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Dairy farmers embrace technology to boost output

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Milk delivery at the Kieni Dairy Products Limited (KDPL) milk chilling plant. Photo/Sarah Ooko

Milk delivery at the Kieni Dairy Products Limited (KDPL) milk chilling plant. Photo/Sarah Ooko 

By SARAH OOKO, sooko@ke.nationmedia.com

Posted  Friday, November 29  2013 at  12:35

In Summary

  • Better skills improving livelihoods of small-scale cattle breeders in Kenya.

In the lush valleys of Keiyo South in the Rift Valley, 42-year-old Christopher Chepkarwa happily watches over his dairy cattle that are browsing in vast green fields.

“My cows are healthy. They produce a lot of milk which I sell and get enough money to take care of my family and pay school fees,” he says. Today, the farmer can afford a smile despite the rough times he has recently gone through.

“In 1998, I had six cows that despite taking so much of my time, only produced 12 litres of milk daily that did not fetch good prices. Also, the cows were always grazing yet they appeared thin and often became sick,” he says.

Mr Chepkarwa’s tribulations were similar to those of a majority of dairy farmers in Kenya’s Central and Rift valley regions where milk production is highest in the country.

Constraints faced by these farmers included low milk volumes, poor quality of dairy products and limited access to markets due to poor roads. The collapse of the Kenya Co-operative Creameries (KCC) in the early 2000s further compounded the problem. It left many farmers with arrears and few alternative milk markets to rely on.

Consequently, most people felt discouraged and nearly gave up on dairy farming. Though some progress was made over the years – such as government revival and establishment of New KCC as a parastatal — problems of dairy farmers were still far from over.

To address some of those challenges, an initiative entitled East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD) was rolled out in Kenya in 2008 through a grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It aimed to boost yields and incomes of more than 100,000 small scale farming families through improved production and marketing of milk for profit.

Improving livelihoods

The project, whose first phase ended in 2012, significantly increased incomes of dairy farmers thus improving livelihoods of numerous communities in Central and Rift valley provinces where it was implemented.

“My problems ended once I attended the EADD training and learned how to manage my cows well. Afterwards, I sold half of my herd and remained with only three cows. Their total milk production rose from six litres to 21 litres daily after only two months of practising what I was taught,” says Mr Chepkarwa.

The EADD project was implemented by a consortium of five partners — the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Heifer International, Technoserve, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the African Breeders Service (ABS) who all have a track record of supporting dairy production in Africa. The government was also involved through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Development.

The project immensely contributed to the revival of Kenya’s livestock industry, which according to a 2011 FAO report titled Dairy Development in Kenya, accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The report further states that the country’s annual milk production from all diary species is about three billion litres. Moreover, for every 1000 litres handled, about 40,000 jobs are created which further boosts the economy.

“At the start of the project, we began by mobilising dairy farmers in selected areas to unite and form co-operative societies,” notes Esther Kamau, an expert on dairy enterprise development at ICRAF, who was involved in the EADD project.

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