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Use innovative, climate-smart agriculture for food security

Wednesday July 18 2018
FARM

Livestock farmer and milk producer Gerard Hartveld, 52, poses next to his Red Holstein cows in his farm in Nieuwveen, Netherlands, on August 4, 2017. PHOTO | CHARLOTTE VAN OUWERKERK | AFP

By PETER WARUTERE

Kenya is one of the leading milk producers in Africa but the performance of the local dairy industry needs to be enhanced by fixing weaknesses in the milk value chain.

The country’s global ranking in milk production is impressive in only one respect — the population of dairy cows. It has the sixth largest number of dairy cows, according to a report by Compassion in World Farming, a United Kingdom charity. India leads with 43.6 million dairy cows, or 16.5 per cent, followed by Brazil, Sudan, China and Pakistan.

Kenya’s dairy cow population is 9.35 million, or 3.5 per cent of the world total. These statistics are a few years old but the trend most likely hasn’t changed much.

Kenya fails the score of how much these dairy animals produce and the average yield per cow.

LACTATION PERIOD

While the world achieves an annual average of 2,200 litres per cow, Kenya’s average is reported as 1,000 litres per cow or just over three litres a day during a normal lactation period.

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The top performers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia achieve an annual average of over 10,000 litres per cow.

The game changer for the developed nations is adoption of climate smart agriculture and innovation.

In Netherlands, for instance, which produces an average of 7,200 litres per cow, modern dairy farming techniques adopted by climate smart farms are paying huge dividends.

On a visit to Netherlands last week, one of the leading dairy farms, Landleven in Waarder, demonstrated how innovation and energy neutral technologies have rapidly scaled up efficiency in dairy farming.

Two brothers, Adrie and Bert Vollering, manage 220 dairy cows on 100 hectares of land without any workers. They achieve an average of 9,500 litres of milk per cow a year or 28 litres a day—with the best cows producing 40-50 litres a day.

AUTOMATED SYSTEMS

Automated systems controlled from computers and mobile apps feed the cows, milk them, monitor their movements and clean the cow sheds.

The cows choose when to be milked, induced by milk pressure and concentrates provided during milking.

Intelligent robots milk the cows and if a cow walks into the milking shed just to eat the concentrates when it’s not ready for milking, the system fails to engage and the cow moves on.

The lesson for Kenya from the Netherlands experience is simple. Improving the efficiency of dairy farming is an important building block to food and nutrition security.

Moving up the dairy value chain would raise Kenya’s output closer to the world average, give dairy farmers higher incomes and increase food and nutrition to consumers at competitive prices.

Fixing inefficiencies in the farm model won’t be easy considering that unlike Netherlands and the Western world where farming is commercialized under a few large-scale farmers, over 90 percent of Kenya’s national milk output is produced by over 1.8 million smallholder dairy farmers.

TECHNOLOGY

This limits the extent to which they can invest in technology to improve their value chains, unless assisted with technical and financial support.

The other problem is how the milk is delivered to consumers. While in Netherlands over 90 percent of the milk is processed and marketed through formal market outlets, over 80 percent of Kenya’s milk is sold raw on the farms and in informal markets. Only 400-600 million litres out of 3-4 billion litres a year are delivered to milk processing firms.

This breeds a serious problem of contamination of raw milk during handling from the farm to the consumers.

Better management of the dairy industry, by providing incentives to farmers to adopt technology and deliver their produce to processing factories, would expand the growth of the dairy sector and expand job opportunities.

PROCESSED MILK

The sector contributes 4.5 percent to Kenya’s gross domestic product, according to a 2014 market report by the Ministry of Agriculture, together with Kenya Dairy Board, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and agencies supporting the sector. It can do better and contribute more to manufacturing value added.

Increasing supply and consumption of processed milk would improve food and nutrition. It would contribute to food safety and better health outcomes by reducing illnesses that are caused by consumption of contaminated milk.

Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Investments Ltd, [email protected] The Netherlands experience is from a tour sponsored by the Netherlands Government through its Embassy in Nairobi, in partnership with Netherlands Enterprise Agency

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