Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dairy Farming in Kenya - Tough Love

As you may have noticed, my blog-posts happen to be few and far between, thanks largely in part to the engaging work that is farm-work. And yes the actual physical bit is quite trying contrary to what people usually think it ought to be. Now especially due to looking for fresh feeds and reliable water, blogging becomes quite secondary.
A few weeks ago, it was rumoured that the Kenyan dairy sector players is 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.
Dakar School kid sips milk - image from www.tetrapak.com 

It was a noble idea but as is often the case with Government/Presidential decrees, there is prone to be 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 15 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.
Do it, this way & that way - www.erails.com 

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! Check out this interesting blog on Dairy Farming in East Africa , http://eadairy.wordpress.com/

Friday, 10 February 2012

Commodities Trading in Kenya - Illusion or Possibility?

One of the reasons behind this post is the rise of incidences of robbery coming from coffee farms and factories alike especially from the Nyeri side of Central Kenya, and challenges facing Kenyan farmers in the selling of their produce - be it for cash crops or food crops. As you would know coffee one of Kenya's prized commodities and major foreign exchange earner has over the year taken a major dip in production.
Black Gold 

Black Gold of Kenya?
Part of the reasons this happened was because of the low prices that the international markets attracted up to and around the mid-2000s.  The changing weather patterns and expensive farm inputs have also contributed to a lowered interest in the crop. There is also the swelling population that has put pressure on land and this has seen many farmers opting to go into property development and also partitioning their land for other commercial purposes.
But in the last 2 years, global prices for coffee have been on an upward trend, thanks to increased consumption of the product and also reduced output from the one of the world's biggest coffee producers, Brazil. Locally some would say the rise in coffee establishments have contributed to the same but then again much of the coffee sold has been Grade II and Grade III while the Grade I is exported and repackaged selling at a fortune in major stores worldwide.
A little over 5 years ago, the Government liberalised the coffee milling process ending KPCU's (Kenya Planters' Co-operative Union) monopoly. This encouraged private millers to buy coffee beans from local farmers but it has also seen a rise in theft of the same since most milling companies operate at below optimal or optimal capacity. Again the lure of the improved prices has meant increased demand for the beans.
Calls have been made to brand our coffee and authenticate it as being from this part of the world and Brand Kenya has made a weak case for the same. But this requires more focussed branding and marketing of the product if Kenya's to expect to earn more from its traditional cash crop product. Lessons can be learnt from our northern neighbour, Ethiopia. Some say it's the birth-place of the product hence the general acceptance as the 'national choice of drink'. They have managed to leverage their coffee to be labelled and branded as having come from the country. Also helping their cause is the fact that they have a vibrant Commodities Exchange, Ethiopia Commodity Exchange ,one of the biggest in Africa.
Goodies, Take your pick

Commodities Exchange ala Kenya style
This brings me to the gist of this post, what is a Commodities Exchange and why do we need this to be actively pursued in Kenya?
According to Wikipedia; " a commodities exchange is an exchange where various commodities and derivatives products are traded. Most commodity markets across the world trade in agricultural products and other raw materials (like wheatbarleysugarmaizecottoncocoacoffeemilk products, pork belliesoilmetals, etc.) and contracts based on them." It goes on to say, "...Commodities exchanges usually trade futures contracts on commodities, such as trading contracts to receive something, say corn, in a certain month. A farmer raising corn can sell a future contract on his corn, which will not be harvested for several months, and guarantee the price he will be paid when he delivers; a breakfast cereal producer buys the contract now and guarantees the price will not go up when it is delivered. This protects the farmer from price drops and the buyer from price rises"
Right here in Kenya, we have 4 known commodities exchange namely;
1) Africa Mercantile Exchange - a commodity futures and options exchange, privately registered and is said to be ' Africa's first mercantile exchange, with a truly diversified product portfolio.
2) Mombasa Tea Auction - as the name suggests this is for trading in mainly Kenya's tea as well as other regional tea and used by major tea producers and marketers to buy and sell the product to regional and international buyers. It is managed by among others Africa Tea Brokers Limited. 
3) Nairobi Coffee Exchange - this is run by the Kenya Coffee Producers and Traders Association. This has been actively engaged to buy and sell Kenyan coffee to the wider global market. 
4) Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange - This is run by a privately-owned firm started by one Dr. Adrian Mukhebi  - one of Kenya's foremost authorities in agricultural economics. This particular exchange helps small-scale farmers and producers as well as middlemen access price information from various regions on the produce and its availability. It has been able to provide up-to-date info using mobile and other ICT platforms to access commodity prices.

As you can see from the list above, most of these commodities exchanges are privately run ( some bordering on cartel-like structures...) which makes it quite difficult for budding or established smaller-scale farmers to be able to buy and sell their produce. If you look at some like the coffee-farming, most of the time, unless one is a large-scale farmer and managing/running his/her own coffee bean factory, the produce is most;y bought by co-operatives and sold to the milling firms as a body, thus making it more difficult to access price margins.
Tea farming has similar challenges and this explains the reason why most small-scale farmers are still paupers 10-20 years since planting their first bushes. 
Mixed basket - images from www.google.com/pictures & worldcloud

As regards other commodities such as dairy, maize and wheat, the former has seen much appreciation thanks to the State-run milk processing firm Kenya Co-operative Creameries( renamed New KCC after 2003) whose revamped processors meant competition with Brookside Dairies making them the 2 largest milk processors in the region. Other smaller dairy firms have also seen the price of milk rise upwards though a large number of smaller-scale farmers still prefer 'hawking' their milk to kiosks and individual consumers. (Once in awhile, I must confess I do use the KCC collection points for an extra shilling but much of the milk's consumed at home and the rest sold to neighbouring farms...).

All in all, I do hope the little educative post I have done is bound to spur interests in commodities trading which ought to be a gold mine for budding entrepreneurs and ultimately help develop our agricultural marketing skills which have been largely exploited by middlemen in the country. Back to the farm now for a wrap on the week's work...

Monday, 6 February 2012

Of Frost, Sunshine & other news...

As you would know for any Kenyan farmer, after the festive season in December, January and the better part of the first quarter becomes a busy month what with finishing off any pending harvests of any crop - be it cash- crops ( for me in the form of coffee), tea or food crops , maize, beans and the others.
It has also been a busy one for those who keep animals since the weather now has taken its toll on most of the vegetation and what would be otherwise be easy pickings for the cattle is now a hard day's work 3-4 times in a week.
Tea Bushes affected by Frost ( notice the discolouration) - image from www.ntvkenya.com 
Talking of weather, the region I come from ( or undertake most of farming for that matter) has been in the news due to frost affecting the tea farms both small-scale and large scale. It is quite tragic if you ask me because for the longest time Kenyans have been ignoring the calls for environmental conservation. The haphazard weather patterns we have seen in the last 5-10 years have been worrying especially considering our country is smack in the middle of the tropics.
Tree-cutting has been the order of the day and recently the area around Mt. Kenya - which is less than 20 miles from the farm - had a wild fire which was contained after more than 3 days. A similar but less serious situation was also reported along the Aberdare Ranges. These two highlands provide the area around Central Kenya with much of its water and this also trickles down to the other parts of the country in Nairobi, Eastern and Coastal regions. Reduce the acreage of trees on these areas and you drastically affect the water table and patterns downstream. I'll not lecture you on this for now.
Back to the frost and tea, and estimates put the loss at approximately KSh.100 million which is quite substantial  if you factor in that this is usually the low season for tea-picking due to the hot sunny conditions around most parts of the country. Kenya's foremost tea marketing agency KTDA quickly came together with stakeholders to introduce an insurance package to help cover farmers against such risks. This is a step in the right direction though it would most likely be adopted by large-scale farmers than the smaller-scale ones who are less educated on such products.
All in all, it would be advisable for farmers to make sure that they have a portion of their farms dedicated to trees which will not only save them from adverse weather conditions but also supplement their daily fuel and basic construction needs which is a challenge to most small-scale farmers.
Lucky for us the coffee bushes had largely been cleared of the harvest thus not much effect to that. We're also in the process of pruning the suckers and adding organic manure to the soil to ensure some moisture content and richness to the area around the bushes.

ION, the litter of dogs have been growing oh so fast and had their last set of injections in the last week of January. Just like human babies, the puppies ought to be treated with the utmost of care to ensure they're not  attacked by any virus or other conditions that may arise. They have also developed a healthy appetite and quickly trying to find their place among the other more mature dogs. I've had many people making promises of purchasing them but since most are non-committal I have opted to keep the puppies for the next couple of weeks.
Beautiful Heifer - image from Heifer International
Well, as I had said earlier, this time of the month becomes tricky fending for animals as fodder becomes scarce by the day. Thankfully we had some silage in place and this will supplement the daily requirements of the cows. Did I say that there is an addition to the small herd? Well a nice heifer turned 1 month on January 28th. It has been awhile since female calves were delivered in our part of the world, so this was a big blessing indeed and maybe a form of endorsement to our humble beginnings.

My farm-helps and I are now engaging in preparation of the grounds for planting for the long rains which ought to start anytime from the end of March or thereabouts if there are no delays like has been in the last couple of years. We have also been exploring hardy fodder which can be used to supplement the traditional napier grass, hay and other grasses.

I shall endeavour to chronicle some more activities in and around our part of the world, time permitting and Net connections being on point.  You can also drop me a line or two on your take on farming in Kenya and maybe even give us a tip too. E-mail me on kamwenji@gmail.com or follow my tweets @E_Kamwenji.