TRANSFORMATION

How dairy cooperatives are empowering women in Narok

Milk farmers no longer have to deal with early morning sales and dishonest customers

In Summary
  • Cooperative University of Kenya is implementing a project aimed at connecting farmers to markets and information on dairy, potato and maize
  • The innovative tool will also help eliminate traditional bottlenecks and inefficiencies that have hindered their progress for years
Kevin Saitoti, a milk grader at Nairagie-Enkare Farmers Cooperative Society in Narok county.
Kevin Saitoti, a milk grader at Nairagie-Enkare Farmers Cooperative Society in Narok county.
Image: AGATHA NGOTHO
Kevin Saitoti weights milk delivered by farmers and members of the Nairagie-Enkare Farmers Cooperative Society in Narok County. The cooperative has transformed lives of women in Maasai community, and they have been able to achieve financial independence.
Kevin Saitoti weights milk delivered by farmers and members of the Nairagie-Enkare Farmers Cooperative Society in Narok County. The cooperative has transformed lives of women in Maasai community, and they have been able to achieve financial independence.
Image: AGATHA NGOTHO

Dairy cooperatives in Narok county are playing a crucial role in empowering women, allowing them to improve their livelihoods and achieve financial independence.

Traditionally, the Maasai community views cows as belonging to men, while milk belongs to women.

Rachel Kirruti, a member of the Nairagie-Enkare Farmers Cooperative Society, shares how the cooperative has transformed her life and those of other women in the community.

Before joining the cooperative, Kirruti would hawk milk door-to-door, a task that was both exhausting and often unrewarding.

She faced challenges such as early morning sales when people were still asleep and dealing with dishonest customers. Storage was also an issue, as milk was kept in plastic jerrycans overnight, risking spoilage.

Now, Kirruti and other women can deliver their milk directly to the cooperative, where it is stored properly in coolers.

This system ensures the milk remains fresh, and the women receive their payments monthly via bank transfers.

Kirruti says this change has brought significant improvement to their lives.

The cooperative buys milk at Sh37 per litre, allowing her to pay for her children's school fees and contribute to household expenses.

Solomon Munke, chairman of the Society, highlighted the cooperative’s history and its revival in 2014 with support from the county government.

The cooperative, which started with about 400 members, now serves between 800 and 1,000 members, with 400 being regular and permanent.

“During peak seasons, the cooperative receives over 5,000 litres of milk per day,” he says.

The cooperative has  played a key role in encouraging modern farming practices, the chairman says, such as artificial insemination (AI) and better feeding techniques. This has improved milk production.

He also highlighted the cooperative's efforts to find better markets and explore value addition to increase farmers' incomes.

But despite the successes, they face challenges like low milk prices and high production costs.

Munke hopes that with the reopening of the Kenya Cooperative Creameries, promised by the Narok county government, they will access better markets.

Plans to purchase a larger milk cooler and engage in value addition are underway to further support the farmers.

Further, farmers in Nakuru, Baringo, Narok and Nyandarua are on the brink of a major transformation.

They will soon be using a digital platform designed to revolutionise market access for dairy, potato and maize producers.

Ken Waweru, Director of Research and Innovation at the Cooperative University of Kenya, said the institution is implementing a project aimed at connecting farmers to markets and information across the three commodities.

This initiative, facilitated through the Kenya Rural Transformation Centre's Digital Platform, focuses on integrating farmer cooperatives.

He said the innovative tool aims to connect farmers directly to markets and essential information, eliminating the traditional restrictions and inefficiencies that have hindered their progress for years.

"We are using farmer cooperatives as focal points to integrate farmers within these three agricultural value chains, aiming to enhance their incomes by eliminating bottlenecks and gaps," Waweru explained.

One major bottleneck that has been  identified is the presence of middlemen.

“The digital platform seeks to ensure visibility among all players in the value chains, from input suppliers to cooperatives and final markets,” he said.

Farmers will be enabled to reach markets directly, bypassing middlemen, and connect with input suppliers, financiers, credit suppliers, and services like disease surveillance.

Launched last year, the project has already mapped all agricultural cooperatives in Nakuru, Baringo, Narok and Nyandarua counties.

 It is funded by the African Development Bank through the Government of Kenya at Sh104.7 million ($815,000).

"We have collected GPS locations for all cooperatives in these counties. Currently, we are raising awareness about the digital platform, which will onboard farmers starting in September," Waweru said.

Technical teams are currently programming the platform.

 “I encourage farmers to embrace innovation. Innovation and digitisation eliminate many inefficiencies. This digital platform is one intervention to address middlemen issues. Once fully operational, it will foster an ecosystem of services that farmers need. 

"All necessary resources will be accessible at the click of a button," he added.

Addressing price fluctuations, Waweru noted that farmers often face periods of high glut (excessive supply) and low seasons.

"If the intervention smoothens these prices, it will significantly impact farmers' livelihoods."

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