Elburgon Progressive Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society in Nakuru County is one of the most vibrant milk saccos in the region.
The chama started as a self-help group before it was registered as a cooperative in 2015 after having the requisite 120 members. Seeds of Gold’s John Njoroge spoke to its officials and members on how the cooperative model has worked for the producers, a majority of them smallholder farmers.
What prompted you to start the society?
Johstone Sang, chairman: Farmers used to supply their milk to Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) and Brookside but they faced many challenges. Some would travel for long distances while for others, it was hours of waiting for the milk tanker that was the problem. Sometimes they found the tanker had passed the waiting point. These challenges forced us to come up with an idea of forming a society, which could ease our problems that compounded during the rainy season. There was also the challenge of delayed payments.
How many members belong to this society and what are their ages?
Johstone Sang, chairman: We have more than 1,300 active members. Each has five to 10 dairy cows of Friesian and Ayrshire breeds. The farmers produce between two and 80 litres of milk per day. Most of the farmers are between ages 20 and 60. The farmers are mainly smallholders spread in Elburgon, Arimi, Turi, Mariashoni. Any farmer can join our society by paying Sh200 registration fees and as long as they have milk to supply.
What do you do with the milk you collect?
For now we don’t process the milk. We collect and sell to the processor. The society came in to curb losses by easing farmers’ access to coolers and transportation services. We have two coolers, one Elburgon progressive dairy and the other at Muchorwi depot.
Once you receive the milk from farmers, what happens next?
Emmanuel Maosa, lab technician: When the milk is delivered at our depot, we first check its density to ascertain if it is fresh. It is then sieved and later weighed digitally to know the number of litres, which are recorded by a clerk.
It will later be taken to a laboratory for testing to detect if it has any water, margarine or antibiotics.
If the lab test reveals the milk is impure, it is rejected and the concerned farmer notified immediately. The milk must have a density of above 25 per cent and butterfat must be more than 3.5 per cent. We work with extension officers who visit farmers from time to time and collect samples of milk to check if some compromise quality. Farmers are advised to ensure similar problems do not recur.
However, it is normal to have errant farmers in our midst butwe talk to them. The society laws do not allow us to expel any member unless someone withdraws.
What benefits do members get from the society?
Josephine Kirui, farmer: The society pays us promptly unlike when we were supplying to major processors where many of us did not receive our money on time since it had to go through a bank for processing. We also receive artificial insemination services, buy equipment at subsidised rates and concentrates and various chemicals from the society’s agrovet. For those members who collect the inputs from the cooperative’s agrovet on credit, the money is deducted from their payment.
Through the cooperative, we have a readily accessible place to deliver our milk twice or three times a day compared to supplying the processor, whose milk tanker would come once or twice a day.
How many litres of milk do you collect daily?
Johstone Sang, chairman: During the peak season, we collect more than 10,000 a day from both Progressive society and Mochorwi dairy points. Farmers get payment for their milk promptly through banks accounts. But for those without, we pay them through cash or M-pesa. Payment is done every eleventh day of the month.
Do you have any plans to add value to the milk?
Sang: Yes, we hope to soon process and pack the milk we collect and also form a Sacco through which farmers can save and access loans. Our long-term vision is to be a one-stop shop for all dairy activities including training and sale of quality animals.
Do you think the cooperative model works best for dairy farmers?
Sang: I would say yes as there are more benefits in numbers. Besides that, one can get help more easily while in a group than as an individual. We recently won Sh19 million after writing a proposal to the National Agriculture Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP). We used the money to buy a tractor, fodder crusher, construct a feed centre and equip our laboratory among other things.
What are your challenges?
Sang: Lack of enough extension officers to educate farmers, poor roads in Elburgon and Mariashoni where the milk is sourced. We ask the county government to repair the roads to ease transport challenges, employ more extensional officers, have additional artificial insemination kits and give more coolers to active cooperative societies.
What constitutes a good dairy cooperative?
Harun Muraya, Molo sub-county cooperative officer: It must be open to inspections from our officers and ensure that it adheres to laid down regulations. Its books should also be audited every year and hold annual general meetings without fail.
But training for the officials and farmers is key in ensuring that misappropriation of funds in the society does not occur and there is good governance.