Livestock farmers have been dealt a huge blow by the loss of their livestock for the last four seasons due to the prolonged drought accelerated by climate change.
This has been coupled with challenges of poor milk quality, poor animal husbandry, declining genetic base, diminishing land sizes in high potential areas, and infrastructure bottlenecks such as poor road networks and lack of cooling and storage facilities.
Milk — which is primarily produced by smallholder dairy farmers under three main production systems of zero grazing, semi-zero grazing, and open grazing — is in high demand mainly due to population growth, increasing urbanisation, and rising incomes.
To meet this high demand, the government has given priority to the industry in national strategic plans such as the Dairy Master Plan to guide the development of the dairy sector up to 2030.
The Dairy Master Plan was developed in 1991, outlining strategies for improving efficiency and productivity in the dairy sub-sector. However, it was overtaken by rapid events that led to the liberalisation of milk marketing in 1992.
In spite of these, the government has developed a policy aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of dairy products, increasing domestic consumption of milk and milk products, transforming the dairy industry into a net exporter to the regional and global markets, and re-orienting milk processing.
Even though the government is focused on improving the dairy sector, this industry faces challenges that affect its growth.
As a result, Kenya has had to import to meet this demand. One of the reasons for this is the low average annual dairy productivity that is at six to eight litres per cow per day, according to a report by Tegemeo Institute.
Low-level productivity increases the cost of production as well as affects the competitiveness of the industry. To meet the domestic demand, all the players need to work together to improve farm productivity and the efficiency of dairy markets.
Firstly, dairy milk yield is determined by its genetic composition. The choice of breed is informed by factors such as production system, ability, experience, or expertise of the farmer, and environmental factors. Exotic breeds produce high volumes compared to indigenous breeds but indigenous breeds are more resilient.
Secondly, animal health affects the productivity of milking heads and the quality of milk. A study by Food Control on milk quality and hygiene, 2021, revealed that a majority of the dairy farmers adopted animal health measures and hygienic measures such as hand washing and udder cleaning.
More stringent implementation of measures on animal health and food safety is required.
Feeds are essential to dairy productivity and farmers are dealing with low-quality and high cost o feeds. A study on the Effects of Calliandra and Sesbania on Daily Milk production in Dairy cows on commercial smallholder farms in Kenya by Veterinary Medicine International shows that improving the quality of fodder significantly improves milk productivity.
Abe is environmental architect and the Executive Director of Mambo Heritage.