A research paper on goat milk has been the spark that has transformed an idea of an intern into a milk supply station processing over 120 litres of milk daily and now delving into yoghurt processing.
Dr Simon Mwangi has no regrets for having taken up goat milk processing. A veterinarian by profession, Mwangi now owns Zimmerand Dairy Products Limited in Githunguri, Kiambu that supplies goat milk to Nakummat, one of the leading supermarkets in the country. They also supply to individuals by order.
Processing both fresh milk and yoghurt, they process at least 100 litres of goat milk every day. "The orders we get are overwhelming," said Mwangi. "This is an indication that people are getting to understand the value of goat milk.
Selling at Sh130 for a half a litre, the milk has a shelf-life of up to 10 days for fresh milk and 15 days for Yoghurt.
“Despite being a veterinarian, I had never thought of keeping goats for milk. But the intern who was doing a research paper on goat milk kept the idea alive. I decided to try out goat milk processing," he said.
But the biggest setback for him was sourcing for the milk. "Bearing in mind that goat farmers were discouraged because the only goat milk processing plant in Kiambu had collapsed," he noted, "Farmers were left with milk without the market, many of them opted doing something else rather than goat milk business.
Mwangi said he decided to try it and see what would come out of goat milking project. He asked the intern to do a project proposal. "It was shocking to me that the proposal amounted to Sh5 million and I had only set aside Sh1million,” he added.
But at long last, he managed to start the project and is up and running. He collects milk from Githunguri, Meru and Nyeri. He processes at least 120 litres per day. They process both fresh and yoghurt.
Asked of the setback he has faced, Mwangi says transport from collection points has been an issue. "Transport is costly, because I mostly relay on public means. I believe with time, I will get a better structure on how to collect milk,” he added.
He has also taken the initiative of rearing good quality breed of goat. "Am always in the field to monitor the goats to make sure they are tamed well," he said.
Dairy goat farming is emerging as a high-return option for Kenyan small-scale farmers, although it remains hobbled in some regions by marketing and distribution challenges, even as the sector soars in other nearby regions.
In Meru region, farmers are being turned back with their goats' milk from the local milk plant, due to its lack of capacity to sell the milk products onwards. But in Nyeri, where strong marketing channels have been developed, the local processing plant is calling for more milk urgently, now even offering record prices.
Daily the Dairy Goats Association of Kenya (DGAK) in Nyeri is receiving 250 litres from farmers, according to the chairman Warui Mwangi. Yet it's insufficient to meet the daily demand of 1000 litres a local processing plant is requiring. By contrast, the Meru Goat Breed-ers Association (MGBA), responsible for collecting and processing milk from over 300 members is capable of handling only 50 litres a day.
Any quantity beyond that will not be processed meaning it will be poured. This was the scenario in 2008 when as much as 6001itres of milk and its by-products were destroyed mainly due to lack of local market and the capacity to distribute further afield.
However, much of the difference between the two regions lies in access to urban markets and large-scale buyers based on relationships and administration, rather than location.
Unlike the Nyeri farmers whose milk ends up being sold to a goat milk processing company with the financial ability to distribute the by products as far as Nairobi, the MGBA plant is run by goat milk farmers themselves and though it makes byproducts, like yoghurts, its market is restricted to shopping outlets not requiring bar coding.
Four years ago when Farm Africa was facilitating the MGBA project operations, its milk used to be sold in major supermarkets, including Nakumatt, Uchumi and Chandaria. But when Farm Africa's bar code expired, MGBA was left without one, which meant their milk supply to these supermarkets was halted.
For dairy goat farmers, however, the Nyeri membership model has created a successful working model of dairy goat marketing. In 2007, the Nyeri organisation had 11,000 members. Today it has 16,000. At the same time, its milk output has more than quadrupled, from 50 to 70 litres daily to now 250 litres. Yet it can now market up to 1000 litres a day. As DGAK seeks to lure more farmers still into goat's milk, the resurgence is also being driven by the introduction of more productive goats, using pedigree European bucks like Saanen, German Alpine and Toggenburg.
These when cross bred with local varieties can increase milk production by up to 6 litres per goat daily. One buck can cost Sh25,000, while a cross bred can cost Sh10, 000. Yet these can still be beyond the reach of small-scale farmers, with local breed bucks costing from Sh1000 to Sh5000.
For this reason, DGAK has been facilitating farmers to be pooled into groups that are then given one cross-bred buck. In addition to increasing milk production, crossbreeds adapt well to the local climate.
They mature fast and in a year they are ready to mate. On maturity they weigh over 35 kg compared to local breeds that weigh 15kg after three to five months. Some local breeds that can be cross bred are the Galla and Zebu. Goat farming compared to cow farming is also more sustainable on small pieces of land. "One acre of land if well managed can sustain 20 goats. Also goats eat more plant varieties compared to cows.
The nutritional benefits of goat milk are also aiding its takeoff. It is recommended to HIV sufferers as its high protein molecules are better absorbed than other proteins and strengthens antibodies.
Also for a mother who opt not to breast feed, the milk is an ample substitute. Other areas where dairy goat ventures are being tried are more arid areas like Kitui and Mwingi in Eastern province.
The government's Arid Land Resource Management Project (ALRMP) is operating free, over 10 buck stations for local farmers to cross breed. DGAK, meanwhile, has seven stations in Kenya. They work with donor agencies to train farmers around Kenya on Dairy Goat husbandry.