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For many years, farmers in Ndumberi, Kiambu County have been struggling to feed their dairy cows especially during the dry season. With the usual green fodder unavailable at this time, farmers are forced to spend a lot of money and travel long distances in search of feed.

Lack of adequate and quality feed is not a problem only experienced in Ndumberi but in many parts of Kenya and is one of the reasons that annual milk shortages persist.

Two dairy cooperatives; Ndumberi and Nyala in Kiambu and Laikipia Counties respectively have recently formed a partnership that has begun to show success in addressing this issue.  The two cooperatives were supported by Kenya Markets Trust (KMT) and its partner Technoserve through its Market Assistance Programme (MAP) to establish a Limited Liability partnership referred to as Hay and Forage (HnF) whose main objective is to produce quality differentiated hay that is both affordable and accessible to smallholder dairy farmers.

The cooperatives identified and leased 1,182 acres of land in Nyahururu, Laikipia County to produce and sell quality hay. By the end of 2013, they plan to increase this production base by an additional 1000 acres.
Hay produced by HnF costs only Ksh 150, much cheaper than the current market rate. “We used to purchase hay from as far as 100 km away at a cost of Ksh 180 – 250 per bale before we started producing our own hay,” says Jane Muya, a dairy farmer and General Manager of Ndumberi Dairy Cooperative.

The affordability of the HnF hay, coupled with its guaranteed quality, has made it very popular among farmers. In 2013 alone, HnF has sold over 20,000 bales of hay to its members and has received orders of over 60,000 bales from external farmers. “The target is to have farmers feed their cows with one bale, per cow, per day,” said Samuel Ngure, HnF Chairperson. Apart from its affordability, use of hay is reducing dependency on green fodder and is also a commercially viable venture for the two cooperatives.

In the beginning, MAP cost shared the cost of mowing and baling with HnF so that each of the first 60,000 bales would not be sold for more than Ksh100 to farmers who were cooperative members. The purpose of this short-term subsidy was to “buy down” the risk and demonstrate the business case for Nyala and Ndumberi so that they can invest in a new service for their members. The programme learnt a lot of lessons from this cost sharing arrangement which are now informing the implementing of other projects.

After almost a year of leasing baling and transport equipment, HnF has been able to purchase its own equipment worth Ksh 3.85million. MAP facilitated this process through linking HnF to equipment providers and developing alternative financing options.

“Through MAP’s support we were able to drive down the cost of hay from the beginning despite the fact that we had leased most of the equipment. This year, we have taken measures to ensure that we sustain the production cost and thus increase farmers’ awareness of hay as a solution for improving productivity,” said Jane.

Farmers using hay have begun to see improvement in milk productivity. “Since I started buying hay, my milk production has gone up by at least three litres per cow,” said Helen Njeri, a farmer with 10 cows.

Use of hay has also reduced the amount of time that farmers use in search of feed giving them time to pursue other activities. In addition HnF has succeeded in providing employment to at least 15 people at different levels.

More importantly, Ndumberi Cooperative did not experience any milk shortages in 2013 during the dry season like other parts of the country. “We were able to maintain our production at 20,000 litres per day,” said James Ngaruiya, Financial Manager, Ndumberi Cooperative.

As a result of the success experienced by HnF, five other cooperatives and large farms including Githunguri Dairy, one of the largest cooperatives in Kenya with 22,000 registered members, have shown interest in becoming commercial hay producers. By the end of 2013, MAP’s commercial hay production partnerships are expected to be providing improved access to high quality hay and fodder to over 70,000 farmers. “We would like to come to a place where dairy farmers in Kenya value the importance of hay as integral to their dairy herd feeding regime, and in doing so are able to afford to feed their cows on a bale of hay each day,” says Annah Macharia from MAP