Like many counties in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs), Isiolo is well known for pastoralism. A drive across this county is characterized by views of herders and herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats, this evidence is enough of a community that keeps livestock on a large scale, under the pastoralism setting.
However, one woman has beaten the odds to venture into a modern zero-grazing system and commercially rearing layers.
Her passion for dairy keeping and drive by the local demand for dairy products made her establish a zero-grazing unit on a small piece of land in an arid area.
Agnes Wangu, the proprietor of IVEMS Agency started her business in 2005 when she realized that there was a scarcity of fresh milk in her locality.
She also knew raring dairy animals through zero-grazing would offer her employment yet all she required was to feed the cows properly for them to produce more milk compared to the free-range cattle.
She says that her animals would eat and rest to save their energies for milk production when her neighbours’ cattle would be tiring, roaming the dry fields in search of pasture and water.
“I started off with two hybrid cattle and they would produce sufficient milk for domestic and a surplus which I would sell in the community and to hotel owners,” says Agnes.
She reveals that her herd has since multiplied through delivery and stocking.
To boost her operations, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offered INVEMS a business grant of Ksh22.5m (Usd148,934), which she used to develop the farm’s infrastructure, expand its operations. She also received training on best farming practices.
She says that she wanted to make a difference in a community that keeps large herds of low-milk-producing animals by educating them on the benefits of zero-grazing economically and environmentally adding that she was happy to have recruited a significant number of people to the practice.
“Poultry keeping is also not a norm in Isiolo, yet it is a vital way of ensuring nutritional balance, especially at a time when the cost of meat and other sources of protein are going high by the day,” she says.
Agnes adds that for her, the poultry project offered an alternative income. The poultry unit has an average egg production is 16 trays of eggs per day. In addition, the farm keeps 260 three-month-old hens, 500 one-month-old broilers, 200 one-week-old chicks, and 150 improved local kienyeji chickens.
”Everything was running smoothly for the business until the four-year-long drought struck the country with the Northeastern part of Kenya, which hosts Isiolo County being among the worst affected regions,” narrates Agnes.
The farmer describes the drought as the biggest challenge saying that she had to reduce the rations for her cattle while giving very little attention to the nutritional balance of the feeds.
“I had to reduce the rations for my chicken from 130 grams per bird per day to 110 grams while the cows’ feed was reduced from 13 kilograms per head to 10 kilograms,” she says.
At that point, she noted, Agnes would feed the animals on anything just to sustain their (the cows’) lives and she is grateful that they survived.
Agnes says her predicament was compounded by the Desert locust invasion which cleared vegetation in the Northeast, the COVID-19 pandemic, and lastly, the Russia-Ukraine war that has seen the cost skyrocket.
She claims the cost of transporting small amounts of hay from neighboring Meru county has increased from Sh2000 to Sh3500 while local errands via motorbikes now cost Sh100 up from Sh50 due to the high cost of fuel.
She is however thankful to the USAID through the Kenya Livestock Market Systems Activity (LSM) for supporting her at a time when she needed help the most.
“USAID-Kenya through LMS offered me a cash grant of Sh50,000. The cash came at an opportune time as I used it to stock hay for the cattle and feeds for my chicken,” she says.
She adds that she used the remainder of the financial grant to establish a kitchen garden with multi-story shacks where she grows kale, Swiss chard, and tomatoes.
“With the multi-story shack, I use minimum water for irrigation while maize and sweet potatoes on the rest of the farm because they did not require much water,” she said.
Agnes says her dream is to grow her agency to become a center of agricultural excellence and employ more people besides the 12 workers on her farm.
Isiolo County Chief Officer Trade, Industrialization and Trade, Lucy Kaburu the county in partnership with USAID’s LSM project was supporting farmers who had suffered the effects of drought, COVID-19, and the high cost of living.
She said the partnership was also building a resilient industry in Isiolo, a county that is not traditionally industrial.
“Isiolo is not yet an industrial region but we have trained entrepreneurs through the collaboration with USAID-Kenya’s LMS project, formed small industries and we are proud that they can produce animal feeds,” she says.
Kaburu adds that the small industries can also add value to camel milk which is also being converted into powder for longer preservation and packaged, chicken and camel meat.
She says that USAID supported local industries in the production and packaging of nyirinyiri, a local delicacy made of camel meat.
Economic diversification is a key aspect of building resilience among communities, according to USAID LMS Chief of Party Joe Sanders, adding that diversification would enhance access to lucrative markets.
He added that the program is supporting over 561,000 people in Isiolo, Garissa, Marsabit, Samburu, Wajir, and Turkana counties to withstand adversities and reduce poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
Out of a target of 5,755 small-scale food and livestock traders, he added, 4,195 comprising 1,196 men and 2,999 women, had been supported through cash transfers to boost food availability and trade.