Monday, 16 February 2015

February 7th   by Alyssa  Brosha 

My classmates and I are now wrapping up our second week in Kenya with a stay at Lake Nakuru Lodge. Here I feel like a tourist, which is a first since we've arrived, and it's not quite the same feeling I've had while being a tourist in other countries. All too frequently we tend to tour exotic locations as though it is a spectator sport, visiting only the famous parks, cities and tourist trap landmarks...

Now I see Kenya through the eyes of the people, the farmers, the backbone of this beautiful country. Having spent every day of the last 2 weeks traveling the dirt roads from farm to farm and eating in the homes of the happy and hard working Kenyans, to now sit poolside at a resort is a sharp contrast and frankly quite unnerving.
Coming from Canada it's hard to get the perspective of how fortunate we truly are to have grown up in a developed and financially thriving nation. We take for granted the endless opportunities handed to us and still complain of the little things.

Growing up I have always heard of the challenges faced in developing countries and learn of the foreign aid that large organizations and countries help provide for them. A common North American mentality about African poverty is that one individual's efforts would only be a drop in the bucket in improving such poverty. So why bother? Leave it to the large volunteer group efforts and let them worry about it.

Then there is the question of the poverty trap, a spiralling mechanism that forces people to remain poor. If poverty is a trap, then some believe that a one time infusion of aid could make a huge difference for a person's life and set them on a whole new trajectory in life. This is philosophical matter with of course many factors that must be considered, but what about the quote we have heard endless times, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will always have a meal." What if education was the infusion of aid necessary to break the spiral?

One man here opened my eyes to the reality of the situation and his name is Isaac Kaiyongi. Isaac is a dairy farmer near Meru, Kenya with 3 milking cows and he had attended a seminar we conducted this past week near his home. At these seminars we have attendance ranging from 30-100 farmers, men and women who come to ask questions about their cattle and learn from us on nutrition, breeding and milk production. Isaac attended a seminar the year prior and was back this year thirsty for more knowledge. He shared his success story with me and it is one that will stick with me forever.

                   One year ago, Isaac was getting 17kg of milk per day from his three cows combined and was grazing them over the dry countryside to find forage. At the seminar last year he learned the importance of proper nutrition and the benefits of zero-grazing housing for the cattle. Isaac started feeding his 3 cows an adequate amount of dairy meal, he grew Napier grass and sweet potato vines on his farm to feed higher quality forages, and built them a zero grazing unit. Within this year his 3 cows went from producing a cumulative 17kg of milk to a dramatic 17-20kg of milk each.

In Isaacs case, prosperity was achieved from the combined efforts of Farmers Helping Farmers, John VanLeeuwen, and the 2014 veterinary students. His success extended well beyond the increase in milk production, within the past year Isaac has now been able to afford to pay for his three children to go to private secondary schools and university! All it took for him was a short seminar and advice on growing forages on his own farm.

After my three weeks here in Kenya my classmates and I will have assisted with eight seminars for hundreds of farmers just like Isaac. I am confident that the veterinary students of 2016 will hear more success stories from farmers that attended one of our seminars this year. The work we have done here made a tremendous difference for the farmers, cows and families and this is only three weeks of work out of many years that Farmers Helping Farmers been accomplishing.

It appears that with education that we can break this poverty trap. But theory is one thing and reality is another. If one person like Isaac can make that much change in their own lives, then just imagine what could happen to an impoverished nation if many more farmers received that key bit of knowledge that was missing. The farmers here in Kenya have the skills and they have the willpower, they just need the information. Whether the poverty trap truly exists or not, there is no denying that education is fundamental for any nation. In Isaac's case, education was the one-time infusion of aid that provided means for his family's prosperity and a new spiral of investing in education for other generations to come.

Author: Robert Schicht
Kenya – a country of unleashed potential
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
I have never been to Africa before in my life, so when the opportunity arose to spend three weeks in Kenya for a clinical rotation in my final year of veterinary school, I didn’t hesitate. I applied to the “Smallholder Dairy Kenya Rotation” which the Atlantic Veterinary College offers in cooperation with Farmers Helping Farmers. I am really happy that I was selected as one of the three student to go to Kenya.
The three weeks in Kenya flew by in a heartbeat. We worked with many dairy farmers, held several seminars and treated hundreds of animals (we dewormed more than 500 animals and almost 100 medicine consultations during a walk-in clinic day). In those three weeks, I learned that Kenya is an amazing country full of unleashed potential.
Kenya is located on the equator and its area is a little bit smaller than Manitoba, however about 45 million people live in Kenya (MB has about one million). Due to the topography around Mount Kenya, Kenya has some areas which are highly suitable for agriculture, including dairy farming. The soil is rich and rivers have water year around due to the Mt. Kenya glaciers, which allows for irrigation of fields during the dry season. The population is large and hence a strong labour force for farming is available in theory - the question here is if people are willing to work as a farm hand. Just like in Canada, finding and retaining good farm hands can be a challenge.
On the other hand, land or plot size can be a limiting factor. One of the reasons why the plot sizes have diminished over the years is that the land of the parents has been divided amongst the children, and therefore the plots became smaller and smaller. For example, during a seminar we were asked by a lady how she can keep a dairy cow on a quarter acre. With perfect management, excellent zero-grazing stall design and neighbours that allow fodder grass to be grown and harvested on their land – it would be possible to do dairy farming on a quarter acre. In reality, a better option would be to keep goats, chickens and/or potentially one or two pigs, and use the rest of the land for horticulture.
Another major limiting factor is the level of education. Although Kenya subsidises primary school education today, not everybody in a community understands and can read or write English fluently, especially when you consider that English is usually their third language (they first learn a tribal language, then Swahili, then English), only 2/3 of children can go to secondary school, 1/3 can attend college or university. Here is where the work of the organization FHF can be beneficial. FHF has a working relationship many Kenyan dairies (most of them cooperatives) and also has two permanent dairy staff members, both of whom are excellent translators and educators. Add in the expertise of Dr. John van Leeuwen (professor at the AVC) and three to five senior Canadian and Kenyan veterinary students, and a seminar can provide a lot of hands-on and practical information for the farmers.
This vet team effort aims to change the lives of Kenyans by empowering them through education on such topics as dairy farming and cropping. Once such education is implemented, there can be positive benefits to the farmer, including an increase in the sale of milk and consequently a more sustainable income. This income can be used to keep more cows, build a better farm and home, get an electric power hook-up, and buy equipment that saves on manual labour (such as a silage chopper). Additionally, it allows parents to send their children to school and eventually for higher education, providing them the opportunity to pursue careers that bring in more income. The income generated on the farm also benefits the local economy, supporting local stores to flourish and the growth of service sectors in the local village or town. As the individual farmers and their cooperatives are getting bigger and the economy becomes more stable, several spill-over effects can be observed: a larger community is in need of specialization and this creates jobs in feed stores, vet services, equipment sales, banking, schooling, and so on. The additional income in the community can then allow for the establishment of programs like “milk for school pupils”, which gives milk at a reduced price or free to schools in order to feed pupils a nutritious meal throughout the long school days (up to 12 hours a day if you include transport to and from school). This milk program helps the pupils to be more awake and achieve better marks. It also helps increase market demand for milk, not only from the schools but also from the next generation of milk drinkers.
All these positive effects have several requirements. The most important requirement is that the individual farmer is managing the farm and livestock well. There is also a need to cooperate with the neighbours and local dairy cooperatives. One person alone can’t do all the change by oneself; by cooperating with others, synergies can be created, such as good working relationships with a veterinarian or animal health technician, NGOs (such as local women’s groups), and government agencies (such as agricultural departments). The idea of dairy cooperatives allow dairy farmers to have a stronger, united voice that can be heard by the various levels of government.
There are many risks within the dairy farming sector that farmers deal with, either directly or indirectly. In addition to the troubles which sometimes present when trying to sustain cooperatives, the bigger risk may be that of large multinational corporations. These corporations could perform a land grab and build-up a large “factory-farm” style dairy operation on the most fertile plots of land in Kenya. History shows that this can be achieved through corruption, such as bribing those in a position of power, allowing them to buy out local farmers of their land.
Another looming scenario that is happening is climate change. As mentioned before, most of the rivers in central Kenya are fed by the Mt. Kenya glaciers. Once these glaciers recess and disappear, less water would be available during the dry seasons, when irrigation is critical. Those drought periods could be offset in part by installation of water collection devices during the rainy season, but this comes at a cost.
Security concerns are also a ubiquitous problem: Virtually every home is fenced in or has a wall with barbed wire or broken glass, and public life slows down significantly during the night. Every door in the house and surrounding buildings are locked at night. There are reports of stolen animals when premises were not locked up at night.
The lack of education can also jeopardize the progress of small holder dairy farmers. Local animal health professionals are still identifying best practices when it comes to housing and feeding animals in the Kenyan climate. The key here is to continue applying training from professionals in the field, allowing them to implement timely and effective change. As Kenya is still a developing country, we have to be mindful of certain concepts which may not be as easily implemented or accepted in the Kenyan context. For example, cow comfort may be perceived as giving the cow a better sleeping arrangement in its stall than its owner has in his/her home.

All in all, Kenya is for me a country of magnificent beauty, good hearted and hardworking people. Kenya has so much to offer and this country has considerable unleashed potential. Travelling through Kenya reminded me of what the Western World may have been like 100 years ago; small villages, dirt roads, and manual labour. All the signals of the “olden days”, but with the added benefit of today’s technology and fruits of recent research. Almost every Kenyan has a cell phone and the knowledge can be nourished by access to the internet via mobile network. The people I met in Kenya are highly motivated to learn and they want to improve their life and the life or their family. I really hope that the Kenyan farmers are able to continue to rally together and receive the help of FHF to create a prosperous society of happy dairy farmers and rural communities. 

February 2015  

Smallholder Dairy Rotation in Kenya 2015 by Rianne Dykstra 

Week 1:
When trying to think about what I should write in this blog, I was given the suggestion of contrasting dairy farming at home to dairy farming here. My instant response was, “you can’t, they’re not even the same thing”. Which seems like an average response having seen both ends of the spectrum. But when I think a little more I realize, how can it be so different when the end product is the same? We have had milk here bought in a carton at the Nakumat, we’ve seen ice cream there as well, and we’ve eaten their yogurt almost every morning at breakfast. Does it really matter that much the means by which it got there?
            A particular situation that sticks out to me was before one of our seminars where we met with the Chairman of the Naari Dairy Cooperative at their facility, and he showed us around with so much pride. He went into some details about the volume of milk they collect each day, and how often they need to bring it to the processor in Meru. They began collecting only a small number, the exact amount instantly lost from my Canadian brain, which they would cool in their “cooling tank” and bring to the processor every day, or every other day. With the help the received from Farmer’s Helping Farmer’s they have been able to increase the amount collected, which sounds great, and it is, but it did cause a new problem. Their “cooling tank”, which to me is just a simple milk tank like you see on any dairy farm in Canada, could only hold 2000 liters. With their increased collected volume, the tank could no longer hold a whole day’s worth of milk.  So they now would have to drive the significant distance to deliver the cooled milk often more than once a day. Which brought up another improvement they’ve made. The collected milk was typically just measured and not cooled at their facility, as they did not have the cooling tank yet. It would then have to be transported to the city by donkey and cart, which could take around 3 hours. We then had to ask if they ever had any spoilage from the heat and the time. The chairman told us it was close to 20% a month. Wow. Again, my Canadian dairy farming brain was in shock. I couldn’t imagine that 20% of milk collected could go bad, just from not having a truck. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what it must feel like for the farmers who only ship 5-10 liters a day. Above that, I didn’t even ask but I’m assuming like other dairy coops we had seen, any milk the farmers would get at night milking was practically waste. There would be nobody to collect it for processing, and no means of cooling it on the farm. So the night milk would have to be used immediately, or would spoil before the morning collection. This then led to the problem of the cows getting milked at odd hours like 6am, 2pm, and 4pm, in order to minimize the volume of the night milk. Unfortunately this also causes leaking and subsequent mastitis problems in the cows. At about this point, the chairman asked us if we had cooling tanks in Canada. Our obvious response was, well yes, and every farm has one. This moment, and his expression of utter disbelief will stick in my brain forever. He was amazed. And I was amazed at his amazement. We then launched into an explanation of how milk systems work on Canadian dairy farms and the collection process, all being by pipeline or suction hose into a refrigerated milk truck. Another moment of shock. I’m still unsure if the shock was over the technology used to do that, or if he was purely shocked at the idea of holding your own milk for 2 days.
            At the time of this encounter, I had already experienced Kenyan dairy farms for almost a week. I had already seen the “large” dairy farms of 6 cows, and the manual chopping of Napier grass at the more advanced farms. I had fought with farmers to feed more dairy meal if they were even feeding any at all, and seen the tiny, skinny cows hardly ever over 400kgs, all with imported genetics that surely should have resulted in 600kg animals. I saw this and thought I understood the level of resources available here.

            But it was at that moment I realized I didn’t understand much at all. I realized that things we consider non optional, or standard in Canada, a milk tank to keep 2 days worth of milk in, and a cooled milk truck to collect the milk, were not only optional but a luxury. I know people have always said that North Americans don’t know how lucky they are. But now I am truly aware of how much we take for granted, and how much more I have yet to learn about. The end product is the same, pure wholesome milk; it’s just that us Canadians really have it easy. So next time I’m home and complain about having to milk, I’ll have to remind myself, I could be sitting on a wooden stool without a roof over me. I could be milking a 300kg cow fresh 2 years. She could be giving 3 liters per milking.  She might have had mastitis for the past 6 months that I didn’t know how to fix but milked anyways. And I could be thinking about the hour walk I still have to bring the milk to be collected, at which point I could lose 20% of it just because of the heat. I don’t even know how hard it could be.