Kiboga dairies go green with efficiency gains

Minister Ruth Nankabirwa shares a light moment with Heifer International Uganda Country Director William Matovu during the commissioning of the solar milk chilling plant at Kiryanyonza in Kiboga districts.  Photo/George Katongole

What you need to know:

  • Dairy farmers in Uganda rely heavily on expensive and unreliable diesel generators for milk chilling, leading to high operational costs, wasted milk and environmental damage.

A wide grin stretched across Johnson Kwesigabo’s face, the chairman of Dwaniro Dairy and Livestock Farmers Cooperative, as he took energy minister Ruth Nankabirwa on a tour of the gleaming new solar-powered milk chilling facility at Kiryanyonza, Kiboga District.

Kwesigabo’s steps were light, a stark contrast to the weary trudge he used to make past a sputtering generator. Gone are the days of worrying about fuel costs and unreliable power. Today, the air crackled with a different kind of energy - the buzz of innovation and a brighter future for the cooperative.

This isn’t just a new facility; it is a symbol of progress, a testament to the cooperative’s commitment to a sustainable future.
Turning to a group of eager farmers, Kwesigabo’s smile broadened. “This is what it means to be a part of something bigger. This is how we secure a brighter future for ourselves, our families, and generations of farmers to come.”
The farmers, mirroring the chairman’s enthusiasm, saw a chance to improve their livelihoods and contribute to a cleaner, greener future.

For dairy farmers, the fight for profit has long been a struggle against unreliable power and rising fuel costs. Diesel generators, a mainstay for chilling milk, gobble up 40 percent of operational expenses, squeezing margins and turning every power outage into a potential disaster. But a ray of hope has emerged, and it’s powered by the sun. Heifer International, a non-profit dedicated to empowering communities, is leading the charge with their “Solar for Sustainable Income in Diary” project. 

This innovative initiative is installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at milk collection centres, transforming the way Ugandan dairy farmers operate profitably.

The impact is undeniable. For example, Dwaniro Dairy and Livestock Farmers Cooperative has seen a complete turnaround. Milk spoilage, once a constant threat, has been reduced to zero. This translates to an astounding 197,321 litres of milk saved each month, a boon for both farmers and processors.

But the benefits go far beyond saved milk. By switching to solar, cooperatives are slashing their power bills by a staggering 30 percent. This translates directly to higher profits for farmers, with some seeing a 46 percent increase in their income from milk sales.

Heifer International is a non-profit organisation that has been working in Uganda since 1982. Their goal is to help smallholder farmers, women, and youth improve their livelihoods.

One of the challenges that dairy farmers in Uganda face is the cost of reliable energy for milk chilling. Heifer International has been working on a project to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at milk collection centres. This will help to reduce the cost of energy for farmers and improve the quality of their milk.

Talking during the launch of three solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for Dwaniro and Nabitanga Dairy Farmers’ Cooperatives at Kiryanyonza milk collection centre in Ddwaniro, Kiboga District, the Heifer International Country Director William Matovu said they are tapping into the abundant renewable energy resources which are allowing the country to explore a sustainable and efficient path to provide for its energy needs and to power the long-term growth of its economy.

Heifer International prioritises strengthening the agricultural sector focusing on smallholder farmers, women, and youth. Technology plays a key role in their approach, enabling these groups to improve efficiency and business performance across the entire value chain. Over the past 12 years, Heifer has bolstered over 87 dairy producer organisations across Uganda, resulting in a 244 milk collection centres network. However, a significant portion (more than 197) rely solely on diesel generators for power.

William Matovu, Heifer International’s country director, highlights the drawbacks of this dependence on diesel. “They spend as much as 40 percent of their total operational costs on fuel and maintenance of generators. With the rising fuel prices, the cost of operation has increased by 50 percent, drastically reducing the profit margins for producer organisations and dairy smallholder farmers. Important to note, due to unreliable energy sources, producer organisations lose between 5-10 percent of the revenue due to power outages which leads to poor quality milk that has to be sold at low prices,” he notes.

Heifer International Uganda’s “Solar for Sustainable Income in Dairy” project leverages the Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities programme. This initiative fosters collaboration between a diverse group of stakeholders: solar technology companies, impact investors, project financiers, dairy farmer organizations, and processors. 

One of the project’s major achievements is the installation of solar photovoltaic systems for milk chilling plants in Kiboga and Sembabule districts. This shift to renewable energy offers a powerful demonstration of its potential to transform the dairy industry.

The recent installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems marks a significant step forward for Ugandan dairy farmers.  These three systems, with a combined capacity of 108.25kWp, will power milk chilling plants for the Dwaniro Dairy and Livestock Farmers Cooperative in Kiboga and the Nabitanga Dairy Farmers Cooperative in Sembabule.
“We have made great steps in achieving our goal of ensuring access to reliable and cost-effective solar power in the dairy value chain,” he says.

Implementing solar-powered milk chilling at Dwaniro dairy and livestock farmers cooperative has greatly improved efficiency. Milk spoilage at the Migina milk collection centre, for instance, has been entirely eliminated, resulting in the preservation of 197,321 litres of milk valued at Shs191m on a monthly basis.
This innovative approach has yielded significant cost reductions. The cooperative’s annual energy expenditure has been halved, decreasing from Shs139m to Shs69m this translates to a substantial profit increase for member farmers, with individual earnings rising by up to 46 percent.

Dwaniro’s success serves as a prime example of the positive impact reliable and cost-effective power can have within the dairy value chain. It contributes not only to economic benefits for stakeholders but also fosters environmental sustainability.

“With this, the cooperatives will be able to increase their bulking capacity and volumes supplied to the processor and increase their revenues as a result of the reduced cost of operation. This initiative is also creating a clean energy source and thereby reducing the carbon emissions,” he says.