Smallholder Dairy Producers In Kenya Realize Higher Income From Better Feeding Practices
More than 80 percent of the 5.5 billion liters of milk produced each year in Kenya comes from dairy cows managed by smallholders who typically keep only one or two dairy cows per household. The USAID Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (KAVES) Project, implemented by Fintrac and part of the Feed the Future initiative, is working with smallholder dairy households in mostly non-traditional dairy areas to increase milk productivity per cow resulting in higher incomes and increased milk consumption. Families in these zones are characterized by significant levels of poverty and malnutrition in women and children under five. With the application of best practices in animal health and feeding, dairy cows owned by more than 53,000 farmers in the KAVES target zones have been able to produce 9 to 12 liters per day, almost double the baseline of 5.46 liters. Well-managed crossbred and hybrid cows are expected to produce upwards of 20 liters daily that, taken together with other improved practices, will generate a gross margin of nearly $5 per day.
The majority of farmers in the semi-arid regions of the KAVES zone of influence rely on rain-fed pastures and green fodder grasses to feed their cows. This practice results in low milk productivity as seasonal deficiencies in forage provide inadequate feed and nutrient intake for cows. To alleviate these shortfalls, KAVES-assisted farmers are increasing fodder crop production and conservation, using high-nutrient indigenous grasses, introducing improved grass varieties, making better use of existing crop residues from maize and sweet potato vines, and increasing adoption of protein-rich legumes such as Leucaena.
Beatrice Bii is a farmer typical of the smallholders assisted by KAVES. After learning and applying better dairy management practices, the total production of her two cows increased from 18 to 28 liters per day. Now, she sells 25 liters per day for $10.50, while the rest is consumed at home. The Ochi Dairy Group in Kericho, through which Mrs. Bii markets her milk, has increased its total sales of milk by 90 percent, including 1,000 liters sold as yogurt each week.
Smallholders like Mrs. Bii understand that to achieve higher milk production while keeping production costs low, they need to feed their cows more high-quality forage throughout the year. This demand for quality forage by smallholders has spurred a growing market for cultivated fodder using highly nutritious and improved exotic grasses, as well as indigenous local grass species. Farmer groups, individual farmers, and institutions with tracts of unused land are realizing the opportunities that the demand from market-linked dairy farmers represents. As a result, a corollary fodder crop market has emerged with more than 5,000 farmers planting 12,500 acres of fodder resulting in 5,600 bales of improved grasses and legumes valued at KES 1.23 billion, or $125,400. KAVES has partnered with county governments and farmers groups to set up at least 80 “fodder stores,” each with a holding capacity ranging from 1,000 - 20,000 bales of fodder.
KAVES is pioneering the adoption of new technologies and systems for smallholder producers of crops and milk to reduce labor costs, improve product quality, and increase yields. One example is the promotion of total mixed rations (TMR). In coordination with extension agents and dairy cooperative technicians, the TMR approach utilizes knowledge of dairy cow dietary requirements and low-cost technologies to formulate and produce a nutritionally balanced feed mix from locally available ingredients. Chaff cutters and pulverizers reduce feed components to small particles, allowing for consistent mixing of dietary ingredients and better cow intake. To date, 110 pulverizers have been purchased by farmer organizations, benefitting more than 20,000 smallholder producer households.
The combination of low-cost, quality fodder provides smallholders with the opportunity to realize high returns from investment in other ways too, as well-fed cows not only produce more milk, but also have higher rates of conception. KAVES is helping improve Kenya’s dairy sector through the provision of artificial insemination (AI) services to improve the genetic quality of dairy breeds throughout the country. KAVES has organized training services to 46 new and 104 existing AI technicians. As a result, conception rates at KAVES-assisted dairy farms have risen to more than 80 percent with 10,700 inseminations, 20 percent greater than the national average of 60 percent, and on par with success rates in the US and Europe.
Overall, KAVES assistance has greatly benefitted smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya. Smallholders working with the program are realizing incomes of $2.50 per day per cow, up from a baseline of $1, and household milk consumption has doubled from 1.5 to 3 liters per household. Through these achievements, KAVES is demonstrating that even smallholders like Mrs. Bii with her two cows are capable of producing milk volumes that can drive households out of poverty and improve family nutrition.
Joyce Mutua is the Technical Director for Dairy at the KAVES project, implemented by Fintrac.