In Kenya, demand for dairy products exceeds supply. Even as dairy farmers strive to achieve maximum milk production, year-round availability of high-quality fodder remains a major constraint. In central and eastern Kenya, the Meru Dairy Union (MDU)-2SCALE partnership aims to restructure the provision of extension services to make it more effective and sustainable through the advanced engagement of private sector and government agencies. It is believed that such reorganization will accelerate quality milk production by at least 50% within a short period. As a union, MDU has showcased tremendous growth since 2012 when it used to collect an average of 29,128 litres of milk per day from dairy farmers. In 2021, MDU collected an average of 272,000 litres of milk per day from 53 primary cooperatives with a total membership of around 60,000 dairy farmers. This impressive growth is majorly attributable to the sound leadership and management the union enjoys now.
To enhance milk production, the partnership is facilitating the introduction and increased adoption of improved fodder, fodder management and best dairy practices by smallholder dairy farmers. Cows, just like all animals, require enough clean water, and adequate nutritious feeds. With this, MDU and 2SCALE have prioritized the adoption of fodder varieties that give cows adequate energy, protein, and other essential elements. This strategy helps farmers to minimize over-relying on expensive commercial feeds making dairy farming more profitable.
For 59-year-old Zaverio Mururu, and his wife 47-year-old Janet Kaguri, the adoption of improved fodder has significantly improved the productivity of their four dairy cows. They reside in the semi-arid Tharaka Nithi county and have practiced dairy farming for 30 years now. Over the years, they relied on crop residue and feeds such as dairy meal, but the discovery of superior forage varieties thanks to the MDU-2SCALE partnership has transformed their dairy farm into a profitable agri-business venture.
During drought seasons, we were always worried about where to get feed for our cows. Milk production could drastically go down since there were no crop residues which we use as fodder. However, 2021 was a turning point for us. We were introduced to improved forage such as sugargraze, panicum, bracharia, and cobra grass. We set up a nursery for the forage and after transplanting, it took about 45 days for us to start harvesting. For this, we dedicated one acre of our land. Most months of last year were dry as we experienced drought in this region. However, milk production from our cows increased due to the use of improved forage. From an average of 13 litres a day, we now supply about 19 litres a day to our local cooperative which supplies to Meru Dairy Union.
For this couple, they appreciate the fact that MDU has established relationships with smallholder farmers, and even send experts to train them on sustainable dairy farming. Such engagements have made them stay loyal and not consider supplying their milk to other off-takers.
Saving for a ‘rainy day’ through silage production
For Zaverio and his wife, the realization that dairy cows can be productive all year round has led to them resolving to expand their business. Their overall target is to increase the number of dairy cows and achieve production of 300 litres of milk per day. While this seemed unachievable owing to the erratic weather patterns in their locality, their experience in the past year has given them a new perspective. They used the excess forage-particularly sugargraze, to make silage. Zaverio explains:
Last year, despite a prolonged dry season, we harvested plenty of sugargraze. Agriculture extension officers from Meru Dairy Union visited our farm and advised that we should store the excess forage as silage. I have never made silage before. The experts however took me through the process, and we made 10 tonnes of silage. If well conserved, this silage can stay up to three years without deteriorating! I also got to learn that silage is very palatable and is a viable solution for low availability of animal feed during the dry season. In readiness for the next dry season, we want to prepare more silage to ensure we have year-round supply of quality forage.