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How smallholder dairy farming is transforming rural economies

By Andrew Tuimur | Published Thu, June 8th 2017 at 00:00, Updated June 7th 2017 at 23:03 GMT +3

In Kenya approximately 1 million rural poor households depend on dairy and dairy related products for their livelihoods as smallholder dairy farmers. The greatest challenge nonetheless has been lack of a commercial mind amongst most of these smallholder dairy farmers with most products being sold at poor prices to middlemen or at farm gates. Poor production systems and inadequate technical backstop were also affecting negatively milk production.

This has resulted in a cycle of poverty despite farmers having dairy animals that should lift them from this situation. Poor production compounded with bad markets has not only resulted in low household incomes but also nutritional challenge as the milk cannot meet the daily subsistence needs. Such smallholder dairy farmers if supported to organize themselves into groups or cooperatives can have a great potential to increase their incomes.

The government in collaboration with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) sought to assist smallholder dairy farmers through a programme called Smallholder Dairy Commercialization Programme (SDCP). This programme is hosted by the State Department of Livestock and has been working with smallholder farmers in nine counties namely; Nakuru, Bungoma, Bomet, Kisii, Kakamega, Nandi, Nyamira, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu. The main goal of this programme has been to increase the incomes of these poor rural households, through improved production and access to favourable markets for their dairy products. The nine counties were chosen as pilots and the government is in the process of rolling this programme to other counties in the country in an effort to ensure that farmers do commercial dairy production.

The programme started off by training beneficiary farmers on animal husbandry practices that ensure good herd health and thus optimal milk production. In assisting farmers to access markets; farmers have been trained on various value addition measures like yorghurt and Maziwa lala making. To further improve indigenous ways of milk preservation; farmers have been trained on how they can upscale their local fermentation techniques in making Mursik (Kalenjin) or Amarurano (Kisii). Farmers have also been imparted with group formation, organisational, managerial and enterprise and marketing skills. With these skills farmers have formed groups that have been transformed into co-operatives.

To date over 20,000 farmers have commercialised their dairy production against a target of 24,000 for phase one of SDCP; majority of them being women. These farmers have been able to increase their daily incomes from Kshs 130 to Kshs 386. This has come with a ripple-effect that has ensured farmers meet their daily needs comfortably. It has improved the health of animals as farmers can now afford veterinary services, has enabled them to purchase farm input that reduce the cost of production for example chaff cutters which have had a synergistic effect on milk production. These have been documented as success stories to be replicated throughout the country in future.

The positive challenge from the success of this programme has been production of surplus milk in all the above counties. The annual milk production in these has gone up to 26 million litres compared to a baseline of 5 million litres in 2007. The Strategic Food Reserve which has incorporated milk has enabled purchase of this excess milk which is powdered and can be reconstituted in times of milk shortage.

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To further address the surplus milk production the government has purchased eleven 5000 litre capacity milk coolers for the co-operatives. The Cooperatives have created over 46,000 jobs in these counties directly contributing to Jubilee government’s promise of creation of job opportunities. The SDCP carried out a feasibility study on pilot milk programme on a 50-50 cost sharing basis in 18 public primary schools , it’s recommendations have been adopted by The Kenya National School Milk Steering Committee The model has since been adopted by various County Governments including Mombasa, Migori amongst others.

The main challenge has been seasonality in feeds production due to sometimes unpredictable weather patterns and disease outbreaks. The government is tackling these challenges by educating farmers on various feed conservation measures and carrying out strategic livestock vaccination campaigns.

Dr Tuimur is the Principal Secretary State Department for Livestock in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Blue Economy

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