A New Milk Can For The Developing World, Funded By Bill Gates

In Kenya, milk often goes bad or is contaminated before it even reaches the market. A few simple design innovations could fix that.

When you buy milk in America, it generally comes from farmers with hundreds of cows. They do their own milking with mechanized equipment, and, generally, their own pasteurization and bottling. In Kenya, it’s different. About 80% of the country’s milk comes from small-scale farmers with a few cows, who milk by-hand. They don’t do bottling and, instead of trucks to get to market, they go by bike or foot.


Naturally, that limits distribution. The milk goes bad because it isn’t refrigerated. And, much of the time, it’s contaminated anyway, because farmers fail to clean out their pails properly. The end-product often doesn’t meet minimum Kenyan standards, let alone anything we’d expect here, according to Maurizio Vecchione, who’s leading an effort to develop a better milk pail.

Vecchione is senior vice president of Global Good, a collaboration between Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures, a product development group based in Bellevue, Washington. Vecchione says Gates had the idea for the pail himself after seeing how much milk in Africa is wasted.

The Mazzi is a plastic 10-liter container specially designed for carrying milk in under-developed places. It has an ultra-wide mouth, so farmers can clean inside easily. There are notches on the side, so the Mazzi can be tied to bike or slung over the shoulder. There are measurement scales to help farmers get the right price for their product. And the funnel–which fits on to a cow’s udders–is black, helping farmers look out for telltale residues indicating diseases like mastitis.

“The most dominant feature is a very large opening, designed so you can put your hands in very easily, which is the critical shortcoming of the containers we’re attempting to replace,” Vecchione says. The most common milk pail in Kenya is either a cheap jerry-can or a traditional aluminum pail.

Having developed the Mazzi, Global Good has donated all rights to local partners that are making and selling it. Currently, it’s available in Kenya, with other countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda expected to come on-board soon.

“We believe that philanthropy is a great thing to do, but it doesn’t give you as sustainable an impact as using market forces,” Vecchione says. “If you can catalyze a market to deliver a new invention, that’s better because the philanthropic dollars will probably dry up eventually.”


The larger goal isn’t just to help a few farmers. It’s to raise milk quality and earn smallholders higher incomes. Vecchione says wholesalers are happier taking milk from farmers who use the Mazzi. And it’s possible that Nestle, which currently imports milk to Kenya, will start taking local milk now as well. The Swiss food giant is currently helping to distribute the new container.

“It has opened a whole focus around milk quality. Regulators are realizing that focusing on dairy quality improves the entire dairy economy,” Vecchione adds.

In tests, milk stored with the Mazzi contained 10 times less bacteria than milk held in jerry-cans, Vecchione says. The Mazzi, though, is about four times the price of that product (though cheaper than the aluminum pail). To justify itself, it’ll need to produce better income for small farmers and improve the supply chain. Hopefully it really can.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.