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“Farmers should invest in fodder production to increase milk production and, ultimately, to cut costs,” says Anton Jansen, senior dairy advisor for SNV Kenya.

That was one of just several observations Jansen made during an interview with the The Daily Nation, one of Kenya’s two daily newspapers. As the coordinator of SNV’s Kenya Market-led Dairy Programme (KMDP), Jansen and his staff know first-hand the challenges faced by small, medium- and large-scale farmers as well as processors and others along the dairy value chain.

KMDP is a 4.5 year programme financed by the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Nairobi. It acknowledges the private sector and the formal market of processed milk products as the drivers of growth for the industry.

KMDP stimulates and facilitates adoption of innovations and best practices for enhanced competitiveness of the dairy industry. In doing so, it actively collaborates with stakeholders in the Dutch dairy sector and is a member of the Dutch Dairy Development Partners Initiative that is coordinated by the Netherlands African Business Council. KMDP also has a long-term collaboration with PUM/Netherlands Senior Expert Programme.

“We must enhance dairy management skills of farmers and their access to good quality fodder to reduce costs of production and boost productivity,” Jansen noted as KMDP nears its mid-point. He and his staff, through their daily work with farmers, see progress being made, but say that more can be done.

For example, Jansen said that dairy societies must enhance business management skills and governance practices to ensure more profitable operations and higher returns to their farmers. They should invest as well in farmer training and extension units, because the more skills can be enhanced on the farm, the healthier and the higher the productivity of the cows and the lower the costs of production. More milk  and less fluctuation in supply over the year – produced at lower costs and of better quality - means processing plants can run efficiently, reducing their costs. Better quality milk means better quality dairy products such as fluid milk or yoghurt for consumers.

More advanced dairy economies such as The Netherlands have centuries of experience in sector governance and pledged extensive government and private sector investments in, research, and practical skills development of dairy farmers to adopt new methods or technologies. The same is not necessarily true in Kenya. However, knowing which steps to take and what technologies to adopt, dairy development can be fast tracked and growth and competitiveness can be enhanced.

“Farmers can invest in on-farm fodder production and preservation, notably forage maize and high-protein grass,” Jansen said. “This will reduce the costs of the total feed ration as reliance on more expensive and sometimes inconsistent concentrates is less.  As a result, dairy farmers could be farther ahead if they either invest in producing fodder themselves on their own farm, or working with neighbouring farmers to produce the type and quality the dairy farmer needs for the cows. Feeding better quality feeds, alone, can help Kenya dairy farmers improve the milk output of their cows.”

And what have Jansen and his KDMP team learnt about helping farmers embrace new technology, whether it’s better fodder production or better milking systems?

“There is need to shift government and donor support more towards those farmers who have the ability and desire to invest in dairying as a core business and who have sufficient land and capital to expand their dairy businesses to 20, 40, or 60 well-bred cows, with the ability to grow fodder on farms.”

KDMP works to enhance competitiveness and growth in agricultural value chains and Jansen sees a need for farmers, farmer-owned milk collection and marketing organisations or cooperative societies, processors and the like, to create economies of scale and to strive for sector consolidation rather than fragmentation.

“Many smallholders do not have economically viable units for commercial dairy farming. Pro-poor approaches will not necessarily help grow the Kenya dairy sector,” Jansen observes. “We all need to invest in high quality, practical dairy training centres in the major milk sheds and go into partnerships with international practical dairy training institutions to assure quality of training.”

To this end, SNV and its network of dairy experts work closely through KMDP up and down the dairy value chain—from farm to fork. In this way, Kenya dairy farmers can get extensive knowledge and training on how the best practices in dairy management and fodder production that can be transferred one-to-one to Kenya.