Feature: Kenyan dairy farmers adopt improved animal feeds to cope with stresses

NAIROBI, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- In her vast wealth of experience in farming, Rosemary Muthini from Masii town, located some 63 kilometers southeast of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, has fed her dairy cattle native grass, maize stover, and portions of animal concentrate.

Her feeding technique appeared to yield high milk production and promote good animal health until it stopped. At present, Muthini's five cows rarely produce enough milk for subsistence consumption, let alone for sale at the local market. With this new reality, the dairy farmer is now adopting improved dietary practices to achieve peak milk production and sustain her livelihood.

"I come from a semi-arid region where drought has become frequent and that is why I have to plant-animal feeds that will survive to get more milk and reduce the time it takes the animal to be on heat," Muthini said during a recent interview at her farm.

Many dairy farmers like Muthini are now keen to plant forage that requires low soil fertility, drought resistance, and nutrient-dense crops like sorghum, millet, and lucerne varieties.

"On top of giving the cows the variety of greenery, I have been advised by experts to harvest the forage at the right age and give the right ratios for good results," Muthini added.

An alliance of private sector entities including Corteva Agriscience, Land O'lakes venture 37, Bidco, and Forage Genetic International has partnered with the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to improve the livelihoods of dairy farmers in the country by teaching them climate-smart technologies and improved agronomic practices.

"Our farmers do not know how to properly feed the livestock. You will find many giving the animals basic grass alone. We are showing small-holder farmers there is diversity in the green matter and linking them with producers of certified forage seeds," said Ian Mutua, the lead agronomist, Kenya nourishing prosperity alliance.

The program which is now in its third season across the towns of Eldoret, Kericho, and Nakuru has successfully managed to help farmers increase milk production, cut overreliance on animal concentrates and greatly save on fertilizer usage.

Kenya's dairy sub-sector is dominated by small-holder farmers whose output constitutes 57 percent of the total milk production, according to statistics from the ministry of agriculture and livestock development. Local farmers produce more than 5 billion liters of milk per year, placing them among the highest producers in the Sub-Saharan African region, according to government data.

Further, the industry provides livelihood to over two million households while supporting local per capita milk consumption averaging 100 liters per year. With a soaring demand against low production, experts are advocating for more investments to improve the quality and quantity of milk available in local markets.

Joseph Nzioka is a dairy farmer hailing from a semi-arid village in southeastern Kenya, where rains have been erratic and sparse. Before the climatic conditions became harsher, Nzioka witnessed farmers making sufficient earnings from supplying milk to their local milk society.

He is now working towards restoring that lost glory by advocating for better feed practices among the farmers.

"Those of us who have adopted new ways will teach the rest how to plant fodder that requires little water," said Nzioka.

In May, humanitarian agencies said that the East and Horn of African region was experiencing its worst drought in 40 years with the October-December rains predicted to be depressed, and likely to worsen an already dire situation.

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