A new partnership has assisted smallholder farmers in Kiambu county access year round hay for their livestock at a time when changes in climate are taking a toll on available green fodder.
For many years, farmers in Ndumberi, Kiambu County have been struggling to feed their dairy cows especially during the dry season. With the usual green fodder unavailable at this time, farmers are forced to spend a lot of money and travel long distances in search of feed. Lack of adequate and good quality feed is not a problem only experienced in Ndumberi but in many parts of Kenya and is one of the reasons that annual milk shortages persist.
A partnership between two dairy cooperatives; Ndumberi and Nyala in Kiambu and Laikipia Counties respectively, is succeeding in addressing this issue. Kenya Markets Trust (KMT) and its Partner Technoserve have supported the two dairy cooperatives to establish a Limited Liability partnership by the name Hay and Forage (HnF) whose main objective is to produce quality hay for dairy farmers. This intervention is part of the Market Assistance Programme (MAP) that seeks to transform the performance of the dairy sector so that it can be beneficial to all who participate in it.
Through this partnership, the cooperatives have leased 1,180 acres of land in Nyahururu and from here they are producing and selling quality hay at affordable prices mainly to smallholder dairy farmers. Hay from the cooperatives costs only Sh150. This is much cheaper than hay from other farms. “We were purchasing hay from Delamere (about 100 km away) at a cost of Sh180 and 250 per bale before we started producing our own hay,” says Jane Muya, a dairy farmer and the General Manager of Ndumberi Dairy Cooperative.
The affordability of the hay coupled, with its guaranteed quality has made it very popular among the farmers. Not only is the hay cheaper but it is also reducing dependency on green fodder and is a commercially viable venture for the Cooperative. This year alone, HnF has sold 20,000 bales of hay to its members and has orders of 60,000 bales from external farmers. “The target is to have our farmers feed their cows with one bale, per cow, per day,” said Samuel Ngure, HnF Chairperson.
At the beginning, MAP subsidized the cost of mowing and baling to buy down the risk for HnF since it was engaging in a new business and also to encourage more farmers to use it. “Through MAP’s support we were able to drive down the cost of hay from the beginning despite the fact that we had leased most of the equipment. This year, we have taken measures to ensure that we sustain the production cost and thus increase farmers’ awareness of hay as a solution for improving productivity,” said Jane.
HnF has already invested its own funds (a total of Ksh 3.85million) in purchasing transport and baling machinery to reduce production costs. MAP is also supporting the cooperatives to further improve the nutritional content of the hay by connecting them to soil experts. Farmers using the hay have seen improvement in milk productivity. “Since I started buying hay, my milk production has gone up by at least three litres,” said Hellen Njeri, a farmer with 10 cows.
Use of hay has also reduced the amount of time that farmers use in search of feed giving them time to pursue other activities. In addition HnF has succeeded in providing employment for 15 people at different levels. More importantly, Ndumberi Cooperative did not experience any milk shortages during the dry season this year like other parts of the country. “We were able to maintain our production at 20,000 litres per day from all our members,” said James Ngaruiya, Financial Manager, Ndumberi Cooperative.