Close

RURAL PROSPERITY

Why flagging off cows is actually a good idea

In Summary

• Though the sale of a single cow’s milk may not be enough to sustain a family, the intention is that the family will in time build a small herd to attain a measure of prosperity

Occasionally you will see in our local newspapers, a news item so bizarre and so hilarious that you have to look at it twice before you can be certain that your eyes are not deceiving you.

I recently saw one such news item which was illustrated by a photo captioned ‘Governor flags off a dairy cow….”

After decades of diligently reading Kenyan newspapers each and every day, I thought that nothing that happened in this country could surprise me. But it never once crossed my mind that I might one day see the “flagging off” of a cow by a politician.

Mind you, in the photo, the cow seemed to have no idea that it was being “flagged off”. It was gently browsing on some grass even as the governor enthusiastically waved a national flag over it.

More seriously, this project which the governor was initiating is actually one of the few proven options for fighting rural poverty. As was once explained to me by an NGO worker active in that field, what happens is that selected families receive one heifer each. Along with the gift of a heifer, they are trained in the husbandry of such high-yield dairy cows, including the setting aside of a fenced acre or so for the growing of Napier grass; a hygienic zero-grazing shed for the cow; etc.

If the family is serious about this project and plays their part well, then they will in time be rewarded with a steady flow of milk. And just one cow of this type (known generically to most Kenyans as “grade cows”) can produce enough milk to provide for the requirements of the family as well as a surplus for sale.

Dairy farming is one of the few agricultural sub-sectors which still thrive here in Kenya and guarantees that there will be payment for deliveries; unlike say sugarcane or maize, where the farmer can be reduced to abject poverty while waiting for payment for up to a year after his crop had been delivered to a factory or warehouse.

And though the receipts from the sales of a single cow’s milk may not be enough to sustain a family, the intention in such projects is that the family will in time manage to build up a small herd of such cows, and in this way attain a measure of prosperity.

 

As I have argued before, the challenge of creating rural prosperity should be our single greatest national priority.

SECURE INCOME

The most pressing development need of the average citizen is a secure income. In towns and cities, this means regular employment or small-scale business. And in rural areas, it means coming up with ideas for sustainable economic activity which can be realistically implemented on a five-acre parcel of land

It is the rural parts of Kenya which account for the greater part of our population. And in such areas, one of the defining social divisions is between those who have their morning tea with milk, and those who drink their tea “dry” as some rural Kenyans put it (ie without milk).

Indeed, it is cause for deep shame, if a middle-class relative from Nairobi drops in unexpectedly at the humble home of a rural family, and the family cannot serve the distinguished visitor a cup of tea overflowing with creamy milk from their own “grade cow”.

So, the governor’s taste for extravagant PR may be laughable. But the serious intention behind these “heifer distribution” projects is actually built on sound economics.

For although we tend to think of “development” as consisting of better roads, railways, bridges, power lines, water supply and other visible infrastructure, those are really intended as facilitators, and are not an end in themselves.

The most pressing development need of the average citizen is a secure income. In towns and cities, this means regular employment or small-scale business. And in rural areas, it means coming up with ideas for sustainable economic activity which can be realistically implemented on a five-acre parcel of land.

I should add that each family that receives one such heifer, is obliged to in turn give away – at some point – a heifer to a family which does not have one.

And so long as the demand for milk remains strong, keeping these high-yield dairy cows will be one of the few sure paths to prosperity for Kenya’s rural poor.