How dairy hubs are transforming lives of farmers

Gabriel Cajetan

On a normal morning, Sally Chepleting wakes up at 5:00am and heads straight to her wooden cowshed on a farm in Lessos, Nandi County.

Armed with two milking cans, she effortlessly milks her cows as she enjoys the tune of a popular Kalenjin song from her little radio placed a few yards from the milking shed.

She later delivers her milk to the dairy plant upon which she is issued with a receipt detailing the number of litres delivered. With this, she gets an assurance to receive her pay at the end of the month.  This has become almost part of her daily itinerary.

By supplying her   milk to Lessos Dairy Coperative Society, Chepleting is guaranteed access to a range of credit facilities such as agrovet products, loan, access to health cover for her family among others.

The amount is later deducted from the value of the milk she has supplied through check-off system.  Other farmers from Ziwa area in the neighbouring county of Uasin Gishu have also embraced similar concept popularly known as the Dairy Hub Model.

Chepleting says that since becoming a member of Lessos Dairy that operates under this model, she has gained a lot.

“I no longer worry about lack of money whenever my animals fall ill since I can access veterinary services from the society through check off system.” She says adding that “All I need is to inform my co-operative society manager who in turn alerts the veterinary doctor to address my challenge.”

She nostalgically remembers how she desperately lost her two heifers two years ago since she could not afford money to pay a veterinary doctor.

“I just watched my animals die. By now I could be having so many cows. But all that is now in the past.”

John  Keter, another farmer in Lessos has also benefitted through dairy hubs run by Lessos. The farmer says the co-operative has enabled him improve on his living standards.

He says that he when he wants to access the Artificial Insemination for his cows he just places a two-week request at the centre.

In the neighbouring county of Uasin Gishu is Sheilla Bett who quit teaching profession last year to venture into dairy farming because of the lucrative income. She says she now has a reason to keep more dairy cows since she gets better prices besides other services from Sirikwa Dairies Co-operative Society.

“We used to sell our milk for as little as Sh10 per litre but now we earn better prices from my dairy cows thanks to the co-operative,” says the farmer who also grows tomatoes and keeps rabbit and sheep.

Mrs Bett, who also plants maize, says she is now able to acquire other products such as fertilizer and maize seed without necessarily having cash. “It is some form of barter trade where I exchange my milk for what I lack,” she says, chuckling

But for farmers to enjoy these products under the Dairy Hub Model, the milk supplied must attain certain set standards.

Once the farmer has delivered her milk, a team of experts at the facility subject it to various tests.

Meshack Kimaiyo, the quality and control manager at the Sirikwa Dairies Co-operative says that dairy farmers used to accrue losses due to poor management, which resulted in milk glut and wastage.

“The number of liters of milk rejected was high but we have trained farmers on how to handle milk. The number of liters which we reject has gone down to 200 from 300 litres of milk per day,” he said.

The Bachelor of Science graduate with specialty in dairy science from Egerton University explains that they pass the milk through several stages to meet the required standards in the market.

“First, we conduct the sensory or platform tests where we use the senses like smell to know whether the milk is still good. Some farmers might have mixed the evening and morning milk,”

The second test is called confirmatory and entails the use the alcohol gun and lactometer to check the milk density.

He adds that they also undertake milk gravity to gauge the amount of water present in the milk supplied to the facility.

“Some farmers may add some additives like eggs or do adulteration, adding of water to increase the volume of their produce,” he says, adding that their main market for the milk is at Brookside milk processor.

“When the milk is deemed to have passed all the tests, it is poured in a dump tank which is covered with a white net to filter out dirt in milk. The tank has a sensor which relays the amount of liters on a digital weighing balance that reflects on a computer,” 

Sirikwa dairies have also embraced digital technology. Last year they acquired software called ‘Dairy Power’ which has improved the operations of the farmers.

“The software which was installed in November last year has helped to ease service delivery. We have also networked all our services using the software in that when a farmer gets a commodity from one of the agro-vets or salary advances, information is stored and shared digitally with all the relevant officers manning various offices.

To enhance efficiency, the co-operative partnered with agriculture-based companies to supply quality farm inputs at a cheaper cost.

“It is mandatory that a member has a card to access these agrovet services whose costs are in turn deducted from the value of the milk he/she supplies to the farm,”

Christopher Rop, the plant manager said that farmers in Soy Division came together to form Sirikwa Dairies and General Limited Company in 2010 to address the challenges faced by dairy farmers especially on lack of market and poor milk prices.

“The urge to establish the movement was as a result of increasing poverty levels in the locality that made it difficult for majority of the farmers to raise enough funds to cater for basic needs such as food, education and health as well as practice productive and sustainable farming.”

He explains that under the model, since the area is predominantly maize farming zone, they also purchase the grains from the farmers and sell at better prices.

“We have partnered with National Cereal Produce Board and Unga Limted where we negotiate better prices. We have agreed that from next planting season they will supply us with quality fertilizers,” he added.

Sirikwa Dairies currently has 4259 farmers whose main goal is to improve the living standards and the overall human development conditions through improved income and access to high quality milk.

This would guarantee farmers sustainable livelihoods. It is estimated that about 7,000 farmers will have registered as members in the next three years.

“The key activities undertaken by Sirikwa Dairies include collection (or bulking) of milk from farmers, cooling and marketing of milk from farmers to fetch better prices to enhance income. Since it started operations on 10th October 2010, milk volumes collected by Dairies has grown from 370 litres per day from 33 suppliers to an average of 11,000 litres per day today”

The project which was started by Bill Gates Foundation through a consortium of agricultural organizations like Heifer International and Sygenta solely aimed at supporting the farmers in the region.

Egesa Mageni, the country programme manager East African Dairies Development encourages farmers to come together and adopt the dairy hubs which act as one stop shop where farmers can access wide array of services at a single central place.

“Most of the times, farmers get services and inputs on credit. A farmer may find himself in a helpless situation where his cow could be on heat yet he has no money to get Artificial Insemination services. The hub ensures that the farmer does not miss out on whatever he needs,” he said adding that initially it was difficult for farmers to access loans from commercial banks because they considered farming a risky venture. The dairy hubs are therefore an innovative way where farmers are able to access funds and services to assist them increase their milk productivity on farms.     

“There are also cases of farmers where upon falling sick, they sell the very same animals which they rely on. That is why you find in advanced hubs they have partnered with insurance companies to offer such services so that farmers don’t resort to selling their only investment. We expect the government and other partners to adopt such policies as they drive the dairy agenda,” he adds.

Mangeni says the way to address the challenge of food insecurity is through adoption of hub models. In Kenya, he says they are working with 58,000 farmers who have already  embraced the concept.

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