Rift valley farmers bet on milk chilling plant, shrubs to grow income

Farmers in the Metkei area of Keiyo District have built a milk chilling plant that together with changes in feed and better information has transformed the earnings of now 6800 registered farmers in the umbrella dairy company Metkei Multi Purpose Ltd.

The changes have come as part of a project dubbed East African Dairy Development Kenya being implemented in Rift Valley and Central Kenya to expand milk collection and cooling facilities, assist in marketing chilled raw milk to processors, as well as in the prompt payment of farmers, training and extension services and the provision of AI services, farm inputs, credit services, and feed and fodder.

The project is being funded by a host of players in the agricultural sector including the World Agro Forestry Centre (ICRAF). It has seen farmers switch to fodder shrubs as alternative feeds, leading to increased milk yields and butter fat content; and able to identify milk from cattle suffering from mastitis, an endemic disease in the area that traditionally cost farmers their milk.

“I have three cows which required about 5kgs of conventional Dairy Meal feed a day each, which meant that one bag of Dairy Meal could only go for a week, at a cost of about Sh2500 a bag. But with the new shrubs I just need to mix them with only 1kg of conventional feeds and am covered. It has saved me a lot, not forgetting improving the quality of my milk,” said Kiprop Kiptoo, a farmer in the area.

The fodder shrubs have been championed by ICRAF as a cost effective and nutritious way of feeding livestock while increasing soil fertility.

The success of the farmers has attracted guests both local and international with the latest being Bill Gates and officials of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who spent more than two hours in the farm of one of the most successful farmers in the area Laban Kipkemoi Talam and his wife Miriam Chepkemei who have embraced fodder shrub farming.

Mr Gates drew water from a borehole in Mr Talam’s home using a manual pulley and witnessed artificial insemination of their dairy cow.

However, it is the milk chilling plant that has most changed the fortunes for the farmers, ensuring they get timely returns for their milk delivery and giving them access to other dairy related services.

Metkei Hall, which houses the chilling plant and the offices of managers and accountants, was built partly by farmers in an arrangement where they were meant to raise 10 per cent of the money, while financial institutions funded the rest in unsecured loans. Farmers were supposed to pay Sh100 to register and buy up to 5 shares at Sh1,000 a share.


However, an agreement in 2008 allowed all the farmers, even those who couldn’t afford to buy the shares, to become shareholders on the basis of a check off system where the dairy company deducts an agreed amount of money from the monthly payments to farmers.

This way, farmers who could not afford the upfront payment have been able to clear their balance.  Since starting full operations in 2009 the capacity of the chilling plant has grown to over 33,000 litres per day.

The co-operative pays farmers Sh30 a litre compared with the Sh15 a litre they were previously being paid by vendors.

“Of course, with these prices, surges in production has also emerged the need to have another chilling plant, but this is a very good sign that farmers have now embraced dairy farming and the payments are a worthy incentive,” said Emmanuel Kemboi, the Quality Assurance Manager at the company.

The fully computerised milk delivery system has also made for transparency, with farmers getting receipts for the milk they deliver, which are then tallied and given to them at the end of the month. The co-operative has also trained the farmers on increasing the butter content of their milk and on the benefits in longer shelf life of supplying milk in aluminum cans instead of plastic cans. No farmer delivers milk in plastic can anymore.

Thus the EADD project has worked on all aspects of the supply chain. “One way farmers are maximizing returns is through the planting of the fodder shrubs and learning to mix various categories of home grown feeds which ensure that their livestock feed on a balanced diet without having to buy the commercial feed. This way we have managed to live to the mantra of the EADD project of doubling income for the rural households,” said Sylvia Wafula, a dissemination facilitator in the EADD programme.

However, most recently, the project has been hindered by a lack of fodder shrub seedlings, which are seasonal, meaning if farmers don’t get in on one season, they have to wait until the next her season. “But the farmers have exhibited such resilience against these obstacles and it’s a positive picture to see more farmers getting into this bandwagon thanks to the benefits they see their counterparts reaping,” said Patrick Mudavadi another of the dissemination facilitators.

The programme aimed to reach 110,000 farmers by December 2011.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter