Intensive forage production for smallholder dairying in East Africa1

Apollo Bwonya Orodho2

1 Published as chapter 18 in Grasslands: Developments Opportunities Perspectives by Reynolds & Frame
2P.O. Box 1667, Kitale, Kenya

Posted in April 2006

East Africa has many areas suited to dairying, especially in the better-watered zones at medium and high altitudes; it also has well-adapted and proven forages, many of local origin. The technologies are based on over seventy years of sound, well documented research and practical application. Although disease and parasite challenge can be strong, acclimatized stock of exotic dairy breeds are readily available for commercial dairying. Since the 1970s, with changes in farm size, emphasis has been on smallholder dairying, which has developed in the milk-catchment of the larger towns. The larger towns are mostly in upland areas, but two larges cities – Mombasa and Dar-es salaam – are coastal. Smallholder dairying relies on stall feeding, using cultivated fodder and crop residues; scavenging on rough grazing is now less common. Forages for the various agro-ecological zones, based on altitude (sea level to about 3000 m) and rainfall are listed, and technology for their cultivation and use described. A study of three levels of intensification shows that exotic, stall-fed stock give the highest margin per litre and have the highest input costs. Dairying provides employment in the small-scale farming sector and improves household incomes. Marketing is largely informal, which may make assurance of standards of hygiene problematical. Farmers who adopt improved technology generally get higher yields and profit margins. Fragmentation of holdings is a serious problem, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to find enough land for both fodders and subsistence crops.

East Africa, comprising Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, has a large range of agro-climatic zones, from sea level to high mountains, with cultivation up to about 3000 metres, and rainfall regimes from arid, through semi-arid to sub-humid. East Africa is wholly equatorial, lying roughly between 4°N and 11°S, and 29° to 42°E. Rainfall is generally bimodal at the coast and to the east of the Great Rift Valley, but in western areas the rainfall pattern is often almost unimodal – as one long season. There is a great altitude range, from the coast up to mountains, which still retain some permanent ice caps; temperatures are greatly modified by altitude, but the equatorial situation means that there is little or no variation in mean monthly temperatures. Much of the vast lower areas, outside the coastal strip, are semi-arid grazing land, often exploited by traditional pastoralists; these use dairy products for subsistence but are not the subject of this chapter. Crop production and mixed farming is found mainly in the uplands and a narrow coastal strip. The main cities, areas of high population density and intensive farming are in the highlands, at around 1500 metres. There are, however, two important coastal cities: Mombasa, in Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania. The relatively high altitude and cool climate of much of the highlands affects forage choice since 1500 metres, under local conditions, is about the upper limit for many “tropical” forages, as well as for crops such as cotton and rice. Smallholder dairying is found in zones with favourable climate and soils, where human pressure on land has caused farming systems to change from large, to medium to smallholder farms, integrating crops and livestock. Undernutrition and seasonal fluctuations in quantity and quality of feed are major constraints to smallholder dairying. Ways of intensifying forage production are described in terms of production systems, improved and recommend forages and seasonality of production. Forage quality is looked at in terms of the nutritive value, factors influencing quality and ways of improving it. Forages of economic importance are increasingly attacked by diseases and pests, and some of economic importance are discussed, with special emphasis on Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum). In the past two decades, smallholder dairying has undergone intensification and changes in management. Systems are moving from grazing to stall feeding, and smallholder dairy farmers have developed feed management strategies to cope with these changes. The great importance of crop residues and by-products, their role as feed and associated limitations are also discussed. Availability of seed of recommended forages is important; the availability of adapted seed production technologies and production of seed of recommended cultivars by the formal and informal seed sectors are discussed. Manure, an important output of dairying, is looked at in the ways farmers manage and use it in a cut-and-carry system and how increasing dairy production may be achieved through proper management of manure. Finally, the importance and future of forage-based smallholder dairying is discussed in the light of the socio-economic factors, opportunities and future prospects.

The smallholder forage programme has had a very solid information and genetic base. Pasture research began early in eastern Africa, and was especially strong in Kenya, where a full-time pasture specialist was recruited in 1929 and a Grassland Research Unit set up at Kabete. The main grassland types of the whole country were identified and studied, and many forages suitable for sown pasture were identified, either from local collection or introduction. By the 1930s sown pasture had become important on large-scale farms, often in rotation with cereals. This work was reported by Edwards and Bogdan (1951). Research was greatly expanded and a specialized Grassland Research Station – now the National Agricultural Research Station (NARS) – was set up at Kitale in 1952. with more specialist staff. A vast screening programme for fodder production was undertaken and several cultivars released commercially. The ability to provide seed reliably and at a reasonable price was a major selection criterion. Vegetatively propagated grasses were also studied, with a major emphasis on Napier grass. Much of the information on forages studied is given in Bogdan (1977), which deals with many of the cultivars mentioned in this chapter. Information on grassland work for eastern Africa as a whole is brought together in Boonman (1993). Kenya grassland research, from the beginning of records, was summarized from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) database by Wandera (1996). An essential for the successful development of smallholder dairying is a pool of suitable livestock; this was readily available in Kenya, having been originally developed in large-scale commercial agriculture and acclimatized over many generations. These animals have been taken into the smallholder sector, gradually at first in Kenya from the 1950s. In colonial times the Uganda Veterinary Department banned exotic stock, since they had a policy of “tick resistance”; the ban was rescinded at independence and very soon urban dairies developed in the major cities, using Kenyan stock and stall-feeding. Research on disease control was fundamental to the introduction and use of exotic dairy stock, and eastern Africa has major disease and parasite problems; the climate of the eastern African uplands is clement so heat stress is not a problem for exotic breeds, and even Jerseys have been kept since 1959 on the Kenyan coast. The Kabete Laboratories of the Kenya Veterinary Service were especially active in this field, ever since the large-scale use of exotic stock began in Kenya. This paper does not discuss disease control per se, but diseases and parasites are as big a constraint to dairy intensification as are feed problems. A wide range of infectious diseases occur, some of them indigenous, and have to be vaccinated against where possible. Tick-borne diseases are rampant, especially in the better watered zones, where most smallholder dairying takes place. East Coast Fever, caused by Theileria parva, which is transmitted by the tick Rhipcephalus appendiculatis, is particularly dangerous. Some of the wetter and warmer areas are infested with tsetse fly (Glossina spp.) which transmits bovine Trypanosomiasis. One very important feed resource is not discussed, but must be kept in mind continually – water. In most of eastern Africa, potable water is in very short supply and intensive dairying presupposes an adequate water supply both for the stock and for maintaining dairy equipment in a suitable state of hygiene. Organizing a water supply, or transporting water to zero-grazing systems, can incur considerable increase in costs. Much of the benefits of zero grazing can be wasted if stock have to walk to watering points, often of dubious quality, and en route risk picking up ticks as well as mixing with local unimproved stock, which can be a source of diseases and parasites.

In eastern Africa, smallholder dairying systems are mainly found in the sub-humid to semi humid agro-climatic zones (ACZ) II and III (Braun, 1980; Pratt and Gwynne, 1977), and to a lesser extent in the humid zone (ACZ I) and the transitional zone (ACZ IV) (Table 18.1). These areas are of high agricultural potential. Dairying has evolved as a result of many changes on farms, from the colonial era through the state-owned farms of the 1960s, to the present smallholder farms. This evolution has involved changes to vegetation and land use from the original forest, forest-derived grasslands, bush, woodland or savannah (Table 18.1), to the present vegetation for crop–livestock farming. In addition to the changes in land tenure and ownership, farm size has decreased, mainly by sub-division, to create intensive and semi-intensive smallholdings for the increased population. As the population in high potential areas of ACZ II and III continues to grow, people are moving to the colder or drier areas of ACZ I and IV, and smallholder dairying is spreading with them. Smallholder farming integrates crops and dairy, and benefits from synergies between dairying, staple food and cash crops. Some 65 percent of dairy cattle are in highlands with bimodal rainfall, in smallholder crop–dairy systems. These are the areas with good potential for biomass production and markets for milk, and that have significant potential for dairy development. Dairying is now a significant source of income to smallholder forage growers and has played a role in sustaining soil fertility through nutrient cycling. Some smallholders now grow intensive forage as a cash crop. There is inadequate feed due to decreasing farm size and increasing competition for land between enterprises. Feed quality fluctuates seasonally. Inputs for intensified fodder production are expensive and farmers only take up technologies that they consider profitable. Technical information and extension services are inadequate to transfer forage production information to smallholders.

There are two major types of smallholder dairying in eastern Africa: intensive and semi-intensive. Other systems are modifications of these two, depending on which other additional livestock products are produced from the dairy herd besides milk, e.g. meat, manure or draught (Table 18.2). Smallholder intensive dairying includes intensive urban, peri-urban and rural dairy-manure production. An intensive dairy farmer typically keeps 2-3 cows with followers on approximately a hectare of land and also grows crops. Most cattle are genetically heterogeneous Bos taurus (exotic) breeds or Bos taurus crosses with Bos indicus (Zebu). Exotic dairy breeds include Friesian-Holstein, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Black and White Dane, their grades and crosses.

Table 18.1 Natural vegetation and land use in livestock–crop production systems in eastern Africa

Climatic zone
Moisture available(1)


ACZ I – Afro-Alpine
> 80 mm
2500–3000 masl

Afro-alpine moorland and grassland, or barren land at high altitude, most above forest line. Of limited land use and potential except as water catchment. Apart from Kikuyu grass, which may grow at this high altitude, most sown grasses are exotic temperate genera, including Avena, Lolium, Dactylis and Festuca.

ACZ II – Sub-Humid
65–80 mm
1250–2500 masl

Forest land and derived grasslands and bush, with or without natural glades. The potential is for forestry. Intensive agriculture includes pyrethrum, coffee, tea and maize. Natural indicator grasses include Kikuyu grass at the highest altitude (1750–2500 m), star grass (Cynodon spp.) at mid-altitude (1500–1750 m), and Napier grass at lower altitudes (1250–1500 m). Some other common grass species are Exotheca, Andropogon, Pennisetum, Eleusine, Setaria, Panicum, Rhynchelytrum, Digitaria, Imperata, Panicum and Brachiaria.

ACZ III – Semi-Humid
50- 65 mm
0–1000+ masl

Land not of forest potential, carrying a variable vegetation cover (moist woodland, bush and savannah). The trees are characteristically broad­leaved (e.g. Brachystegia or Combretum) and the larger shrubs mostly evergreen. The agricultural potential is high, soil and topography permitting, with emphasis on ley farming. Maize is a major food crop, and common grass species include Hyparrhenia, Hyperthelia, Themeda, Chloris, Loudetia, Panicum, Rhynchelytrum, Paspalum, Digitaria, Heteropogon and Cynodon.

ACZ IV – Semi-Arid
40–50 mm
Mostly <1000 masl

Land of marginal agricultural potential, carrying as natural vegetation dry forms of woodland and savannah (often AcaciaThemeda association), but including Brachystegia woodland and equivalent deciduous or semi-evergreen bush. This is potentially productive rangeland. Cotton, sorghum and cassava are common agricultural crops. Grass species include Themeda, Pennisetum, Bothriochloa and Panicum.

Notes: (1) Moisture available = difference between Rainfall and Eo, where EO = Mean annual potential evaporation.
Source: Braun, 1980; Sombroek, Braun and Van der Pauw, 1982; Pratt and Gwynne, 1977.

Semi-intensive dairying includes rural and peri-urban dairy-meat-manure-draught production systems. Semi-intensive systems use both the indigenous Small East African (SEA) zebu and crosses of indigenous and exotic breeds, and is mostly found in high rainfall areas, which are suitable for exotic breeds. Zebu milk is mainly consumed domestically, although farmgate sales are common. Smallholders generally keep zebus with other ruminants. Cattle are paddocked, tethered or herded on roadsides or communal land. Cows are milked for about five months; calves suckle after milking. Few concentrates or mineral supplements are used. Land holdings vary between 1 and 15 ha, depending on the geographic region and ACZ.

Table 18.2. Smallholder dairy production systems in eastern Africa.

Production system
Major products or purpose

Agro-Climatic Zone

No. and genotype

Major dairy production regions


1. Smallholder intensive urban dairy
Dairy marketed

Humid to Semi-Humid

20 000

Dar-es-Salaam and all major urban centres

2. Smallholder intensive rural dairy-manure
Dairy and manure marketed

Humid to Semi-Humid

181 000

Northeastern Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tanga, Iringa, Mbea, Kagera

3. Smallholder semi-intensive dairy-manure
Dairy and manure marketed

Humid to Semi-Humid

35 000

Northern Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tanga, Iringa, Mbeya, Kagera

4. Smallholder semi-intensive dairy-meat-draught-manure

Humid to Transitional

7.5 million

Mwanza, Shinyanga, Singida, Dodoma, Arusha, Mbeya, Tanga


1. Smallholder intensive and semi-intensive dairy-manure

Humid-Semi Humid

2.5 million

Highland of Central Rift Valley, Central Province, Urban Centres, Coastal strip.

2. Smallholder semi intensive dairy-meat-draught-manure


5.3 million

Parts of Western, Nyanza, Coast, Eastern and Rift Valley Provinces


1. Smallholder intensive dairy-manure

Humid to Semi-Humid

140 000

High altitude (Montane) region, Kagera, Sebei, White Nile, Toro, Mbale, Kabarole, Bushenyi, Kabale, Kampala.

2. Smallholder semi-intensive dairy- meat-draught

Humid to Transitional

4.06 million
Zebu/ Crosses

Mbarara, Mubende, Luswero, Kabarole, Bushenyi, Mukono, Masaka, Iganga, Kampala, Jinja, Masindi

Urban and peri-urban dairying, which is becoming very popular in many cities and big towns (Mougeout, 1994; Mlozi, 1995; Lee-Smith et al., 1987), is a response to market opportunities and the financial constraints of urban dwellers.

Factors that led to increased dairy production in and around cities include the need for urban dwellers and civil servants to make ends meet, the high price of milk in urban centres relative to remote areas, and poor milk marketing infrastructure. Urban and peri-urban dairying offers enormous potential to supply milk to rapidly growing urban populations because of the proximity to markets and better access to inputs, such as dairy meal. Forage production in urban and peri-urban areas has intensified to feed dairy cattle. In order to enhance development of smallholder dairying in urban areas, there is need for governments to set clear policies supporting and regulating urban dairying. The development and adoption of smallholder dairying has been favoured by several factors, including:

  • the presence of smallholder communities who keep cattle and who have milk as an important part of their diets,
  • the presence of a significant cattle genetic base and dairy cattle population, with about 85 percent of the dairy cattle found in eastern Africa,
  • favourable climate, soils and altitude, and topography conducive to dairying, and
  • fairly supportive government policies and institutional environment.

In Kenya, 80 percent of dairy cattle are found in smallholder intensive and semi-intensive rural dairy and manure production, using exotic and crossbred dairy cattle, and in the semi-intensive dairy-meat-draught-manure production systems. Intensive dairying mainly uses exotic and crossbred cattle; this system keeps the majority of dairy cattle, approximately 2.5 million head, with the highest concentration in Central and Rift Valley Provinces.

Farms are small and produce cash crops and food, besides milk, and keep about 4 cattle on approximately a hectare of land, typically with coffee, maize, horticultural and fodder crops, depending on agroclimatic conditions, terrain and elevation. A high proportion of farmers stall-feed their cattle (see Plate 1). The semi-intensive dairy system uses zebu and a few crossbred cattle, but is more subsistence oriented; it has about 5.3 million head, mainly in Nyanza, Western, Coast, Eastern and Rift Valley provinces. The number of cattle and land area per household is slightly larger than in intensive systems. Most farmers free-graze or paddock-feed their cattle.

Plate 1

Dairying is now important in and around Kenya’s major towns; smallholder production is constrained by inadequacy and seasonality of feed and its quality, and by low dry matter intake. Stall feeding of crop residues, natural grass – mostly Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum), star grass (Cynodon spp.), Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) and setaria (Setaria sphacelata), is common and increasing. Purchase of fodders such as Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) or hay, some of which is from the roadside or from farmers who do not have livestock, is common in intensive areas such as Kiambu (Staal et al., 1998).

Planted fodders on smallholder farms include sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) vines, various kinds of vetch (Vicia spp.) and desmodiums (Desmodium uncinatum, D. intortum) or fodder trees such as calliandra (Calliandra calothyrsus.) and leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala). Farmers also buy grain, concentrates and agro-industrial by-products such as bran, wheat pollard and dairy meal. Napier grass (see Plate 2) is the major fodder used by smallholders in Kenya (Orodho, 1990).

Plate 2

In Tanzania, over 80 percent of milk from improved cattle is from smallholder dairies. There are four smallholder dairy production systems (Table 18.2). The smallholder intensive urban dairy production system is found around Dar-es-Salaam and other major urban centres. This system has a cattle population of about 20 000 head. In towns, cattle are few and are fed from forages purchased or gathered from open spaces or public land. Over 70 percent of dairy cattle are in the smallholder intensive rural and semi-intensive dairy-manure cattle production systems. These are in peri-urban areas and in the rural highland areas of Arusha and Kilimanjaro, and Kagera in the Southern Highlands. In the highlands of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru, these systems have about 65 percent of all dairy cattle in Tanzania. Farms are small and grow cash and food crops besides producing milk. Farmers typically own about 4 cattle on approximately 1.7 ha, and grow coffee (Coffea arabica), bananas (Musa sp.) and fodder (MOAC/SUA/ILRI, 1998). Livestock are fed on a cut-and-carry system. Farmers may have another 2.2 ha of lowlands where they grow maize (Zea mays) and beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) (Mdoe and Wiggins, 1997). They often bring crop by-products from the lowlands to feed cattle in the highlands, which has sustainability implications because of transfer of nutrients between landscapes. Zero grazing, using crop by-products and forage, is practised by about 70 percent of farmers. The rest follow semi-intensive systems, especially on larger farms in the lowlands and in the low-population-density areas of the southern highlands. Many farmers use manure (sometimes after it has been used to generate biogas) on their coffee, bananas and fodders.

In ACZs I–IV, smallholders practise mostly subsistence-oriented semi-intensive dairying, with predominantly zebu herds and a few crosses; they have up to 30 head, especially in drier zones (IV), which mostly graze. This zone has approximately 86 percent of dairy cattle in Tanzania. Cattle are kept for meat and draught, and farmers grow cotton, tobacco, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), rice (Oryza sativa), cassava and sweet potato. Crop by-products are fed to cattle and manure is used as fertilizer.

Dairying is concentrated in the southern half of the country, where Kampala, Jinja and Mbarara milk catchment areas each account for one third of national dairy marketing. Improved breeds make up 4 percent of the national 4.2 million head herd, and produce 16 percent of the milk marketed. Smallholder dairies are intensive or semi-intensive. In intensive dairying, the average farm size is about 1.5 ha, significantly smaller than semi-intensive farms. It is generally a high altitude zero-grazing system, with coffee as the main cash crop and bananas, maize, beans, sweet potato, sorghum and vegetables for food. Intercropping is common, and dairy enterprises range from zero-grazing with 1–3 cows to free grazing or fenced paddocks with larger numbers of cattle. Cattle breeds include exotic animals (e.g. Friesian, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Black and White Dane), their grades and crosses. Intensive dairying is prevalent in southwest Uganda (MAAIF, 1993). Dairy stock depend on local pasture, Napier grass, and crop by-products such as sweet potato vines, banana peelings and pseudostems, and damaged crops. Manure is usually put on the banana plots.

Farmers may supplement dairy animals with purchased concentrate (usually 2–3 kg/cow/day at milking). Seasonal variations in quantity and quality of feed strongly influence milk production. Intensive dairying is in tsetse-free areas with more than 1500 mm rain annually. Some farmers grow high value fodders, including Napier grass, Kikuyu grass, star grass and clovers (Trifolium spp.). Semi-intensive dairying systems are mainly in medium altitude (1000–1500 m) areas with medium rainfall (1000–1500 mm).  The main cash crop is coffee, and food crops include maize, beans, cassava and vegetables. Farms are small, 1–2 ha, where human population density is high, and 4–15 ha in relatively low-population-density areas. Dairy herds in small to medium farms range from 5 to 30 animals. Some stall-feeding of dairy cattle is practised, using local vegetation, Napier grass and crop by-products such as sweet potato vines, bananas peelings and pseudostems and damaged crops. It is common to find animals herded, tethered or grazed on hillsides, valley bottoms, roadsides and fallows. Communal grazing is limited. Natural pastures comprise 80–88 percent of the land used for grazing, and planted pastures occupy the remainder.

Milk per capita
Milk production and milk availability per capita in eastern Africa is very low (Table 18.3) and does not meet demand. With increasing population, the demand for milk will leave an even bigger gap, which will have to be met either by imports or increased local production. With slow economic growth and inadequate foreign exchange, the most sustainable option is to increase production from smallholder dairy farms.

Forages on smallholder farms
During the late 1970s and early 1980s there was much emphasis on research into the needs of smallholders, who had become the majority farmers in high and medium potential areas, as well as in the marginal areas of eastern Africa. The sub-region is a centre of genetic variability for many tropical forage grasses, so the richness of the forage germplasm, collected and introduced, formed an excellent basis for further breeding and selection for smallholder systems. The most important species improved to provide better cultivars for smallholder dairy farmers include Rhodes grass(Chloris gayana), setaria (Setaria sphacelata) and Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum). Rhodes grass is one of the most important ley grasses in eastern Africa, with several cultivars, such as Pokot, Rongai, Mbarara and Masaba – all identified by the original collection sites.

There are basically three systems of forage production in smallholder dairying: (i) from natural plants, (ii) from improved forages, and (iii) from cultivated fodders.

Natural pastures are generally composed of herbaceous species, mostly grasses, although non-gramineous herbs commonly occur and there is usually a storey of trees and shrubs of varying density. Woody species provide forage as browse, while taller trees contribute fruits. Table 18.1 indicates some of the natural vegetation commonly used by smallholders in ACZs I–IV. Since over 1000 grasses have been recorded in eastern Africa, the table shows only the major ones. The potential of dairy production from natural forage is limited by both the quality and quantity of the feed produced, and this is influenced by many factors, including climate, soil, vegetation, animal type and the grazing system. In dairying systems where natural pastures are used, the dairy animals are either freely grazed or semi-zero-grazed on the roadside or communal land on natural forages. Forage produced from natural pastures are usually inadequate or of low quality, or both, especially in overgrazed fields.

Table 18.3  Dairying in east Africa: cattle, milk production and per capita milk availability





Cattle (‘000 head)

10 400
3 045

13 900

5 400

Percentage dairy cattle




Annual milk production (‘000 litres)

3 075



Annual per capita milk availability (litres LME)1




Notes: 1 LME = liquid milk equivalent.
Source: Muriuki and Thorpe, 2001.

Smallholder dairy farmers can increase production by planting improved forage. Sown forage can increase production economically in semi-intensive systems because such forages are of better feeding value and higher yield than natural vegetation. In addition, sown pastures increase soil fertility and improve soil structure for subsequent cropping, and in some cases reduce the incidences of weeds, pests and diseases. In smallholder dairy systems, forages can increase the level of nitrogen in pasture production systems, enhance yields of protein-rich forage. This can be achieved either by use of fertilizer nitrogen on nitrogen-responsive grasses, or through the use of nitrogen-fixing legumes. To choose the most suitable forages for a sown pasture, it is necessary to define accurately both the environment in which they are to be grown and the purpose for which they are to be used.

Seasonality in forage productivity
Seasonality of forage availability is a major constraint to animal production in smallholder dairying and is determined by climatic conditions. The air temperatures and rainfall are relatively constant during the 7–8 months of rainy season, and a substantial amount of forage is produced during the first quarter, particularly in zones II and III, with their unimodal rainfall pattern. If dairy farmers plant forages at the onset of rain, soil temperatures are high and more nitrogen is released. Variation in soil temperatures exceeds that of air temperature and the peak growth in forages is reached 4 to 6 weeks after the end of the dry season. The quality of the first forage produced and its response to fertilizer nitrogen is high since most forages utilize the released nitrogen to recover from the dry season.

Farmers can increase forage production by using the most suitable and high yielding forages identified for the various agro-climatic zones (Table 18.4), and following recommended agronomic practices. Increase in production can be realized by establishing more new pastures and by applying nitrogenous fertilizer. Farmers need to manipulate early and late sowing of forages to increase production, particularly for the dry season. First year pastures are more vigorous and continue to grow later into the dry season, especially when sown late. While preference is always given to early sowing, followed by a conservation cut, late sown forages are more vigorous in the dry season and more water is saved and stored. Late sown pastures behave in the first dry season like annual fodders, such as oats or grass sorghum. Smallholder dairy farmers can reduce seasonality in forage availability by fodder conservation. Climatic conditions are such that there are usually several months of dry season when feed is scarce.

During the long rains there is often a surplus of forage, which could be conserved; apart from providing forage for the dry season, conservation cuts are also conducive to good forage husbandry. Smallholders could not only save grass that would otherwise be spoilt, but also encourage regrowth that would not be hampered by the old foliage. Forage conservation technologies, such as hay and silage making, have been developed for smallholders, although adoption has been poor. Although hay is more easily cured in dry climates, weather conditions, particularly in ACZ III, are such that there are only a few days of dry weather when hay or silage can be safely made during the long rains.

Forage production can be increased by use of fodder catch or break crops such as oats and sorghums. At the end of the productive life of a pasture, oats or grass sorghum can play a significant role in increasing forage production. Old pastures can be ploughed in the middle or tail end of the rainy season and oats, sorghum or another suitable annual fodder sown to replace pasture that is no longer productive, help its decomposition and provide dry season fodder, without extra land being set aside.

The most powerful way of intensifying forage production in smallholder farms is through use of fertilizer nitrogen. It is the most effective, and also the most flexible, tool a smallholder farmer can use to match forage supply with demand. Nitrogen is effective in prolonging growth into the early dry season and also in accelerating it at the start of the rains. Under zero grazing, nitrogen fertilizer is always necessary, although many farmers do not use it frequently because of its high price.

Planted fodders also play a significant role in smallholder dairy production. They are mostly identified with zero grazing and stall feeding in smallholder dairying. Of all the planted fodders used by smallholders, Napier grass is the most popular. It forms up to 40 percent of the dry matter in the diet of dairy cattle, the rest coming from other cultivated grasses, fodders, crop by-products, crop residues and purchased concentrates. Table 18.4 gives a list of the most common fodders used by smallholder dairy farmers in eastern Africa.

Intensification of feed supply and changes in production practices
A survey of smallholder dairy farms in Kenya showed a changing trend in feeding and production practices in both intensive and semi-intensive systems. There is a clear evidence of increased intensification of dairying by smallholder farmers (Staal et al., 1998). More than 75 percent of smallholders who practise intensive dairy production exclusively stall-feed their dairy cattle, a practice consistent with the small size of farms. In semi-intensive systems, farms are on average larger and some smaller-scale farmers have access to communal land where they can graze their dairy herds. An increasing number of dairy farmers now stall-feed their cattle compared with the situation ten years earlier. The proportion of smaller-scale dairy farmers putting cattle to grazing had almost halved in ten years. This is clear evidence of increased intensification of smallholder farming, with intensified dairying as an important part of the change. Although stall feeding is generally predominant, even on the farms where cattle graze, pastures were not usually the main source of feed; rather it was fodders (including by-products and crop residues) gathered from farms or from public land, or purchased. More smallholder dairies grow high yielding fodder, Napier grass being the major forage crop grown by over 70 percent of farmers.

In intensive systems with zero grazing, nearly half of the farmers purchase fodder as the main source of feed, a third (35 percent) grow fodder on their own land, and one in eight (13 percent) gather it from public land. Over the past ten years, dairy feeding strategies in smallholder farms have changed in that there has been an increased number of smallholder dairies using concentrate feeds, minerals, crop residues and agro-industrial by-products. There has been a reduction in the number of smallholder dairy farmers using roadside grazing and natural salt licks. These resources from outside underpin the strategies of smallholder dairy farmers addressing seasonal feed shortages. The main strategies reported were purchase of fodder (60 percent) and purchase of concentrates (15 percent). These changes reflect an increasing dependency on purchased feed, both concentrate and fodder, and the reduced availability and dependency of communal feed resources gathered at no cost.

There has been an increasing demand for forage, which now commands high prices. Smallholders who do not own dairy cattle often serve as a source of fodder, mainly Napier grass, which is commonly grown for sale. Planted forages have grown in importance, particularly as smallholder dairy feeding shifts from grazing to stall feeding. In contrast to the omnipresent Napier grass, other forages, including fodder trees and shrubs and herbaceous legumes have not been widely adopted on most smallholders farms. A few smallholders plant Sesbania spp. or Calliandra spp., and herbaceous legumes, such as Desmodium spp.

Table 18.4 Suitable forages and farm by-products for smallholder systems of eastern Africa.

Annual precipitation

Suitable feeds


Ley grasses

Crop by-products


1. Cold and wet high-altitude areas
2400–3000 m
1000–2500 mm

Clover (Trifolium repens)
Kenya white clover (T. semipilosum)
Vetch (Vicia villosa)
Lucerne (Medicago sativa)

Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum)
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)
Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea)

Vegetable wastes (kales and carrots)
Maize stover
Banana pseudostems

Oats, Brassicas (kale), Fodder beets Turnips Guatemala grass (Tripsacum laxum)

2. Cool and wet medium-altitude areas
1 850-2 400 m
1 000-1 500 mm

Glycine (Neonotonia wightii)
Stylosanthes guianensis
Njahi (Lablab purpureus)
Lupin (Lupinus albus)
Lucerne (Medicago sativa)

Rhodes grass,
Coloured guinea (Panicum coloratum),
Star grass,
Kikuyu grass,
Congo signal (Bracharia ruziziensis)

Maize stover
Bean stover
Banana pseudostems
Sweet potato vines

Napier grass
Giant panicum (Panicum maximum)
Guatemala grass
Sudan grass
Columbus grass (Sorghum almum)
Maize, Oats, Sweet potato
Russian (Quaker) comfrey (Symphytum peregrinum)

3. Warm and wet medium-altitude areas
1200–1850 m
1000–2500 mm
(bimodal or unimodal)

Glycine (Neonotonia wightii)
Njahi (Lablab purpureus)
Sesbania (Sesbania sesban, S. grandiflora)

Rhodes grass
Setaria grass
Panicum (Panicum maximum)
Star grass.
Kikuyu grass
Congo signal (Bracharia ruziziensis)

Maize stover
Banana pseudostems
Wheat straw
Bean stover
Sweet potato vines
Sugar cane tops

Napier grass
Giant setaria (Setaria splendida)
Giant panicum
Guatemala grass (Tripsacum laxum or andersonii)
Sudan grass (Sorghum sudanense)
Sweet potato vines
Edible canna (Canna edulis)
Russian Comfrey

4. Hot and humid coastal strip low altitude areas (Kenya and Tanzania coast
<1000 m
1000–1800 mm
(bimodal or unimodal)

Clitoria (Clitoria ternatea)
Centrosema (Centrosema pubescens)
Siratro (Macroptilium atropurpureum)
Stylosanthes spp.
Gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium, G. maculata)

Rhodes grass
Coloured guinea
Eragrostis superba

Cashew nut
Vegetable waste
Sweet potato vines

Giant panicum
Napier grass
Giant setaria
Sudan grass

Manure in smallholder dairy systems
In eastern Africa, many smallholders fertilize their food and forage crops with manure, either as compost, slurry or fresh dung. Some store the bedding and faeces before applying it to Napier grass on the farm. Sometimes, many of the nutrients in the faeces and urine are lost. Much improvement in nutrient management could be made through better handling and storage of faeces and urine. A few farmers give away or sell their manure; some use it as fuel; and others to plaster their houses. Manure sustains soil through increased pH, increased water-holding capacity, increased hydraulic conductivity and infiltration and decreased bulk density. Manure has the long-term effect of raising soil organic matter levels. Some farmers confine their animals at night and free them during the day. The amount of recoverable manure also depends on the efficiency of its collection and management The diet of the animals producing the manure and the conditions under which it is stored and handled are major factors affecting quality. In intensive cut-and-carry systems, without recycling manure and use of fertilizer the soil is depleted of minerals, and an initially high yield may quickly decline.

Under grazing, most of the consumed minerals are returned to the soil. Distribution of minerals through faeces and urine by grazing cattle is poor, however, and high losses of nitrogen may occur due to leaching, denitrification or volatilization. Cows producing 20–25 kg of milk daily only convert about 20 percent of the nitrogen consumed into protein in milk and meat. Napier grass yielding 10–20 tonnes DM ha-1 yr-1 may remove as much as 300 kg N, 50 kg P and 600 kg K. In contrast, a well managed maize crop in high-potential areas of eastern Africa (double cropped), only the grain being harvested, and assuming a yield of 4000 kg ha-1 for each crop, may not remove more than 120 kg N ha-1 yr-1 from the soil. Recycling animal manure to Napier grass for forage will at least largely replenish the quantities of P and K removed by cut-and-carry systems for zero-grazing and stall feeding; dung and urine could be effectively collected, stored and returned to the Napier grass or fodder at the right time and in an efficient manner. At the same time, in Kenya, fertilizer is much more commonly used on maize than on fodder crops. A successful "self-contained" zero-grazing system, therefore, requires a high level of management.

In cut-and-carry systems, animals are confined, and urine and faeces are deposited on a small area. Without proper collection, large losses of minerals may occur. In the zero-grazing unit, the manure can easily be collected as slurry if the floor of the zero-grazing unit is made of concrete. To avoid severe depletion of soil minerals, this slurry should be returned to Napier grass as efficiently as possible (Snyders, Orodho and Wouters, 1992). However many smallholders do not have cemented floors, nor slurry collection pits. Some may not even have a roof on their zero-grazing unit. In such cases there is great loss of nutrients. Generally, small-scale farmers with zero-grazing units collect the manure daily; most bring it straight back to the Napier grass field and work it into the soil. In this way the losses of nutrients are kept to a minimum. Moreover, no big storage facilities are needed, only a small pit in which the urine and the dung of the day can be collected before transporting it to the field. The use and handling of manure is an important aspect of the zero-grazing package. If no recycling is done, the soil will be overexploited, soil fertility will decline and the yield of Napier grass and other fodders will be reduced.

Nutritive value of forages
The low quality of forages, particularly in the dry season, is a major constraint to dairy production. The ultimate value of forage plants must be considered mainly in terms of milk. The nutritive value of most forages is influenced by age and varies according to the phenological stages of the crop. As forages develop in age, their acid detergent fibre (ADF), neutral detergent fibre (NDF), lignin, stem, dead material and dry matter (DM) increase, while their crude protein (CP), leaf-to-stem ratio, ash and digestibility decrease. The chemical compositions of hay from common grasses range from 3.7 to 9.2 percent CP and 32 to 45.5 percent crude fibre (CF). In general the chemical composition of forage depends on the plant species or cultivar, the plant part, water status and age. Crowder and Chheda (1982) reported that the genetic differences in pasture species at variety level contribute towards difference in in vivo digestibility. CP is higher in leaves than stems, while stems have higher CF. Napier grass, Rhodes grass and setaria are among the most nutritious and productive grasses grown in eastern Africa. Napier grass produces 20–25 tonnes DM ha-1 yr-1 and the production of chloris and setaria ranges from 14 to 18 tonnes DM ha-1 yr-1. Yields and quality of forages are not constant over seasons and years. Grasses are highly seasonal, delivering most of their potential in the first months of the growing season. Forage yields of 15 tonnes DM ha-1 in the year of sowing or planting are not unusual without N fertilization. Unless topped up with N, however, yields drop to a third or less by the third year, especially in a cut-and-carry system.

In the wet season, the concentration of minerals and CP is higher than during the dry season. In young grasses the initial high CP levels drop considerably with maturity. The total amino acid content of grass correlates highly with the total N contents and declines during growth. Grasses have protein degradability varying between 12 and 33 percent and for most grasses the proportion of non-lignin N to total protein is 15 percent higher than the digestible coefficient of the total N. In general, K and Fe appear to be adequate in most grasses, but P, Na, Cu, Co, Mg and Ca are normally deficient in grasses, particularly during the wet season. In terms of mean percentage DM, the P levels in legume forage range from 0.13 to 0.38 percent, the Ca level range from 0.88 to 1.45 percent, the Mg levels range from 0.25 to 0.67 percent and the Na levels from 0.02 to 0.23 percent (Skerman et al., 1988). Most forages grown by smallholder farmers have CP of 10–12 percent and digestibility (D-vitro) of 55–60 percent. After the first year of production, this is rarely possible without application of N fertilizer. The CP of Napier grass and many other forage crops is normally less than 14 percent, which is insufficient for efficient dairy production, hence the need for supplementation to increase dairy productivity. The in vivo digestibility of Napier grass, Guatemala, and giant setaria range between 47 and 56 percent, but can be as high as 71.1 percent when cut young. Smallholder dairy farmers can increase the quality of forages by using the recommended forage management practices. Smallholder farmers can also improve the quality of their forage crops by growing grass and legumes mixtures. Some farmers grow and harvest the grasses and legume separately, but mix them when stall feeding their dairy cattle. In some cases, growing and managing grasses and legume separately, increases yield. The CP of most legumes ranges between 14 and 18 percent and CF ranges between 27 and 35 percent. Leucaena leucocephala has CP of 21.6 and CF 18.3 (Skerman et al., 1988). Although legumes have higher CP than grasses, some tropical legumes have lower digestibility and palatability because they have higher tannin contents.

Forage Seed Production
Lack of seed and planting materials of recommended forages is a major constraint to increased forage production on smallholder farms in eastern Africa. Frequently, only very small amounts of seed of recommended forages are available to smallholders. Once a forage cultivar has proved to be promising, its seed must be produced in large quantities to be used by smallholders. If seed production is inefficient, then seed costs are high and this reduces the incentive for pasture improvement. There is a need to ensure that adequate seed of recommended forages is available to smallholders in the various ACZs. Seed production potential for recommended forages needs to be assessed and technologies developed to exploit their genetic potential. Even though species and varieties behave similarly in response to agronomic practices, they vary markedly in seed yield potential. To maximize forage seed yields it is necessary to carefully select sites on which the seed crop is grown and to optimize the establishment and management of the seed crop, and also to follow proper harvesting procedures. Nitrogen fertilizer and row width are important tools to manipulate heading and subsequent seed setting, and thus increase seed yields of tropical forages. Forage grasses produce more seed under conditions of closer tiller density and appropriate N dressing. Seed setting, which is the major variable determining pure germinating seed (PGS) content, is greatly affected by weather conditions in the pre-heading period. Rainfall is of critical importance. Studies showed that seasons with good seed yields had more rains, which were better distributed, without prolonged drought. A good rainfall distribution is a major prerequisite to achieving high PGS percentage.

Government has the responsibility for producing Breeder or Basic seed from its forage breeding programmes at appropriate research centres. The Basic seed is supplied to seed companies for multiplication, processing, distribution and sale. Some seed companies have their own breeders involved in breeding and selection of forages. Seed companies normally produce seed of forages that are widely grown and can be sold extensively in the nation and some exported; they are not keen on producing forages that are zone- or area-specific, or handling vegetatively propagated planting materials such as Napier grass, Guatemala grass, sweet potato, edible canna, giant setaria and giant panicum. Smallholders normally get vegetative material and forage seed that are zone specific from government institutions or from other farmers.

An independent national body provides plant health inspectorate services, and is responsible for seed inspection and certification, ensuring that the quality of seed produced meets international quality standards. This body also works closely with breeders to maintain the distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) of the seed produced. Imported pasture seed, particularly of legumes, is very expensive for smallholders. Such seed can be produced locally and cheaply by smallholders after appropriate training in production technologies that have been developed locally. Some smallholder farmers have taken seed production as a business and are producing forage seed for sale. Legume seed production by smallholder farmers is more profitable than producing maize as a commercial crop. Farmers who have no dairy cattle are growing crops such as Napier grass and selling the forage and vegetative propagating planting materials to livestock farmers. Some smallholders set aside surplus forage in the year of sowing to harvest farm-saved seed. This provides a low-cost source of seed to establish more pastures. It is partly through this system that improved forages such as Rhodes grass and setaria have spread rapidly. More seeds can move into markets, which are otherwise inaccessible. This informal seed production sector is likely to develop. Smallholder seed producers could come together and form cooperatives and associations to enable them to market forage seeds throughout eastern Africa. Forage production on smallholder farms should increase as a result of both the informal and formal seed production sectors.

Crop Residues, agro-industrial by-products and their limitations
Forages on most smallholder farms in eastern Africa are deficient in protein, energy and certain minerals, such as P and S, particularly in the dry season. Some dairy farmers supplement these from other sources of feed. Most protein supplements are expensive and the majority of smallholder farmers are unable to afford them. Besides, concentrates are not readily available to smallholders and, when available, their quality is questionable. In arable areas of mixed farming, the use of crop residue and by-products to supplement forages as livestock feeds is commonest in dairying. Smallholders supplement their livestock with purchased grain, concentrates and by-products such as bran, wheat pollard and dairy meal. Because of the high cost of dairy meal, many farmers opt for cereal by-products. Variable amounts of concentrates are usually fed to dairy cows at milking, with many smallholders feeding a flat rate of about 1 to 2 kg daily throughout lactation. Most commonly used are crop by-products. Crop residues in smallholder dairy-crop systems include cereal straw and stover (e.g. rice, sorghum, millet and wheat); horticultural crop and vegetable waste (e.g. cowpea and chick pea vines); sugar cane tops and leaves; maize, wheat, and barley wastes; pyrethrum marc; pigeon pea leaves; green maize strippings; banana leaves and pseudostems; potato and banana peelings; residues from soya beans, peas, groundnuts and lab-lab bean (Lablab purpureus, syn. Dolichos lablab); coconut, simsim and cotton seed cake; and field bean, soya bean and groundnut hulls.

In some parts of Kenya, crop residues, mainly maize and bean stover, provide an average of 35–45 percent of the total livestock feed requirement in smallholder farms. The contribution of crop by-products to feeding dairy cattle depends on farm size. The smaller the farm, the larger the proportion of feeds drawn from crop residues and crop by-products compared with forages. In the highlands of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in Tanzania, crop residues, including banana, maize and other cereals, are commonly fed to cattle, especially in the dry season, to supplement forage. In Uganda, crop residues are available as feed for the dry season. Banana peel and potato vine are the most commonly used in intensive systems. Cassava foliage could be a valuable feed in smallholder farms, but is rarely used for fear of cyanide toxicity. The major agro-industrial by-products are cereal bran (maize and rice), oil cake (soya bean, cotton seed and sunflower) and brewers’ grains. All cereal straws contain a large pool of structural carbohydrates that can potentially be used as an energy source by the ruminant microbes. The minimal contents of crude protein (2–4 percent of DM), the imbalance in essential minerals contained in the straws, their low digestibility as well as low intake by ruminants are disadvantages encountered in using straw as feed (Wanapat, 1986).

By-products such as maize stover, wheat and rice straw are fibrous and in most cases lignified, making them less digestible and acceptable to livestock. However, these deleterious properties may be reduced through chemical and physical treatment. Treating roughage with sodium hydroxide has proved effective in improving feed conversion and animal performance, and fermentation with urea is a well-known technique. The level of use of a by-product is limited by the cost of collection and transportation from source, storage and processing, in addition to other intrinsic factors, and seasonality in availability. Fresh cassava leaves contain high levels of hydrocyanic acid (HCN), which is toxic. Sun drying the leaves reduces the HCN contents to levels that are less toxic (Wanapat et al., 1989). However, not all cultivars of cassava are poisonous and ruminants may be able to consume the fresh leaves without ill-effect. Crop residue are usually deficient in at least one nutrient and cannot support animal production without adequate supplementation. Owing to their bulky nature, most crop residues and by-products must be used at or close to where they are produced, to reduce transport cost. The commonly available farm by-products are sugar cane tops, sugar cane rejects, maize stalks and maize cobs; these were found to be high in crude fibre, calcium and potassium but low in protein and phosphorous (NARS, 1977). They are good roughage but require supplementing with crude protein and energy in the form of readily digestible carbohydrates and minerals when fed to dairy cattle.

Diseases and pests of forages
There is an increase incidence of diseases and pests affecting forages in eastern Africa. In the past, forage diseases and pests caused minimal economic losses, so little research was directed towards solving forage disease and pest problems. However, in the past two decades, there have been important outbreaks of diseases and pests, some of which have caused serious economic losses to smallholders. Some of the important forage legumes affected by diseases and pests included Stylosanthes, attacked by anthracnose, a fungal disease caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides; leucaena is attacked by Leucaena psyllids (Heteropsylla cubana); siratro is attacked by Rhizoctonia fungus; and lupins succumb to a root rot caused by Sclerotia rolfsii. Among the forage grasses affected by diseases and pests are Chloris, which is attacked by Fusarium graminearum fungus; Cynodon is attacked by Helminthosporium cynodontis fungus; Panicum is attacked by Cerebella andropogonis; Paspalum is attacked by Claviceps purpurea, with the danger of animal poisoning; and Kikuyu grass is attacked by the root knot nematode, Meloidogyne kikuyuyensis.

Napier grass is also seriously attacked by diseases and pests, causing serious economic loss and concern to farmers. Some of the important diseases and pests are considered below.

Snowmould fungal disease  Most Napier grass clones are susceptible to the fungus, Beniowskia sphaeroidea, which causes a white mould on the leaves and stems. Research in the early 1970s developed a variety – clone 13 – which was a selection from seedling progenies of French Cameroon seeds. Clone 13 is resistant to the fungal disease (Van Wijk, 1974). This disease has also been reported to attack Kikuyu grass and Nandi setaria.

Napier grass head smut  This is a serious Napier grass disease, first reported in cooler parts of central Kenya in 1992. Affected plants develop fungal symptoms that look like flower structures but open up releasing black spores. The stems then become smaller and the total DM of the affected crop is drastically reduced. After 2–3 cuttings the entire stool dries. The causative organism is a fungus, Ustilago kamerunensis. This disease, which spreads rapidly, has caused serious concern to smallholders, who report losses of 90–100 percent of their Napier grass and have been forced to drastically reduce their livestock number. Through collaborative research in screening and evaluation, a Napier grass variety, Kakamega 1, developed by the author, has been identified as high yielding and resistant to Napier grass head smut (Farrel, 1998). This variety is being multiplied and bulked in government institutions and has been distributed to over 10 000 smallholders in just one year. The farmers usually come together and contribute money to hire transport to collect Kakamega 1 Napier grass from institutions where the material has been bulked. This cultivar is spreading very fast because smallholders who already have it supply it to their neighbours.

Napier grass stunting disease Another serious Napier grass disease has developed in Western Kenya; it was first reported in Bungoma district, bordering Uganda, in 1997. A similar disease had been reported in Uganda and its cause was suspected to be a virus, probably transmitted by insects (Tiley, 1969). This disease is spreading fast and is present in several districts of Western Kenya, causing serious economic loss to the smallholder dairy industry. Most Napier grass varieties grown in the area are susceptible to the disease, which usually becomes visible in re-growth after cutting or grazing. Affected shoots become pale yellow green in colour and seriously dwarfed, with a densely bunched (fastigiated) appearance on account of repeated proliferation of auxiliary buds. Individual leaves and sheaths of affected plants greatly diminish. Root development is severely impaired and is reduced to a weak fibrous growth. Infection at the early stage results in symptom expression in the whole stool, with complete loss in yield and eventual death. Many smallholders have lost all their Napier crop and are forced to de-stock or sell their herd. The author is collaborating with scientists from KARI and from international research institutes in studies to identify the cause of Napier stunting disease and its mode of transmission. Collaborative tests by KARI and CABI Scientific at CAB International laboratories have confirmed that the stunting disease is caused by a mycoplasma. Further tests are being carried out at CABI International laboratories to confirm whether or not the disease is insect transmitted. Scientists are also screening over 50 Napier grass germplasm lines in order to locate any resistant varieties that could be used in Western Kenya.

The importance and future of forage-based smallholder dairying

Milk marketing channels
The dairy industry in eastern Africa has both formal and informal milk market pathways, which are largely dependent on market surplus from smallholder dairy producers. More than 70 percent of milk is marketed through informal channels, which include:

  • direct sales by smallholders to consumers, either individually or through institutions;
  • sales to farmers’ cooperatives, dairy societies or self-help groups that have milk collecting centres, which boil or cool milk before delivering it, either fresh or soured, to consumers or processors; and
  • sales to small traders and market agents (milk bars, kiosks or mobile traders), who buy milk from farmers or farmers’ cooperatives and sell to consumers or retailers.

Only a few dairy cooperatives pasteurize milk; most milk marketed through informal channels is consumed raw, a system that has public health implications. Until recently, the formal channel was dominated by large parastatal dairy cooperatives, which were instituted to collect milk from surplus areas, process it and sell on to deficit areas. The Cooperative Development of Industry Act in Kenya, under which dairy marketing cooperatives fall, did not, in the past, allow sufficient farmer control of dairy cooperatives, thereby contributing to high incidence of mismanagement and misappropriation of farmers’ funds by management. This served as a great disincentive to increased forage and dairy production by smallholder dairy farmers.

Major policy changes are under way in eastern Africa, in line with liberalization. In the dairy sub-sector, the major change has been the liberalization of milk marketing. The immediate impact has been a rapid growth of formal and informal private sectors, resulting in increased participation in milk marketing by formal and informal market agents. This has led to re-distribution of benefits of dairying, including increased employment opportunities, increased milk availability and a rise in real farmgate milk price, thereby increasing producer earnings. Market liberalization has also brought change in relative prices in various regions, which now reflect market access and production costs. There is also a positive shift in concerns of smallholder dairy farmers, from past difficulties with milk marketing to now investigating options for increased production.

Increased farmgate prices by traders and farmers’ groups has provided further incentive for conservation of feed for the dry season, when milk price is highest, hence an increase in forage production on smallholder dairy farms. This trend will continue in future and smallholders will intensify forage production and increase dairy productivity by adopting appropriate technologies.

Socio-economic factors
Smallholder dairying is profitable. Important determinants of profitability, investment and operating costs vary between production systems. As summarized in Table 18.5, engaging in intensive dairying substantially increases both annual per cow investment and the operating cost compared with the semi-intensive and extensive systems utilizing communal grazing. Per-cow annualized monetary returns are very high for zero-grazing systems, compared with unfenced extensive dairying. In Tanzania, production costs were compared for three systems: small-scale intensive rural dairying (Arusha/Kilimanjaro and Southern highlands); small-scale intensive urban dairy (represented by Dar-es-Salaam); and smallholder semi-intensive dairy with Zebu cattle (Chalinze). Gross margins per cow differ considerably, depending on the cost of inputs (particularly forage), price of milk and increase in herd value.

Despite the high expenditure on purchase of forage, urban intensive dairying yields a higher gross margin per cow than similar production systems in rural areas, where the price of milk is lower. This may in part explain the exponential growth of the urban cattle population in recent years. The gross margin per animal from semi-intensive dairy production with zebu is, predictably, low given that this is a low-input, low-output system, as shown in Table 18.6.

Table 18.5 Summary of annualized per-cow gross returns to dairy production in Uganda.

Cost parameters

Dairy production system




Total investment costs (a) 

U Sh

4 426

39 335

147 237

Total Operating Costs (b) 

U Sh

19 751

160 545

292 066

Total Gross Revenue (c)

U Sh

195  837

733 760

1 651.71
1 747 513

Gross Margin, (c) -(b) -(a)

U Sh

171 660

533 880

1 236.45
1 308 210

Cost per litre of sold milk

U Sh




Cost per litre of total milk

U Sh




Note: Exchange rate in July 1996 was U Sh 1058 = US$ 1.0
Source: ILRI, 1996.

Table 18.6 A summary of annual per-cow gross returns to dairy production for the most
important smallholder production systems in Tanzania

Cost parameters

Dairy Production System

Semi-intensive with zebus

Intensive rural with exotic cross

Intensive urban with exotic crosses

Total variable Costs 

T Sh

75 500

156 234

448 348

Total Revenue

T Sh

145 080

1 020
612 217

1 750
1 051 330

Gross margin

T Sh

69 580

455 983

1 000
602 982

Gross margin per litre

T Sh




Note: Exchange rate (1998, approximate) T Sh 600 = US$ 1.0.
Source: MOAC/SUA/ILRI, 1998.

Fodder-Based Dairy Production
A study was carried out on the Kenya coast, comparing three smallholder farming systems: (i) an intensive dairy production system where smallholder farmers adopted three related technologies: keeping grade or cross-bred dairy cows; planting forages, mainly Napier Grass; and using the infection and treatment method of immunization against East Coast Fever; (ii) a system where smallholder farmers did not adopt the technology and kept only local cattle; and (iii) where smallholder farmers did not adopt the technology and kept no cattle. The results are summarized in Table 18.7. Results of the survey of 202 households drawn from the three production systems showed that intensive dairying substantially increased household income, generated paid (secondary) employment, and improved the nutritional status of pre-school-age children in the households (Nicholson et al., 1999). The average income per month of farmers practising forage-based intensive dairying was much higher than the income of farmers that did not plant forages (Napier grass).

Differences in cash income from dairying accounted for over 40 percent of the differences in total mean cash income between intensive dairy production and non-dairy farmers. The profits obtained by farmers growing high yielding forages for intensive dairy production is very high. Smallholders who use recommended practices and technologies to grow forage get better returns from milk sales. To further consolidate the system, there is a need both to strengthen forage improvement programmes to develop Napier grass cultivars resistant to the common diseases and to enforce plant quarantine regulations better in order to reduce movement of diseased forage planting materials, especially across borders. There will also be a need to improve and popularize other fodder crops so that smallholder farmers have alternative high yielding forages for intensive dairying.

Table 18.7 Reported monthly cash income by type of income and adoption status in Kenya.

Income type

Households with no cattle and no planted fodder

Households with local cattle but no planted fodder

Households with grade or cross-bred cattle and planted fodder (Napier grass)

Percentage of households with cash
income from:






 Poultry or eggs








 Wages, salaries or off-farm activities








 Other income




Mean monthly cash income from dairying
K Sh


(1 211)

6 809bc
(7 836)

Mean monthly cash income from poultry
or eggs per month
K Sh

(3 261)

(1 682)

1 964
(8 687)

Mean monthly cash income from crops
K Sh


1 236
(2 242)

1 628c
(2 967)

Mean monthly cash income from wages,
salaries or off-farm activities
K Sh

2 645c
(5 585)

3 018b
(4 169)

9 258bc
(17 079)

Mean monthly cash income from
K Sh




Mean monthly cash income from other sources 
K Sh



(4 115)

Mean total monthly cash income from all activities 
K Sh

4 667c
(7 280)

5 439b
(4 444)

(23 761)

Notes: SD = Standard deviation of the mean. The superscripts a, b and c indicates that the means for the two adoption categories [between adopters, i.e. households with at least one grade/cross bred (G/C) animal and planted fodder, and non-adopters, i.e. household owning no G/C animal and with no planted fodder] with the same letter are statistically different at the 95 percent confidence level. Exchange rate (1999) K Sh 62 = US$ 1.
Source: Nicholson et al., 1999.

Employment generation is another impact of adoption of intensive smallholder dairying, in part because sown forage production and management and the care and feeding of dairy animals require more labour. More than three quarters of households responding to the detailed survey indicated that they hired more labour as a result of taking up intensive smallholder dairy production. Hired labour is usually from the areas surrounding the farms and the financial benefit of dairying is thus shared among the dairy farmers and others in the community. Although smallholders who did not adopt intensive technology hired some labour, their labour received much less total pay because of less work and shorter working hours compared with those employed by smallholder dairy farms.

Household nutrition
Smallholder dairying increases a household's nutritional status; increased milk production usually increases home milk consumption. Milk is a significant source of energy and proteins, including many essential amino acids lacking in many carbohydrates, and it contains essential micronutrients, such as vitamins A and D. Households with dairy cattle can purchase more and a wider variety of foods. The incidence of chronic malnutrition was significantly lower among children of households with dairy cattle than among children of farmers without dairy activity.

Market opportunities and gender roles
Smallholder dairy farmers have and will continue to have plenty of investment opportunities and markets for milk. The medium-rainfall coastal lowland is a difficult and risky environment for smallholder dairying, yet it is an area of Kenya with access to two major and rapidly growing urban markets, Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam. These markets offer smallholder dairies actual and potential large margins for their milk. These markets, and their environs, also offer many other opportunities for investment of smallholder capital. Smallholder dairying and marketing in eastern Africa has a large potential for direct financial returns and indirect benefits from crop production. Many smallholder farmers will exploit these opportunities by increasing forage production and milk yields in future. The survey showed that smallholder dairying is not limited to wealthy farmers; smallholder dairy farmers are evenly spread across all income categories implying that dairying is accessible to many households not just wealthy ones Nicholson et al., 1999).

In terms of gender differentiation, women, men and children play varying and important roles in dairy operations. In general, women do most of the dairy work, except spraying and herding. Their responsibility for livestock tasks and financial payments has increased with the adoption of dairying (Mullins et al., 1996). The percentage contribution by gender to dairy work on small farms was found to be: wives, 30 percent; children, 26 percent; husbands 25 percent; and hired labour, 19 percent (Price Waterhouse, 1990). Most farm decisions are made either jointly by husbands and wives, or by wives in female-headed households; women generally control the income from milk sales; the role of men in smallholder dairying seems to be oriented to cash crops and decisions regarding animal sales and purchases (Staal et al., 1998).

National dairy research has to date contributed to the identification of useful forage production technology and dairy feeding strategies, besides identifying – and attempting to solve – socio-economic constraints to the development, adoption and productivity of smallholder dairying systems. However, the translation of a number of these technologies into adaptable interventions by smallholders still remains a major challenge for the future. Access to credit for the purchase of services and inputs is considered essential in solving constraints at farm level. Many dairy cooperatives are linking their marketing activities with the provision of input services. Credit institutions, such as formal banks, charge relatively high interest rates, beyond what most smallholders can afford, and most banks insist on formal collateral for loans.

Profits obtained from dairying by smallholders practising intensive forage production are high compared with those from alternative farm enterprises. Farmers who have adopted recommended technologies get much better returns through improved milk sales. Good opportunities for continued growth of smallholders dairying exist since there is a large gap between demand and supply in milk production in all eastern African, and neighbouring, countries. Demand will probably continue to increase with increasing human population in the region. The recent major supportive policies on milk liberalization have had a significant positive impact on smallholder dairying, with smallholders realizing the benefits of dairying, such as regular cash generation, employment creation and improvement of household nutrition. The overall contribution of dairying to the sustainability of smallholder crop–dairy systems through nutrient cycling makes dairying an easy choice for potential development and a vehicle to address rural poverty. Smallholder dairying will continue to be profitable, popular and to develop in future.

With the increasing role of informal, non-processed, milk marketing in urban areas, concern about milk-borne public health hazards has been raised by consumers and policy-makers, particularly because of low standards of milk hygiene and the possible spread of brucellosis and zoonotic tuberculosis. Although most raw milk is consumed after boiling, there is still concern that unscrupulous middlemen trading raw milk may be tempted to adulterate it by adding harmful chemicals intended to preserve or prolong its shelf life. Previous government policies on promotion of pasteurized milk were geared to minimizing those risks, but this resulted in a monopoly of milk marketing by large milk cooperatives and parastatals.

The changed scenario after market liberalization and allowing informal raw milk sales means that mechanisms must be put in place to protect the public from health risks. If standards were relaxed to officially allow raw milk marketing while regulations regarding milk handling, permissible duration of exposure for retail sale, and non-adulteration are maintained, with incentives for milk traders to comply, then much more milk may come under control and would improve the average sanitary standard of milk in the market. The seasonality in milk production and the current dry season premiums paid to smallholders have given them incentives to continue producing adequate milk and to stabilize supply, even during the dry season. Most farmers wish to benefit from this incentive and are increasingly adopting forage conservation technologies such as hay and silage, planting Napier grass or other folders, using a soil moisture water conserving technology (tumbukiza) that enables the forage to be productive even during the dry season, using manure and N fertilizers, and using catch or break crops to produce feeds for conservation for use in the dry season.

Declining holding size will continue to be a constraint to increased dairy production in many parts of eastern Africa, given the high rates of population increase and the continuous sub-division of land into smaller units that can barely support dairy enterprises. Government policies need to be reinforced so that there is a minimum and economically-viable size of land beyond which sub-division is not allowed. Smallholder dairying will continue to undergo rapid changes and increased intensification resulting from increased human population and decreased holding sizes.

As intensification continues to take place, there will be need for continuous assessment of the forage production and socio-economic changes and level of technology adoption and impact in smallholder dairying. There will also be a need to identify any researchable constraint resulting from such changes. Most smallholder dairy farmers will continue to depend on Napier grass as the major basal feed for their cattle. Since this popular crop has a narrow genetic base, the current disease and pest outbreaks affecting the grass are causing concern and becoming a threat to the dairy industry as a whole. There is a need to re-establish and strengthen forage breeding or improvement programmes so that Napier grass cultivars resistant to the emerging diseases and pests can be developed. In order to spread risk in forage production, there is a need to identify, improve and popularize other promising high yielding, disease-resistant, fodders.

Critics sometimes say that genomic research is supply driven and takes too long to deliver usable results. However, experience with Napier grass smut and mycoplasma diseases show how strong farmers demand, coupled with responsiveness on the part of a national research group, can ensure that laboratory research at international level responds to the rapidly changing needs of the smallholder dairy farmers. The current linkages between different local, regional and international research institutes, universities and other stakeholders in terms of collaborating research should be strengthened. Such linkages will enhance production and adoption of better forage and dairy production technologies in the smallholder sector. There are still many constraints to increased forage production, such as those resulting from increased intensification of production, and from new forage disease and pest threats, and these still require basic and strategic research.

Some smallholders who have repeatedly been using di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) have increasingly raised concern about their farm soil becoming acidic, and limiting forage production. Various methods of soil amendment have been suggested, such as liming to improve soil pH, use of organic materials such as farmyard manure, maize stover, regular application of cattle manure or use of non-acidified fertilizers containing bases that can improve soil acidity. A more sustainable and resource conserving management of plant macronutrient supply requires the integration of suitable farming and land management systems with judicious use of fertilizers.

Manure is available on smallholder dairy farms in the form of compost, slurry or fresh dung. Management and research in future needs to emphasize nutrients and organic matter cycling in combination with sufficient use of fertilizers to avoid “nutrient mining” and imbalances on smallholder farms. The reduction of P losses from agricultural soils is a central issue for sustainable agriculture. Most P is lost in surface run-off and erosion, which should in any case be kept to a minimum under good agricultural husbandry. P losses from soil erosion and surface run-off can range from 0.1 to 10 kg ha-1 yr-1, and in a few cases of steep hill slopes, massive soil erosion may remove even greater amounts. Since some of the losses can usually not be prevented under arable agriculture, the location of forage and food crop fields and zero-grazing stall-feeding sites relative to the landscape can have a significant impact on containing nutrients within the smallholder farm unit.

Future management and research should focus on whole-farm planning, nutrient conservation and the integration of forage legumes and fodder trees in the forage–crop mix in farming systems. The major constraint to increased dairy production is the severe scarcity and seasonality of feed resources, in nearly all production systems. Most smallholder dairy farmers are not effectively using appropriate technologies for increasing forage and dairy production, partly because of poor delivery of extension services and partly because some of the technologies have not been adequately tested on-farm for wider adoption by farmers. This is a reflection of the weak research–extension–farmer linkage and of inadequate funding for research and extension. There is a need to disseminate appropriate technologies for wide adoption by farmers through normal extension methods, including demonstrations, farmer field schools and farmer participatory research.

The current trend of intensification in dairying practices will continue and more farmers will adopt appropriate technologies for increasing forage production and efficient utilization of crop residues, crop by-products, minerals and concentrates. Although smallholder dairying accounts for most of the total milk marketed in eastern Africa, individual cow productivity is low (Staal et al., 1998). In intensive dairy systems with relatively high land pressure and high stocking rate, the dairy development and intensification process will be to increase the yield per cow using more resources and current dairy and forage production technologies. Effective utilization of improved forages with productive dairy animals maximizes profits.

In semi-intensive dairying, with relatively low land pressure and low stocking rate, the dairy development process will be to improve forage production and to increase and improve the number of dairy cattle through upgrading, natural mating and artificial insemination. Effectiveness of government extension services, including provision of clinical and preventive health, has been declining for some time as a result of budgetary constraints and a transition to privatized services. More of these services are to be privatised and farmer groups should play an important role in providing some veterinary services. Smallholders will increasingly take dairying as a serious and profitable business and continue to develop closer relationships and links with service providers such as official extension services, research organizations, stockists, credit and agricultural financing organizations, input quality control services, and other stakeholders.

Dairy farmers could increasingly come together to form cooperatives, community-based organizations and specialized farmer groups (such as smallholder informal forage seed producers), which should enable them to solve some of the common forage, dairy production and marketing problems currently hindering development, and to press governments to improve infrastructure. Dairy and forage cooperatives and farmer groups, if efficiently managed, will improve the market position of smallholders through collective action.

Smallholder dairying is undergoing rapid changes and increased intensification due to increasing human population and decreasing farm size. Although there are some constraints in smallholder farming, there are many opportunities in dairy production. Technologies exist that smallholder farmers can use to increase and intensify forage production to raise milk yields; there are enabling government policies, particularly in market liberalization, that have given smallholder dairy farmers incentives to increase milk production; and there are increased market opportunities, particularly with the recent launching of the East Africa Community, with its combined population of over 81 million people across the region.

Of all milk produced by improved dairying in eastern Africa, over 80 percent comes from forage-based smallholder dairy farmers. Annual milk production and milk availability per capita is still very low, and with increasing human population, demand will continue to increase. Smallholder dairy farmers should continue to intensify forage production by applying available technologies in order to increase milk output for the market and to satisfy the increasing demand. Forage-based dairying will continue to be of great importance in improving the opportunities and welfare of smallholder households, increasing employment locally, increasing the level of stability of income for smallholder farmers, improving the nutritional status of families and supporting women in the household in terms of improved income. Forage-based smallholder dairying will continue to have a positive effect on soil fertility maintenance in intensive mixed cropping systems, a role that may grow with intensification.


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