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Kenya national dairy development project

H.G. Muriuki

Ministry of Livestock Development
National Dairy Development Project
P.O. Box 25227, Nairobi Kenya

Cattle population and milk production
Milk production and production systems
Milk marketing
Dairy industry development policy and constraints
National dairy development project
Future dairy development programmes in Kenya


The National Dairy Development Project is a follow-up to the dairy research project carried out at Naivasha Research Station. The general objective of the National Dairy Development Project is to introduce an intensive dairy cattle management system, the zero grazing system. The Project started in 1980 as a bilateral cooperation between the Dutch and Kenya governments, with both countries providing financial and technical support. Due to the positive impact the Project had on smallholder dairy farmer's income at the initial stages, the Project expanded from the initial six districts to its present coverage of 25 districts. There have been four project evaluation missions and a number of studies which have helped to improve implementation of the programme.

Even though the Project has been acknowledged as a success, a number of constraints have hindered its smooth implementation. These include lack of credit facilities, a poor marketing infrastructure and deteriorating support services such as Al and disease control. Low milk prices are also a disincentive. Limited staff complement is another negative factor. It can however, be stated that the Project has been able to survive the constraints and has attained its objectives. The sustainability of the adopted technologies is high. Judging from enquiries made by the smallholder dairy farmers and the general public, the Project was very attractive and popular.


Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya's economy, contributing over 30% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 50% of foreign currency earnings. The majority of the country's population relies on agriculture for employment and general livelihood. The country's climate varies from warm and humid at the coast to cool temperate in the highlands. Annual rainfall ranges from less than 200 mm to over 2000 mm in some parts of the highlands.

The country can be divided into three regions according to land productivity potential: high potential areas with an annual rainfall of more than 750 mm, spreading from central Kenya through to the central Rift Valley to western Kenya and the coastal strip; medium potential areas with an annual rainfall of more than 625 mm but less than 750 mm, located in parts of central-eastern Kenya and neighbouring the high potential coastal strip; and low potential areas with annual rainfall of less than 625 mm, stretching from north and north-eastern Kenya to the southern parts bordering Tanzania.

Livestock (cattle sheep and goats, poultry, pigs, rabbits and bees) are a major agricultural enterprise in Kenya. Livestock production systems range from nomadic practices in semi-arid and arid areas that can hardly support other agricultural activities without massive investment to commercial livestock farming found in the fertile highlands. Kenyans have traditionally been associated with livestock rearing. However, the commercial production system was introduced in the early 20th century by the white settlers. Local people were, however, not permitted to participate in commercial production until the advent of the Swynnerton Plan of 1954, which laid down the format for their absorption into the commercial agricultural sector.

In Kenya the dairy industry is the most advanced of the livestock subsectors. Kenya's dairy industry is the most developed in East Africa. Like other agricultural subsectors, Kenya's dairy industry is dominated by smallholder farmers, who account for over 75% of the industry's total output.

Cattle population and milk production

The cattle industry comprises dairy and beef subsectors. The dairy subsector utilises exotic breeds and their crosses, referred to as grade cattle. The highest concentration of these animals is in the central region, which consists of the Central and central Rift Valley provinces of the country. The beef subsector is dominated by local zebu cattle, crossbred with European breeds and other cattle from the USA and Canada. Zebu cattle are found throughout the country with the larger percentage located in the semi-arid and arid parts of the country.

The dairy industry is characterised by improved cattle genotypes kept by the smallholders on small land holdings of between 2 and 2.8 hectares, the size being dependent on the part of the country. The cattle population distribution in the country and administrative provinces is given in Table 1.

Table 1. Cattle population ('000 head), 1989 and 1990.


Grade cattle

Beef cattle





Rift Valley







































1065 2




8922 8


Source: Ministry of Livestock Development (1990).

Reliable breed composition and herd structure estimates are unavailable. However, the latest Animal Production Division Annual Report (Ministry of Livestock Development, 1990) indicates that the dairy herd is dominated by crosses, with the Friesian and Ayrshires being the two most popular breeds, followed by Guernsey and Jersey (Table 2). Table 3 gives the number of animals imported into Kenya by breed between 1925 and 1975.

Table 2. Estimated population of grads dairy breeds.


Number of animals

Total grade cattle population (%)













Zebu crosses (F1 or F2)






Source: Ministry of Agriculture (1978).

Table 3. Dairy cattle imported into Kenya up to
















Red Poll



Short Horn






Source: Kenya Stud Book Annual Reports, Nakuru 1525 75.

Milk production and production systems

Total milk production in Kenya includes milk from cattle, camels and goats. However, milk from cattle accounts for over 80% of the total, with dairy cattle contributing about 60%. Of the estimated 2448.4 million kilograms of milk produced in 1990, cattle alone produced about 1998 million kilograms, 82% of the total (Table 4).

Table 4. National milk production in 1990.

Type of animal

Estimated milk production in million (kg)

Grade cattle


Zebu cattle




Dairy goats

0 9

Indigenous goats


Total national production


Source: Ministry of Livestock Development (1990)

Cattle contribute virtually all of the milk that is marketed, while the milk produced by other livestock species is generally consumed at source. Camel, zebu and goat milk is very important in the semi-arid and arid areas of the country.

The dairy industry in Kenya can be classified in many ways: by land potential, size of holdings, type of animal used in production or location of the producer. However, the commonly recognised categories are: large-scale, small-scale and pastoralist. As stated earlier, large-scale and small-scale dairy production systems are in the high potential areas and contribute the bulk of milk marketed.

Milk marketing

Milk marketing in Kenya is usually defined either as formal or informal. The formal market is restricted to the Kenya Co-operative Creameries (KCC), the cooperative societies and any other licensed trader. This is the market that is regulated by the Dairy Industry Act through the Kenya Dairy Board (KDB), a public limited company established in 1925 and registered as the first cooperative society in 1932. It now operates eight milk processing plants, producing liquid milk, butter, cheese, condensed milk and evaporated milk. The informal market refers to all other market structures existing outside the formal market. The bulk of the marketable milk is delivered to KCC factories through a network of collection and cooling centres (Table 5).

Table 5. Projected milk production, consumption and kcc's intake and liquid milk sales, 1975-2000 (In million litres).












Rural consumption






Urban consumption






KCC milk sales






School milk programme






Source UNDP/FAO (1979)

Cooperative societies play a large role in the formal milk market, despite their notoriety of poor management. Milk prices and regularity of payment are major factors determining milk flow to the market, especially the formal market. Until May 1992, the milk price for the formal market had been controlled by the Government. The net price realised by the farmer depended on the channelling of milk to consumers.

Dairy industry development policy and constraints

There are many publications on policies but the most important for the dairy industry include the National Livestock Development Policy of 1980, the National Food Policy of 1981 and Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1986 on Economic Development for Renewed Growth. The main policy emphasis is on a self-sustaining dairy sector, self-sufficiency in milk, efficiency in production and marketing, healthy competition in the industry, removal of any government interventions and intensification of production systems.

The dairy industry has in the past received government subsidies channelled through the artificial insemination programme and veterinary and extension services and from loan guarantees for the processing sector. This is changing fast. User charges have been introduced in most services other than extension, prices are no longer controlled and KCC can no longer expect undue support from the Government.

The industry faces a host of constraints, characterised by pressure on land originating from the high rate of population growth, nutrition and water limitations, poor market infrastructure, especially the road network in the rural areas, relatively high prices of inputs and inadequate credit facilities for dairying. Kenya has been self-sufficient in dairy products but this cannot be guaranteed to continue. The Government is, however, taking measures to avoid eventual shortfalls in production, the recent decontrol of milk prices being one such measure. The Government has also identified areas needing special attention and has designed development programmes to address them. Programmes specific to the dairy industry include the Livestock Development Project in Western Kenya, the National Dairy Development Project, covering most areas of the country with high dairy potential, and the recently concluded artificial insemination rehabilitation programme.

National dairy development project


The aim of the National Dairy Development Project (NDDP) is to contribute to the nationwide supply of milk through the improvement and intensification of dairy management on smallholder farms in the high-potential areas of Kenya. The project's general objectives are as follows:

· to maintain dairy self-sufficiency in Kenya

· to provide a balanced diet to the increasing population in rural Kenya through increased milk production

· to increase farm-family income of the generally poor small-scale farm sector;

· to raise output per unit land and input.

Specific and more detailed project objectives were formulated and defined for each phase of the project, which started in January 1980 and is now in its fifth phase, ending in December 1994.

Origin and conception of the National Dairy Development Project

The arrival of white settlers in the country and the concomitant acquisition of large tracts of land meant diminished land availability for the locals. The settlers however, brought with them technologies that resulted in improved productivity. Events of that time led to disruption of the indigenous traditional land tenure systems, which later resulted in land consolidation and adjudication. Independence introduced other dimensions to people's attitudes towards land ownership and production practices. Self-esteem and confidence were heralded in by the liberties of independence and the general improvement in the educational standard, which created demand for higher standards of living.

At independence, the resettlement programme saw massive subdivision of farms formerly belonging to settlers into small units. To support the needs of the increased number of land owners, the land had to be made more productive per unit area. This was recognised by both the new settlers and the Government of the day. Land pressure had led to the associated problem of diminished grazing areas. The subsequent premium on land resulted in the resort to planting crops to maximise dry-matter yield and to the adoption of a zero-grazing system where the animals are confined and fodder and water are brought to them.

The acreage under fodder crops (mostly Napier and Bana grasses) increased by 13% from 1972 to 1978. The switch from natural pasture to arable crops was particularly dramatic in the Central and Eastern Provinces (Embu, Meru and Machakos) (Table 6).

Table 6. Estimated area under arable fodder crops by provinces (ha).









Rift Valley
























Source: Ministry of Agriculture (1978).

Among other Government efforts to improve productivity was the Dairy Cattle Research Project at the National Animal Husbandry Research Station in Naivasha between 1969 and 1976. The research produced some dairy production technologies to be passed on to the smallholder dairy farmers. In 1978, the Ministry of Agriculture (which held the portfolio for livestock development) asked for continued financial support from the Dutch Government, which had assisted in funding the dairy research project at Naivasha. It was hoped that this would help to ensure the dissemination of the research findings to the ultimate user.

A mission was carried out in 1979 which drew up the project plan. The main objective of the Dairy Development Project was stated to be the introduction of an intensive dairy cattle management system, the zero-grazing system. Implementation of the project started in January 1980 as a bilateral cooperation agreement between the Dutch and Kenyan Governments, with both contributing technical and financial support.

Thus the NDDP originated from the results of research findings, Government initiatives and the emerging needs of the smallholders.

Early stages of the National Dairy Development Project

In its initial stages, the programme focused on identifying the main problems facing smallholder milk producers. It was established that intensification of land use would alleviate major problems of land sustainability in the sector and the zero-grazing system was the logical choice. Technical packages, an extension approach and a monitoring system were developed. The main feature of extension was the use of demonstration farms for extension and monitoring.

Project test farmers received financial support of up to 50% of their investment in buildings, initially in the form of a grant. However, this approach was later abandoned. Providing credit to the farmers was also tried but eventually scrapped. Other changes that occurred over a period of time included the replacement of demonstration farms by outstanding farmers joining the programme. A research unit was also added to the project activities and extension materials were jointly developed by the extension and research arms of the project. Initially 20 demonstration farms per district were selected at the inception of the programme. Subsequently, additional farms were chosen using the following criteria: farmer's interest, involvement and commitment to full-time farming, the social standing of the farmer and his/her representativeness of the neighbourhood. Emphasis has been shifted to farmers who performed excellently.

The reason for the use of demonstration farms or outstanding farmers was to spread the zero-grazing package through dissemination of information. It is generally accepted that the zero-grazing technology has been a success. A recent diffusion study carried out in one of the original districts concluded that there was a general diffusion of technology from the project staff to project farmers and to other farmers who were not involved in the project. However, the study has been criticised because it covered only one district, concentrated on non-project farmers and measured only the level of adoption of the technical packages.

The project has not developed a standard extension model (but is in the process of developing one) and relies heavily on a sustained effort to advise project farmers. Zero-grazing is capital- and labour-intensive, hence the need for farmers to demonstrate their capacity before being accepted as members of the project. A feature that is becoming important to the project is the promotion and utilisation of common-interest groups or clubs. The groups are not only important in diffusion of the zero-grazing technology but also in sponsoring a self-help perspective. Members assist each other as the need arises in areas concerning the establishment of fodder, construction of the shed, marketing of milk and other concerns.

Due to the determined process taken to recruit new members and the intense contacts between the farmers and the project staff, the adoption rate of zero-grazing has been high. However, a few members (about 10% of the registered members to-date) have abandoned zero-grazing. No serious investigation has yet been conducted to find out the reasons for farmers abandoning the system, but the most likely reasons are loss of interest and labour shortages.

Women's role in the zero-grazing system

Women play important roles in dairying in Kenya. School-age children are also involved in the zero-grazing system, especially in marketing milk. The roles of women in zero-grazing can be summarised by citing the results of a study on the role of women in the National Dairy Development Programme in Kenya, carried out in March 1990 (NDDP, 1990): "Women in Kenya are wholly involved in all aspects of dairy development. They are dominant in 83% of dairy activities. They perform 39% of the dairy work compared to men's 26% contribution. The women's overall contribution in the various activities ranges from 22% in tick control to 61% participation in cleaning the dairy equipment. In some districts women fetch more than 75% of the water required by animals and do over 91% of the milking. This important role should be recognised by dairy planners and ways sought to make dairy work less of a burden and more attractive to women ..."

Development and expansion of the National Dairy Development Project

As mentioned elsewhere in this paper, the project originated as a result of an earlier research programme with the initiative and cooperation of both the Dutch and Kenyan Governments. Many factors have contributed to the successful development and extension of this programme, including:

· the dairy industry was well established at the time of the programme started
· dairying was viewed positively by farmers as a source of income and food
· improved dairy animals were locally available in the country
· a well-established artificial insemination (AI) service enhanced the multiplication of improved cattle.

The AI programme was introduced in the country as early as 1935 as a strategy to control breeding diseases. In the first two years of the AI programme approximately 6000 cows on 10 farms were artificially inseminated; by 1947 the number had reached 15,000. However, this service had hitherto been the preserve of large-scale farmers and it was only in 1946 that the Government took the first of a series of steps to make AI widely available by setting up a Central Insemination Board.

By 1956, preliminary AI trials had been initiated for peasant farmers in the Central and Nyanza Provinces. Guernsey semen from Britain was used in the Central Province while Sahiwal semen from India was used in Nyanza Province. In 1966 the Kenya Government formed the National Artificial Insemination Service, with technical assistance from Sweden. The central function of this unit was to conduct AI field services, while the Central Artificial Insemination Service (CAIS) remained the semen production and distribution unit. To help boost this service, assistance from Sweden was renewed for a further five years between 1971 and 1976.

The AI services are heavily subsidized by the Government. In the smallholder dairy farming areas the AI scheme is based on roadside crushes. With this system, once an animal has been identified to be on heat it is taken to the nearest crush. The inseminator calls randomly at each crush at an indefinite time each day and inseminates the cows present. Large-scale farmers normally organise their own services on-farm.

Dairying remains a priority in the livestock sector of the country and receives important consideration from the Government. It is generally accepted that zero-grazing is economically viable for smallholder farmers in the high potential areas where the programme operates, competing well with cash crops such as tea and coffee. In some parts of the country, such as Nyandarua District, dairying performs better than other agricultural enterprises. The fact that farming families can earn a regular monthly income throughout the year from milk makes it a more attractive enterprise than others.

Recent developments in the dairy industry seem to favour the sector. This is particularly true of the pricing mechanisms, where costs are now determined by market forces, making dairying an even more attractive commercial enterprise.

A joint evaluation team in 1990 (Mukolwe et al, 1990) concluded that the programme had a positive impact on land usage as it released grazing land for other uses. Increased milk production meant more milk going to market to provide extra income. The programme is in its fifth phase and 13th year of operation. It has expanded from the original six districts to the present 25 covering almost areas in Kenya with high milk production potential. However, work in the original six districts has not been completely phased out, as earlier envisaged. Going by the recommendations of the phase IV evaluation team, there should be another phase after phase V to ensure transfer of all project activities to the Ministry of Livestock Development. The evaluation team recommended that Dutch technical and financial assistance should continue.

The key factors contributing to the success of the project include farmers' interest and financial and technical assistance. This enabled the intensive contacts with the farmers. Other factors crucial to the programme's success were farmers' readiness to participate, the economic viability of dairying in relation to alternative enterprises, positive Government policies and supportive priorities and the general liberalisation of the economy. Apart from the recent deterioration in the economy, the socioeconomic environment has been favourable to the project.

Future dairy development programmes in Kenya

The dairy industry continues to be of high priority in the country's development policies and programmes and it will probably continue to receive the same attention in the future. However, despite all the incentives the sector received, there are signs that the industry may be unable to continue satisfying demand from the growing population unless it becomes more competitive and efficient and concerted efforts are directed to the industry.

To continue being self-sufficient in dairy products, Kenya will have to improve the dairy industry's capacity to produce and market dairy products without exacerbating land pressure. Success in this will require policies that encourage efficiency in the industry with minimal Government support.

Key areas that demand attention are, therefore, feed and water resources; yield per unit area and per animal; development of rural infrastructure, especially the road network; availability of credit to the smallholder sector; sustainable land use; and the update of the Dairy Industry Act.

Milk production in Kenya is based on forage, with minimal use concentrates. Forage alone can, at best, support production of only 5 to 10 litres of milk per cow per day. Although it is acknowledged that feed is the most limiting factor in milk production, the use of concentrates will continue to be minimal because of competition with people for grain. The options left are to increase forage productivity per unit area, to use fodder trees and those grains not used for human consumption, to increase forage utilisation efficiency of the animals and to develop more nutritious forages. Water for livestock has hitherto received very little attention; additional emphasis is needed on programmes dealing with water resource development. Researchers should design appropriate feeding systems based on the available resources.

The development of the rural infrastructure is not confined to the dairy sector alone. However, "dairy roads" have been suggested. The main concept of "dairy roads" is to make the rural roads passable during the rainy weather when it coincides with peak milk production. The linkage of rural infrastructure to a country's economic development cannot be overstated.

The Kenyan Government has made efforts to liberalise the dairy industry. A momentous step has already been taken in the decontrolling of dairy prices. However, this initiative should be followed by the review of the Dairy Industry Act and revision of other related acts to ensure that they conform to the new policy.

Livestock credit is minimal and, where available, it is poorly designed and inappropriate for the smallholder sector. Availability of proper finance would be a key factor in the success of an intensive production system.

Future dairy development programme will have to address these concerns to succeed. Some are already being re-addressed by existing programmes. However, no single project can address all the problem areas at once, but a coordinated effort should be mapped out. Perhaps future programmes should be multidisciplinary, integrated and district-specific. This would have the advantage of fostering the perception of each district as a subproject.


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Kenya Stud Book. 1925-75. Annual Report. Nakuru.

Mbogoh S G. 1992. An analysis of some socio-economic aspects of dairy production and marketing in Kenya. Unpublished report.

Ministry of Agriculture. 19 78. Animal Production Branch Report for 1978.

Ministry of Livestock Development. 1990. Animal Production Division Annual Report.

Mukolwe M M, Nguithi K B. Coenraads M and Oomen-Myin M A. 1990. Joint evaluation. National Dairy Development Project Phase IV.

Muriuki H G. 1991. Liquid milk supply and demand in the formal (KCC) market in Kenya: A Government price fixed market. Unpublished report.

Muriuki H G. 1992. Diagnosis of the current situation of dairy (cattle) industry in Kenya. Unpublished report.

National Dairy Development Programme. 1990. The role of women in the National Dairy Development Programme - Kenya. Unpublished report.

UNDP/FAO (United Nations Development Programme/Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 1979. Marketing Development Project Phase II, UNDP/FAO Working Paper.

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