If you come across women gathering by the roadside early in the morning, holding jerry cans in their hands, you might think they are going to fetch water from the lake or waiting to catch a ride to go somewhere.

This scene, which has endured for many years, has now become a signature feature for those unfamiliar with the Pangani village in Lamu West.

The village is located between Kibaoni and Witu and is mainly inhabited by pastoralist communities, especially the Somali community.

Pangani is a bustling village within and outside Lamu for the milk business, where women are the driving force.

It’s the women who run this business every day, whether it’s early in the morning or late in the evening.

Pangani village is situated along the main Lamu-Witu-Garsen road, which splits the village into two halves.

It’s a village that has existed since the seventies (1970s) when it was used as temporary dwellings for nomadic pastoralist communities fleeing their homes in Ijara, Tana River County, during times of drought.

It was in Pangani where the nomadic herders found pasture and water for their livestock, thus living comfortably.

These nomadic herders, however, began building permanent settlements in Pangani between 2005 and 2007, making the area a full-fledged pastoralist village.

Taifa Leo sought to understand why women in Pangani are the primary players in the milk business.

According to the Spokesperson for Pastoralists in Lamu County and a Somali elder, Mr. Muhumed Kalmei, it’s customary for women, especially those from the Somali community, to actively engage in selling milk.

He attributed this to Somali culture, which greatly values women’s responsibility for milking cows, preparing milk, and even selling it in the market.

“These many women you see selling milk on the roadside in Pangani are a clear demonstration of our Somali culture. We Somalis acknowledge that it’s the woman’s role to milk the cows, prepare the milk, and sell it in the market. Men are heavily involved in other tasks, including taking the cattle and other livestock to pasture,” said Mr. Kalmei.

In Pangani village, you’ll often find Probox cars loaded with jerry cans on the rooftop or on the side, parked along the roadside, with the owners buying milk from the women and transporting it to other areas of Lamu and other counties in Kenya.

Here, a five-liter jerry can of milk is sold for between Ksh 300 and Ksh 400.

Mrs. Halima Abdulrahman, one of the prominent milk sellers in Pangani village, says the price of the product fluctuates depending on the season.

Mrs. Abdulrahman explains that during the dry season or drought, the price of milk goes up, whereas during the rainy season, the price drops.

“You’ll find a five-liter jerry can being sold for between Ksh 300 and Ksh 400 during the rainy season, while during the dry season or drought, the price goes up to between Ksh 400 and Ksh 600 for the same five-liter jerry can. During the dry season, the milk production decreases because there’s a scarcity of pasture for our livestock,” said Mrs. Abdulrahman.

Mrs. Khadija Yusuf, another milk vendor in Pangani, praised the business, saying it has helped them educate their children.

Mrs. Yusuf is a mother of six.

She says she started selling milk almost ten years ago.

“You might wonder why it’s only women who sell milk in Pangani. We are the ones who wake up early to milk the cows and bring the milk here by the roadside. This allows our husbands to take the cattle to pasture. We share responsibilities. The milk business is good. Personally, it has helped me educate three of my children in secondary school,” said Mrs. Yusuf.

In addition to selling raw milk, the women of Pangani have also ventured into processing milk, filtering it, making ghee, and then selling it on the roadside.

Some also use the same milk to make yogurt and then travel to Witu town to sell it.

Due to the popularity of Pangani in promoting the milk business, the village has recently been upgraded to a special milk collection center, where farmers from nearby villages like Lumshi and Widho travel to Pangani to deliver or sell their milk containers.

Some residents of Pangani and its environs interviewed by Taifa Leo called on the county government, the national government, and various stakeholders to consider establishing a milk processing plant in the area to benefit more from this milk trade.

“There are many cattle here in Pangani. Milk sellers from Pangani, Lumshi, and Widho also converge here in large numbers to sell milk to passersby or middlemen. It would be better if we were provided with a milk processing plant here to benefit more from our milk business. I know having such a plant will bring us a nearby and reliable market here in Pangani,” said Mrs. Fatma Wako.