As the afternoon sun alights behind the rugged hills of the Machakos district in Kenya’s Eastern Province, dairy farmer Peter Ndhuli walks across his idyllic farm towards a large mound.

“This one I made it last year. This is one way of challenging the climate,” he says as he lifts the covering to reveal the silage made of sorghum, Sudani grass and molasses.

“The animals they love it,” he says as he pulls handfuls of the sweet-smelling compost into a bucket. “We have told some farmers…and I hope this time we are going to make a big one, which can last about 3, 4 years.”

A former schoolteacher, Mr. Ndhuli turned to dairy farming as a way to supplement his income when he retired. He joined the Masii Farmers Co-operative Society, a small outfit with only 548 members, and before long, became chairman of the board.

Just 25 kilometres down the road is Wamunyu Farmers Co-Operative Society. Registered in 1976 as a cotton farmers association, the industry collapsed as a result of competition from abroad, and the members turned to dairy farming as an alternative.

At the time, “there were only six dairy farmers and they were producing very little milk, so little, that all the milk would be consumed in the local markets,” manager Joshua Wambua says. The demand exceeded supply, in turn inspiring more farmers to take up the practice, and today the co-operative boasts 2,023 members.

As the industry grew, the farmers encountered cooling and transport problems, and observed counter-productive business practices in the market. In the true spirit of the co-operative movement, Wamunyu Farmers approached their major competitor, Masii Farmers, with the idea of joining hands to work toward common objectives. Realizing that they were undercutting each other, they set uniform prices. In their discussions, they discovered a common problem: lack of proper cooling facilities, and together they submitted a project proposal to the ILO.

Through the International Labour Organization COOPAfrica Challenge Fund facility program Wamunyu and Masii Farmers were awarded a $55,000 grant, which allowed them to acquire two cooling tanks with a capacity of 3,200 litres each, and a stand-by power generator.

“There were times when we had plenty of milk that could not be stored and it spoiled in the heat,” says Mr. Wambua. The cooling facility was launched in May 2011, drastically reducing milk wastage and thus increasing sales. They are currently collecting 1,200 litres per day because of the drought, but when the rainy season comes, that figure should rise to about 2,900.

Some 30 kilometres northwest of Nairobi in Kiambu district, Limuru Dairy Farmers Co-Operative Society provides another example of how farmers have been able to expand their business through the COOPAfrica Challenge Fund. Started in 1961 with just 76 members, it has grown to 9,800 registered shareholders.

At 31 milk collection points in Limuru and four neighbouring districts, local farmers deliver an average of 25,000 litres per day. The COOP also supplies to its own milk processing plant where butter, yoghurt, ghee, and pasteurized milk are distributed to markets stretching all the way to Nairobi proper.

But fluctuating animal feed prices prompted the COOP to apply for a Challenge Fund grant to facilitate the creation of their own production plant. They were awarded $50,000 in 2009, and the resulting Limda Feeds has been fully operational since December 2010, leading to an increase in milk production of about 20%.

Back at the Wamunyu and Masii Farmers’ milk shop in Kitui town, business is booming. “When the milk production peaks, we are thinking of opening a tea shop here” muses Mr. Wambua. “We also have a long-time dream of owning a milk processing plant.” That dream may come true sooner than expected if his plans to join forces with other dairy co-operatives in the region come to fruition.

story adapted from:–it/index.htm