Partners & possibility in Kenya

The contrast between Namibia and Kenya is stark, and the landscape is only the beginning. Namibia is expansive, arid, filled with wide open spaces, and a total population of 2.4 million people. Kenya’s landscape is varied. Nairobi and the surrounding areas are lush, rolling hills, layered in development of all kinds - from glass skyscrapers to tin shacks. In Nairobi alone there are 4.4 million people, and nationally the population is over 49 million.

Kenya has a dairy industry with a long history, that has continued to develop and grow from colonial days into the present. When we first discussed bringing our mastitis diagnostic tool to Africa, Kenya was first on my mind.

The Kenyan dairy sector bears little resemblance to that of North America or Europe. Only 20 percent of milk is produced through the “formal” milk market of private or cooperative processors and distributors, the remaining 80 percent of milk is traded on the “informal” market - sales through milk traders in local markets.

Regardless of who is collecting, processing and selling the milk, this is a sector that relies heavily on smallholder farmers. Over 70 percent of milk produced in Kenya is done by farmers with fewer than three cows. A herd of 10-20 is considered a mid-size producer, and more than 40 is large-scale.

Our goals in coming to Kenya were very clear. We needed to understand how the milk sector works here, so we can understand how to make our mastitis diagnostic tool work for them, and in a decentralized market, it takes a decentralized approach. We came to meet with people and organizations working at all levels of the system, and in one week we did demonstrations on six farms with seven different organizations ranging from NGO’s to tech start-ups, from veterinary service and input providers to dairy processors. Here’s what we learned:

There is an eager market and feasible business for EIO in Kenya. Like farmers all over the world, they struggle with mastitis, but they also struggle with transparency and food quality issues. Farmers are commonly misled by veterinarians who treat animals without a proper diagnosis, or who treat using ineffective medicines. Our device gives an immediate and definitive visual indication of infection on the spot that anyone can understand. Regardless of the number of animals on a farm, being able to see what is going on with udder health is a step toward building trust, saving farmers money, and making sure animals get the treatment they need.

We met with the team at Sidai, a Kenyan company working to make high quality inputs and extension services available to livestock farmers across the country. Their branded product line of feeds, supplements, vaccinations and equipment has a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians that provide support to back up the products. It’s a different way of doing business. We visited two small farms, and a third larger-scale operation where we demonstrated the tool, and taught one of their veterinary technicians to use it. For them, the tool provides a way to help their customers learn more about udder health, and to promote proper prevention and treatment products through their business.

Kenyan farmers are open to new technologies that will help them increase production, reduce costs and improve quality. We meet with a company called Lisha Bora that has developed an app for milk traders to use to manage their accounts with farmers. Using an inexpensive smart phone, traders can keep track of what they collect from each farmer, as well as payments, orders and loans. This is a step-change in record keeping for both the milk traders and the farmers, who until now have worked from memory or on paper. Milk traders often have the most direct and trusted relationship with farmers. They travel the rural communities on motorcycles, collecting milk from smallholder farmers and selling it either to processors at collection hubs, or privately in local communities.

We met with Dutch-based NGO, SNV, and their partners at Pro Dairy, who are working with farmers through the Kenya Milk Development Program to improve capacity in the milk sector. We visited Risa Farm, where they are testing Rumen8, an Australian animal nutrition app that SNV and Pro-Dairy are working to adapt to the Kenyan context. Nutrition is a huge issue for farmers in Kenya. This app will help them balance their feed formulations using local forage, and track related changes in production.

While we were at Risa Farm we were able to walk the paddocks and screen the entire dairy herd. When we were finished, the herd manager came out and asked what we found. Damir showed him to the first of three cows that we had flagged. He looked at the cow, and said “Of course, we just started treating this cow for mastitis.” It was a good moment for us.

Partnerships are the path forward. There are people and businesses on the ground in Kenya who are working directly with farmers to help them develop their farm businesses as individuals and collectively through farmer groups and cooperatives. Milk processors, both private and cooperative, are trying to build capacity to address milk quality issues. The processors that we met with we keen to get the tool into the hands of farmers because they see it as a tool to increase production, and help reduce the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics that contributes to some of their quality concerns.

International development organizations like Heifer International and SNV are taking a business-focused approach to creating economic opportunities and improving livelihoods through dairy production. These are organizations with strong networks on the ground, and relationships that reach deep into the communities and other organizations involved in the sector. They are connectors and capacity builders, aligning with the broader goals and opportunities of the dairy industry in Kenya to increase productivity and grow the market for dairy in Kenya and beyond.

For EIO, we are looking forward to collaborating with these groups to get our diagnostic tool into the barns of entire communities of farmers, not just the ones who can afford to buy the device on their own. Our vision of the handheld mobile device being used to service multiple farms fits with the way people are already doing business, and provides a practical solution to a problem that is a priority from the barn to the processing plant.

Armed with the knowledge gained by our Kenya demonstrations, and the richness of our conversations and experiences seeing related technologies in development and in the field, we are already working their needs and data into our next design.

Our flight home hadn’t taken off before planning started for our return.

Tamara LeighComment