Every end month at the branches of Equity and Cooperative banks in Kajiado town, you will find in the halls long queues of women resplendent in multi-coloured shukas, bracelets and necklaces.
Two tellers in each of the banks are normally assigned to serve the women. At the Kenya Commercial Bank branch in Namanga, more than 80km away, things are not any different.
The women who throng the banks belong to the giant Maasai Kajiado Women Dairy Cooperative Ltd, an outfit that has changed the lives of dairy farmers in the county where cattle is the most precious property.
For most of the population, though, livestock here - cattle, goats and sheep - are kept in their hundreds for prestige.
But pride and honour are not enough for this women. They now throng the banks to receive their pay for monthly milk deliveries.
Milk in the Maasai community is purely a women’s affair, and so is this cooperative society’s management.
The institution’s turnover has shot from Sh59 million in 2012 to Sh87 million last year. Started in 2011, their first turn-over was Sh10 million, according to documents seen by Seeds of Gold.
The 5,000-member cooperative brings together seven women groups that deal in milk business in Kajiado Central. Interesting to note is the manner the institution manages its affairs. The women groups deliver milk to eight collection centres spread across the vast constituency.
“We deliver the milk between 6am and 2pm. Our members chose one of them to be in charge of the collection centres but a clerk manages the records at the cooling plants,” says Phyllis Matapash, the secretary of Ilkipirash Women Group, which has 1,000 members.
Initially, they had leased two cooling plants from New KCC. The County Government of Kajiado, however, recently donated two more. The cooling plants located at Enkorika Nkoile, Il Bissil and Kajiado town, have bettered the handling of milk, which is finally taken to the New KCC factory at Dandora.
The four cooling plants have a capacity of 20,000 litres per day but the women are capable of producing 40,000 litres, according to the cooperative’s field officer Zacheus Lesinko.
At the moment, milk prices range from Sh25 to Sh35 a litre, according to Ruth Maya, a member of Ilkipirash group, who delivers 150 litres per day from her 25 Sahiwal breed cows.
“We deliver as a group about 7,000 litres of milk per day during the peak season,” says Mary Maren, another member of the group and an official of the cooperative.
The cooperative insists that each of the farmers opens a bank account.
“All the 5,000 members have bank accounts from where they can withdraw money or borrow short-term loans to finance education of their children, particularly girls. It is our ultimate goal to empower the girl child,” says Hellen Nkaissery, the patron and wife of the local MP Joseph Nkaissery.
In the region, the Sahiwal breed which is productively better than the local Zebu and Boran cows seem to be the dominant “animal of trade” even as the women set eyes on more improved breeds.
But how did these women brave the resistance from their husbands who naturally wanted to stick to the traditional zebus for prestige that comes with numbers?
“Women got the go-ahead, especially after our husbands saw the fruits of the change,” says Mary.
The cows, though, are yet to gain from seriously organised management programmes. “We herd them in the traditional style, but ensure we rotate in paddocks to have pasture throughout.”
Mary says they are now embarking on pasture growing to ensure their milk production is not affected.
Initially, the farmers used to milk their cows and hawk the produce from home to home at Sh20 a litre.
But now after milking, they deliver the produce in cans to collection points where it is checked for quality and the quantity is recorded.
“The cooperative has given the farmers a forum to discuss and exchange experiences and network. It has also given them bargaining power since they can even dictate the prices,” says Hellen.
“With the county government coming in and giving them cooling plants, they can sell their milk to KCC and other buyers.”
Hellen notes they have strived to upgrade the handling of milk to enhance hygiene. “We insist that our members use aluminium containers and not the plastic ones to increase the life of the milk,” she explains.
Poor road network, however, has become a hindrance for the women who are forced to use motorbikes to deliver milk from their homes.
Governor David Nkedianye says there is a plan to rehabilitate rural roads to ease the transport problem.
“Our support began with the donation of the two cooling plants. Then we will move to the roads. Already, we have donated a piece of land in Kajiado town to have the women construct their head office,” Dr Nkedianye says.
The cooperative is in the county government’s economic empowerment programme. The County Executive in-charge of Trade, Tourism, Cooperatives and Industrialisation Florence Mutua says the cooperative has a real potential to turn around the local economy.
“We have set aside about Sh50 million to support the women and others. Our key objective with this dairy project is to ensure they produce milk throughout the year and not just when it is raining,” says Florence.
The officer says plan is underway to have the women adopt new breeds and modern farming practices like zero-graxing. “We want to have more paddocks and plant exotic grass to boost milk production.”