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Letter to Agriculture Cabinet secretary Willy Bett

By NOAH CHIRCHIR | Published Tue, March 29th 2016 at 00:00, Updated March 28th 2016 at 21:44 GMT +3


NAIROBI: I believe you have settled to the demanding job of Cabinet secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. I belatedly wish you all the best knowing that this is a critical docket.

Sir, your previous engagements in the financing, international trade, marketing and agriculture sectors are key assets and potential boon to Kenya’s farming community. I believe you have the wherewithal to review existing programmes and policies under your docket. Furthermore, I am convinced you are best placed to inspire fresh thinking into a huge litany of options and opportunities that are possible under your ministry.

In this regard, allow me to mention that there is need to prioritise animal fodder provision and especially hay which, as a sub-sector, has immense potential for wealth creation, employment and activation of expanded dairy farming. Sir, hay can be a very attractive alternative to traditional crops or other land use. Indeed, informed estimates show that on 50 acres of land, a farmer can get 100 square bales per acre (which is itself a conservative number). By implication, this means that a farmer can harvest, after every three or so months, 5,000 bales from which he can earn Sh2 million in such a short time.

Other estimates show that a farmer can produce four tonnes of hay at 16 per cent moisture content, earning Sh40,000. The most attractive part is that these amounts can be repeatedly earned after several cuttings each year.

This, no doubt, is good business. Its attractiveness as an alternative to traditional crops (such as maize, beans and potatoes) appears to have been enhanced by the fact that we are now experiencing weather variability and frequent extreme weather events characterised by repeated droughts and occasional flooding.

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Whenever the rains do not come in time, this has tended to lead to frequent loss of crops.
Sir, there are emerging opportunities for farmers which the Government can promote. For instance, many seed companies have been selling seeds of different varieties of grasses that can be used to produce hay.

At the same time, Kenya’s dairy industry has come of age and farmers need regular supply of fodder. This means that such initiatives require the right policies and guidelines that would spell out how players operate along the value chain; spell out requisite seed improvement schemes incentives, sound cultivation practices; pricing regulation mechanisms, credit schemes and other measures that can make operations smooth and allow growth in the sub-sector.

I request your ministry to also come up with hands-on guidelines that would enable hay farmers to understand the right agronomic practices suitable for different varieties and different agro-ecological regions. It is important for farmers to be provided with information on what varieties thrive in lower and medium marginal areas and those that do well in wetter areas.

One of the most attractive aspects of hay production is that it does not involve a lot of activities. This is because the crop has the innate ability to suppress weeds as it grows and especially if farmers were able to spray their farms soon after planting. In addition, researchers at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO) have found out that farmers can break even if they put a mere two acres under hay production.

However, there is need for farmers to be armed with the right marketing information and the right varieties such as Kikuyu grass, Mbarara Rhodes, Kapedo Rhodes, Sudan grass and Pokot grass, among others.

Sir, the intervention by your ministry would have positive implications on the dairy industry and hence be of direct benefit to tens of thousands of milk producers. For instance, this would have a positive impact on milk production especially by the New KCC that is supplied by more than 60,000 dairy farmers.

In its strategic plan 2012/2017, the company targets to grow its current intake of 102 million litres of milk by 15 per cent to 205 million litres by the year 2017. The company believes that raising the quality of feed will greatly contribute to this expected growth as well as a number of other measures.

Allow me to mention that over 70 per cent of dairy cow feeding and quality of feed determine productivity. However, smallholder dairy farmers have limited ability to feed their cows due to unreliable sources of feed. The sources of feed are small natural pastures that are mainly less than an acre and which usually have nappier grass. Thousands of others rely on roadside grazing, crop residues and poor quality dairy meals.

Consequently, cows managed by smallholder farmers produce as little as three litres per day. However, such farmers constitute over 95 per cent of new KCC milk suppliers. In an attempt to address this challenge, the company has partnered with suppliers to develop a feed programme geared towards tripling milk supply per farmer and doubling production per cow. The programme ensures that all the 180,000 cows are fed on the right quality and quantity of feed throughout the year. Sir, this programme certainly needs the support from your ministry.

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