We visited Francis Wanjohi, a small scale dairy farmer, in Kenya’ central region, who has succeeded in increasing his income by cleverly keeping fewer dairy cows, taking advantage of a local cooperative to market milk and practicing mixed cropping.
When the return on a certain investments is high, we naturally tend to want to invest more in the same thing in order to reap more benefits. Perhaps, buy more stocks, more land, etc. Believe it or not, this is not the case for small scale dairy farmers. In consideration of labor and limited land, keeping fewer cows and feeding them better gives more returns, in milk production. It’s a challenging message that EADD preaches, but some farmers are adopting it with beautiful testimonies.
In 2010, Francis faced a difficult milk production and marketing dilemma. He had two cross-bred freshian cows, but their milk production was low. He used a traditional grazing system, and each cow gave an average of 5 liters of milk in a good day. A friesian cow can produce up to 40 litres per day. He let the cows graze around the family compound, and unknown to him this method of grazing meant that the cows expended a lot of energy. They were not healthy and required regular treatment for ticks. His turning point however was when milk vendors “took off” with his money and as a result he joined Mweiga cooperative, a partner of EADD, even though he was “skeptical of cooperatives.” It was the additional services offered by the cooperative hub model that delighted Francis the most. He accessed dairy extension information hitherto unknown to him, market for his produce, and an expansive social network of other farmers like himself.These, he says, has enriched his enterprising small dairy business which lies on a 5 acre piece of land located in Nyeri County, Kenya’s Central province. He keeps two cows, ideally his farm can keep 5 (one acre for each cow), but two is his magic number because, “I want to farm other crops and there is money in milk, if you do it right.”
With advice from the cooperative extension officer, Francis put up modern cattle paddock and learned to mix cost effective feeds on the farm. The change was soon visible; his cows were healthier and produced more milk. “I now milk an average of 32 litres of milk a day from the two cows. They are healthier too…” he says animatedly pointing to the shiny black and white cows mouthing off shredded hay. Planting and conserving his own fodder like calliandra, lucern and napier reduced his production cost as, “dairy meal is expensive, but I learned to make my own rich feed on farm cutting down on costs. I only feed them on dairy meal occasionally and for additional nutrients.” Francis informs us that he has no intention of increasing his herd, and instead wants to apply lessons learned in feeding so that his cows increase milk production to at least “25 litres each. I trust Mweiga will market the milk so I don’t have to worry.” His decision is backed by EADD feed specialist Josephine Kirui who advises, “one dairy cow should have an equivalent of one acre of land for feeds and fodder in an year.” This ensures that the environment is well taken care of and that the dairy cows, which are heavy feeders, produce to their maximum.
Cooperatives as marketing avenues
“The cooperative sells the milk on my behalf and I access feeds and drugs from the cooperative agro-vet on credit. I also didn’t have to worry about days when milk was not collected as the cooperative had a collection point near my home; all that is required of me is to deliver the milk by 5.00am. To ensure the farmers deliver quality milk that fetch competitive rates, the Mweiga Cooperative trained farmers on basics of milk hygiene, handling, and milking techniques to reduce contamination. Francis shares that he invested in metal cans and a good salve and as a result, “my milk has never been rejected at the collection center.” The return on investment on social capital is the ability of farmer that EADD works with to access other social benefits. For Francis, increased income has enabled him see his two children through high school. “I also built a new house,” he says proudly.
Francis is one of the 2275 members of the Mweiga Cooperative Society in Kenya’s Central province through which they supply their milk to the market. Mweiga Cooperative Society is one of EADD’s 21 partner cooperatives in Kenya, and part of Kieni Dairy Products Limited. The members of the cooperative have been trained on feeding and feed preservation and also on breeding by the East Africa Dairy Development project extension officials.