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How to correct what is ailing the dairy sector

Wednesday August 14 2019

A man delivers milk to a collection point for subsequent delivery to a processing plant.

A man delivers milk to a collection point for subsequent delivery to a processing plant. To attain and increase the volumes of processed milk to over a billion litres by 2022, the government should address the challenges of seasonality, low productivity, high cost of feeds and increased competition for land caused by the property market. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

DONATUS NJOROGE
By DONATUS NJOROGE
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Kenya takes pride in having the largest dairy industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. The sector grew tremendously since its liberalisation in the 1990s, leading to rapid growth of the informal milk trade.

Milk intake by the formal sector went down due to unpredictable prices, mismanagement and delayed payment by the processors.

Dairy co-operatives, which used to be an integral part of the formal milk collection and marketing, were reduced to buyers of last resort.

The revival of the Dandora, Sotik and Eldoret New Kenya Cooperative Creameries processing plants rekindles more hope to small-scale dairy farmers, who make up to 80 per cent of total dairy producers and produce 56 per cent of total milk.

The farmers are constrained by expensive feeds and supplements, delayed payments, poor rural infrastructure, lack of collateral for loans, low technical skills on husbandry practices, reduced access to veterinary and artificial insemination services.

Yet the dairy sector is significant as it offers opportunities for employment along the value chain from drivers, mechanics, milk vendors, retailers, farmers and processors.

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Kenya Dairy Board’s 2018 data shows that the milk volumes are from 4.2 million hybrid cattle, 14 million Zebu, 2.9 million camels and 400,000 dairy goats.

In line with Food and Agriculture Organisation projections, by 2050, the demand for milk in Kenya will increase to 13.3 billion litres annually.

COMPETITIVE DAIRY HUBS

To attain and increase the volumes of processed milk to over a billion litres in 2022, the government should address the challenges of seasonality, low productivity, high cost of feeds and increased competition for land caused by the property market.

Second, the poor organisation of the dairy farmers can be addressed through formidable and well-structured co-operatives, companies and self-help groups so that they have the capacity to be integrated with financial institutions to acquire credit and be provided with check-off systems.

Githunguri in Kiambu county is a practical case study of how a community-based initiative can revolutionise the dairy industry.

Nearly every homestead there has a zero-grazing unit, with the milk ending up at Githunguri Dairy Farmers Co-operative Society.

Further, through public-private partnership, the government should initiate competitive dairy hubs to provide market access for the milk co-operatives and associations.

These hubs will have chilling plants for storage of milk and shall be centres of milk quality assurance and compliance, thus preventing milk aggregation among the unscrupulous traders.

Already, there is goodwill from the national government to promote the dairy sector through its programme to procure and distribute 900 milk coolers to dairy groups countrywide.

Lastly, as an incentive to the local farming communities to improve the quality of raw milk, the processors should adopt quality-based milk payment system as opposed to the current scenario where farmers are paid based on volume only.

In the wake of food safety concerns in the country, farmers should be rewarded with bonuses for producing quality milk.

Njoroge is an innovator working at Mount Kenya University, [email protected]