The Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) is urging farmers to join cooperative societies to boost their incomes and prevent exploitation by middlemen.
According to the Director in charge of Operations and Regulatory Department at the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) Dr William Maritim, the cooperative sector has evolved over the past two decades into a key cog that turns the wheels of the dairy industry in Kenya by extending its business beyond the primary role of marketing milk for small-holder farmers and venturing into provision of financial services.
Dr Maritim said through bulking, co-operatives have been able to reduce the cost of milk marketing and enabled farmers to realise higher returns through provision of a reliable and remunerative outlet for milk.
“Liberalization of milk marketing and withdrawal of many government technical services as part of industry reforms two decades ago forced dairy co-operative societies to assume a greater role in these areas. Today, a number of groups have also set up agro-vet services where members access inputs on credit, recoverable from proceeds of milk deliveries. Dairy groups are also playing a role in empowerment through training,” he added.
Addressing farmers, exhibitors and agricultural extension officers during the Nakuru Annual Agricultural exhibition held at the Agricultural Training Center, the Director also noted cooperatives were the only structured channels through which the national and county governments could support smallholder dairy farmers in value addition, accessing quality equipment and affordable credit facilities and procuring superior breeds among other benefits.
“Kenya’s dairy sector is estimated at 14 percent of the country’s agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). Milk is primarily produced by smallholder farmers who account for 56 percent of total output. Joining cooperatives will enable small holder farmers to bulk their milk and gain higher bargaining power for the commodity and enable them hold capacity building forums among themselves,” Dr Maritim pointed out.
Records from KDB estimate that the sector has 1.8 million smallholder farmers (about 80 percent of producers). The remaining 44 percent of milk output comes from commercial farmers.
Dr Maritim said that Nakuru was one of the highest milk yielding counties with over 451,000 dairy cows which has increased milk production from 3.5 million two years ago to the current 3.9 million litres of milk per year.
He singled out poor animal breeds, high cost of feed and treatment as some of the major challenges that have dampened the multibillion-shilling dairy industry in the country.
The exhibition was organized by Nakuru county government in collaboration with the State Department of Agriculture and the Kenya National Farmers Federation (KENAFF)
Dr Maritim called for partnerships between various State agencies, research institutions, manufacturers of animal feeds and breeders among others aimed at improving milk production by focusing on the value chain from breeding, feeding and treatment of animals and marketing of milk.
“All stakeholders in the dairy sub sector should put in place mechanisms that ensure that farmers embrace improved health technologies, quality breeds through artificial insemination (AI) and minimize health challenges affecting animals,” said Dr Maritim.
“This will also improve diet diversity, food security and rural incomes of 1.8 million smallholder households countrywide,” he added.
He stated that Kenya has three main production systems: Intensive production where animals are fully housed (zero-grazed); open grazing where they roam fields; and semi-intensive systems where animals are partly zero-grazed and taken to fields.
Dr Maritim noted that farmers were grappling with low quality and adulterated feed adding that improving the quality of fodder significantly improves milk productivity.
He regretted that feed prices have continued to rise even after the government waived the duty on imported raw materials and that the rising costs of commercial feeds drove the cost of production up.
“The cost of feed and fodder varies by the production system. In intensive production systems, feed and fodder account for 55 percent of the cost of producing a litre of milk, while it’s 44 percent in open grazing systems and 37 percent in semi-intensive systems. For producers under intensive systems, the high costs erode profitability despite productivity being highest,” he observed.
The director underscored the need to train small holder farmers to use portions of their farms to grow fodder crops instead of relying on commercial feeds
Dr Maritim revealed that there were more than five million dairy cattle producing an estimated four billion litres of milk annually and milk production was projected to grow by about 150 percent by 2050.
“One of the challenges we are grappling with in all our major milk production areas is widespread genetic erosion due to use of poor quality genetics. This explains why KDB supports interventions such as that provided by Kenya Animal Genetic Resource Centre (KAGRC) in the improvement of dairy breeds for increased milk production,” Dr Maritim said
The director observed that improving regulation and supervision of insemination, and enhancing the supply of supporting infrastructure such as semen storage would improve the genetic composition of dairy animals.
County Chief Officer for Livestock and Fisheries Dr Enos Amuyunzu said that the devolved unit was supporting growth of the subsector through free vaccination programmes targeting dairy animals.
To support cooperatives in value addition, Dr Amuyunzu stated that the county government has distributed milk coolers to cooperatives which have helped reduce losses.
The Chief Officer indicated that poor access to capital for both farmers and value chain actors was hampering critical investments in the industry.
“The county administration has been committed to improved rural roads network which previously adversely affected the collection and delivery of milk, especially during the rainy seasons,” Dr Amuyunzu added.
Kenya has the highest per capita milk consumption in sub-Saharan Africa, at 110 litres. The demand, currently at eight billion litres, is also expected to grow with the population increase.
The government has prioritized the industry in national strategy and plans such as the Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (2019-2029) and the President’s Big Four Agenda. There’s also a Dairy Master Plan to guide the development of the industry up to 2030.
By Elizabeth Simiyu and Mercy Syombua