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The ice cream makers of Mongolia

In a tiny Mongolian town, a local entrepreneur has turned a passion for yak’s milk ice cream into a booming business.

“As we make ice cream with fresh milk, we have many customers,” says Tsermaa Juddernamjil. “The product is loved by everyone, from three-year old children to grandparents, they all come and buy from us. We don’t have leftovers.”

Tsermaa Juddernamjil (second from right) with her colleauges in front of their dairy business. Photo: Samadhi Marr

Tsermaa lives in Mongolia’s Tuv province, about 70km north of the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. Back in 2009 she teamed up with fellow community members to start a business making dairy products from raw yak’s milk.

Trained in food technology, she knew ice cream was popular in Mongolia and always wanted to include it in their product range. But set up costs held her back.

“We didn’t have factories for fresh ice cream in this province. I had this idea for many years to sell ice cream, but our limited profit did not enable us to save enough to buy the machines.”

But when she applied for a A$2,300 grant from Mongolian Red Cross that all changed. It was enough to cover the cost of the ice cream machines, a fridge and training.

The grant Tsermaa received is one small part of a large livelihoods program – delivered by Mongolian Red Cross with the support of Australian Red Cross. The program helps build resilient communities by enabling vulnerable rural families to generate sustainable incomes.

“The project funded a teacher from university who specialised in dairy technology - he came and taught us how to use it. They taught us about industry standards, how to keep a high quality high and about food hygiene and how milk can spoil easily.”

Using milk supplied by local herders, Tsermaa’s business collective now supplies ice cream six to eight shops and also sells locally.

They sell around 500 ice creams every day – and at 22 cents each that makes them about A$100. “It felt like a dream come true for me.”

Tsermaa (right) hands an ice cream to one of her lucky customers. Photo: Samadhi Marr

Before receiving the grant, the businesses’ 10 members did all the work themselves. These days they are able to employ four staff. At the same time they are investing their profits back into the business, using the funds to build a factory.

The soon-to-be finished factory will include a training room for other business owners. “I had many visitors who wanted to share my experience and learn from us. I did it, but you know, sometimes the real techniques I want to keep secret.”

Persistence is a key part of success, says Tsermaa. “Only now we are becoming successful, so you have to persist and keep at it.”

And she is grateful for the support of Red Cross. “I have been dreaming for many years about this.”

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