Smallholder dairy project

Award-winning dairy project reduces poverty through joint 'Action Research'. An award-winning eight-year collaboration has helped millions of Kenyans beat poverty and malnutrition. It’s done this through research on the country’s smallscale dairy workers. Modest dairy enterprises — comprising households milking one or two cows on tiny plots of land and young men hawking ‘raw’ (unpasteurized) milk that they transport on bicycles — make up an astonishing 85 percent of all the milk marketed in Kenya, one of the biggest per capita milk-producing and -drinking countries in the world. (Kenyan milk comprises 70 percent of total dairy production in East and South Africa.) Smallholder dairying creates regular incomes for hundreds of thousands of poor Kenyans and in addition is a big job creator, providing two full-time jobs for every 100 litres of milk produced. ‘Informal’ dairying thus dwarfs Kenya’s modern dairy sector. Nonetheless, this vast informal milk sector was, until recently, virtually ignored by national dairy policy, which viewed such trade illegitimate. Scientists conducting a ‘Smallholder Dairy Project’ combined scientific research, government policymaking, international development and social activism to bring about a shift to pro-poor dairy policymaking. The Smallholder Dairy Project was led by Kenya's Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development, jointly implemented by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and largely funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. These organizations succeeded in putting into practice ‘action research’ by working closely with government and regulatory bodies, the private sector, civil society organizations and the country’s formal and informal milk sectors. The Smallholder Dairy Project developed technologies such as disease-resistant fodder varieties, research-based guidelines for milk hygiene and a milk container affordable by the poor. Of greater import are the proposed national policy changes induced by the project’s research and now being written into the Kenya Dairy Act. These promise to create an enabling policy environment for ‘micro-sized’ dairy enterprises. As the Kenyan dairy industry was liberalized and expanded rapidly over the past decade, strong pressure was exerted on the government to insist that all milk sold be pasteurized to ensure the safety of the nation’s milk supply. That’s where research made the difference for the poor. Data obtained over the years by the Smallholder Dairy Project disclosed that almost all milk in Kenya is boiled by households before being consumed, indicating that raw milk represents no substantial public health hazard. This reliable information helped establish small dairy producers and milk traders as successful and credible agents in the eye’s of the country’s dairy policymakers and regulators, who are now, in the words of the permanent secretary in the ministry of livestock, ‘mainstreaming the raw milk market’. The new policies will, for example, allow Kenya’s informal dairy workers to be licensed, and thus brought into the formal economy for the first time. That’s good news for the country’s estimated 1.8 million informal milk producers and sellers. This project is helping to harmonize regional dairy policies through networks such as ASARECA’s Eastern and Central Africa Programme for Agricultural Policy Analysis. And the project’s approaches are being employed beyond the region, such as in the state of Assam, in northeastern India, where small-scale dairying, making up 97 percent of the dairy market, has potential to lift millions out of poverty.

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