Meru Dairy Union (MDU) currently collects, on average, about four litres of milk per cow per day from the farmers they serve in Meru County. In total, they collect an average amount of 300,000 litres per day. This, compared to the goal they have set for the next two years, which is to collect and process 500,000 litres of milk per day, means there is potential in farmers’ capacity to increase production.
As part of the plan to realize production potential, the MDU-2SCALE partnership has facilitated the setup of the first Artificial Insemination (AI) satellite in Githongo, Meru County. The initiative was designed to reduce distances covered by private inseminators in accessing semen and AI accessories and increase the chances of impregnating all cows on heat. The satellite will influence cattle genetics by ensuring that the private service providers are using improved cattle breeds aligned to MDU’s breeding objectives. The satellites will also serve as training centres for inseminators, enhancing service delivery.
Meru Dairy Union has a partnership with Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (KAGRC) as a key semen supplier, but the distribution system was centralized. Through 2SCALE intervention, the distribution of semen was streamlined. The satellite was officially opened on the 5th of May 2022. Despite being in operation for only four months, it has performed incredibly well in providing easy access to semen doses for private inseminators serving smallholder farmers in Githongo. Since the inauguration of the AI satellites, over 4,000 farmers now have easier access to the services.
Githongo is one of the main catchment areas for crossbreeding programs. There are six cooperatives in the area that supply milk to MDU. These cooperatives have been active for a significant amount of time and can, therefore, be considered stable and reliable as a market for the product. Private inseminators have a hard time getting the product locally to these farmers since they have to source the doses from Meru town, which is 12km away. Not only was the long-distance contributing to the increased cost of doing business by the AI service providers, but it also increased the chances of missing inseminating cows on heat.
The satellite centre is run by Irene Makena, 27, who oversees its operations and sells the semen doses to the private inseminators. It houses a 3-litre tank containing the semen and a 47-litre tank containing liquid nitrogen, at -196 degrees. Liquid nitrogen is used for semen preservation.
Currently, four cattle breeds are available at the satellite. MDU sources Friesian and Ayrshire breed doses from Kabete, Kiambu County and imports newer, more uncommon breed doses, Pencobeattles (Holstein) and Blak Belly (Holstein). The liquid nitrogen is also sourced from Kabete. These doses are stored in well-labelled straws in different canisters in the tank to avoid damaging the product and for easy retrieval.
For Githongo, the most popular dose is the Friesian semen from Kabete. Ms Makena attributes it to the breed performing well under the climatic conditions of the area. According to Ms Makena, the semen doses have a 90 per cent chance of conception. The private inseminators charge farmers between Ksh. 1000 (USD 8) to Ksh. 7,000 (USD 59) for the service, depending on the breed and source of the semen. The most expensive are imported sexed semen doses, which are specially processed semen from which the chromosomes that lead to the birth of a male calf are either removed or killed, to ensure that a female calf is born. Sexed semen is popular because farmers strive to get heifers for their dairy farms.