The dairy sector plays a pivotal role in socio-economic and food security development of small-scale Kenyan farmers. Cattle are perceived as cornucopia in the rural economy. For example, family of groom negotiates with bride’s family and offers an agreed number of cows as dowry at the time of marriage. Though it is a social norm, which represents the importance of dairy sector in Kenyan life.
Small-scale farmers play a significant role in Kenyan dairy industry as they produce almost 80 per cent of the total milk consumed in Kenya. Usually they have crossbred animals (local breeds crossed with Friesian) and raise them on grazing, semi-grazing and zero grazing systems. In most cases, average milk production per animal per day is as low as five litres, mainly due to low genetic potential of animals, poor husbandry practices and inadequate nutrition. Low productivity of animals results not only in low profitability at producers’ end but also creates a gap in supply and demand of milk at consumers’ end. It also encourages farmers and milk sellers to adulterate milk with water to fulfill the demand.
As feeding accounts for more than 70 per cent of total operating expenses. The solution lies in increasing milk yield with proper nutrition and environmentally sound management practices. To help with this, we recently launched a comprehensive training program for the small-scale dairy farmers in the AMPATH operational area of Western Kenya. The objective of this training is to create awareness among small-scale farmers and share best practices about three basic pillars of profitable dairy farming – genetics, environment and nutrition.
With collaboration of local extension staff from the livestock department and different NGOs, like Heifers International, we organized different training sessions to help farmers understand and estimate the nutritional requirements of their cows. The training also taught them how to formulate hygienic and economical feeds, utilizing the available resources. As use of corn silage in dairy feed is becoming a critical need, we also encouraged them to prepare corn silage to meet feed security needs especially following natural disaster and fodder scarcity periods. Farmers who started following these practices experienced an almost 30 per cent increase in production.
Though these are small steps but would create huge impact not only to the lives of small farmers but also to overall Kenyan economy.