Spilled and spoiled: Exploring two worlds of food waste

Members of the Fulani tribe value their cattle as a measure of wealth, but their compounds are so remote that milk they don't consume themselves is difficult to get to market.

Hamadou Seydou Ba, a Fulani tribesman in Senegal, was the first cattle herder to sign up with La Laiterie du Berger, a yogurt factory. The factory collects milk from herders that otherwise would be thrown away.

Some Fulani are still nomads. Hamadou Seydou Ba sent away much of his herd with his family because drought devastated grazing land around him.

Kai Ryssdal: The United Nations says by the middle of this century there are going to be 9 billion people living on this planet. That not-so-simple fact raises a whole lot of questions -- not the least of which is how we're going to feed them all. How are we going to get -- as our series this year has been asking -- "Food for 9 Billion." Grow more is the obvious answer. But maybe we'd need to produce less food if we didn't waste so much of what we have.

So today, two stories of food waste. The extremes of it. In a minute, Marketplace's Adriene Hill here in California. First, though, Jori Lewis with cattle herders in Senegal.


Jori Lewis: When I ask Hamadou Seydou Bâ how many cows he has, he says around 70. But I know to multiply that number by three because Fulani cattle herders are notoriously secretive about the numbers. Cows are more than just farm animals here; they are the herder's wealth.

Bâ's compound is far from the main road, even from a back road. My driver followed a dusty, twisty trail I wouldn't have known was there. When we arrived, a small child brought me a bowl of lightly sweetened milk to drink.

The herders use the milk their cows produce. The women make some into butter, and some into lait caille, a kind of soured milk -- what the child brought me. But there is often too much. They can't share it with their neighbors, because neighboring herders have their own milk. And the same thing is true at the nearest weekly market. Everyone has milk. And most people in cities -- if they drink milk -- use powdered milk imported from Europe.

Hamadou Seydou Bâ: When there is a lot of milk, we don't know what to do with it all. Eventually, we have to throw it out.

Djiby Dia is an expert on the milk sector at Senegal's Agricultural Research Institute. He says 30 percent of the herders' milk gets thrown out. In regions with a lot of herders, that number can be 80 percent. Dia says the problem is simple.

Djiby Dia: They are far from the big urban centers, which are the main markets for the milk. And in order to move the milk from the country to Dakar, we have to have infrastructure and refrigerated trucks, which cost a lot of money.

Or, do what La Laiterie du Berger did in 2006 -- bring a yogurt factory to the herders. For the Fulani, the yogurt factory is a new source of income to support their traditional life. Hamadou Seydou Bâ was the very first herder to jump on board with the Laiterie du Berger.

: It can help us. The milk that you used to throw out, now you can sell it and have money to support your family and to buy other food.

He does complain that Laiterie du Berger hasn't raised the price it pays to herders. In this drought year, he had to send half his family off with most of the cattle to find new grazing land, keeping only about a dozen cows here. Buying enough feed for just those animals is already too expensive.

But the drought hurts the yogurt factory, too. When so many of its milk producers are nomads who pick up and migrate -- it doesn't have enough milk.

In Senegal, I'm Jori Lewis for Marketplace.


Our series "Food for 9 Billion" is a collaboration with Homelands Productions, PBS NewsHour and the Center for Investigative Reporting. You can find pictures and other stories by visiting our special collection -- "Food for 9 Billion."

About the author

Jori Lewis is a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs.

Hamadou Seydou Ba, a Fulani tribesman in Senegal, was the first cattle herder to sign up with La Laiterie du Berger, a yogurt factory. The factory collects milk from herders that otherwise would be thrown away.

Some Fulani are still nomads. Hamadou Seydou Ba sent away much of his herd with his family because drought devastated grazing land around him.

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