| George Odiwour | Nation Media Group

The dairy co-operative that gave small farmers new lease of life

On the face of the brick-walled building located along Rodi Kopany-Sori Road in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay County, the words “dairy farmers’ co-operative” stand out.

First time visitors find them misplaced as the area is not known for dairy keeping and milk production.

Fish, a major delicacy, takes the pride of place for residents, with many getting the commodity from the nearby lake.

However, dairy keeping is slowly taking shape in the region if the outfit named Ndhiwa Sub-County Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society is anything to go by.

“We formed the society to find solutions to some of the challenges we were experiencing. They include low milk prices and lack of market,” says John Odiwa, the project management committee chairman.

Odiwa notes that the society, which comprises of 30 farmers, now works with 200 others from across the county.

“I went into dairy farming over eight years ago, starting with two cows that offered me eight litres at most,” he recalls.

The milk sales were good, making him increase the number of animals to four. However, he forgot that he had not expanded his market thus found challenges selling the extra 13 litres of milk he started getting.

“I would take to Ndhiwa town but most people there relied on processed milk bought from shops.”

Odiwa shared his predicament with other small-scale dairy farmers in his Kanyamwa Kosewe location and realised they were experiencing the same challenge. This led to the formation of the society

"It was in 2015; we agreed to register the group to enable us access different opportunities like training and marketing," he says.

They set the membership fee at Sh1,000, which stands to date, and to remain a member, one must deliver milk to the society daily.

Every morning, the society receives milk from members for processing at their premises before they sell on their behalf.

“We receive at least 200 litres of milk every day from farmers. They bring the raw milk, which we take through quality tests first.” They use a lactometer to check on the density and an alcohol gun to pick out traces of impurities, says Odiwa. Once found safe, it is pasteurised then cooled before it is sold to consumers from 500ml packs.

“Currently, we do all the processes manually. Milk is boiled, cooled and then used to make the various products. We have, however, applied to the National Agriculture and Inclusive Growth Project (Narigp) for funding to purchase the machines,” says Odiwa, noting they have purchased a piece of land where they will set up their business soon.

They sell a litre of the produce at Sh70, making it cheaper than packed milk that goes for Sh110.

“We get walk-in customers, supply some milk to homes and also local schools. What is not sold that day is turned into mala or yoghurt.”

Abiud Chacha, a dairy technologist at the cooperative society, says to make mala, milk is boiled inside a container to preserve quality. It is then cooled, mixed with culture and left to settle overnight for it to turn to mala.

“We usually use aluminum containers when keeping the milk for controlled temperature,” Chacha says.

For yoghurt making, starch, sugar and cultures are added to boiled milk, which is then cooled. “The cooling takes the whole night before it is flavoured as vanilla or strawberry,” he says.

A litre of mala is sold at Sh100 while yoghurt at Sh130.

In the next six months, the group intends to increase milk purchases from farmers from the current 200 litres to 500 litres per day. "We will soon start packing our milk and selling it in supermarkets. We are just waiting for approvals from different authorities," he says.

The outfit employs four workers, including a sales representative, an accounts clerk and a dairy technician.

Besides marketing milk, farmers get technical advice through the society. It also sources veterinary products and feeds in bulk for them.

Some of the challenges the farmers are facing are high cost of animal feeds and artificial insemination (AI) services as well as absence of extension officers.

In Homa Bay, AI costs between Sh3,000 to Sh4,000 per straw.

The society’s chairman Charles Adiedo says they are working to encourage residents to venture into dairy farming, noting the venture has a lot of opportunities.

"The business is profitable especially here where most people depend on milk from other counties," he says.

Agriculture executive Aguko Juma said the county government is ready to support farmers’ groups, but they must first form and run them.

 "I encourage farmers to join groups and work as a team," he says.

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