Sarah Bett from Trans Nzoia County abandoned maize for dairy a few years ago. She says she was forced to make the move after earnings from maize dwindled owing to a combination of factors including high cost of fertiliser, attacks by the fall armyworm and erratic weather conditions.
The poor earnings from maize pushed her into difficulties. Even paying school fees for her children was increasingly becoming an uphill task. This is when she decided to make the switch to dairy farming and now, she says, her life has been turned around. It is easy to understand why she has embraced dairy farming with both hands. She is currently earning Sh3.6 million annually from dairy farming, a far cry from the Sh24,000 she used to get from maize.
“I am generating better returns from dairy farming compared to when I was growing maize,” says Ms Bett.
She mainly sells her milk to Brookside company.
Ms Bett is not alone. Faced with the same challenge, more farmers are gradually abandoning maize for dairy. The straw that seems to have broken the back of some farmers is that even when they have a bumper harvest, they have to grapple with the lack of market and poor pay from the National Cereals and Produce Board.
Ms Bett has also joined hands with other residents who have embraced dairy to form a cooperative society that helps them attain better bargaining power for the produce. The Dairy Farmers of Cherangany (DFC) Society, in Trans Nzoia County, helps farmers to get loans at low interest rates and affordable animal feeds.
“I deliver 195 litres to the cooling plant and reserves five litres for home use. This earns me an average of Sh300,000 monthly,” she says.
The cooperative chief executive Eliud Kichwen, said the society has more than 1,750 active members who supply 4,500 litres of milk daily.
“Before the society was established dairy farmers in the region were producing an average of 10 to 15 litres of milk and were losing over 30 per cent of the produce due to lack of market,” said Mr Kichwen.
But things have changed as production has been increasing monthly, with members earning millions of shillings that they use to improve their living standards and paying school fees for their children.
Mr Kichwen said the cooperative has increased buying price from Sh32 to Sh34 per litre, motivating more farmers to join the cooperative.
He says the availability of transportation facility by the New KCC, who purchase their milk at Sh36 per litre, has enabled them to increase storage capacity by 35 per cent.
“We were forced to increase our storage capacity as many residents have joined dairy farming. We hope that our partnership with KCC will continue for the betterment of our people,” he said.
Mr Kichwen hopes that one day the cooperative society will start processing the milk to increase farmers’ earnings.
Stellah Biwott is another beneficiary of the sacco. She applied and got a Sh20,000 loan which she used to purchase a heifer. She now milks more than five litres of milk daily from her cow.
Walter Mkhevi also secured a loan from the cooperative, which he used to increase the number of dairy cows. He now delivers 90 litres daily to the society, earning Sh1.9 million annually.
He utilises his four-acre farm to plant maize, not for consumption but for silage, which feeds seven cows.
Statistics obtained from the department of agriculture shows that dairy farmers in Trans Nzoia County produced an average of 113 million litres of milk in 2017, earning Sh2.8 billion. This was an increase from the 2016 volume of 109 litres, that earned farmers Sh2.7 billion.
Despite the good earnings they get from dairy enterprise, farmers say they face a number of challenges, includeing the high cost of feeds and supplements.
The government, they said, is not offering enough support to dairy farmers to improve their production and generate better returns.
“We want the government to subsidise dairy inputs since that’s main reason our income is still low. We spend a lot of money buying expensive animals feeds, money that should have been used to expand our business,” said Ms Bett.
Poor road network to access market is another challenge for dairy farmers in the region.
“During the rainy season, many roads in the area are rendered impassable forcing us to spend extra money paying boda boda operators to transport milk to the cooling facility,” Ms said adding that a good road network will post-harvest losses.
Area deputy governor Dr Stanley Tarus said dairy farming is transforming the lives of farmers in the county.
He said the subsector is helping the county in reducing the poverty rate, which stands at 51.5 per cent.