Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dairy farmers beat brokers to wealth

Sebastian Kamau, the Wecha Dairies Cooperative Ltd chairman, a Small holder dairying group in Karunga, Nakuru on February 6, 2014. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATTIAH

Sebastian Kamau, the Wecha Dairies Cooperative Ltd chairman, a Small holder dairying group in Karunga, Nakuru on February 6, 2014. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATTIAH 

By RACHEL KIBUI
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A group of dairy farmers in Bahati, Nakuru County, is reaping dividend after forming a cooperative society.

For decades, the members had learned from the best. The small-scale dairy farmers sold their produce through middle-men and private processors, earning peanuts.

It was amid this suffering that about 50 farmers came together to market their produce through a community based organisation which they later turned into a cooperative society. Today, their proceeds have almost doubled, just a year after joining hands.

In 2012, Wecha Dairy Co-operative Limited was established with an aim of freeing farmers from Wendo and Chania sub-locations from the grip of the profit-sapping brokers and private milk processors.

By selling milk as a group, close to 200 farmers are now enjoying the fruits of their decision: “We used to sell a litre of milk at Sh19 to processors while brokers bought at Sh17 for the same volume,” said Mr Sebastian Kamau, the cooperative’s chairman.

Through their network, the smallholder farmers are now fetching as much as Sh32 per litre of milk.

According to Mr Kamau, the cooperative has secured a sustainable buyer, Jolly Farm, a Nakuru-based dairy products company.

“We sell the milk at Sh40, and pay the farmers their dues while the rest is spent on running the cooperative,” he told Money.

For decades, Mr Joseph Kiragu, a dairy farmer and member of the group had been a ‘slave’ of milk brokers: “They would buy the produce from me at a price they dictated regardless of how much profit I would make.”

And as if that was not enough, the brokers would tamper with the capacity of the containers they were using to buy milk in order to accommodate more volume. That way, a five-litre container would end up accommodating at least six litres yet Mr Kiragu just like the other farmers would be paid for five litres.

“I had no alternative yet dairy farming has been part of my life,” he said.

Through the cooperative society, however, he is now able to make over 10 times what he used to realise before. His monthly income has increased to Sh34,000 from Sh3,300.

As she collected her last week’s pay, Ms Rose Wangui was all smiles: “I used to lose between 0.1 and 0.2 litres of milk per litre when selling to brokers,” she said, adding, “currently, my produce is measured ‘digitally’ meaning I get what is due to me.”

Other than seeing her income rise, Ms Wangui can now access animal feed and mineral supplement for her cows on credit.

Women, according to the cooperative chairman, have been benefiting for taking their payment on weekly basis, a system that sees them meet their regular contributions at chamas and other investment schemes where they are members.

Like in many places, women in this area run chamas but they would spend money each time milk brokers paid on daily basis, in turn defaulting the weekly payments.

“Most of the women come to collect money around the time chamas’ contributions are due,” said Mr Kamau.

Last year, Wecha Dairy Cooperative was among 15 small-scale groups which benefited from Micro Enterprise Support Programme Trust, an organisation that gives financial assistance to milk farmers.

The group got Sh8 million grant which was spent on buying a 5,000-litre cooling plant and other equipment. Part of the money has also been used in training community members on the need to sell milk as a group rather than as individuals.

The cooperative has 104 members at the moment and other 80 farmers are currently on contract terms awaiting to be roped in the business on full-time basis.

The cooperative management has plans to put in place mechanisms that would see farmers access loans as well as artificial insemination and other dairy farming services at affordable costs.

The cooperative also has an alternative income stream as it manufactures milking jelly which is sold at Sh100 per 200 grammes against the prevailing market price of Sh250 for the same volume.

“We want to raise the living standards by ensuring that dairy farmers make maximum income from this business,” said Mr Kamau.

He asked the county government to repair roads in the area noting that most of them are impassable especially during the rain seasons.

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