Dairy farming is one of the major agricultural activities in Kenya, contributing significantly to the national economy. Kenya is ranked as one of the largest producers of dairy products in Africa. The dairy industry supports the livelihoods of over 1 million smallholder farmers in the country.
However, smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya face numerous challenges that hinder their productivity and growth. Some of the major difficulties include poor genetics, inadequate feeds, diseases, poor milk marketing, and lack of access to financial services. This article focuses on discussing the key challenges that smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya grapple with and provides feasible solutions to help them tackle these issues.
Major Challenges Facing Smallholder Dairy Farmers in Kenya
Low Milk Productivity
One of the significant challenges affecting smallholder dairy farming in Kenya is low milk productivity per cow, averaging about 5-8 litres per cow per day. This is quite low compared to the potential production capacity of improved dairy breeds that can produce over 20 litres per cow per day under good management.
The main causes of low productivity include:
- Use of low-grade breeds – Most smallholder farmers keep low-producing indigenous zebu cattle breeds which have low milk production potential.
- Poor nutrition – Inadequate quantity and low-quality feeds lead to poor nutrition and health of the dairy cows, negatively impacting milk yield.
- Inadequate animal health services – Most smallholder farmers have limited access to essential veterinary services to control diseases and parasites which reduces milk output.
Limited Access to Quality Breeds
Lack of access to high-quality breeds is another major hurdle affecting productivity. The high costs involved in importing pure dairy breeds like Holstein Friesians inhibits most smallholder farmers from acquiring them. The few ranches producing pure breeds are also inadequate to meet the breeding needs nationally.
Effects of Climate Change
The impacts of climate change pose various challenges to smallholder dairy farmers such as:
- Declining quantity and quality of feeds and fodder due to unpredictable weather patterns, droughts and floods.
- Increased prevalence of diseases and parasites due to rising temperatures provides favorable conditions for parasites and pathogens.
- Heat stress in dairy cows which depresses milk production.
- Water scarcity that affects the health of dairy cows.
Milk Marketing Challenges
Most smallholder dairy farmers lack access to reliable and remunerative milk marketing channels. They end up selling their milk to brokers who exploit them by setting low farm-gate prices. Delayed payments and lack of formal contractual agreements is also common. This discourages farmers and limits their ability to reinvest in the farm business.
Limited Access to Financial Services
The dairy value chain is capital intensive, yet most smallholder farmers have inadequate access to financial services like credit and insurance. The high risks and costs involved limits private financial institutions from serving smallholder farmers. This curtails farmers’ ability to sufficiently invest in inputs and adopt modern technologies and practices necessary for enhancing productivity and competitiveness.
High Costs of Feeds and Inputs
The costs of key inputs and resources like animal feeds, breeding stock, veterinary services, machinery and equipment are relatively high for smallholder dairy farmers. Most farmers cannot afford the high costs involved in establishing high-quality pastures, fodder banks and formulated rations necessary for optimal milk production.
Subsidies and support to lower input costs are also inadequate. This makes intensification and scaling-up production expensive and out of reach for many small farmers.
Strategies for Addressing the Challenges
To adequately tackle the challenges affecting smallholder dairy farming in Kenya, holistic strategies focused on the following areas are recommended:
Promoting the Use of Improved Breeds
- The government should increase budgetary allocation to livestock breeding programs to make improved breeds more available and affordable to farmers.
- Private sector participation in the production of breeding stock should be encouraged through enabling policies and public-private partnerships.
- Promote the use of artificial insemination services and favourable breeding policies.
- Training farmers on herd recording, selection and bull calf rearing to take advantage of local genetic potential.
Enhancing Animal Nutrition and Feed Resources
- Training farmers on the establishment of pastures and fodder banks using high-yielding nutritious varieties.
- Promoting technologies for the preservation and storage of excess fodder during seasons of abundance.
- Supporting farmer groups to jointly invest in feed manufacturing equipment for the production of nutritious rations.
- Availing subsidies and incentives to lower costs of dairy meal, minerals, feed supplements and other nutritious formulated feeds.
Strengthening Animal Health Service Delivery
- Increase the number of government veterinary extension officers and improve their mobility to reach farmers.
- Build the capacity of private animal health service providers and animal health assistants to complement government efforts.
- Establish community-based animal health worker networks.
- Promote mass vaccination campaigns against major endemic livestock diseases.
Facilitating Access to Credit and Insurance
- Develop innovative dairy farmer-friendly financial products and services suited to smallholders’ needs.
- Use group lending approaches to reduce risks and transaction costs of serving individual smallholder farmers.
- Enhance financial literacy and capacity building of farmers to take up formal credit sustainably.
- Design index-based livestock insurance products that pay-out benefits based on assessed losses.
Improving Milk Marketing
- Support farmer groups to establish chilling hubs and bulking centres to gain economies of scale.
- Link farmers to formal milk processing companies through contractual arrangements to ensure stable prices and guaranteed markets.
- Build capacity of farmers on milk hygiene and quality standards.
- Improve dairy value chain infrastructure like milk transportation and cold chain facilities.
With concerted efforts towards addressing these major areas, it is feasible to transform smallholder dairy farming in Kenya into a more productive, resilient and competitive system. The solutions outlined require collaborative efforts between farmers, the private sector, government agencies, development partners and other stakeholders along the dairy value chain.
Overcoming the Effects of Climate Change
- Promote climate-smart dairy farming practices like zero-grazing, agroforestry, and rotational grazing to enhance resilience.
- Support farmer training on practices like feed conservation, manure management and using crop residues and agro-industrial by-products for animal feeding during dry seasons and droughts.
- Construct livestock watering points like dams and boreholes in arid areas to mitigate the effects of water scarcity.
- Subsidize installation of low-cost on-farm technologies like solar-powered milk cooling tanks and hay dryers.
- Intensify extension services on practices that protect livestock from extreme weather events.
Enhancing Access to Information and Extension Services
- Strengthen government farmer field schools and dairy farmer training centers to transfer knowledge and skills more effectively.
- Utilize ICT-based platforms like call centers, mobile apps, and farmer helplines for wider reach of extension information.
- Support farmer exchange visits, field days, and agricultural shows to promote peer learning and networking.
- Increase the number and distribution of livestock extension officers across dairy producing regions.
- Collaborate with private agro-vets, breed companies and processors to provide embedded extension services.
Promoting Dairy Production Intensification
- Stimulate commercial-oriented smallholder dairy production systems with specialized farms, improved housing, zero-grazing units and mechanization.
- Support cluster farming approaches and farmer cooperatives for collective investments.
- Develop infrastructure like milk collection centers and cold chain facilities to link smallholders to formal markets.
- Strengthen dairy value addition through promoting investments in processing equipment and facilities for products like cheese, yoghurt, butter ghee and milk powder.
- Implement standards for milk quality and safety to assure consumer health and gain competitive advantage.
Smallholder dairy farming in Kenya has massive potential for growth and transformation into a more commercially-oriented competitive system if the major challenges constraining productivity are addressed. Implementing solutions focused on breeding, animal nutrition, health, milk marketing, access to finance and enhanced climate change resilience can unlock this potential.
A coordinated approach between public agencies, private sector players, development agencies, farmer organizations, and other stakeholders is however critical.
Creating enabling policies, increased investments, stronger research and extension support, and an improved business environment for the dairy industry will further aid in sustaining solutions for long term development of the smallholder dairy sector.
With increased productivity and access to markets, smallholder dairy farming can become an effective pathway for improving rural incomes and livelihoods.