- Over the years Stephen Kyonda enhanced his enterprise by replacing all the indigenous breeds with hybrid ones, increasing rain water harvesting, setting up modern structures and growing fodder grass.
- Mr Kyonda is part of a small team of framers who advises Makueni County government on ways of enhancing the milk value chain in the county.
- He is also the chairman of Kathonzweni Dairy Cooperative Society, which county government officials hail as the most well managed.
A drive along Makindu-Wote Road in Makueni County during the dry season exposes visitors to a sleepy countryside dotted with acacia, stunted shrubs and thorny bushes, the signature vegetation in arid regions.
As one approaches Kathonzweni Township, however, bicycles and motorcycles laden with aluminum jerricans dot the road, the first indicator of a flourishing dairy farming sector.
The enterprise traces its roots to Stephen Kyonda, a little known former MP in the region.
The staunch Catholic, who taught in various schools in Machakos and Makueni County, worked in various NGOs and other development agencies before he went into making laws. He caused a stir when he withdrew from the 1992 general election in the last minute.
“After I left parliament I focused on my passion; agribusiness. I had established a small scale dairy enterprise long before going to Parliament,” the 82-year-old told the the Business Daily recently at his farm in Kyatu Village.
Over the years he enhanced his enterprise by replacing all the indigenous breeds with hybrid ones, increasing rain water harvesting, setting up modern structures and growing fodder grass.
“Dairy farming is a unique enterprise in that you keep getting income when you are seated at home. The enterprise is also rewarding health wise and emotionally especially to those who love nature,” Mr Kyonda’s wife Angeline, said, while looking after a lean herd of Ayrshire and Friesian cows.
Besides guaranteeing the former MP a steady source of income, dairy farming has kept him busy and relevant in the community.
He is part of a small team of framers who advises Makueni County government on ways of enhancing the milk value chain in the county. The county government has implemented most of their suggestions; mainstreaming hybrids, teaching farmers about fodder farming and setting up cooling plants to enhance the shelf life of milk.
But, like the rest of the rural farming community in the region and elsewhere, Mr Kyonda has not been spared the challenges of dairy farming. He grappled with many litres of unsold stock at the initial stages of the enterprise as the demand of milk in the region failed to match the supply.
After one of his clients at Kathonzweni refused to take his delivery one morning, a light bulb moment hit him. He reasoned that to go round the milk marketing problem, a cooperative society will be handy. He shared the idea with his neighbour, James Muema, who had suffered a similar fate.
The cooperative society, they told farmers, would help them negotiate for steady prices at the market.
Today, the octogenarian who cuts a humble mien is among more than 1, 200 farmers who keep hybrid dairy cattle in and around Kathonzweni. Some 780 out of these farmers are members of Kathonzweni Dairy Cooperative Society, according to Mr Kyonda, the chairman of the cooperative which county government officials hail as the most well managed.
Kathonzweni Dairy Cooperative Society started in 2003. It has spurred massive uptake of hybrid dairy cattle leading to increased milk production. The ventures are supported by fodder farming which is steadily replacing the growing of maize and peas in the region.
“The little rain we receive around Kathonzweni barely lasts a month. But it is enough to grow fodder grasses to maturity,” said Peter Mang'eng'e, a fodder farmer.
On his four acres at Kiaoni Village, Mang'eng'e grows Boma Rhodes and African foxtail (Cenchrus Cilliaries) grasses. He recently earned Sh93,000 from selling fodder seedlings and Sh252,000 from selling fodder. But his biggest source of income, like most farmers in the area, remains selling milk at the cooperative which buys at between Sh40 and Sh60 per litre. The price varies depending on market forces.
Although fodder farming has stabilised milk production in Kathonzweni, Mr Kyonda believes farmers are just scratching the surface on production.
"This region has the potential of being the biggest producer of milk in Ukambani especially with constant training on animal husbandry and good agricultural practices," he said.
The main challenge faced by the dairy farmers is market. The cooperative sells to local restaurants and a yogurt manufacturing startup. Oftentimes, the market is unable to absorb all the milk delivered, exposing farmers to huge losses.
“The marketing challenge notwithstanding, we pay not less than a million shillings to milk farmers every month. The money has helped develop the region,” Mr Kyonda revealed.
The woes of Kathonzweni dairy farmers are expected to ease when a Sh80 million milk processing plant set up at Kathonzweni comes into operation.