Inside the makeshift structure made of wood and iron sheets in Meru are stacks of bags of dairy meal and other animal products, waiting to be transported to various agro-dealers for sale.
Walking inside the structure, one gets a feeling that they are in a major animal feeds producer, save for the temporary warehouse.
However, this structure belongs to MeSlopes, a dairy farmers’ chama in the agriculturally rich county that is producing animal feeds for sale.
“We started with only four members in 2015,” Joseph Mutwiri, the group’s chair and one of the founders recounts.
“Then we went for farmers who were producing at least 50 litres a day and were determined to double their volumes.”
Some 30 dairy farmers signed up to be members of MeSlopes, enabling the outfit to take off after it was registered with the social services as a self-help group.
The group developed a constitution that outlined their activities, stated objectives, rules to deal with banking, accounting and auditing, among others.
The outfit is headed by an executive committee, helped by the management, development, welfare and marketing committees, which each member belonging to one.
“We agreed to contribute Sh5,000 a month to act as savings. With the money, we were able get resources to fund training for our members by SNV dairy specialists on different aspects of farming, feed making was one of them,” says Mutwiri.
Among the aspects of dairy farming they were trained on were fodder growing and preservation and how members can preserve their own semen to ensure quality breeds.
Armed with the knowledge, the group’s next step was then to tackle challenges they had one by one, which included poor quality breeds, low quality feeds and marketing issues.
The fruits of their training started to manifest as members’ total milk production rose from about 1,000 litres a day to 2,000 litres.
They sell their milk mainly to Meru Union, a dairy processor, and to Moran Ltd in Nanyuki at between Sh40 and Sh43.
To start feeds production, the group contracted two specialists trained in animal feed making and milling to work with them on commercialising the business.
But before that, they purchased several equipment including a weighing machine, a power mill – for crushing, and a mixture machine and got a license from the local authorities.
“After registration we took samples of our products to the Kenya Bureau of Standards for analysis. Among the things they were checking before we got certification were that the feeds should be free of contaminants and have the right protein level,” says Zipporah Ariithi, a member of MeSlopes.
They started processing the feeds in February 2016, after setting up the processing unit near the Kenya Methodist University, Meru, ploughing into the business Sh5 million in total to top up on their Sh500,000 contribution.
They source their raws material both in and out of the country.
“We source some materials like omena locally from the lake region while others like maize bran, maize germ, cotton seed cake and sunflower seed cake are imported from Uganda and Tanzania,” says Ariithi.
They currently produce three to four tonnes of dairy feeds in a day. A 10kg bag of dairy meal goes for Sh350, 20kg Sh700, and 70kg Sh2400.
The group which has two permanent employees and three casuals sells the produce to members at a subsidised rate offering them easier access to feeds.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
“We offer the feeds to our animals, so other farmers cannot complain of low quality since we also use the same as members and our production is high,” says Mutwiri.
Their challenges include poor quality materials for making animal feeds, where some suppliers can sometimes deliver products attacked by aflatoxin, which is toxic to animals.
Gladys Miriti, the chief executive of Grassroots Development Initiative Foundation–Kenya, says for chamas to survive, members should have training on issues of leadership, governance (which is quite critical), recordkeeping and group dynamism.
“Appointed leaders should also be committed to the focus and vision of the group. The top leader should be one who shares members’ values.”
Transparency and accountability is also key for the group to remain intact.
“The leaders should also be trained on the issues of conflict management as complaints will always arise in a group and how leaders handle them is what matters,” she says, adding should be knowledgeable so that they have capacity to think broadly on how the group can progress.
They include how a group can get good market, credit, certified seeds or materials for making feeds and they should also update members on what is happening.
The group hopes that in the next few years, they would be selling their dairy meal across the country, competing with the big boys.