Until three years ago, Japheth Mwambingu produced a paltry two litres of milk from each of his three dairy animals in Mghange Nyika, Wundanyi in Taita Taveta County.
Although he used what he thought was the right feeding regime for the animals, milk production on his quarter-acre farm nestled on the Taita hills remained very low. His fortunes used to worsen during the dry weather when production would plummet to less than a litre from each cow.
The fluctuation in production affected his income from a local processor Brookside Dairy, to which he is a contracted supplier delivering raw milk at the nearby Wumingu cooling plant.
The situation, however, changed when Mr Mwambingu, alongside other 100 farmers, were invited to a dairy farmers’ training course sponsored by the Brookside Dairy in partnership with the county’s department of agriculture, livestock and fisheries.
“During the training at Brookside's Wumingu cooling plant, we realised that many farmers were not practising proper feeding of dairy animals. We also discovered that we could use portions of our farms to grow fodder crops instead of relying on commercial feeds,” Mr Mwambingu said.
Today he sells up to 30 litres of milk to the processor, while his stock has grown to five animals.
Like Mr Mwambingu, smallholder dairy farmers in the county face a number of challenges, including seasonal milk production and poor genetic makeup of their animals, which lead to low productivity.
Brookside Dairy, which provides the main market for raw milk in the county, is partnering with other value chain actors, including the national and the county governments to better the lot of farmers in the area, with targeted interventions aimed at growing milk production.
Already, Taita Taveta county is working with the national government through the Kenya Animal Genetics Research Centre (KAGRC) to provide livestock farmers with artificial insemination (AI) services at affordable costs in order to improve their livestock breeds and subsequently their yields.
John Gethi, Brookside’s director of milk procurement and manufacturing, said they have used farmer forums to communicate the need to encourage access to quality AI and other breeding services.
“One of the challenges we are grappling with in all our major milk production areas is widespread genetic erosion due to use of poor quality genetics. This explains why Brookside Dairy supports interventions such as that provided by KAGRC in the improvement of dairy breeds for increased milk production,” Mr Gethi said.
He added that Brookside had established a dairy demonstration farm in Taita Taveta County to encourage farmers to adopt modern on-farm practices for sustainable milk production.