Florence Chepkirui is one of the dairy farmers who are benefitting from improved dairying in Kenya's Bomet district (photo credit: ILRI/Karaimu)
The East African Dairy Development project which is implemented by Heifer International in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), TechnoServe, the World Agroforestry Centre and the African Breeders Service Total Cattle Management, has been working with farmers in east Africa since January 2008. In the past two years, the project has focused on improving the dairy incomes of over 170,000 dairy farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. In Kenya, interventions to improve dairy production in Kenya’s Rift Valley province are transforming the lives of farmers like Florence Chepkirui.
Florence is a 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. Her 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 being blind, she has succeeded in earning a living from dairy farming.
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 the East African Dairy Development project there beginning in 2008 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 East Africa Dairy Development project staff,’ Florence says. Florence is only able to keep one cow at any one time but she has sold over 6 calves in the past 11 years. She used most of the income from selling the calves – about Ksh 20,000 (US$ 250) per animal – to pay for the education of her three children and to 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 nearby Sot milk cooling plant that farmers like her from the village have recently set up with the help of the project. ‘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.
By working with local community members in Saoset, the project brought farmers together to raise money to set up the milk cooling plant. The contributions of farmers (through shareholding) were supported by funds from the project to purchase a piece of land and set up a building that now houses the cooler. Farmers from the village use the 6000-litre cooler to store their milk before it is collected by a milk processor in Kericho town.
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. The partnership between the project and farmers in her village has also opened new opportunities for her to pursue tailoring to supplement income from milk production.
Trainings and farmers visits facilitated by the project have helped farmers in Saoset understand the importance of keeping healthy animals for increased milk production. Currently, the project is facilitating breeding programs to improve cow breeds and many farmers are enthusiastic about the future of the dairy industry in Bomet.
The East African Dairy Development project started in January 2008 and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of an agricultural development grant designed to boost the yields and incomes of millions of small farmers in Africa so they can lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.
For more information about the project please visit: http://eadairy.wordpress.com/