Food Loss and Waste Series 2022

In Focus: Taking the Waste to Value Approach to the Dairy Sector in Ethiopia

Our 'In Focus' series sits down with people at the cutting edge of improving nutrition outcomes to understand their perspective, passions and latest projects. Today we talk with Charlotte Pedersen from Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) on greening the dairy sector in Ethiopia.


1. Please tell us about how you came to be passionate about your work towards increasing access and affordability for better nutrition for all.

I became passionate about nutrition and making better use of food, when I realised there is a need to bring together many different players to ensure that solutions can be co-created with private and public sector actors. It is very important to make better nutrition, scalable for the most vulnerable, especially women and children. There’s an additional challenge though, to make nutritious food more affordable as well as tasty.

I come from a background in agriculture, in plant breeding and biotechnology and I’ve worked for over eleven years at GAIN and. I’ve also worked for many years in management consulting with MNCs doing process optimization. So I’m very passionate about combining the sustainability, human health and the business perspective. E.g. the fortified yogurt project that GAIN partnered on in Ethiopia and Zambia, is centred around the common goal of partners for enriching the value chain while ensuring a healthier product, in this case, fortified yogurt, was made available for the end-consumer.

 I’ve been very interested in formalising such models of scalability so that local partners, small and local businesses can co-develop and take ownership for scaling projects after development sector projects conclude. We need to adapt the products and processes to the local production systems and food systems. My passion therefore lies in wanting to ensure that public and private sector partners can collaborate and bring forth optimal local solutions for better nutrition for all.

2. Tell us a about the “Access to Better Dairy” project you are working on and its “waste to value” approach. What impact do you think this work is trying to have for preventing food loss and waste?

We’ve been working on the ‘Access To Better Dairy’ project in Ethiopia, to develop a fortified yogurt that is tasty and has an affordable price point. In 2017, the GAIN Access to Better Dairy partnership was established and supported by Danida. This was aimed at helping to improve diets of children and mothers, as well as livelihoods of smallholder farmers, by developing affordable, safe, and nutritious dairy solutions that appeal to children, and are produced, and marketed by local dairy processers.

The “Waste to Value” approach has a three-pronged approach for  that  demonstrates the benefits of post-harvest loss reduction through : i) increased focus on hygiene practices for milk-handling to reduce spoilage of milk, ii) extending shelf-life and value addition by fermentation using best-in-class cultures to produce yoghurt, and iii) using by-products from cheese production, which often are wasted, by turning it into a healthy dairy-based drink. When the cow gets milked, the milk is in principle sterile. We work with farmers to increase understanding of the value of hygienic milk-handling, which is key to avoid unhealthy bacteria growing in the milk. When improving hygiene during milking, transportation and collection, less milk will be rejected when it arrives at the milk processing factory. This reduces milk waste, the farmer can sell more and the processor can produce higher quality milk products. Also at the processing plant, hygiene is key. This includes Pasteurization, which is a heat treatment that significantly reduces any bacteria that might have contaminated the milk. After this step the milk is inoculated with healthy bacteria that ferments the milk, turning it into yoghurt. Yoghurt has a longer shelf-life, it increases food safety and its nutritional value and we can thereby reduce its spoilage

By reducing milk loss and food waste, we also ensure that all that has been invested in the feed, water, care for the cow, transport of milk etc is not lost. All of this contributes to greenhouse gas emissions too so, preventing spoilage and food waste in the value chain can be a win-win for farmers, producers, and consumers.

The last approach we are taking is to optimise the waste, or the ‘whey’ that is produced during cheese production.  Whey is very nutritious, and we work with partners to use it as an ingredient to make affordable, safe and nutritious milk-based drinks.

3. Please elaborate on the innovative “SHARP Model” that your team and key stakeholders developed during the course of the Access to Better Dairy project, and how its helping to provide solutions for ensuring affordable nutritious milk-based solution.

There are several requirements for the setup, for the innovative solution we are designing. We have defined this using an acronym, ‘SHARP’, to define these requirements that the solution needs to fulfil. The solution needs to be:  S - Sustainable from an environmental, economic and social perspective; H- Healthy with adequate nutritional content and safe to consume; A – Affordable for local producers/SMEs and consumers; R – Reliable building on existing feasible technologies to ensure a stable local production; P – Preferable by the target consumers meaning tasty, culturally-acceptable and convenient.  

Finding the best solution using this approach, is centred around the need to balance several objectives.We work together to “hit” the “sweetspot” where all criteria are fulfilled, through close collaboration and use of competencies of a diverse set of partner.

GAIN’s main contribution is towards the ‘Health’ aspect and to ensure that the solution is designed to address micronutrient deficiencies in target consumer segments. By leveraging the SUN business network (SBN) committed local and global private sector partners with unique expertise to engage in this approach are identified and ensure the “Sustainability” and “Reliability” of the solution. Extensive testing involving the target consumer groups, mainly children and women, ensure the solution will be designed to be “Preferable” and also “Affordable” to ensure demand for the new nutritious food product.

4.Your work has involved intense planning and implementation, with and for, the private and public sector partners. What according to you are some key dynamics that have worked towards ensuring the success of such public-private partnerships for a niche areas like prevention of food loss and waste ? (Exemplify)

It is essential to have a strong understanding of the whole stakeholder landscape; the public and private sector, NGOs, researchers and key influencers, to try and get a diverse group of partners to work together and co-create the new solutions.  It is important that all partners have a common overall goal; “to reach with the best possible solutions for a common target group”. At the start it is also important to establish a common language. Partners from different sectors may use different terms for the same “thing”. At GAIN we would call our “target group” the consumers, NGO partners often refer to them as ‘beneficiaries’, private sector companies mention ‘customers’ and government sector partners may refer to them as ‘citizens’ or ‘tax-payers’. We all address the same target group through our own “filter”, but it is important to be open and try to see through the filter of the other partners. This is not easy, but at GAIN we have staff that comes from diverse backgrounds; from private companies, research, from public sector or from other NGOs or civil society organizations. This is very useful and gives a good basis for being the key facilitating partner of these diverse partnerships.

It has been key for achieving success, that our local GAIN teams have good ‘food relationships’ with the local and national public sector actors and influencers. E.g. in Ethiopia we’ve worked with the government to establish a standard for voluntary fortification of a yoghurt. This, enables easier scaling-up of the solution. We also try and involve the public institutions like the Ministry of Health when we are trying to arrive at the right ‘levels of fortification’, to ensure there is buy-in for improving the public health agenda. And, to ensure that public health solutions are not being duplicated, but in fact supplementing them by addressing those areas of micronutrient deficiency that are lacking.

Some of the value adding ingredients are highly taxed, which impacts affordability; so, there is negotiation with the governments to lower such input tax, in the larger interest of making food fortified nutritious. We also work with business associations that help in the advocacy of establishing frameworks for making it easier to do business in the nutrition -environment space.


5. What key facts should we bear in mind when talking about food loss and waste in the dairy sector, to put forth a robust plan for advocating for change in the status quo ?

Its about promoting the understanding that expending limited planetary resources on nutritious food is advantageous for humans as well as for the environment. Nutritious food is very perishable as well, so it needs to be valued and protected to ensure food safety and to avoid food loss and waste. This is true for all nutritious foods - dairy or other animal sourced foods, as well as for vegetable and fruits.

We do know that 30% of the GHG can be contributed to the production and consumption of food. But, we also know that animal-sourced foods like milk, are highly nutritious, in particular for children. In the countries GAIN works in, milk consumption is generally significantly below what is recommended for a healthy diet. Also, in these countries their productivity is low, food safety often poor and with high loss and waste. Thus, there is a lot of value to be captured along the value chain, which can benefit businesses as well as consumers if we work together and each contribute with our expertise to solve this complex problem. Working with the public sector in fact is central to creating a stable, transparent and predictable business environment with incentives and investments in solutions that considers both nutrition and the environment.

Also what I think needs to be addressed is why are we using so many of our resources from primary food production, transportation, logistics, energy resources etc into creating non-nutritious food, often ultra-processed, with no nutritional value and in many cases containing too high levels of salt, sugar and trans-fats that contribute to poor health and often lead to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These types of foods may have longer shelf life and are less prone to food waste, but, is it not really a waste in itself?

6. Given the diverse context of this project in Ethiopia and Zambia, what should practitioners keep in mind when considering social norms, food waste and safety?

GAIN and partners have worked in countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania, Pakistan on dairy projects for improving animal-sourced nutritious foods. There are often lot of social norms that are related to food in specific countries that one has to be cognizant of while planning and implementing. For example, if there is limited affordability for some types of food, we see that these more expensive foods have consumption-limiting norms around them. In many cultures various fasting practices are found, some being fully vegan and others not permitting to eat animal-sourced food on specific weekdays, or during longer periods of time linked to religious celebrations. Milk is typically boiled just before consumption to ensure food safety. But, during fasting, even having milk in the home, is seen as having a great risk of contaminating the other foods with the milk. As a consequence, milk demand drops significantly during fasting. Typically, the supply exceeds demand in these periods. But as the cow produces milk every day, we see that in these periods a lot of milk gets wasted and even thrown away. This is an issue from a nutritional point of view, but also for the business of dairy processors.

It’s very difficult to change social norms, and we of course need to be respectful of people’s beliefs and choices. The approach we have taken in the ‘GAIN Access to Better Dairy’, is to design our solutions around these norms. We have developed a fortified yoghurt targeting children under 7, in single-serving package for on-the-go consumption. This ensures access to the yoghurt even outside the home by planning distribution in and around schools. By taking this approach we can continue to provide a solution that secures stable access for nutrition for children, reduces waste and improves business opportunities by stabilising demand.

7. Bringing together the consortium of partners, under the Greening Dairy Project is no mean feat. What lessons have you gathered along the way in brokering partnerships?

There is a lot of technical assistance being provided in a business-to-business environment, for trying to provide accessible and affordable solutions for better dairy. We have many learnings from two Danish companies in particular; Arla Food Ingredients (AFI), and Chr Hansen, but also long term partners like DSM and BASF. We are building on what we have learnt in Ethiopia, and are now scaling-up this effort to Tanzania and Pakistan. A key part is to facilitate the co-creation, with inputs from various partners as explained earlier in the SHARP approach. Absolutely key for sustainability and scalability of the innovation is that we take into account the context of the local private sector companies in the countries we work in. These are generally small and medium enterprises that work in a very challenging environment, and often with very limited access to innovation. We do strive to make the solutions reliable – so as a starting point for new, innovative solutions, we design them such that they can build on their existing assets, so that little or no capital investment is needed.

Also, in order to achieve impact at scale we have started to explore how we can better institutionalise capacity building in this area. The SUN Business Network is a key mechanism for this purpose, but also the private sector institutions provide capacity building for their members. For example, we are working with the Confederation of Danish Industries, that is providing capacity building for local business associations and also addresses Social Responsibility Conduct  (RBC) for the SMEs, with focus on human rights, employee conditions, environmental impact and anti-corruption issues. Another key partner is the civil society organization, Dan Church Aid, who has been contributing to connect to upstream actors on the integration with farmers and improvement of their understanding of hygiene practice, address adulteration practices and improve milk collection to reduce waste.

8. Bringing together the consortium of partners, under the Greening Dairy Project is no mean feat. What lessons have you gathered along the way in brokering partnerships?


We have one clear learning from the last two years of the “GAIN Access to Better Dairy” that we are challenged using this co-creation approach if we cannot meeting in-person with all partners, but are limited to virtual connections. We realised that most during COVID. We work with farmers and processors from different countries, cultures, languages, backgrounds, from developed and developing countries in the consortium. So typically, such a consortium meets and visits the manufacturing companies, consumer markets etc to understand the context in which the ‘SHARP model’ is applicable. After a clear understanding of the local context and the various partners roles, contributions and limitations, each partner can start working on their specific part of the common solution.

A well-facilitated structure for updating on the process of participation needed from all partners, is essential to make sure all contributors stay aligned. This structure however also needs to stay dynamic, to change course as conditions change or unforeseen roadblocks emerge, to ensure a continuous discussion, with the common goal in mind.

9. What's your favourite food (waste) hack?

To not waste food, I try not to buy more than I am sure I will consume. I’m privileged that I live in a city, and I can buy every day the things that I need.  However sometimes I do buy vegetables and store them only to find that they have wasted away lying in one corner of the fridge. I definitely feel guilty seeing wrinkled, starving vegetables wasting away, while knowing how fresh it was when I bought it. I’ve been a vegetarian since the last two years and these days I’ve got a new pan in which I like to just toss all kind of vegetables in. I like to be able to still identify the different flavours of the vegetables and am not in favour of, for example, meat replacement food items, that we see in many supermarkets today. Growing up, in Denmark, we traditionally did not have a lot of spices, salt and pepper being the “highlights”. But, as an adult, I definitely like to spice up with local herbs and more exotic spices. Also leftovers, I always save, and try to use them for new recipes the next day, and I’m quite good at that. Of course, I also eat quite a lot of dairy products with my food


Charlotte Pedersen is the Senior Advisor for Nordic Partnerships at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)