From milk to yogurt to success

| April 13, 2020

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For nearly 20 years, Seydou Baldé has been producing yogurt for people in the Kolda region of southern Senegal. His pasteurized and fermented product is a good source of calcium and vitamin D. It is also good business. The process is extensive, including testing the quality of the milk before pasteurizing it in two machines. Then the milk is cooled and fermented by naturally-occurring bacteria. The process is complex, but the result is popular, with Mr. Baldé producing and selling 300 litres a day. And he’s ready to increase production when demand rises.

For nearly 20 years, 71-year-old Seydou Baldé has been producing yogurt known as “lait caillé”—an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D—for people in the Kolda region of southern Senegal.

Mr. Baldé came to Kolda in 1992 as a shop owner. But when his shop was destroyed in 2003, he faced poverty with his wife and four children. In his time of need, he turned to entrepreneurship.

He says, “I had a childhood friend from a farming village. He advised me to set up a processing business in Kolda in which he could support me by providing milk.”

At the time, the government of Senegal was providing loans for small businesses. Mr. Baldé’s idea was chosen and he received 1,000,000 FCFA ($1,647 US) to start his business, which he called Jawdi.

“Lait caillé” is a popular yogurt drink in Senegal made by pasteurizing and fermenting milk. To successfully make yogurt, milk must meet standards and have specific characteristics, which can be determined by testing. Mr. Baldé says there are several ways to do this, using different types of testing equipment.

After he ensures that the milk meets quality standards, Mr. Baldé pours it into pasteurizing machines.

He pasteurizes his milk in one of two ways. He either uses a double boiler that he purchased for 500,000 FCFA ($835 US), or an automatic pasteurizer that pasteurizes and cools at the same time, which cost him 7,000,500 FCFA ($11,700 US).

The first machine takes four hours to pasteurize, cool, and ferment 100 litres of milk, whereas the automatic machine takes just one hour.

After pasteurization, he leaves the milk to cool.

At this stage of the process, Mr. Baldé adds the bacteria that initiate the fermentation process. He uses two kinds of bacteria, depending on the season. Thermophilic bacteria, which develop in warmer temperatures, are used during the rainy season. Mesophilic bacteria, which develop in cooler temperatures, are used during the dry season.

The thermophilic bacteria can be added immediately after pasteurization, when the temperature of the milk is 46 degrees. Mesophilic bacteria can only be added once the milk has cooled to 36 degrees.

The fermentation process requires 25 ml of bacteria per 1,000 litres of milk. Mr. Baldé buys up to a year’s supply of bacteria at a time from Dakar and abroad, and often divides the bacteria into 25 ml portions to add as needed. He stirs the bacteria into each batch for 10 to 20 seconds.

Then he leaves the milk for six to seven hours in closed buckets. During this time, it ferments to become “lait caillé.”

After the fermentation period, Mr. Baldé puts the milk in a refrigerator at between 4 and 6 degrees to stop the fermentation . Cow’s milk must be refrigerated for six hours before it can be sold or distributed.

Mr. Baldé distributes his product every morning to more than 50 shops in Kolda, and sells the yogurt on site at Jawdi from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

In the early days of his business, Mr. Baldé produced and sold 25 litres of yogurt per day. Today, he employs three people to produce and sell 300 litres a day. If his yogurt consistently sells out before the end of the day, it’s a sign for Mr. Baldé to increase production. With his current equipment, he can produce 500 litres a day, but he will continue to increase production as demand increases.

To ensure that his equipment is clean, Mr. Baldé and his staff disinfect the pasteurizers with a general detergent after each pasteurization, and every morning before the first batch of the day.

Mr. Baldé has some advice for those who want to start their own processing business. He says that entrepreneurs need a lot of patience, determination, and a long-term vision for success.