Monday, February 20, 2012

Where does the milk in Nairobi come from?

During my current stay in Nairobi, i joint my friends for a typical Kenyan Sunday. After church, we took off to the suburbs of Nairobi, to visit an old auntie that has just lost her husband. We then took a walk in the surroundings and visited the neighbors.
One of them is a smallholder (my guess is around a hectare) and runs a dairy farm. He has about 20 dairy cows, plus 5 -7 oxen. This is the biggest dairy farm developed by a smallholder that I have seen in Africa.  All the animals were improved breeds and are held in a cut and carry system (the fodder is brought to the cow). Main feed is the napier grass complemented with malt. He was claiming to get about 20 liter milk per cow a a day (which is high for Africa). 
As he has a small area only, he cannot produce sufficient fodder, and so he buys it from the surrounding farms. This implies that there is a market for fodder, which allow him to concentrated on his dairy cows. By the end of the day he sells the milk to Fresha coopertive that will pack it and bring it to the Nairobi supermarkets.

I think this is a very nice example of a smallholder that managed to intensify and compete on the food market. Up until today, science could not yet figure out if there is truly space for smallholders to intensify and compete on the food world market, or if it is only a transition towards bigger commercial farms. 
Let's look at Ethiopia then. I was told that the milk i usually buy in Addis is produced by commercial farms around Debre Zeit, I have not really heart of any cooperative with smallholder bringing their product to market and therefore intensifying smallholders do not look a transition to commercial farming. In the Ethiopian case, it seems that there is not much space for smallholders to enter the world market. Is it just my ignorance about the Ethiopian dairy sector? or do we need to rely on some of the "new institutional economics" concept to understand what makes the fodder and milk transactions in Kenya and Ethiopia so different? 
It definitely shows that there is scope for understanding better if and under which conditions smallholders have a real chance to compete in a world food market. 


  1. i don't know about Ethiopia but in Kenya smallholders appear to have understood what market liberalization means to then and what opportunities it can bring to their livelihood. the Kenyan Govt. is also playing hands-off limiting its services to being facilitators of development. the paper i am now working on will touch on a few issues that you've raised.

    1. You are most welcome to write a blog post about this on this blog... more diversity and less focus on Ethiopia is welcome.