Poor animal breeds, high cost of feeds and treatment have dampened the multibillion-shilling dairy industry with experts now warning that Kenya could end up being a net importer of milk by 2019.
Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) programme projections indicate that although Kenya is currently self-reliant, it will face a deficit of 61.3 million litres by next year growing to 382 million litres by 2022.
But the government has entered into partnerships with non-State actors to reverse the situation.
Experts from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) through AVCD’s dairy component target to improve milk production by focusing on the value chain from breeding, feeding and treatment of animals and marketing of milk.
The project, funded by USAid to the tune of Sh450 million ($4.5 million), is being implemented in nine counties including Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Vihiga and Busia in Western Kenya and Makueni, Kitui and Taita Taveta. These areas have the potential of dairy growth, according to the project.
“The programme ensures that farmers embrace improved health technologies, quality breeds through artifical insemination (AI) and minimise health challenges affecting animals,” said Dr James Rao, the dairy component co-ordinator and ILRI scientist.
“We intend to improve diet diversity, food security and rural incomes of 40,000 smallholder households,” he added.
Working with three partners - Heifer Project International, Farm Input Promotion Africa and Livestock departments across the nine counties - the partners brought together experts to analyse the various sections of the value chain and give solutions to the problems affecting milk productivity.
According to their baseline study, over 80 per cent of households in Western Kenya keep Zebu cows which are of low milk productivity. The majority also believe that the local breed cannot be artificially inseminated, hence the offspring has remained inferior.
With low population of improved dairy cows, the region buys most of the milk they consume from Nandi, Kericho, Bomet and Kisii counties and even neighbouring Uganda.
Proliferation of milk from Uganda has been attributed to the cheap animals’ feeds. Averagely, Ugandan dairy feeds cost Sh1,500 per a 90 kilogramme sack, half the Kenyan price.
Kisumu produces only 26 million litres of milk against the demand of 70 million while Homa Bay has only 3,000 commercially viable cows.
Due to this, experts have moved to areas where they find more customers. Locals have to foot extra transport cost whenever they call upon an expert to attend to their animals, making the business more costly.
This, experts said, calls for an accelerated breeding initiative to generate improved calves in unprecedented numbers.
“Our research reveals a generally low uptake of various dairy technologies which we purposed to enhance their access to transform the value chain,” said Dr Okeyo Mwai, a livestock genetic expert at ILRI.
They rolled out fixed time AI technology whereby large number of animals are injected with pregnancy hormones followed by mass insemination across their selected areas.
“We select animals, mostly indigenous varieties, check them for health and pregnancy (they should not be already pregnant) before being induced with hormones three different times within nine days and insemination is done on the 10th day,” said Mr Steve Omondi, an AI expert in Muhoroni.
The service has a 90 per cent success rate of pregnancies.
Ms Benta Atieno Midigo was among 66 farmers who took their animals for AI in Muhoroni sub county of Kisumu in October was given straws bearing the names and breeds of bulls whose semen were administered to her cows. One was written Jersey Paroti 368.
Ms Midigo could not immediately understand and was asked to keep the straws safely as they would help experts not to use semen from the same bulls again on the future offspring since interbreeding would weaken their quality and productivity.
“I had never brought my animals for AI before. It was very expensive (Sh2,500), but when I heard that there is a waiver to Sh500, I knew I could afford,” said Ms Midigo.
Hormonal therapy and AI together would ordinarily cost Sh4,500.
She hopes to slightly increase milk yield from the cow from one litre to two through proper feeding lessons she had and up to five litres from the hybrid calves (if they are female) a year and some months later.
The three-year programme has closed the first year since inception with nearly 7,000 animals having received subsidised AI services in Western Kenya alone. They are targeting over 50,000 cows by the end of the programme.
According Dr Henry Kiara, animal health scientist with ILRI, farmers particularly in the hot and humid parts of Kenya, feared to keep quality cows since many die of East Coast Fever (ECF) causing them massive losses.
Dr Kiara said ECF is the most deadly infectious disease facing cattle keepers in Kenya killing approximately a million head of cattle per year with an estimated economic loss of nearly Sh20 billion.
“The climate in Nyanza and Coast areas is hot and humid, making it suitable for ticks which are vectors of ECF. With the high prevalence rate, farmers shied away from keeping expensive cows since they could not control the disease,” said Dr Kiara.
He said although ECF drugs were readily available, their cost was too high for most farmers. It costs close to Sh5,000 to treat one animal hence is an impediment to the livelihoods of poor farmers who struggle to attain food and nutritional and economic security.
“Most of the farmers control the disease by dipping animals every week hence ticks develop resistance to several pesticides,” he said adding that ECF drugs were highly effective when applied in the early stages with efficacy diminishing in the advanced stages.
Towards a more sustainable solution, the team has introduced a new vaccine (The ECF vaccine Infection and Treatment Method-ITM) that when administered, the animals become immune to the disease for the rest of their life.
“This is a one-off lifetime vaccine administered both to adults and calves,” said Dr Kiara. “We will increase cattle productivity through the development of improved vaccines for the control of the disease.”
The technology involves injecting the animal with the virus accompanied with antibiotics, generating a mild reaction in the animal, which induces immunity to the disease for 36 months.
Vaccination of calves usually costs Sh600 and Sh1,000 for mature cows, but the project has halved the amount.
“We are working with private organisations to set strategic distribution centres where farmers can access the vaccine at an affordable cost,” said Dr Kiara.
He said farmers who cannot afford the amount, the cost is paid for by cooperatives which will later reclaim the money. They have so far vaccinated over 4,000 animals and trained 30 vaccinators.
Under the feeding programme, researchers found out that most farmers plant napier grass which is poor in important nutrients that contribute to higher milk production.
Dr Ben Lukuyu, a representative of ILRI in Uganda, said a study of Nyanza showed that most cows are overfed with needless content.
The programme is distributing new varieties of improved grass, including brachiaria grass, which produces a lot of nutritious biomass, which increases milk and meat production by 20 to 40 per cent.
The grass also plays an important role in improving soil fertility.
Farmers are also encouraged to utilise locally available feeds like sugar cane tops, molasses which go to waste yet can help improve milk production.
“We have also developed content specific diets to suit availability in specific regions to make livestock feeding easier,” Mr Lukuyu said.
They plan to start contracting large scale farmers to do commercial hay production to bridge the market gap since most farmers lack enough space to plant. The contract farmers will be supported to access inputs, establish forages and market.
According to AVCD reports, Kenya has the most developed dairy industry in the Eastern and Central Africa valued at Sh193,362,050,000 ($1.9 billion) and accounts for the eight per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Eighty per cent of its milk is produced by smallholder farmers who dominate dairy industry which employs 700,000 people and is the main source of livelihood for over 1.2 million households and hence one of the main pathways out of poverty and malnutrition.
But lack of innovation and skills in animal husbandry is a major impediment. Yet, an effort to enhance capacity of farmers via extension services is usually compromised by few government officers who are equally poorly facilitated and de-motivated.
To counter this, community extension agents have been trained to assist the government staff from livestock department at the county level.
“We need a business innovation for improved input access and milk market. We are rolling out two groups for this; six dairy business hubs (DBHs) and nine village dairy business advisers (VDBAs),” said Dr Rao.
The VDBAs are trained to educate farmers on basics, including improved husbandry, livestock nutrition, animal housing and healthcare and genetic improvements in their groups.
They also mobilise farmers whenever there are special services for the animals as well as provide feedback for the extension personnel to evaluate the progress of the project.
“Farm Input Promotions Africa, a local non-governmental organisation has worked extensively on the model, training the advisers on crop production technologies and linking them with input suppliers. ILRI will support them in training more in new areas,” said Dr Rao.
They are recruiting 120 advisers each targeting 150 farmers. It means 1,800 households will be served.
The advisers will also double up as grassroots agro-vets as the product providers are currently located far from the villages. They can introduce new agro-products to farmers that are recommendable for increased productivity and animal health, while selling them to generate income.
With the comprehensive plans put in place, an unprecedented rise is milk production is bound to be achieved, hence the hubs (DBH) will formalise marketing to improve efficiency in distribution and safety of milk consumed.
The DBH will enter into contractual agreements with milk buyers like processors on behalf of the farmer hence through it, farmers can access milk market and inputs and services. Farmers will therefore have to form groups to consolidate the bargain.
Although the fruits of the ongoing project, whose actual work begun officially in April, are yet to be documented, a similar model used by the Ministry of Agriculture has proved effective.
The small holder dairy commercialisation programme has changed fortunes for thousands of farmers in Kakamega, Bungoma, Nyamira, Kisii, Bomet, Nandi, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu.
Livestock principal secretary Andrew Tuimur said: “The first phase of the Sh1.7 billion project which started in 2006 has increased the average production of milk by small farmers from 1.8 billion litres per day to 5.2 billion litres currently.”
Milk production per household has also risen from four litres to between 12 to 15 litres and boosted their per capital income from Sh130 to a substantive Sh380.
Management of dairies at the family level has improved across the seasons hence diseases have gone down.
Esther Omosa, a senior nutrition specialist at Feed the Future Kenya, said increased production of milk will not only improve financial status of a home, but ensure that young children are not stunted due to malnutrition.
“Lack of enough food and nutrients causes children to stunt in growth. Stunted children have poor brain development hence may never attain their full potential in school and later in life,” said the nutritionist.
“School milk programme is another huge market for milk produced in the country. We are encouraging counties, as a way of improving the nutrition of young children, to start what we used to have as school milk programmes,” said Ms Omosa.
Dr Tuimur said the State is currently running a Sh2.3 billion second phase expected to double the daily milk quantity in the country from 5.2 billion litres by 2020.
Experts said once milk productivity goes up, the cost of inputs will automatically drop.
“Already, the cost of production has come down from Sh25 to Sh18, so that when a farmer sells their milk for Sh40 per litre, the profit margins will be better,” said the PS.
To improve milk quality and marketing, they are to distribute coolers to all the 47 counties before the end of this financial year. The idea is to accumulate milk at central stations and sell them to processors at better prices.
The government also has plans to set up a strategic food reserve for milk, just like there is one for beans, fish and others. “We will powder it, store it and sell it when the production goes down”.
Farmers are learning to add value to their produce for better pay and produce biogas from animal waste. Farmers in Kisii County are already making yoghurt for sale.
“In terms of disease control, we have increased vaccination doses for foot and mouth disease from 38 million to 60 million doses currently yearly,” said Dr Tuimur.
He said several liquid nitrogen plants for semen storage have been set up in Kabete, Sotik (Bomet County), Nyandarua, Kirinyaga, Meru and is targeting to build one in Kakamega and Kisii counties improve animals’ breeds.