Camel herding has great potential in many dry parts of Kenya that are affected by climate change, as camels are much more resistant to drought than cows and keep producing milk in dry periods. However, camel dairy cooperatives still face many challenges to grow their businesses in rural areas. Some of the key challenges that hamper business growth are the high production costs for milk and lack of suitable equipment for storage, value addition and transportation to markets. Under the ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises' (EOWE) programme, SNV supports women-led camel diary cooperatives to overcome these challenges. In October, two of SNV’s implementing partners, PACDEP (Pastoralist Capacity Development Programme) from Isiolo and PACIDA (Pastoralist Community Initiative and Development Assistance) from Marsabit collaboratively organised a two-day exchange visit between women’s camel dairy cooperatives from both counties to link women’s enterprises and create a platform for learning and networking to advance women’s businesses.
For the exchange visit 20 women camel farmers from a women dairy cooperative in Moyale, a market town on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya in Marsabit county, came to Isiolo to network and learn from two diary cooperatives in Isiolo, Anolei and Tawakal, and 15 leaders of women groups whose enterprises are built around other agricultural commodities. During the exchange visit the women farmers and entrepreneurs learned about the importance of strong cooperative management and linkages between actors in the value chain as well as about opportunities for business diversification and value addition. The exchange visit was an outstanding opportunity for interaction and created an avenue for learning and networking. The exchange visit was also attended by Raymond Brandes, EOWE Programme Manager at SNV, Mugure Githuku, Senior Enterprise Advisor at SNV, Naisola Likimani, Senior Policy Officer for Strategic Partnerships at The Netherlands embassy in Kenya (EKN) and her colleague Freek Voortman from the political affairs department. The exchange visit also provided an opportunity to interact with county officials, including the deputy governor, cooperative officer, public health officer/dairy specialist.
The exchange visit started with a learning session on cooperative management and operation organised by the Isiolo County Cooperative Officer. The learning session created understanding on the cooperative movement in Kenya and showed the characteristics of cooperative organisations, including cooperative business principles, structures and management, which helped to generate understanding of the economic advantages of working through cooperatives.
After the learning session, the participants visited Tawakal Cooperative Society to see the operations of a cooperative in action. Tawakal Cooperative Society is successful in value addition, especially for camel milk and dried meat (nyiri nyiri). The participants learned how the cooperative is making yoghurt and Susa, traditional, fermented sour milk. The production of value added products could increase the income of women farmers and entrepreneurs, however, most groups lack the equipment, ingredients and access to markets for value added production.
During a visit to Invems Dairy Cattle and Poultry Management Enterprise the participants learned about a zero-grazing animal rearing, a type of animal rearing for which minimum space is required. Under this model, livestock farmers can feed their animals with fresh cut grass and fodder during the dry season, which is brought to the animals instead of putting the animals out to pasture. “With this model cows produce more milk, as the cows don’t have to walk outside on pastures and all their energy can be used for milk production”, says Ms. Agnes of Invems Enterprise.
This new way of feeding your animals was especially an eye-opener for livestock farmers from Isiolo and Marsabit, as the majority of farmers in these counties are used to pastoral keeping of livestock. Anolei and Tawakal women camel dairy cooperatives, that focus on camel milk and dried meat (nyiri nyiri) marketing, immediately said that they would like to try the zero-grazing practice in their own business. They also learned about business diversification opportunities, like holding geese and ducks, which they didn’t consider as productive animals before the exchange visit. ”The visit to Invems enterprise opened my eyes”, says one of the participants. “Immediately after I return home, I’ll start rearing chicken to generate an extra income for us.”After the visit to Invems Enterprise, the participants visited the Anolei Women Camel Milk Cooperative to see the operations of their fellow women camel dairy cooperative in action.
One of the operators at Anolei explained the value chain of camel milk, from the time the producers bring the milk to the cooperative to the customers in Nairobi. The operator explained that the cooperative receives milk from various areas in Isiolo County. There is a well-established network with grass root producers, who also formed a cooperative called “Tesogalla”, which literally means “based at camels”. Tesogalla collects the milk from various camel camps and delivers it to Anolei. The milk is mostly transported by boda boda, a motorcycle taxi commonly found in East Africa. Upon reaching Anolei the milk is tested using an alcohol gun to determine freshness and whether it is pure milk with no additives. After the quality tests, the milk is chilled in a large cooler, which the cooperative received with support from SNV under a previous project, and put in freezers until the following day. After one day in the freezer, the milk is transferred to jerry cans and transported to Nairobi by a cooling truck, which the cooperative recently purchased with support from the Isiolo governor, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) and a loan they requested. Upon arrival in Nairobi, members of the cooperative help with distributing the milk to the customers. Soon the plastic jerry cans will be replaced by alumina cans because plastic has been banned in Kenya and the alumina cans are much more hygienic (easier to clean and the lids close better).
A delegation consisting of representatives from Anolei, PACDEP and SNV paid a courtesy visit to the Isiolo County Deputy Governor, Dr. Abdi Issa. During the interactive meeting, the objectives and activities under the EOWE programme were explained and the Deputy Governor assured the delegation that women’s economic development is a priority in the county government development agenda as it was also mentioned prominently in the governor’s manifesto. He confirmed his absolute support, welcomed the EOWE programme into Isiolo County, and accepted our invitation to join us in the meeting with leaders of women’s enterprises later that day.
The two-day exchange visit ended with a leadership meeting among the 15 leaders from women groups whose enterprises are built around other agricultural commodities and women camel farmers from Moyale, Anolei and Tawakal to reflect on the lessons learned and discuss challenges and potential solutions. The Isiolo County Deputy Governor, who graced the meeting, briefly took the opportunity to express his appreciation that women are taking lead in the businesses they are engaged in and that SNV is supporting them.
The meeting allowed for interactive discussions about the key challenges they face in the camel milk value chain and in conducting business in general. The women expressed that the key challenges hampering business growth are conflict occurrences in the area, high production costs for milk and lack of suitable equipment for storage, value addition and transportation to markets. In dry seasons, the women entrepreneurs especially face the challenge of high production costs, because the availability of fodder is reduced to half of the normal volume and the price is doubled. During rainy seasons, on the other hand, the production of milk is so high that it negatively affects the prevailing market price and the women entrepreneurs and farmers do not have any processing options or a facility to cool or store the milk for a longer period to wait for better market prices.
After the two-day exchange visit, the women farmers and entrepreneurs went back to their businesses with a lot of new knowledge on opportunities to increase the viability of their enterprises. The delegation of The Netherlands embassy also shared their appreciation. “This exchange visit has given us a clear picture of the different challenges that women farmers and entrepreneurs face. These insights will help us in trying to find different funding mechanisms to support development interventions and expand women’s businesses.” The successful exchange visit inspired the organisers to arrange more exchange visits related to other commodities with a high participation of female farmers to facilitate learning to increase the viability of women’s businesses.
* Acknowledgement: the photos and content for this article were provided by Abdulaziz Jama, Programme Manager at PACDEP and Ibrahim Abdallah, Programme Manager at PACIDA