At 51 years of age, a status cherished by many Ugandans due to the high cost of rent in urban centers.
Trained as a biotechnologist from Makerere University, Ocan started his career in 1989 as the chief brewer at the famous Nile Breweries in Jinja. After serving from ten years, he decided to return to his roots in Gulu to start a private business.
He was however disturbed by the way dairy products were mishandled and saw a need to apply some of his skills to be able to provide an alternative way of handling milk.
In 2011, Ocan joined Gulu Community Diary Farmers Cooperative Society Limited as the quality control officer. Since the cooperative started in 1987 with a group of seven women, the issue of quality had never really been considered a priority.
The women farmers received training from Uganda’s Dairy Development Authority and also visited other dairy farms in Kenya in 1980 to acquire on-the-farm skills of dairy production. The challenge then was that most of the women in the groups needed someone with some technical skills to handle the complex diary production procedures right up to factory level .
According to Margaret Odwa, the Manager Gulu Community Dairy Farmers Society Limited, from 1997, the operations of the farm were boosted by the qualified staff to help them maintain quality since milk is a perishable product.
Ocan was identified by the Netherlands government under their project to support small dairy farmer groups in quality assurance and taken for training. Ocan trained in food technology for six months in the Netherlands in 2013.
“Milk is a whole food with almost all nutrients but it requires proper hygiene right from the farm to the final consumer. At factory level, it needs to be tested before it is deemed consumable by our final consumers who buy from us. The processing also demands the skills of experts in that field,” adds Odwa.
Ocan insists that for one to own or work for a diary factory or farm, they must acquire knowledge on quality control since milk easily attracts bacteria and other germs that are harmful to human health.
He says that as a cooperative they train their farmers every week on how to handle the cow and milk right from the farm to ensure quality is maintained.
“Our farmers understand the value of cleanliness in milk production. The problem we have is with those who want to sell to us as non-members. We accept but turn away many because they have contaminated or diluted milk with water which we can easily test and detect,” says Ocan.
Using the expertise of Ocan and other staff, the Cooperative has managed to add value to milk by producing pasteurized milk and yogurt which they distribute to different outlets in Gulu and neighboring towns under their brand name.
Ocan says the pasteurized milk is more nutritious that boiled milk because it leaves nearly all the nutrients intact.
Samuel Ojok Cornelius, a father of two living in Tewgwana Parish in Layibi Division, Gulu Municipality where Gulu Community Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society Limited has a branch is all praise for the contribution of the cooperative in helping him raise his children.
“I love their cleanliness and I always see their quality controller testing the milk as it is brought in. Their milk is never spoilt,” says Ojok.
Gulu Community Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society Limited is a registered association of 219 dairy farmers, mostly women with 300 cows in 6 zones spread across Northern Uganda.
The Mini Dairy processing plant at Bardege division produces 300 litres of yogurt every week and 1,000 liters of pasteurized milk everyday.
The products are sold to mostly people in Gulu who fetch in from their diary plant. But the managers of the cooperative say they want to venture into other markets in Kampala and South Sudan.
This dream however faces the challenge of apparent weaknesses in their marketing strategy which could make them able to satisfy the existing market in the town such as in hotels, schools and restaurants.
During her official tour of the cooperative’s mini plant in Bardege Division last week, the Minister of Local Government Jennifer Namuyangu applauded the women for their efforts towards women’s economic empowerment in Northern Uganda.
The Minister promised to take a report to the Minister of Cooperatives to connect the group and see how best they can be supported.