Dairy goat farmers counting huge losses
About 15 years ago, Mumbi Gitonga, a mother of four was all smiles. Like many other mothers in the Mt Kenya region, she had the unending brighter smile which is now vanishing.
Like Mumbi, Ruth Wangechi shares a similar success story, but one that was in the past. Her smile and hopes, like that of Mumbi and thousands of women who embraced and invested in dairy goats are rapidly vanishing.
Many women in the region ventured into dairy goats farming since it was noted as a lucrative venture, requiring minimal capital and space.
“As you know, the farms are shrinking and women have limited say in land management since it’s the men who decide on the type of crops to be planted and general management of the farms,” says Wangeci. She notes: “Dairy goats required a smaller space, that’s why it was a solace and solution to thousands of women. Their management was cheap in terms of feeding and time.”
Wangechi had gone an extra mile, venturing in value addition. She manufactured cheese, butter, ghee and powdered milk among other products.
“Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Livestock officials trained me on value addition as well as entrepreneurial skills and best management practices,” explains Wangechi.
It was a very enterprising project and Wangechi recalls how she would make a litre of cheese from five litres of milk, finally selling that one kg at KSh3,000, while other farmers sold a litre of raw dairy goat milk at between KSh80 and KSh100.
According to Mumbi, management of the dairy goats project never interfered with her daily routines.
“They require an average of 30 minutes in a day to feed, clean and milk. I was able to tend to all other businesses without a hitch,” she says.
From the dairy goats farming, Mumbi educated her four children, constructed a permanent house, and bought a water tank among other home developments.
However, what initially brought smiles to her face is not working anymore and the smile is slowly fading away. Talking about dairy goats farming, Mumbi is no longer the charming bright woman she used to be.
Like Wangechi, she complains of poor milk production, less weight and poor quality goats, with a slow growth rate to maturity.
“Poor quality of goats produced affects milk production. The average weight of mature goat was about 35 kilogrammes, which has reduced to about 15 kilogrammes, while milk production per goat has dropped from four kilogrammes per day to less than two kilogrammes in a day,” explains Mumbi.
The discouraging trend is attributed to excessive inbreeding and Kenya’s unpreparedness in protecting and promoting the trade.
According to Dairy Goats Association of Kenya (DGAK), excessive inbreeding was done after Kenya was unable to import more quality bucks, forcing the farmers to use bucks introduced in Kenya back in 1993.
Mwangi Waweru, the organisation’s technical manager blames the inbreeding to a low number of dairy goats in Kenya, which now stands at a population of 200,000 of the Germany Alpine breed, all in the hands of small-scale farmers, majority of whom are women.
“There was an unprecedented growth of farmers embracing the dairy goats. At inception, the project intended to benefit small-scale farmers in areas with shrinking farms within Nyeri, Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Embu counties but rapidly spread to other parts of the country.
“Promising returns enticed the farmers they are cheap to breed and maintain compared to other livestock. The goats and milk had better and faster returns,” explains Waweru.
Mumbi was not only involved in milk production, but was also a breeder selling the goats to new farmers.
She always had a long list of farmers waiting to collect the goats from her farm but the list is no longer there.
“A few years back, farmers faced acute shortage of bucks, resulting in excessive inbreeding, thus compromising the quality of the goats and milk production,” says Waweru. He adds: “Milk marketing is equally a challenge resulting to exploitation by traders though the milk is still in high demand.”
A few years back, farmers from Nyeri region signed a contract with a Nairobi-based dealer who wanted a minimum of 300 kilogrammes per day but the farmers were only able to produce 250 kilogrammes which led to the buyer pulling out.
Waweru notes: “Farmers lack capacity to produce and sustain the demand was a challenge although streamlining the marketing systems both locally and internationally was factored in our strategic plan.”
However, Nyanza and Western region are noted as leading in production due to reliable markets after interventions by a number of non-governmental organisations.
The Dairy Goats Association of Kenya has introduced Artificial Insemination (AI) services, after Kenya failed to meet set sanitary requirements for bucks importation from Germany.
The association has contracted promising farmers to do the artificial insemination breeding, who then sell the improved pure breeds with a goat going for between KSh15,000 and KSh35,000 depending on size and region.
With improved artificial insemination services, a farmer is guaranteed of a minimum of four kilogrammes of milk per day.
In Kisumu for instance, says Waweru, some farmers earn up to KSh200 per kilo of dairy goat milk, attributing the good prices to streamlined markets.
“With artificial insemination services, quality of the breed and animal growth rate are guaranteed. This is witnessed in cases where a seven-month-old dairy goat attains the recommended weight of about 35 kilogrammes compared to in excessive inbreeding where same aged goat weighs less than 15 kilogrammes,” explains Waweru.
The association is forging alliances with county governments to help support the farmers and in the protection of the industry from dishonest traders who brand and sell their goat as Germany Alpines to unsuspecting buyers.
According to Waweru, all genuine dairy goats have a card and mark to the ear, though the criminals have perfected the art of stealing the identification marks and details. He advises potential buyers to work with Dairy Goats Association of Kenya officials. Each goat is supposed to have a unique entry at the association’s database for quality assurance.
“If one is selling you an old dairy goat yet its mark appears to be very fresh, then don’t buy it, these marks are made when the goat is about three months old. The other challenge is conmen who sell cow milk as that belonging to the dairy goat,” says Waweru. He notes: “Although initially we had no better way of testing, we have now developed a testing machine to protect potential buyers.”