The East Africa Dairy Development Project’s interventions to improve dairy production is transforming the lives of smallholder farmers like Florence Chepkirui, a visually impaired resident of Saoset village of Bomet district in Kenya’s south Rift Valley region. The district has a wonderful climate and beautiful farms on rolling hills and valleys. Florence is a shareholder at the Sot Dairy Company which owns the 6,0000- liter capacity milk cooling plant in the area. The cooling plant started its operations in late 2009 and was officially launched in December 2009.
As a shareholder in the cooling plant I feel part of the good things that are happening to our milk business. We have seen many benefits like increased milk production and more money from selling our milk. Our families also benefit from better nutrition
Florence’s two-acre farm supports subsistence crop farming, two dairy cows and fodder that the cows feed on. Florence is one of many smallholder farmers in Saoset and despite her blindness, she is earning a decent living from dairy farming. She is also a member of the Sot Kobor women group where she and other women have joined forces to improve their lives through dairy farming activities. The group consists of 65 other visually impaired women.
Many dairy farmers here are smallholders who keep a few cows in small pieces of land that average about 3 acres. Most of the farming is of a mixed system that also includes tea growing and farming subsistence crops. For a long time, the region’s dairying potential was well known but not realized, but the entry of EADD there is leading to a change in perception about dairy farming and allowing poor farmers to benefit from it.
‘I learnt how to manage my cows especially better feeding for increased milk production from the EADD project staff,’ says Florence who received her first cow from Heifer International. Florence is only able to keep one cow at any given time but she has sold over 6 calves in the past 11 years and passed on the gift of one calf to another poor family. She used most of the income from selling the calves to pay for a tailoring course and set up a tailoring business which she runs in a shop near her home.
‘Just after calving, the cow produces 16 litres of milk, but at the moment, she is producing 12 litres,’ she says. Florence uses 5 litres of the milk at home and the rest is taken to the milk cooling plant. ‘I used to sell most of my milk to informal traders before the Sot cooler plant was established, but income is much better now compared to selling to traders,’ she says.
Florence earns Ksh 19 (US$ 0.23) for every litre of milk delivered to the plant compared to Ksh 10 (US$ 0.12) hawkers paid her for the same amount of milk. Most dairy farmers relied on hawking milk before the establishment of the cooler which did not guarantee regular or good returns.
The Sot cooling plant is one of the biggest changes in the village in the recent past and dairy farmers have benefited greatly from its presence. ‘As a shareholder in the cooling plant I feel part of the good things that are happening to our milk business. We have seen many benefits like increased milk production and more money from selling our milk. Our families also benefit from better nutrition,’ Florence says.
Trainings and farmers visits facilitated by EADD are helping farmers in Saoset understand the importance of keeping healthy animals for increased milk production. Currently, EADD is facilitating breeding programs to improve cow breeds and many farmers are enthusiastic about the future of the dairy industry in Bomet. And many have put their hopes in Sot Dairy in which they see an opportunity of having a sustainable income and moving them out of poverty.
Paul Karaimu of ILRI contributed to this story.