Bernard Boit, a tea farmer from Kericho county, has little expectations from the tea reforms billed by industry players will change the fortunes of small-holder farmers.
So uninspired is the farmer from Samuget village, Bureti Constituency, he has already uprooted two acres of the crop to replace it with napier grass as he banks on dairy farming.
“It makes more economic sense to rear dairy than grow tea. I grow napier and that has lowered my cost of production,” he says.
Boit says napier grass has slashed the cost of producing a litre of milk from between Sh30-35 to Sh18.
When The Smart Harvest visits the farm, Boit is supervising farm hands uproot the remaining three acres of tea bushes.
The unprecedented move attracted the attention of Kipkelion West Member of Parliament Hillary Koskei and Kapsoit Ward representative Paul Chirchir who visited his farm.
Boit explains that he is abandoning growing clone 430/371 of tea which he acquired from the Tea Research Foundation after noting that his tea farming activities don’t bring in as much profit as his dairy farm. The farmer now has 20 pedigree friesian dairy cows produces 300 litres of milk per day.
The highest milk-producing cow at the farmer’s dairy unit produces 44 litres.
“Kenya Tea Development Agency buys a kilogramme of green leaf at Sh20. Last year, I earned Sh9 as a bonus making a total of Sh29. The amount is very low compared to Sh45, I get from a litre of milk,” says Boit.
Last year, the farmer plucked 15,000kg of green leaf which earned him a total of Sh247,000 from the tea sale.
“On the other hand, I produce 300 litres of milk per day which earns me around Sh375,000. To me dairy farming is more profitable than tea growing,” says Boit.
Besides the milk production, he is one of the most sought-after heifer sellers in the South Rift. The farmer who started with two cows in 2016, counts not less than 50 heifers from his dairy unit.
“I sell heifers at a minimum of Sh100,000. This means, if I decide to sell all of them, I can easily make solid figure in a year.”
With a 50-kilogramme bag of fertiliser now retaining at around Sh6,500, Boit also makes additional money selling manure to organic farmers.
“A load of a tractor-trailer costs Sh2,000,” he says.
Though he has broken even in dairy farming, he admits that dairy farming is not a walk in the park. He cites the price hike in supplement feeds such as dairy meal which now retails at Sh3,000 per 50-kg up from Sh2,000 before the advent of Covid-19. Boit also faults the Government for opening the gates to the milk processors to import powder milk.
“As we speak, the milk buyers have since issued a price drop notice that they will slash the milk prices from Sh45 per litre to Sh40,” he says.
Boit petitions the Government to halt the powder milk importation. The dairy farmer also asked agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya to ensure the Government through Kabete Bull Centre, acquires the best bulls in the world for the tapping of semen to be supplied to farmers through Artificial Insemination.
“Farmers are currently forced to spend Sh6,500-15,000 for sex semen. The amount is out of reach for the average dairy farmer. That is why they opt for local bulls,” says Boit.
He also expressed concern over the lack of animal vaccination programs from the county government of Kericho. The project was last conducted five years ago unlike in the neighboring Bomet and Nandi counties.
“We hope that the next county administration will also hire agricultural extension officers to educate farmers on modern agricultural practices,” said Boit.