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Farmer leads milk evolution in sleepy kiambu village making Sh1.2 million a month

The cows produce between 1,100 and 1,500 litres of milk a day. She sells a litre of milk at Sh35, earning an average of Sh1.2 million a month which comes to about Sh300,000 when she deducts expenses.

Mary Wambui at her farm in Kiambu.

Mary Wambui at her farm in Kiambu.

The cow chews the cud as Mary Wambui, dressed in a white overcoat and matching gumboots, cleans its teats with a piece of cloth soaked in warm water.

Soon, she starts milking it. The milk trickles into an aluminium can.

It takes her about 10 minutes to complete milking before moving to the next animal.

Wambui is the owner of the dairy farm in Lari, Kiambu County and today is out to test if she still remembers milking an animal. She used to do this sometime back.

“It is a long time since I milked a cow. My workers usually do it but I see I can still do the work well,” she says as a worker picks up the can of milk.

The farm is known as Mung’ere and is in Gatamaiyu village in Kiambu. It has 100 dairy cows.

“I started the business about 10 years ago when I bought five heifers for about Sh50,000 each. I just wanted to have milk for my family.”

The four-acre farm is in the middle of a tea zone and is surrounded by a high perimeter wall and trees.

The dairy business occupies most of the land, with cowsheds and land set aside for growing fodder.

She stocks Friesian, Guernsey and Ayrshire breeds.

The cows live in different sheds depending on their age and whether they are lactating or in-calf.

“I have 30 calves and 16 heifers that are ready for servicing. Thirteen cows will calve soon while 53 are lactating,” says Wambui.

She feeds the animals napier grass, 10kg of concentrates consisting of dairy meal, maize germ and 40kg of hay every day. She gets the hay from Nakuru, Mwea and Ruiru.

She cleans the sheds every day and gets veterinary officers to visit the animals at least once a week to monitor their health.

The cows produce between 1,100 and 1,500 litres of milk a day. She sells a litre of milk at Sh35, earning an average of Sh1.2 million a month which comes to about Sh300,000 when she deducts expenses.

HIGH RETURNS

Like many other farmers in the region, Wambui sells her milk to the newly established processor, Uplands Premium Dairies, the makers of Pascha milk.

“The opening of the milk plant guarantees high returns because we used to sell our milk to traders at Sh20,” says Wambui. She is one of the biggest suppliers of milk to the factory, where she is a director.

The company was started after consultations between investors and farmers about four years ago.

Farmers agreed to stop selling their milk and animals to traders who trooped to the area every January as schools were about to open to buy cows at throwaway prices.

“The new prices were better and the current price of Sh35 a kilo is quite attractive,” says Wambui.

The farmers are paid promptly and the milk is collected milk from their doorsteps.

They also signed a contract, which commits them to regularly train members on animal husbandry. This ensures increased production.

Close to 1,800 farmers deliver their milk to the plant but the management plans to enlist over 10,000 in two years. The farmers are members and receive training, extension services and loans through banks.

However, the firm is working on selling shares to farmers.

DAIRY CAPITAL

Wambui says most farmers in the region have now embraced zero-grazing. The area is regarded as the ‘dairy capital’ of Kiambu County as it hosts other milk companies including Githunguri Dairies.

As the market grows, farmers have realised that dairy farming is lucrative.

“Even on quarter acre, you can have three animals and make a decent living. You don’t have to own huge chunks of land to be a farmer,” she says.

Dairy farmers however, face a myriad of problems that include outbreak of diseases, low quality feeds and poor roads.

“Most farmers are on their own when diseases break out. The extension services are not working well to enable farmers rely on them. Then transporting the produce to processors is also a problem because of poor roads.”

She says the government should provide subsidised semen. Wambui improves breeds using semen she imports from Spain, where she says it is cheaper.

Kiambu County Agriculture and Livestock chief officer Charles Njenga says they are encouraging farmers to form cooperative societies and processing plants for improve their returns.

“That way farmers have better bargaining power that helps them dictate milk prices. The societies also help them access credit and improve breeds. The returns double if a society has a processor. We have seen it with many farming groups in the county.”

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Ready market for milk has changed my fortunes in my 100 by 100ft plot in Gatamaiyu, Kiambu County.

teve Mwacigi feeds some of his cows in his farm in Kiambu.

teve Mwacigi feeds some of his cows in his farm in Kiambu.

Steve Mwicigi whistles as he massages the udder of his cow that he is readying to milk.

Mwicigi is no doubt a happy farmer producing 65 litres of milk every day from two cows on his 100 by 100ft plot in Gatamaiyu, Kiambu County.

The 31-year-old father of two lives in the same plot with his 13 Friesian cows out of which two are lactating, while the rest are either nursing advanced pregnancies or too young.

He earns Sh35 a litre from the milk he sells to Uplands Premium Dairy, which collects the produce at his doorstep.

Out of his total earnings, Mwicigi spends about Sh30,000 every month to buy feeds and other inputs and pay for services.

“My income will go up more than three times,” he says, his optimism boosted by the good prevailing market and prompt payment he is enjoying.

But he discloses that the other cows likely to calve in a few months are pedigree, with each expected to exceed the current 35 litres a cow.

Mwicigi used to supplement his earnings by doing menial jobs but is now self-employed on the quarter acre land.

He does most of the feeding, cleaning, milking and sourcing for feeds.

It has taken Mwicigi effort, luck and perseverance to be where he is.

Four years ago, the best he could earn from milk was Sh20 to 28 a litre.

“Besides the poor pay, you had to carry milk to the brokers who controlled the business. They were never consistent in paying and most times they ran away with our money.”

FARMERS EXPLOITED

The dairy industry had been the main source of livelihood in Kiambu after tea and coffee prices plummeted.

“This was aggravated by exploitation of dairy farmers by milk processors and brokers. Big milk processors capitalised on our desperation and offered as low as Sh15 per litre. We had no option but to either give them the milk or let it go to waste,” he says.

At that time Gatamaiyu was crime-ridden sparking a migration of able-bodied people to Nairobi, Kiambu and Limuru towns.

Felix Wanjohi, the general manager of Uplands Premium Dairy (which makes Pascha milk brand) says when they started they were collecting 4,000 litres a month.

They now aim to hit 10,000 litres by the end of this year with a total of 10,000 members.

They will all be supported in farm management, breeding, clinical services, disease control and genetic management of the animals.

“We have developed a data base which enables the office to detect the reduction of milk production of any registered cow. The company can then alert the farmer long before he has realised there is a problem,” says Wanjohi, who believes that Pascha milk products must be produced by happy and healthy families.

Listening to Wanjohi projecting how to meet his 40,000 litres milk demand, one can see his vision of transforming the community beginning to bear fruits.

Rental houses for the 120 employees in the factory have come up deep in the farms.

Residents are also pleased with other benefits such as improved roads, construction of petrol stations and shopping centres in the once sleepy village.

 

-Seeds of Gold

 

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