Kenyan dairy farmers on Monday joined their counterparts from across the globe to mark the World Milk Day as experts rooted for adoption of more hardy animals to enhance production amid challenges of climate change.
The day was founded some 20 years ago by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to distinguish the importance of milk as a food and to celebrate the dairy sector.
After milking their animals on Monday, some of the dairy farmers in the east African nation toasted their produce in celebration of resilience and hope for more production amid rising challenges.
East African nation milk producers are currently facing a myriad of challenges among them shrinking land sizes, erratic weather conditions due to climate change and restrictions to curb the spread of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that have shrunk the market.
Climate change effects have led to erratic pasture production and increased disease and pest incidences.
But still, the farmers have been resilient, producing up to 60 million liters of milk a month or 720 million liters annually, according to the Kenya Dairy Board.
Rachel Kinyua, a farmer from Meru County in central Kenya, is among those earning a living from milk that her six cows, out of the 15 she keeps, produce.
“I am happy with the yield but I want to increase the number of milkers to 10, though challenges like severe drought affect production,” Kinyua, who keeps Friesian animals, which are very high feeders, said.
But as dairy production goes on, experts are calling for adoption of climate-smart animals that are not only hardy but also offer more on less feeds.
These include dairy goats, crossbreed cows, camels and sheep. For the goats, crossbreeds of Alpines and Toggenburgs — European breeds — have emerged as the most popular among Kenyan farmers seeking to produce more milk.
Similarly, crossbreeds of Sahiwals, Fleckvieh and local breed Zebu cattle have also been embraced by dairy farmers in the east African nation.
Camels, on the other hand, are being adopted by farmers in arid and semi-arid areas due to their hardy nature.
Initially, the animals were mainly kept in northern Kenya but more farmers in the south, Coast and eastern parts of the country are embracing camels as their milk products like yogurt, fresh milk and meat become mainstreamed in the east African nation’s market.
There are at least three million camels in Kenya, mostly kept by pastoralists in the north, with the number growing steadily over recent years.
George Gitao, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Nairobi, noted camels are more important now than ever because they are tough, survive in drought and pollute less.
“Camels produce one of the most nutritious milks and the world‘s best wools, good leather and extremely healthy meat,” he said.
Bernard Faye, a veterinarian and chair of the International Society of Camelid Research and Development, observed that the global camel market is projected to grow at more than 10 percent for the next decade, thus, farmers must produce more of its milk and meat in the future to reap from the animals.
Besides the resilient livestock, experts are advising for adoption of hardy but nutritious fodder that helps in production of more milk from the animals.
These fodder include panicum, cobra and cayman grasses that are not only nutritious to animals but also regrow faster after cutting, thus, allowing farmers to have plenty of fodder even with little rains, according to Fredrick Muthomi, an agronomist.