Sometimes last year, it was rumoured that the Kenyan dairy sector players was considering re-introducing free milk to school going children. The last this was seen was in the 1990s under the Moi regime which had introduced the practice in 1979 with much aplomb to cater for excess capacity of milk production and ensure healthy feeding among primary school kids,

but as is often the case with Government, there is prone to abuse from the people entrusted with implementation. The programme started with an estimated 44 million litres distributed but due to drought, production inefficiencies, corrupt officials and reduced milk production, supply was at around 3 million litres by the time the programme ceased.
Other reasons cited were lack of funds to spur milk production, closure or lack of maintenance at dairy plants, non-payment of distributors.
In the last 18 years though, the Kenya dairy sector has grown to one of the best examples of agri-business in the continent. In fact, neighbouring countries are often sending delegations of farmers and Agriculture ministry officials to visit dairy milk processors, farmers and related services. Rwanda for example even sought Government of Kenya assistance and local milk processors Brookside Milk to help train dairy farmers in Rwanda.
This has meant that milk production in Kenya is at optimal levels but there are still issues which need to be addressed;

  1. Expensive feeds and supplements – due to the high cost of producing commercial feeds, it is quite expensive for any dairy farmer to largely depend on the same. Regular fresh fodder is also an issue depending on which parts of the country you’re in.
  2. Unpredictable weather patterns– this mean less fresh feeds and unforeseen shortages. Due to deforestation and poor farming practices, it requires proper planning for emergencies and contigent measures.
  3. Poor storage facilities – most farmers are not equipped with proper storage facilities thus some milk usually goes to waste on production. This happens a lot during the rains when milk production’s at its peak. We have witnessed this in parts of Central Kenya and other high potential areas.
  4. Poor infrastructure – this relates to roads meant to access dairy farms. Though the Government has been trumpeting its achievements on roads maintenance and development, most of the high yielding areas are still under-served by proper roads -either graded or otherwise.
  5. Delayed payment – this irks many a farmer that upon delivery, payments are usually delayed. This is the reason behind most farmers opting to hawk their milk. Major milk processing companies are the main culprits though this is also dependent on how aggressive your co-operative, self-help group or local delivery centre is on getting it done.
  6. Disease and quarantine – due to changing weather patterns, the incidence of disease is quite high now and depending on how soon you’re able to diagnose this, it can mean the end of your beloved stock of cattle.
  7. Diminished veterinary services– this means that securing a vet’s service can be quite expensive unlike past practices where Government officials did rounds in the farms. This also applies to A.I services which have also become quite pricey.
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Quick Remedies:
a) Diversity in farming practices – this will ensure that one’s farm not only has regular feeds for the livestock but also crops that can supplement food for daily consumption.
b) Trees, trees, trees – yes, our Science teachers in primary school may have been laughable saying that trees attract rain but in a sense they were right. Trees provide shaded areas which can help ensure that the farm land takes longer to dry and thus support more fodder. Some trees have also been known to be used to supplement fodder.
c) Silos and cold rooms – if farmers were regularly educated on how to make simple silos for their fodder, this could help a lot. The same can be said of cold rooms which will preserve the milk for a little longer while waiting for collection.
d) Regular road maintenance – when the Government collects road levies, most of these end up not being used for the purpose they were meant for. It is also sad some of the road contractors engaged do shoddy jobs. With upcoming county governments, we hope this trend is reversed and more resources distributed to areas meant for development.
e) Innovative payment modules – with the mobile payment platform among others recently innovated, payment for milk delivered should be prompt. This goes a long way in encouraging delivery and consistency of the same.
f) Subsidies – this maybe a tricky situation for the Government of the day, but when your economy is almost 75% agri-based, it’s a no-brainer! I usually wonder why we spend heavily on Defence and recurrent budgets such as salaries but can’t afford to offer subsidies to farmers. The net effect would be felt in cheaper feeds and drugs alike.
g) Better outreach services– in this era where youth are busy claiming there are not enough jobs, agricultural-based services would serve those with interest in agriculture well. Farmers need this education from time to time. Over to the concerned parties…
h) Value-adding services – part of the reason dairy products have grown in demand is the value add they have. From fresh milk, yoghurt, butter, whole milk among others, to powdered milk makes it more marketable and wider consumer base. More options need be explored to ensure less wastage and more product diversity.
i) Affordable credit – if the Government can’t subside inputs, then access to credit ought to be enabled and at affordable rates. Many young people are lazing about in urban areas but if they have a taste of the fruits of their labour in agriculture, they would be willing to get financed to work on the lands.
As for the proposed milk school feeding programme, the modalities of this need be worked out properly not making populists moves to please farmers and stakeholders alike. And if the programme is not heavily subsidised or initial seed money set to make it commercially viable, then it’s just non-starter!
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