Eldoret is probably one of the best places to be a cow in the world, remarked Mr Pierre Trouilhat, the former chief executive officer for Nestlé Equatorial Africa region in 2011, during a visit to Kenya.
Mr Trouilhat was referring to the good weather and environment in the region that are conducive for dairying. He was in Eldoret after visiting Kabiyet Dairies in Nandi.
“He said that cows from other parts of the world could literally go on leave and come to Eldoret on holiday; just to feel nice, recover and then go back where there is winter or other harsh weather conditions,” Mr Moses Nyabila, former project director, East Africa Dairy Development Project said.
He was among five experts addressing attendees during a webinar on the state of the dairy sector, organised by Smart Farmer Africa.
Mr Nyabila, who had accompanied the Nestle chief, was stressing the point about Kenya having what it takes, including a great climate, to raise excellent cows.
Dairy power house
“We really have what it takes to be a dairy power house,” added the agribusiness adviser with over 20 years’ experience in managerial consultancy and public policy advisory.
Indeed, for many years, Kenya has been a dairy powerhouse of sorts in Africa. With about 4.5 million dairy cows, the largest dairy herd on the continent, 1.8m dairy farmers, and a production that peaks at about 5.2bn annually, the country has been ranked highly on the continent.
About 40 per cent of the milk produced in sub-Saharan Africa comes from Kenya, while the country also has a high per capita consumption, of 110 litres annually. The average is 50 litres in Africa and 250 expected by the World Health Organisation.
It has been a trailblazer on the continent and has had many firsts; holding a premier spot even on the global stage. It was the second country in the world to use artificial insemination (AI) in 1935 and in the 1970s and 1980s became a learning destination for many countries.
“Many came visiting to learn more about dairying,” Mr Nyabila said, adding that Kenya was one of the first countries that Swedish firm, Tetra Pak, decided to set up a packaging manufacturing plant outside of Sweden, as early as 1954.
“In 1969 and into the early 1970s, India sent its people to learn more about our cooperatives. The coops had taken off successfully and changed the sector within a short time, after the exit of the white settlers,” said Mr Cornelius Moss,a dairy technologist.
“They came, learnt about our models, went back and made it work for them,” he added, saying that today, India’s dairy sector is very robust.
Mr Alex Gathii, of Tanalope Consulting, recalled that Kenya exported milk to Uganda, butter to Zambia and Malawi, cheese to Tanzania, and ghee to Arab and European countries. Aboard Kenya Airways flights, KCC’s tasty butter was a norm.
According to Mr Moss, KCC had an extensive extension service, while dairy regulations were strictly followed. “Within a very short time after KCC was handed over to the Africans, the milk rose to levels that could not have been imagined and by 1988, it was producing about 1.4 million litres a day.”
The burning platform
However, those were the good old days. Today, things have changed for the worse. The dairy sector is today on a ‘burning platform’, it either swims a shore to safety or burns. The sector is facing a plethora of crosscutting issues that threaten its sustainability.
The burning platform imagery was painted to me by Mr Nyabila, with the phrase arising from the true story of a burning oil rig in the North Sea in 1988, which was caused by the lack of attention, and failure to check simple systems that had been working for the decade. In the incident, 167 men perished and three faced the decision of either diving into the freezing waters or standing at the rig and waiting for help. Two men dived in and survived with injuries but one waited and was burnt to death.
Kenya’s dairy industry finds itself in similar circumstances.
We are no longer exporting our milk or products, nor are we producing in tandem with global levels. In countries such as Israel, the Netherlands and even Uganda, dairy farming has recorded growth. In Kenya, the industry has been steadily declining. Farms have shut down due to the high costs of production, low sale prices, counterfeits and imports.
The quality of our milk today is below standard, and our cows are underfed and undernourished. Currently, the average milk production per cow is between four and seven litres, against the world average of about 15 to 20 litres. In Israel, the average production per cow is 27 and 28 litres per day. The cost of one litre of milk is also beyond what the market and farmers can afford.
Consumers are complaining about the low quality of milk; farmers about low milk prices and are unable to make ends meet. Inputs’ providers are being blamed for selling adulterated feeds and other products to farmers at high costs.
“The quality of our milk is wanting. It has a high somatic cell count; high antibiotic residues and its bacterial count is high,” Mr Gathii pointed out.Mr Moss warned: “If we are not careful, Kenya could become a net importer of milk and its products within 15 years. In fact, we have started importing milk from Uganda,” he added.
And while other countries are producing upwards of 4,000 litres of milk per cow per annum, our cows are doing and average of 1,750 litres.
This has caused milk production to stagnate for the last five years.
Processing factories are also only able to use up 41 per cent of their capacity, while 59 per cent remains idle due to raw milk shortfalls, forcing importation of milk powder.
All these challenges have left the sector at a crossroads, groping in confusion and trying to find out how to go back to where it was in the 1980s and 1970s.
So, what happened to cause this state of affairs?
Things fell apart, said Mr Moss during the webinair. When the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) happened in the 1990s, things went haywire. “About five years after the start of the SAPs, the dairy sector was down. Farmers fell into difficulties; some of them even died, because they could not make a living,” Mr Moss recalled.
SAPs messed up extension services, leaving most farmers without support or help to check their milk quality or production. Today, there few trained personnel, with an insufficient ratio to handle all farmers. This has led to deficiencies and inefficiencies on our dairy farms that have brought the key per formance indicators to their lowest. Farmers thus end up producing less milk and of low-quality. “Farmers have been exposed to unscrupulous business people. Some products in the market, whether dairy meal, supplements, dewormers, acaricides, or even fodder seeds, have low viability and not worth using, Mr Gathii said.
Sometimes you find the percentage of crude protein of some dairy meal in the market below 11 per cent. The Kenya Standards Act stipulates that it is supposed to be 16 per cent to 18 per cent.
Farmers have become slaves to their cows. Due to increased cost of production, some farmers spend more on the inputs such as feeds and veterinary services to ensure they increase their milk and end up getting little returns for their efforts.
“A farmer has five cows and is producing five litres. How will he make ends meet?” Mr Gathii wonders. “He has become a slave to his cows.”
According to Dr Dominic Menjo, a breeding and reproduction specialist, the country failed to change with the times and did not plan for the change. He adds that we took on breeds that we cannot sustain.
From the start, we didn’t have a breeding programme for our country and borrowed breeding objectives from developed countries, ending up with an animal that was able to do well up to a certain stage but can’t do it anymore, Dr Menjo said.
“We crossbred our local animals up to pedigree status using genetics from temperate countries like Europe and the USA and ended up with an animal that is not suited to our environment. It is now becoming a challenge to keep these breeds.”s
How can we change this situation?
To bring everything back to line and be able to export our milk to the world, we have to go to the basics, said Mr Moss.
Production: We need to work on our production systems. For us to raise our milk to average world levels, we should address the sources of proteins, energy and minerals and then help our farmers to secure them cheaply.
In this way, we can easily double milk production in Kenya from 5.2 billion to about 9 billion, Mr Gathii, suggested, adding that we could borrow a leaf from other jurisdictions like India and Turkey.
“Turkey supports its dairy investors. You produce 60 per cent and the government gives you a grant of 40 per cent, which enables farmers to set up successful ventures that can do economies of scale, do proper management, and ensure quality milk,” he said.
Said Mr Nyabila on markets: “In Kenya, the market is sizable and expanding at about 7 per cent. Within Africa there is a lot of demand, so there is no problem with the market, and it is evolving.”
In the country, the mouths to feed have increased and continue to grow at 2.7 per cent annually. In 1988,
Read more on the Smart farmer dairy edition. Buy Here