For the last six months, Mr David Chombet, a dairy farmer from Ziwa in Soy, Uasin Gishu County has gone through tough times due to the worst drought in years.
First, his eight cows recorded drop in the amount of milk produced and they were emaciated due to scarcity of water and pasture.
At times, production fell to just a third of the normal output as the situation worsened.
The cost of processed animal feed has more than doubled leading to high cost of production and consequently lower returns for the farmer.
Before the downturn he would spend Sh1,500 on the feeds. Now he has to fork out up to Sh3,000, and even them the quantity is just enough to see his livestock get by.
A spot check indicates that the cost of a 70kg bag of dairy meal retails at between Sh2,200 and Sh3,000, depending on the protein concentrates.
Previously, it cost between Sh900 and Sh1,500.
“The drought really affected me. For instance, from one cow the amount of milk dropped from 15 litres to about five litres.
"The cost of animal feeds such as hay and dairy meal also went up in pushing the cost of production up,” said the farmer.
5pc annual growth
And even though the dairy sector has recorded at least a five per cent annual growth in terms of total production in recent years, most dairy farmers practise free range farming that largely relies on rain-fed agriculture for pasture and therefore does not guarantee them regular income year round.
When the Business Daily visited Mr Chombet’s homestead recently, the farmer was busy checking on his farm where he had planted maize and Boma Rhodes and thanks to recent rains, he is literally making hay while the sun shines.
“I decided to plant and then harvest before conserving them in the store so that I use them from December when the shorts rains will be gone,” said Mr Chombet.
He said that he foresees the price of maize falling and plans to venture into pasture cultivation on his one-acre farm next year and cut the acreage under maize crop.
Like Mr Chombet, a number of dairy farmers in the North Rift region are increasing the number of acreage under animal fodder to cushion themselves against the perennial feed shortage.
Shadrack Moimett, another farmer from Kesses, Uasin Gishu, said that this season he opted to plant maize and pasture.
Last season the entire 10 acres farm was under wheat.
“This year, I decided to plant five acres of pasture for my cows because of the good prices in the market and then the other for the maize crop,” said the farmer.
Julius Kitur, another farmer from Turbo, who keeps 20 cows, slashed the acreage under white maize variety to grow yellow maize on his 52-acre farm.
Yellow maize is used to make animal feed.
Stung by recent drought that cut milk production by nearly half, a number of dairy farmers said that they are growing different fodder to ensure constant milk supply.
Kenya's total milk production fell by 17.5 per cent in the first five months this year, which forced the government to allow tax-exempt milk powder importation in an attempt to stabilise prices.
A recent report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that 215.9 million litres were sold to processors between January and May compared to 261.9 million litres in a similar period last year.
The report adds that April and May were the hardest hit months with 37.7 million and 36.9 million litres sold respectively, compared to 54.4 million litres and 49.5 million litres in a similar period last year.
According to statistics from the Kenya Dairy Board, the industry regulator, the country produced 5.2 billion litres of milk in the formal and informal sectors last year.
Nothing to chance
Although the most recent data from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that Kenya’s dairy industry has recorded an upward movement in terms of production due to the ongoing rains in some parts of the country, milk producers are leaving nothing to chance.
In July, the government waived the importation of yellow maize to help check the skyrocketing cost of animal feeds and also ease pressure on white variety in the country.
Julius Kiptarus, director of livestock production in the Ministry of Agriculture, said that areas such as the Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties had recorded an increase of production by 40 to 50 per cent.
“However, there are pockets of arid and semi-arid areas, which have recorded rains below average and as such are yet to fully recover from the effects of drought.
"The Meteorological department had projected that the short rains are expected by October 20 and we hope this will improve the milk production across the country,” he said in an interview on Thursday.
He says the decision by more farmers to increase acreage under fodder was an encouraging trend.
“What we are seeing is that farmers are actually balancing while others have fully gone into dairy agri-business, increasing the number of acres even of the maize crop for silage production,” said Mr Kiptarus.
With farmers investing in proper feeds, he said, it would ensure constant supply of milk all year-round.
“We want to ask farmers that if they have 50 acres of land they can grow the maize for commercial use on 40 acres and reserve about 10 acres for fodder,” said the official.
According to Nixon Sigey, the New KCC managing director, poor feeding regime and breeding have contributed to low productivity at the farm level.
“We want to encourage farmers to take advantage of the short rains to grow hay and other fodder and store them to help them in the event of dry spell.
“The six-month drought was the most painful to farmers. As processors, we had cushioned them against drought effects by increasing the producer price by Sh10,” he added.
In March, the country’s major milk firms -Brookside and New KCC increased milk producer prices, known as farm gate prices, to an all-time high of Sh42 and Sh43 per litre respectively in a bid to cushion farmers against effects of drought.
Mr Sigey said that the milk firm had embarked on a modernisation plan, which has seen it purchase and install new coolers in its facilities spread across the country.
This, he said, will enable it to absorb an additional 400,000 litres of milk.