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And they lived dairy ever after...

The Story of Kiambaa Rural Dairy Cooperative

The Fin4ag International Conference held in Nairobi from the 14th to the 18th of July 2014 set in motion a number of evolutionary processes, especially among young people whose impact on agriculture in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is going to be revolutionary. A recent news article by the main organizers of the conference, the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) supports this. 

As a young African agriculture enthusiast, one of my encounters with destiny at the Fin4ag conference was during the field trips when we visited Kiambaa Rural Dairy Cooperative and met two happy couples that are living "dairy ever after" in rural Kenya, Mr and Mrs Nyaka and Mr and Mrs Njeka. 

The two couples shared their life stories and how dairy farming through the network of a Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) is impacting positively on their families and communities. I was astonished by how these humble and hardworking farmers have an intrinsic understanding of the markets. 

Members of the Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative share a lighter moment as they demonstrate to Fin4ag Field Trip 1 participants how they carry out milk quality testing at their milk colletcion depot
During the trip, Mr Nyaka explained to us that African agri-food markets are growing relatively fast and the growing, modernizing and diversifying population in Kenya and beyond will need to be fed, especially with dairy products. "I'm in the right business!" Shouted the optimistic look on his face as he explained to the startled crowd of Bankers, Policy makers and investors standing around his field of napier grass.

The impact of Saving and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) on rural farmers

The SACCOs are creating communities of dynamic service oriented farmers who I believe that with the right support will be able to feed the growing local, regional and even global population. 

In particular, the Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative comprises of about 2,500 smallholder dairy farmers and produces about 16,000 liters of milk per day. Through the SACCO, the farmers have organized themselves, trained themselves to save, by providing the incentive to borrow once you have consistently saved for about 3 months. As such, the small scale farmers have been gradually expanding their operations and profits. 

In addition, through organization, the farmers have been able to access services,  and benefits such as agricultural extension, transportation, refrigeration and processing that would have otherwise been inaccessible to individual farmers. In our language, they have over come infrastructural bottlenecks. 

The Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative Society has evolved over the years to become a viable "business model" for and driven by smallholder farmers themselves. Currently, the society enjoys a "big brother" relationships with big market lenders such as Kenya's Cooperative Bank. 

Here are a few more interesting achievements at Kiambaa:
1. They employ their own support staff for extension, administration, milk testing etc.
2. They have their own yogurt brand, "Dafina Yogurt"
3. They  contributed tosuccessful advocacy towards a
Value Added Tax exemption on dairy feeds!
4. There is a dairy cow insurance scheme that specifically services them

Isn't that impact...

The sustainability lessons

One of my teachers and mentors, Prof Mandi Rukuni often says, "Development is about people, helping people help themselves." This principle, first taught to me about 2 years ago, I believe, is the mantra of resilience and sustainability. 

The Kiambaa Dairy SACCO is a model of how rural farmers have been able to help themselves, they have organised themselves; and have leveraged that to negotiate better input and output prices, to create relationships with bigger banks and dairy processors.

The Kiambaa SACCO has evolved from a simple grouping of organized farmers into a fluid and functional system with default rates on credit of less than 2%. The SACCO is therefore now a safer and high potential haven for additional investment and greater partnership, for instance to access higher level technology to enhance their processing capacity so as to penetrate higher level markets and create more jobs.

Development partners, governments and private sector should invest time and resources in learning from models such as the Kiambaa SACCO so as to scale them up for sustainable and broad socio-economic development. 


I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation CTA for awarding me the opportunity to contribute to the online coverage of the Fin4ag International Conference in Nairobi, Kenya from the 14th to 18th of July 2014. It was through this conference that my resolve to continue sharing and disseminating knowledge on sustainable solutions such as what I have shared was strengthened. 

It was also during this conference that I got the wonderful opportunity to meet with some dynamic and inspiring smallholder dairy farmers iin Kenya such as Peris Njeka and Gladys Nyaka, togeter with their supportive husbands and families, wishing them continued success in feeding their families, country and whole world.

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