Decline in the productivity of sugarcane and maize at farm level, high cost of farm inputs, high operation costs at sugar milling plants in the former Western province are some of the factors that have greatly contributed to the dwindling fortunes in the traditional agricultural practices of the region, paving way to dairy farming.
Kakamega County, whose economy once relied on Mumias sugar factory which had dominated the sugar market suffered a great loss when the company found itself in financial doldrums, leaving sugarcane farmers and other subsistence farmers who directly relied on the company with little to rely on for survival. However, the tide is changing as some now turn to dairy farming to meet their daily needs to substitute subsistence farming.
Lydia Andola is a dairy farmer from Khwisero sub-county in Kakamega County, she has one dairy cow that helps her meet her daily needs. “I got this cow in 2018 from REALLOW women group, it calved in 2019, but according to our group’s constitution, I gave out the calf to one of our members in the neighboring ward, since then I have been milking this cow and using its proceeds for revenue generation and domestic use.”
Mrs. Andola is a member of a women group dubbed ‘Reach all women’ (REALLOW) composed of one thousand women who are now turning the fortunes of women through a dairy project that has benefited its members in sixty wards of Kakamega County. Given substantive changes in the intensification and scaling up of effective milk production driven by high demand of the product in Kakamega, Lugari Member of Parliament Ayub Savula who was the brain behind the project said he seeks to increase the number of dairy cows to 350 by the end of this year across the 60 wards in Kakamega County. “I thought this was a good project to support given that land holdings in most parts of the County are far too small to be economically viable thus contributing to the high poverty index,” said Savula, “With the advancement of technology, dairy farming can cushion our population especially when it is placed in the hands of women who want to advance economically and support their families; with overreliance on traditional cow breeds checked.
“We came together as women with an intention of uplifting each other, the only sustainable project we thought of was dairy farming, and because we did not have funds, we approached the Lugari legislator Ayub Savula who agreed to support us, he is the one who purchased for us the first 60 cows we began with. The number has grown to 72 cows,” explained Mrs. Esther Amayi who chairs the women group. ” Our dream is to see all our members own a dairy cow each in the next three years, meaning we must have one thousand cows by the end of 2023,” added Mrs. Edith Lubongo who joined the group at its inception in 2017.
Edwin Wetete, a dairy farmer from Likuyani Sub-county said the project has become an alternative source of income, “Since I took up dairy farming, I have been milking 15 litres daily, this has increased my income, initially I depended on maize which turned out to be unprofitable due to high cost of farm inputs and fluctuation of maize prizes when it is harvest time.”
Savula further explained, “The reason why we are determined to see members of the women group receive at least five dairy cows in every ward is to have them as sustainable milk producers who will play a critical role in supplementing other dairy farmers as suppliers in milk processing plants that I intend to establish in every sub-county when I assume office as the Governor of Kakamega County.”
According to Mr. Francis Amayi, an agricultural extension officer in Kakamega, most dairy farmers still face disease challenges as a result of roadside feeding. “The main disease affecting a larger percentage of the smallholder dairy farmers is tick borne East Coast Fever (ECF), this as a result has limited most farmers from realizing the full potential of their animals.”
Joseph Ominde, a dairy expert from Lugari sub-county argued that the full potential of dairy farming in Kakamega County can be achieved if farmers are well trained and supported through the services of extension officers. “The main feeding system is stall-feeding based on cut and carry with a higher percentage of smallholder farmers offering dairy cattle improved or preserved fodder with supplementation, this is one way of achieving full potential in dairy cattle especially where land is highly subdivided,” said Ominde.