Insights from Probiota 2023

Yoba for Life: a starter culture project feeding African children

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

Yoba for Life: a starter culture project feeding African children

Related tags Lactobacillus Gut flora Probiotic Probiotics microbiome Fermented foods school nutrition Not-for-profit

Non-profit organisation (NPO) Yoba for Life provided an inspirational story revealing the benefits of probiotic yogurt in East Africa, during NutraIngredients' Probiota conference last week.

Wilbert Sybesma, founder of Yoba for Life, and collaborator Professor Remco Kort, from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, joined Probiota to provide an overview of their starter culture project in East-Africa that provides opportunity and education for better gut health among more than one million residents of restricted communities.

On founding Yoba for Life, Sybesma recounts: “We thought, how can we make a difference - not in the Western world, but in developing countries?

"We of course have probiotic products in the Western world, but if we were to have the same ones in developing countries, they would not be affordable. So we thought, let us find a way in that people can make their own probiotic product, by letting the probiotic multiply in milk sourced from African cows or sheep.”

The non-profit network organisation, accredited by the Dutch Tax Authority as a public benefit institution (PBI), was founded in 2012, with the aim to provide access to a probiotic yogurt in resource-poor countries, currently including Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, and Nepal.

The history of fermented food in Africa ​is well recognised and suggests a culturally accessible medium for probiotic intervention.

Making the yogurt

The key to the Yoba for Life concept is the distribution of the yoba starter cultures, which form the basis for local production of the Yoba yoghurt. The starter strain is identical to the world’s best documented probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus​ GG.

One gram of starter culture costs 0.9USD to produce and has ability to cultivate 100 litres of probiotic yoghurt. The final yoghurt varies between 108 (100 million) and 109(1 trillion) per millilitre of yogurt.

Local dairy cooperatives produce and sell Yoba yoghurt in various locations. 

School programme 

The Yoba yoghurt school programme​, claimed to reach approximately 30,000 children, is currently carried out in collaboration between the Yoba for Life Foundation and SNV (The Dutch Development Organization). The Inclusive Dairy Enterprise project (TIDE project) is being implemented in seven districts throughout South-West Uganda.

The programme's objective is to encourage children in pre-primary institutions to consume probiotic yoghurt, made viable by a business model that self funds either by increased tuition for the purpose of purchasing probiotic yoghurt, or is included by institutions' operating budgets.

The founders told delegates at the show they plan to expand the project to produce the culture more locally, with suggestion that it will be increasingly beneficial​ to developing countries. 

Clinical Trial 

The starter culture was developed by the foundation with the probiotic bacterium Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG​, a highly documented probiotic strain which is popularly used due to its rigorous testing history.

A randomised clinical trial ​conducted by VU University of Amsterdam reported on the efficacy of probiotic yoghurt containing Lactobacillus Rhamnosus Yoba on respiratory tract infection and other health outcomes among children aged 3-6 years in Southwest Uganda. 

The study of 195 participants reported that LGG can aid in the maintenance of a healthy microbiome, boost immunological function, can help prevent respiratory tract infections, and lessen symptoms of irritated skin and food allergies.

It claimed that the LGG Yoba strain can delay the start of diarrhoea brought on by antibiotics. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that regularly consuming LGG lessens the severity and length of rotavirus-induced diarrhoea​.

However, as proclaimed by Professor Kort, there “remains gaps in research and more trial is needed to read the full extent of benefit”​ as issues in consistency with external diet and lifestyle alter the ability to track results. 

Looking forward

There is interest from founders in expanding the project to producing the culture more locally, with suggestion that it will be increasingly beneficial​ to developing countries.

Sybesma closed with the consideration: “Should we not look to locally sourced probiotics? Not an isolate from somebody from the west, which is the case with this Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, but something that comes from the intestine of the people there.”


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