|Muranga Governor Mwangi wa Iria (left) during the launch of an initiative in the county to help farmers easily access artificial insemination services. [Photo: Boniface Gikandi/Standard]|
By Boniface Gikandi
Murang’a, Kenya: Dairy farmers in Murang’a County are perhaps the most digital and hustle-free agriculturalists around.
This is after the digitisation of agricultural services in the county. The over 150,000 livestock farmers can access various services that include artificial insemination (AI) by just sending a text message.
The new and ambitious programme aims at increasing production of milk thereby enabling farmers get better income.
The county government introduced the SMS services last week. Farmers seek artificial insemination services by sendingtext massages to a certain number. Farmers have already been educated on how to go about sending a text message to 22050 and indicating their location and kind of service they want.
Inseminators have attended refresher courses and have been facilitated with motorcycles and a mobile phone to ensure easy access to farmers when needed.
The entire dairy programme that will incorporate the youth has been allocated Sh100 million, which will also facilitate rehabilitation and conversion of Kenyatta Mareira Farm in Kigumo into a livestock-breeding unit.
Already, 38 high-yielding dairy cows and eight heifers bought from various dairy farms in Rift Valley have been delivered at the demonstration farm. More dairy cows will be acquired.
The programme was launched by Governor Mwangi wa Iria, who seeks to transform dairy farming in the region. Iria helped revamp the collapsed Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) into a profit-making venture when he was the managing director of New KCC in 2010.
Launching the initiative, Iria recounted how artificial insemination programme, which was being facilitated by the Government, flopped and failed to achieve objectives leading to privatisation of the services in 1991. Privatisation of the services and the breeding of livestock were costly to farmers leading to a decline in production of milk.
Artificial insemination, according to livestock experts, will help improve animal breeds and control inbreeding, which have negative side effects on production. The AI programme has raised furore in the county, with private inseminators opposing the initiative as the county government has fixed cost of services at Sh500, down from Sh2,000 as a strategy to bail out small-scale farmers from exploitation.
Last week, the High Court in Murang’a declined to issue an order to immediately stop the county government from providing AI services after private practitioners sought legal redress claiming they will be thrown out of business.
To ensure success of the programme, insemination sheds have been constructed in all parts of the county enabling small-scale farmers to easily access the service. The farmers have embraced the multi-million shilling programme.
According to a report by the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, exotic breeds are found in the upper region of the county while local breeds are concentrated in the lower region.
Livestock experts say milk production has been declining due to lack of mechanisms to improve local breeds.
“As a county government, we want to ensure provision of quality, affordable and controlled service that will eventually standardise our breeding and ensure that our farmers are not exploited,” said the governor.
Previously, farmers had been losing money to unscrupulous business people masquerading as qualified inseminators.
The governor said through partnership with Kenya Animal Genetic Centre in Kabete, farmers are assured of good and high quality semen that will enhance their productivity and profitability.
“We shall have continuous training of farmers to ensure sustainability of the project,” said the governor during an interview with The Standard.
The county government, he added, will install 35 milk coolers in all the wards to help farmers store milk saving them from being exploited by middlemen. Farmers confirmed they are using the AI services launched by the county government.
They said they accepted the project because it seeks to empower them economically.
“This is what we have been waiting for. We are sure that we will harvest the fruits of this project very soon,” said John Mwangi, a farmer in Murang’a.
The county is home to a host of dairy co-operatives and it contributes 38 per cent of the total milk production, according to Kenya Dairy Board statistics.
Mwangi, a small-scale dairy farmer in Muriranjas, remembered the good old days when the Government deployed extension officers, who ensured animal husbandry and productivity, was achieved.
He said then, he had five dairy cows that produced an average 20 litres of milk per day. Although milk prices were not too high like today, what he got was good enough to run his household, educate his five children and take care of his operational expenses. Today, he only has two cows that barely produce 10 litres per day.