Data collection exercises are often carried out, only for the information gathered to be used much later to design long-term programs from which participants rarely benefit. This was not the case for the Greening Livestock project, being implemented by the Mazingira Centre team. Following field work that was primarily aimed at understanding and characterizing smallholder dairy farms in Kenya, the team – consisting of Phyllis Ndung’u, Jesse Owino, Peter Kirui, Eric Kiprotich, Vera Vernooij and George Wanyama – organized and delivered focused farmer feedback workshops. The workshop sessions (5th-9th February 2018) served to unpack and address the common challenges experienced by smallholder dairy farmers. The farmers participated in data collection work for the project between 2015 and 2016 in Nandi county; and between 2016 and 2018 in Bomet county.
Approximately 300 smallholder farmers from the two counties, as well as representatives from the livestock production department in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, and from the new Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) Kapsabet branch; participated in the feedback workshops. The feedback sessions were designed as training forums to address the various challenges experienced by the smallholder farmers and to share best practices in four specific areas; (1) fodder production and management, (2) dairy cow breeding, (3) manure management and (4) milk marketing.
Farmers engaged at the feedback workshop in Nandi county (photo credit: ILRI/Jesse Owino).
The first issue addressed was fodder production and management. Farmers expressed challenges in obtaining reputable sources of pasture seeds as well as the lack of necessary skills for successful pasture establishment. They specifically requested to be linked to reliable sources of pasture and fodder legume seeds and were immediately connected to a reputable seeds and Napier grass supplier. Current reports from the farmers indicate that the supplier is already providing the seeds to the farmers. The Mazingira Centre team also took the opportunity to share additional insights on fodder preservation, silage and haymaking with the farmers, who had also reported that most of their animals lost weight during the dry season due to fodder scarcity. Farmers were equipped with practical techniques in hay and silage making, to prolong fodder availability for their livestock. This would ensure that the animals maintain healthy weight and that cows are kept in lactation longer.
Seeing that successful dairy production begins with good dairy cows, the aspect of cow breeding in smallholder dairy farming, was also covered. The participating farmers inquired about the availability of quality semen and as well as effective artificial insemination practices, while often questioning the integrity of their current service providers. To address this, the Mazingira team encouraged them to form farmer groups to be able to share experiences and access reputable service providers. The farmers were also trained on the use of bull catalogues to keep track of semen availability. The criticality of diligent record keeping was also emphasized as a measure to prevent inbreeding. Other aspects of dairy cow breeding that were covered in this session included; identifying the essential physical characteristics of a good dairy cow and traits of economic importance such as kilograms of milk produced by a cow per lactation. This session also allowed participants to delve into the different breeds of dairy cattle in Kenya, such as Boran, Friesian, Ayrshire, Guernsey and Jersey; and to distinguish their specific characteristics.
One of the posters used to train farmers in the feedback workshops (photo credit: ILRI).
The feedback sessions also covered manure management. Based on information from the elaborate surveys, also aimed at finding out how farmers were managing manure, those present were trained on manure management techniques that improve its quality as fertilizer and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. This is an important co-benefit that has the potential to contribute to government efforts to meet agreed-upon climate change mitigation targets. The use of manure on crops also was highlighted as the farm surveys revealed a lack of knowledge on incorporating manure in cultivating specific crops.
Milk marketing was also a major topic of interest for the participants. A study conducted in 2016 by Vera Vernooij shows that farmers prefer a certain marketing channel (farmer organizations, private processors, individual costumers, or middlemen) mostly because of the payment structure i.e. daily cash or monthly via bank transfers. Also, the group of farmers that was most likely to sell their milk to the formal – as opposed to the informal sector, was relatively best-off in terms of available household labour, income and other factors, was closer to a milk cooler, and had a higher number of dairy cows. The farmers at the workshop recognized these findings and were further keen to learn more about how milk prices are determined. Mr. Julius Serem, the plant manager of new KCC in Kapsabet, attended the workshops in Nandi county to explain how milk price is established.
The impact of these feedback session was echoed by one farmer by the name Kimolel Arap Tangus, who openly expressed his satisfaction with the information gained. Tangus mentioned that he and his fellow farmers had been eagerly waiting for such a forum. Overall, these sessions served as a powerful means of practically addressing challenges faced by farmers, while disseminating useful techniques in dairy farming. The Mazingira project team was also able to track progress of their work and address some gaps identified from data collected prior to these sessions.
Posters on topics covered in the training sessions (breeding a dairy cow, feeding a dairy cow, fodder establishment, forage conservation and management, cattle heat detection and manure management) are available for download.
This work was made possible under the IFAD funded project “Greening Livestock: Incentive-based interventions for reducing the climate impact of livestock in East Africa”. For more information click here: https://mazingira.ilri.org/research/current-research-projects/