Amid hopelessness and abandonment, Hawawu Aminu and other women have shown that milk-making is more than a business.
Hawawu Aminu begins her morning prayers at 3.22am. Her two oldest children, Muhammad and Ibrahim, join her five minutes after. She rises from the prayers 17 minutes later, washes her face, brushes her teeth and drinks some milk. It is not the regular type of milk, but the fermented one popularly called ‘nunu’ in the south-western Nigeria. She has stored it in a flask and kept it for herself and her children.
In her Fasola community, a tranquil town in Oyo State in Nigeria, the milk is popular because everyone feels it is healthy.
She offers me some, but I decline. For me, it is too early to have a cup of milk. Besides, I am sceptical about the way it had been preserved.
She scurries onto the field and drops her mat. Ibrahim, her second son, hurriedly begins to sweep the open field, which now serves as a milking parlour— amid the intermittent lowing of cows and chirping of birds. Few minutes after, she is ready to start the cow milking process. Hawawu starts with the biggest cow. She has six more and will take the milking process one after another. She cleans its udder and teat carefully to ensure that nothing contaminates the milk. She washes her hands with a soap and sponge, and asks her son to do so too. This is to prevent micro organisms from contaminating the milk to be produced. She sits down, pulls down the teat to pass dirt, and begins the actual milking after 12 minutes.
She places a bucket underneath the udder and begins to press the teat. The process goes on until the udder becomes completely deflated. The cow gives her 1.5 litre of milk. This is pretty poor when compared with other countries, but Hawawu is not worried.
She had learnt cross-breeding from a group of Dutch dairy farmers who taught her and other women the importance of that in 2018. Since December of 2018, cross-breeding has increased the milk production of her cows from just one litre to 1.5 litres.
“I will get two or three litres from each cow by next year,” she tells me.
I am reluctant to interrupt her work, so I decide not to ask how that dream will be realised.
She empties the milk into a keg, covers it properly and continues with the next cow. She is through with milking the seven cows in about 49 minutes.
In cow milking, time is the most important asset, she says.
“If you waste a lot of time, your milk will be contaminated,” she says, slapping her forehead.
“And nobody will accept it from you.”
Milk collection centre
Hawawu and her children head for the milk collection centre. It was set up by a local dairy firm—FrieslandCampina WAMCO. The firm collects the milk, which is its most important raw material, for onward use at the factory. It pays the women N100 for a keg. All together, she produces 10 and a half kegs of raw milk, earning N1, 050—approximately $3 every day. This is small, but it is enough for the whole family. And it takes her out of the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day.
Hawawu, like other women milking different cows, understands the little science of milking cows. Before now, her husband had been the one in charge of the cows. He would move the cows from one area to another in search of pasture and water. He husband was soon to abandon her and the children for other women. So the responsibility fell on her. But she and other women decided to settle the cows in one place, thanks to the support of FrieslandCampina WAMCO.
“The first step is that it is wrong to move around with the cows,” she tells me.
“When you do that, cows tend to be unhealthy and cannot produce quality milk,” she notes.
She explains that getting water and pasture to the cows in a settlement is always better than moving cows around.
“Cows are like human beings; you have to take care of them like you take care of human beings,” she says.
She notes that it is important to know the health status of a cow before getting milk from it.
At the milk collection centre, Hawawu and her children hand over the kegs to a man they have all come to know as John. He is very popular among the women and always pays them their money conformably.
His full name is Adekunle Olayiwola John, dairy development manager of FrieslandCampina WAMCO in Fasola community. He moves the kegs of milk to the laboratory to run two important tests: coagulation and resazurin tests. The former is meant to test the thickness or purity of the milk while the latter is to determine the quality or level of bacteria in it.
Thirty minutes later, he comes out, smiles and congratulates Hawawu and her children. He then asks them to go for their money at the payment section.
“You will be surprised that they now know whether the milk will pass the tests or not,” John says.
He discloses that because of education and enlightenment, rejection of milk from Hawawu and other women has fallen to less than five percent.
Hawawu collects her money and heads home.
Hawawu was married to Bagudu 17 years ago. They had seven children. The man was hard working, but perhaps, lacked business acumen. He had 12 cows, but the number declined to four. Despite his declining fortunes, he decided to increase the number of his wives. He married two, three, and then four. As a Muslim, he was permitted to marry four wives. But two years later, he thought that four were not enough, and married five. And then six. The marriage all together produced 23 children, but it was the women that catered for the children.
“My husband has a licence to marry more if he wants to, and he may be thinking of that at the moment,” Hawawu says, shedding tears.
After his departure, Hawawu grew the number of cows to seven and used the proceeds to take care of the family. No one knows Bagudu’s whereabouts or does he know his family’s.
“That is what we go through,” Hawawu tells me.
Questions have been raised about the culture of marrying many wives and having many children without catering for them.
A family psychologist Yakubu Ishola says a number of men use religion and culture as excuses to play on women’s emotions.
“For them, women are good only for sexual intercourse,” he says.
“But such a practice is archaic. A woman is not a baby factory and when someone sees women as factories, he then produces children that will create problems for the society,” he notes.
In northern Nigeria, men feel a sense of entitlement to marry many wives, but no woman is permitted to marry more than one husband.
The children are the biggest victims. They become street urchins and ready tools in the hands of unscrupulous politicians who use them to rig elections and unleash mayhem on their opponents. Many of these children have become impatient with the society and joined dreaded terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa.
The children hardly go to school. A survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in December 2018 showed that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria rose from 10.5 million to 13.2 million in fewer than five years— the highest in the world. Most of the children are in the northern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where Boko Haram terrorists have disrupted academic activities. More than 80 percent of them are said to be in different states of the northern Nigeria.
Hawawu and her husband are from Yobe, one of these states. Even though they are in the south-western state of Oyo, three of her seven children do not go to school.
Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi Lamido, an elite traditional ruler in the north-western Nigeria, has been in the forefront of advocating against producing children that are not catered for. He has made few friends and many enemies in his quest to change a people’s orientation.
“Our population is a liability already,” says Sanusi.
He avers that northern Nigeria has the highest level of fertility, population and poverty because leaders have failed to educate the people, especially the girl-child.
“Except we stop seeing women and girls as baby factories and begin to see them as human beings with rights against abuse, right against being divorced arbitrarily and right to earn an income, the situation will continue,” he says.
Sanusi advocates that any man who divorces his wife to marry another should be compelled by law to take care of the first wife and the children.
Hawawu and other women in the Fasola settlement have different tales to tell. Some are fortunate to have their husbands around, while others are not. Getting information from Hawawu is not so easy. Her English is not so clear, but I listen carefully to understand her. Taking elaborate pictures of her is also not permitted. A few men are also fully involved in milk production—with the support of the women.
The women in your milk
In the evening, Hawawu’s first daughter, Amira cooks for the whole family. At 12, she has learnt how to cook and she plans to open a big restaurant in the future. Though Amira is not in school, she believes she will become a university graduate at some point in the future. Hawawu always sleeps early at 9pm to be able to wake up early. Her children have learnt that habit.
She and other women like Fatima Abu may not be popular, but they contribute to every Peak or Three Crown Milk Nigerians drink. The two milk brands are used by 200 million Nigerians and exported to the West and Central Africa.
“These women are unsung heroes,” Ike Ibeabuchi, managing director of MD Services Limited, a manufacturing and services firm based in Abuja and Enugu, Nigeria, says.
“When I have a cup of milk each day, I remember the labours of such women,” he says.
Euromonitor International, a research firm, in a recent report, says FrieslandCampina leads in the drink milk products segment in Nigeria by virtue of its strength in powder milk through its Peak brand.
“Peak benefits from its longstanding presence in the country, widespread distribution, strong marketing and advertising support and its offer of a wide range of pack sizes, including small formats,” the report also says.
FrieslandCampina WAMCO maintains that 900 of such women are involved in providing milk at various collection centres at Fasola, Maya, Iseyin, Ishaga and other communities.
Integrated into the community
Hawawu and several other women in Fasola are Fulanis from northern Nigeria. But they now speak Yoruba, the language of their host community. They eat the Yoruba food and sometimes dress in their traditional attire. At least, three of her children can speak Yoruba fluently. They go to the same mosque as other Yorubas without discrimination.
Cooperative to the rescue
When Hawawu says, “I will get two or three litres by next year,” no one fully understands how possible that will be. But as I see her and other women meet and speak in hushed tones, I know that something is on the cards.
“I will enrol all my children in school next year,” she says, raising my curiosity.
Her optimism is fuelled by the coming of Fasola Women Dairy Cooperative Society, formed to enable these women send their children to school and have access to funding for other life’s issues.
The women contribute part of their income every day to the cooperative society and are entitled to take double of their deposits when the need arises.
“My second child wants to be a medical doctor. I send him to Ibadan (capital of Oyo State) to learn the basics of medicine from a doctor,” Hawawu says.
“I hope to train him from what I get from the cooperative society,” she adds, excitedly.
The cooperative was supported by the dairy company and it is meant to ensure that none of the women lack money when any need arises.
Civil servants are involved too
The business of milk-making is also open to civil servants. Funke Majaro is a teacher in a secondary school in Oyo State, but she also runs F&F Farms and rears cattle.
She has 30 cows. I am told that many government workers like Funke are in the business to escape poverty and make a living in case they do not get their salaries early from their employer. In Nigeria, state governments pay their workers whenever they deem fit. Several states owe workers today from one to 20 months salaries. But Funke has escaped that malaise.
Peace in Oyo
There is relative peace in Oyo communities owing to the approach adopted by Hawawu and other women. By settling down cows in a particular location, the tussle between crop farmers and herders is reduced. In many communities in Nigeria, herders move their cows to crop farms. The cows and bulls eat the crops and destroy the farms. It often results in killings. In 2018, herdsmen killed 1,700 people—six times the number killed by Boko Haram, according to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index.
“If I come back in my next world, I will still run a cattle farm,” Hawawu says.