Four years ago, Njeru Kamuru nearly quit dairy farming. But when he learned that a solar-powered milk-cooling plant was to be built in his Kenyan village, he changed his mind. Before then, Kamuru said, he struggled to sell more than half of the 12 litres of milk his brace of cows gave during their morning and evening milking sessions. Selling those six litres earned him about a dollar; the rest of the milk went to his relatives on credit or was drunk by his wife and four children. Breaking even was hard, he said, with the key problem a lack of refrigerated storage.
“I could spend the whole day at the farm waiting to sell milk to my fellow village customers,” Kamuru said in Kibumbu village in central Kenya.
If the morning’s milk supply was difficult to sell — and it was — he was at least able to pasteurise it to ensure it did not go off. The evening’s milk supply was trickier.
“If there were no customers, it all went to waste,” he said.
Others in the Kibumbu Dairy Farmers Association had the same problem, so they approached the governor of Tharaka Nithi County and demanded that he honour a 2012 campaign pledge to construct a milk-cooling plant.
In 2015, the solar-powered facility opened, using county funds.
These days, Kamuru no longer sells milk to the villagers. His family uses two litres a day, while the rest goes to the community-owned plant. “The amount I deliver is recorded every day, and then I am paid at the end of the month,” he said.
Kibumbu’s solar milk-cooling plant ensures that farmers like Kamuru can store their milk safely, day or night, without it going off.
The timing is good: demand for dairy products is rising fast, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas, according to the Kenya Livestock Producers Association (KLPA).
“This means that farmers must have access to storage facilities that work around the 24-hour clock without interruption,” said Patrick Kimani, who heads the KLPA.
“Solar-powered milk coolers provide such a solution.”
Typically, local governments pay for milk-cooling plants, then hand over ownership to dairy associations, Tharaka Nithi County Governor Muthomi Njuki said in a phone interview.
It is then the responsibility of the farmers to pay for maintenance, Njuki added. Kimani said solar milk-cooling plants are cheap to maintain and can deal with the blackouts that continue to trouble Kenya. — Thomson Reuters Foundation