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The Milk den: Meet Somalia first Cheese Maker

She had to import the equipment from Sweden and Dubai as none was available locally.

When Samira Mohamed Abdirahman left Somalia at the 14 years, it was to escape from the ravages of war. She was no longer safe in her country, she had lost hope of ever making it.

But as the saying goes, East or West, home is best. After 21 years in Sweden, she came back to a country that was rising from the ruins. The luxuries and the essentials that had dotted the streets were no more. She decided things had to change and she wanted to be part of the change.

She found limited access to cheese — all imported — and no butter. Samira has since become Somalia’s first cheese maker, while also providing butter and heavy cream to local restaurants. She works with local farmers to source the milk and has built a small production facility that recently began operating in Mogadishu.

She launched her company, Samira Soomaal, which is the only manufacturer of dairy product such as cheese, butter, whip-cream, and yogurt in Somalia. She sources her milk from local farmers who herd cows, goats, and camels

“Starting out was not so easy but eventually I realized it was workable. Very many people welcomed the idea, and there are very many more women are entrepreneurial and willing to set up business”.

Samira Mohamed Abdirahman

Before embarking on her dairy production, Abdirahman and her father attended apprenticeship in Sweden to become cheese artisans. Today, the father-and-daughter duo have teamed up to become the only cheese artisans in the war-torn country, proffering their products to local markets, and restaurants.

Abdirahman’s goal was also to help signify employment opportunities for the locals as well as help boost the economy by sourcing her milk from local farmers.

But it has not all been rosy, the high cost of production especially the price of electricity and the frequent black outs have frustrated her efforts to produce in large scale and allow the consumers to benefit from the economies of scale.

“When I cannot produce in large scale it means the per unit cost is high. That means I have to past on the cost to the consumers. But I am still glad that we have been able to build a robust consumer base which has been able to keep me in business.

She also says that getting qualified staff initially was not easy, forcing her to self-train them to a level where she was confident that they could meet her requirements.

Getting equipment’s locally was also a challenge. She had to import the equipment from Sweden and Dubai as none was available locally.

The mother of four has her eyes set on bigger things.

“For the short term we are looking into opening a second outlet in Mogadishu, then spread in to other parts of the country. Our first stock to hit the country is likely to target Kenya. We are optimistic that as the economic growth and stability continues in Somalia, the Middle East market will also come in to fruition eventually”.

She juggles her academic training in pastry and baking coupled with business management to blend both passion and administrative prowess to drive the business which so far has eight employees.

She is part of the diaspora legion who have trooped back home to help strengthen the economy by bringing forth ideas, as well as establish new business ventures.

“There is a lot of negative publicity about the situation in Somalia. Many think it’s all gloom and doom. My challenge to my country men in the diaspora is that let them take one week off, just to come and have a look around town. There are myriads of opportunities and only those who take the risks will make it big”, she adds.

She continues, “We know Somalia is broken and it needs fixing, everybody has a chance, however small to do their part in the long run the returns will be huge”.

Today she stand tall, having dared to dream. She is waiting for people to bring the milk from the animals (Somaal), and jug by jug, the economy will grow, cheese lovers will glow and the milk from suppliers will flow.

And reports of local milk consumption are not very rosy, perhaps because of lack of processors and refrigeration facilities. Somalia imports milk but does not export even a litre, a joint report by the World Bank and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) notes.

Structural constraints have hindered the dairy sector from reaching its potential, the report notes. Other factors include lack of processers to preserve milk quality, inefficient marketing channels fraught with excessive intermediaries, the poor state of roads, rapid spoilage from high temperatures and humidity, and the absence of economies of scale.

A recent survey published by global packaging company Tetra Pak is projecting Africa to see an increase of more than 50 percent in liquid dairy consumption, growing from 15 billion liters in 2010 to almost 25 billion liters in 2020.

Milk consumption in Africa is currently the lowest in the world, around 37 liters per capita annually, which is 67 liters below the world average of 104 liters per capita and only accounts for six percent of world consumption.

The growth, however, will come at the expense of “loose milk”, which is unpasteurized milk sold in cans and/or bags. Accordingly, this implies more imported pasteurized milk until local production can develop the technology and packing capability to meet demand

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