Milk prices have risen sharply following persistent drought in many parts of the country, dealing a blow to consumers who are already grappling with the high cost of living.
Kenyans will have to do with higher prices, especially for processed milk, and intermittent shortages due to a drop of 30-50 per cent in production.
Farmers who spoke to The Standard, however, claimed farm gate prices have stagnated at between Sh38 and Sh45 per litre of raw milk, despite the current increase in retail prices.
A spot check by The Standard in Eldoret town found various milk processors have adjusted their prices by between Sh3 and Sh5 for a 500ml packet of fresh and long-life milk.
At the New Yako supermarket, a 500ml pack of KCC and Brookside milk brands was selling at Sh58 compared to Sh51 and Sh52 last month. A litre of UHT milk sold at Sh225, Brookside at Sh160 and Tuzo at Sh145.
A manager at the supermarket, Mr Francis Mberia, said the supply of milk has dropped sharply while demand is high and difficult to meet.
“This is the only stock we have and we are not sure when we will get more,” he said.
“The milk distributors are citing scarcity and low production by the farmers as the reason for the low supply.”
Mr Mberia said if the shortage continues, the supermarket will be forced to ration the quantity of milk that can be purchased by one customer to ensure others also get the commodity.
Officials of Tuiyo Co-operative Society at Kipkenyo, Uasin Gishu County, said milk production had dropped drastically.
Chairman Mr Paul Siret said some farmers who were selling milk to the co-operative society have even stopped since the production has gone down.
He said the co-operative would receive 1,500 litres of milk per day during the peak season but with the drought, farmers can barely raise 850 litres.
“The cooling plant that we have here has a capacity to hold about 3,200 litres of milk but now we cannot fill the plant’s capacity,” Mr Siret said.
“With the drought, we have to hold milk for two days before we can deliver it to the processors.”
He said although the milk prices have increased in the shops, farmers are barely getting more from processors who have continued to buy their milk at the same price.
Kenya Dairy Board Managing Director Ms Margaret Kibogy told The Standard the milk shortage is attributed to the ongoing dry spell across the country, especially in areas where cows are grazed.
The shortage had also led to the depletion of national milk reserves, she said. “The milk that is now available is just enough for farm-to-glass since there is no surplus to process into long life, butter, ghee and cheese,” Ms Kibogy said.
However, in areas that practice intense production systems such as Kiambu, Meru and a few farmers in the Rift Valley, the production has remained constant.
Mr Kimutai Maiyo, a dairy farmer in Moiben, said the drought has dealt him a big blow given that his water well had run dry.
“It is difficult to get water for my cows since the rivers that would provide water for the animals as they graze are now dry,” he said.
“Our wells are also dry and we have to fetch water from our neighbours. The grazing fields are also dry and the feeds are very expensive.”
In Meru, dairy farmer Mr Charles Mutwiri has high-yielding cows, most releasing up to 20 litres a day, but that has gone down due to the changing diet.
“There has been no rain, meaning fodder is hard to come by. In addition to buying bags of dairy meal every two weeks, we buy maize, molasses and other ingredients to do silage,” he said.
Mr Mutwiri said he spends up to Sh50,000 for the maize, grass and others for the silage. He sells the milk to various consumers between Sh40 and Sh45 a litre, and some to neighbours.
Milk production has dropped by 50 per cent in Murang’a County following a severe shortage of pasture.
Low income for farmers
Chairman of Nginda Dairy Co-operative Society Mr Jesse Maina said lack of fodder has led to reduced milk production, and thus lower income for the farmers.
“We have registered low payment from our business due to the drought,” he said. Farmers in Laikipia East and Laikipia North sub-counties face major challenges following delayed rains since last year.
One of them, Mr Francis Macharia, said the cost of livestock feed has contributed to the low production.
“The government should come to the rescue of the farmers who are in agony due to the lack of fodder and water for their animals,” he said.
Elsewhere in Nyeri County, Mr Peter Njoroge from Mukurweini Constituency is a worried farmer as he has started rationing his feed, which has resulted in a drop in milk production from his high-grade animals.
At Demka Dairies in Othaya Constituency, Mr Thomas Chege said the company had experienced a decline in milk intake from farmers who supply the processor.
“Production is dropping and demand is high,” he said.
Mr Chege said the cost of production had also been affected by the increase in fuel prices and the processors had increased the price of the products by Sh10.
“We have been forced to increase the price of our products and push the same to our clients,” he said.
“Farmers produce less milk and the cost of production is high, there is no option but to pass it on to the consumers.”
?The dairy board’s Ms Kibogy said Kenya is not importing long-life milk from other countries as would be the case in such circumstances.
“We are better off since the shortage is coming at the tail end of the dry season. Last year, the drought came earlier around January and February,” she said.
The regulator asked consumers not to worry since the rains are likely to come in about three weeks, and the country will have enough milk.