Margaret Ruguru was busy arranging and packing yoghurts in different flavours and container sizes ready to deliver to retail shops, and major supermarkets in Murang’a and other neighbouring counties when we visited her.
She makes both normal and probiotic health yoghurt in 150ml, 250ml, 500ml and one-litre packs. Apart from yoghurt, Margaret also supplies milk to nearby schools and hotels. Her long journey of trial and error rewarded her with an enterprising venture.
The first time she thought of investing in dairy cows, was to get money and supplement her meagre salary to help care for her family. At the time, Margaret was employed as a banker at Murang’a Farmers Cooperative Union. Her husband worked for the government.
Even with their joint salary, fending for their families was still a struggle. Looking back, Margaret recounted how her parents brought up eight children by keeping indigenous dairy breeds.
“My parents brought up eight of us relying on local dairy cows that gave them very little milk. I do not know the magic they used then, because they had little knowledge of dairy management,” Margaret narrated during a visit to their Skyblue Farmlands in Murangá County.
That was enough motivation to see her venture into dairy farming. In 2010, she bought one indigenous cow, and after calving, gave the family one litre of milk in the morning and half in the evening. Though not much, it relieved them of the money spent on buying milk.
To expand the dairy business Margaret took a loan and bought three dairy breeds, that started giving her 50 litres of milk, after calving. With milk, where to sell became her challenge.
She resolved to hawk milk to her neighbourhood, to friends, women chamas, church members and colleagues at the workplace.
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On a good day, out of the more than 50 litres she was getting every day, Margaret sold 20-30 litres. The remaining went to waste, losing a substantial amount of money. She regrets, “I asked myself very painful questions, why l was wasting milk that l had struggled to look for, to the extent of going for loans.”
She vowed to utilise the remaining milk, and that is how she started value addition, making Maziwa mala (sour milk) and yoghurt. Unfortunately, this did not work out well and eventually ended up with losses.
Around this time, Margaret lost her job and resolved to concentrate on dairy farming. This was a blessing in disguise.
She visited the Ministry of Agriculture-Livestock, informing them she had more milk she did not know what to do with it. A livestock officer promised to link her to one of the government’s projects that could assist her.
That would later lead to the partnership between Margaret and the Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP), a State programme aimed at addressing food and nutrition security and promoting manufacturing.
In the partnership, the project agreed to assist her in investing in value addition and reducing wastage. But first, they trained her in dairy management.
“The big relief is that there was no milk going into waste since value adding into sour milk and yoghurt helped increase self-life,” she explains. ASDSP and the Ministry of Livestock assisted her in registering to get Kenya Bureau of Standards certification for her milk products. And, this opened her an avenue to start supplying to little shops, mini supermarkets and nowadays major supermarkets.
As the business progressed, Margaret bought more dairy cows which started producing 220-250 litres of milk a day.
She got tenders to supply 170 litres to Moi Primary and 50 litres of milk to Thika Greens Hotel. She also invested in Skyblue Farmlands, a model farm where farmers visit to learn about agriculture.