Sustainability and the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy

Prepared by Teresa Mellish, Farmers Helping Farmers Coordinator 

In 1990, a small group of farmers in Nyeri County, Kenya formed a self-help group to collect their milk and market it to milk processors. “The first day in business, we only collected 94 litres of milk,” said Gerald Kariuki, retired Wakulima Dairy Coordinator. 

In 2017, the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. was on the list of the top 100 mid-sized companies in Kenya, according to the KPMG and Nation Media Group’s Business Daily. This list mainly focused on the fastest growing medium-sized companies in Kenya, defined as an annual turnover in the range of KSH 70 million to KSH 1 billion. 

Farmers Helping Farmers has been part of this growth almost from the earliest days, and is proud to have been associated with the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. In 2002, FHF was honoured to be the first recipient of the Bill McWhinney Award of Excellence in International Development from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The award acknowledges an exceptional volunteer project or program which improves the prospects of a community from the developing world, and was given in recognition of FHF’s work with the Wakulima Dairy. 

FHF first connected with the Wakulima Dairy Self-Help Group (its name at the time) in 1994, when Adrien van Ekris and Teresa Mellish met with them in their small office in Ichamara. In response to their request, and with funding from CIDA, Farmers Helping Farmers provided funds for them to purchase a 10,000 litre milk cooling tank (which cost $75,000 in 1995 Canadian dollars) and a standby generator (to keep the cooler running when the power would go out).

“Then we were able to collect milk twice a day, so we doubled the income of farmers. Today that tank is still there in working order,” says Gerald Kariuki. 

When they started using it, the tank cooled a few thousand litres a day. Today, it is filled twice a day, and it is only a small part of their daily milk intake. 

At the time, Farmers Helping Farmers felt we were bold in taking the risk on this investment – but this cooler was key in the development of this Dairy, and since then, it has cooled millions of litres of milk. 

Also key to this success story, this Dairy had a vision and they provided excellent management to reach their vision. 

Their board had a core group of men and women who guided the Dairy over time. The Board had Esther Mutahi as Treasurer who gave us great confidence that all the funds would be used for the agreed purpose. Looking back, working with the Wakulima Dairy was a true partnership; we all learned and benefitted from it. When we went to other Kenyan dairies, we had instant credibility because we had worked with the Wakulima Dairy. 

With the excellent management of the Wakulima Dairy, FHF continued to work with them. Because interest rates at the commercial banks were astronomical, the Dairy established a bank (called a SACCO – Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization) in 2003, despite having very limited capital. Farmers Helping Farmers, again with CIDA support, provided 2.2 million Kenya shillings (equivalent to $40,000 Canadian dollars) for a revolving fund to allow farmers to borrow money to buy improved dairy cows. This fund has expanded to include loans for buildings and farm equipment. The Dairy has added to this fund, and at the last time we visited Kenya, the loan portfolio was in excess of $1million Canadian. 

We also supported the Dairy, with CIDA funds, to set up a feed mill, a dairy lab to test milk, additional extension services to train farmers, additional veterinary services (through a partnership with the Atlantic Veterinary College - AVC - at the University of Prince Edward Island), and biogas digesters to compost manure and provide methane to cook food in their houses. When we went to Kenya in 2002, we even carried their first computer to them!! As we remember, it was a 286 and we were concerned that if we supplied them with a computer that the 16 clerks who were tallying the milk receipts might be out of a job!! Today the dairy has over 200 employees, many with post-secondary training in technical and professional occupations, and equipped with modern technology, including laptops on a company network. 

Wakulima Dairy has diversified from collecting and selling raw milk to milk processing for value-added product sales. They now process 80,000 litres daily, have launched the Royal Milk brand, and sell UHT milk and yoghurt all over Kenya. 

You can look at the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. website and you will be amazed by their progress. The Dairy now has 25,000 farmer members. They have five business units within their company. Farmers Helping Farmers is proud that we have contributed to these business units, using CIDA funds. They offer AI and clinical services – which means theyprovide veterinary clinical services and provide artificial insemination services for breeding members’ cows. They operate an animal feeds and human food store. Members of the Dairy can go to the food store and receive food as an advance on their milk payment. Members who sell milk to this Dairy never have to go hungry. We have introduced this credit practice to other Dairies in other parts of Kenya where FHF has worked and it is always well received. Theycontinue to operate a feed factory. They still operate a laboratory where milk can be tested. 

The fifth business unit is the operation of the Wakulima SACCO Limited. The SACCO (like a credit union) offers basic banking services to their members.

To quote their website, “the critical role of this institution is to provide credit on dairy farming activities such as the purchase of grade dairy cattle, construction of cattle sheds, purchase of chaff cutter machines, purchase of high value semen and other related businesses.”

The Wakulima Dairy was also the first place we started training 

Gerald Kariuki says: “We could not have started it without the boost from the (original) revolving fund. This is a big bank that we’re proud of. “ 

The Wakulima Dairy was also the first place we started training Kenyan farmers. We started out with Canadian dairy farmer volunteers going out and visiting farms to find out their level of management and learning what they needed to know. After this survey we started teaching them principles of livestock feeding using a flip chart and a Sharpie. We started this training on farms and this is how we still do it. From this training, FHF and AVC have developed a Dairy Handbook which is appropriate for dairy cow management in Kenya. To date we have printed over 3,000 copies. It is the basis of dairy training carried out by our FHF staff, and it is freely available on our website. 

When we went to Kenya on a CIDA-assisted investigative visit in 2002, Atlantic Veterinary College professor Dr. Liz Spangler went with us and immediately identified the need for veterinary assistance. They had no way to do pregnancy diagnosis in cows, they had no way to treat infertility, and we did not see one healthy calf. After our visit they hired a veterinarian who subsequently came to Canada for some practical training with AVC Dairy Professor, Dr. John VanLeeuwen.

This was the start of FHF involvement in veterinary medicine in Kenya. Since then, John has visited Kenya 29 times along with 73 veterinary students to train Kenyan farmers and our Kenyan dairy staff. He has also trained at least that many Kenyan veterinary students who join the AVC team for much-appreciated additional practical field training on farms. He has also supervised 15 Kenyans and 3 Canadians on research projects conducted on Kenyan farms to better understand their problems and how to resolve them. 

In conclusion, this Dairy is owned by its members and has spearheaded economic growth in the greater Mukurwe-ini community. For example, when we first visited Mukurwe-ini in the 1990’s, there were no banks in Mukurwe-ini; today there are five commercial banks.

The Dairy provides an opportunity every day for 25,000 farmers to sell their milk locally and be paid regularly. Women farmers make up a large part of their members, and the monthly milk payment is deposited into their SACCO account for them to spend on the needs of their families. The Dairy provides good jobs which entice youth to remain in the community. This could only have been achieved with the good management of the Kenyan leadership at the Dairy, and support from CIDA through Farmers Helping Farmers. FHF regularly consults the Waklulima Dairy retired coordinator for advice and has involved their manager in guiding other Dairy Groups and Women’s Groups who are partners with FHF in Kenya. When we travel to Kenya, we regularly stop in Mukurwe-ini (en route from Nairobi to Meru County) to maintain contact and see their progress.

September 2021

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