E-Dairy promises efficiency and improved earnings for dairy farmers in Kenya

Computing

Nothing tells of the tribulations of a Kenyan dairy farmer better than a visit to Isaac Kimani’s mixed farm at Limuru on the outskirts of Nairobi.  For the 22 years that Kimani has been running his establishment, everything has almost favourably changed — milk prices, productivity of his Friesian cows and demand for milk. But like other farmers in Kenya who supply their milk to co-operative societies,  Kimani has had to grapple with a two-pronged problem.

Rarely is the ardent member of the Limuru Dairy Farmers Co-operative Society Limited (Limuru Dairy) paid on time and when he is, the returns are wrongly calculated and or the quantity of milk under-measured — at least going by his complaint.  Kimani’s not-so-good experience mirrors a sting that continues to hurt Kenya’s multi-billion shilling dairy industry.

Information on the industry’s productivity has been scanty and inaccurate, a challenge that has left stakeholders unable to effectively deal with regular fluctuations in milk prices. The use of outdated manual systems at the co-operatives has led to errors, while rounding off of figures of milk deliveries downwards has resulted in reduced returns for farmers.

But Kimani and other farmers are beginning to brace for better times, thanks to the rollout of the Dairy Information Management System (e-dairy), a multi-million project meant to enhance the competitiveness and efficiency of the dairy sector through the use of ICT. E-dairy, which was launched early this month, is a computer-generated management software designed to monitor the movement of raw milk from suppliers to processing plants in real time.

After signing up with their respective cooperatives to get input and sales data of their supplies, farmers will have an account of the quantity and quality of the milk they have supplied reflected in the e-dairy portal; hence, traceability is assured for quality assessment.  Industry players said that in addition to improving farmers’ earnings, the system is also expected to increase export of dairy products from the country.

Data shows that the dairy industry accounts for 14 and 3.5 per cent of agricultural output and total gross domestic product respectively, and provides income to over 800,000 small scale farmers, generating an estimated 365,000 jobs.

The volume of milk produced increased from 2.8 billion litres in 2002 to 5.2 billion litres last year, while intake by processors increased from 143.5 to 402 million litres over the same period.

The Kenya Dairy Board (KDB) in conjunction with Agritrace Kenya Limited see the figures improving in future, with the roll out of the e-dairy system being pilot-tested at Limuru Dairy and Kamahia Farmers Cooperative Society milk collection centres.

“One of the major impediments to the export of dairy products has been the requirement for animal and product traceability. With the traceability function within the e-dairy system, dairy exports will increase,” said Machira Gichohi, managing director at KDB.

Officials at Limuru Dairy see an end to constant rows with farmers as the project is rolled out countrywide early next year.

“The system is accurate. Nothing is getting lost and this has resulted in an increase in our income because we get paid according to the number of kilos of milk we supply,” Kimani told Business Daily.

The farmers have also seen a reduction in the number of days it takes to get paid as the processing and reconciliation of milk returns is now more efficient, faster and accurate.

“Processing of payments used to take 30 days after the end of the month, but now we receive payments after about 12 days after month end. We are now able to plan for our expenses better. We want our money paid faster,” he said. “I cannot say that the project has not been beneficial, and they (implementers) seem to be doing it on schedule. First they trained farmers, then they trained staff at the dairy, then digital scales were brought and we also got new dairy cards. I think they are implementing the project well,” he added.