This is a sequel of the blog post “What Is Quality Hay?“, in which I wrote about characteristics of quality grass that lead to quality hay. This led us to the question of who should do visual tests on grass in the farm.
In any industry when questions on quality, standards and testing of a service or a product are raised, stakeholders take different positions. Some will be defensive of the status quo informed partly by the fear that any changes are meant to put them out of business, while those advocating for change might want to bring on board standards which though good sounding, might regrettably not be logistically enforceable.
To discuss hay quality, standards and testing situation in Kenya, dairy sector stakeholders i.e. farmers and saccos, commercial hay producers (CHP), of which this author is one, aid agencies in the dairy sector and the government, need to detach themselves and look at the dairy industry as outsiders rather than people who have deeply vested interests in the sector.
This way we will be objective, be critical where should be, acknowledge the progress already done in the dairy sector and we will also welcome best practices from other industries that have walked the route of standards and testing and have come out stronger.
In my opinion the Kenya horticulture and flower industry is a good study case of a sector whose very life line is quality, standards and testing all the way from the out grower level, national level and in the international market.
For this industry there are three statutory bodies i.e. Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services and Pest Control (KEPHIS) and Pest Control and Produce Board (PCPB) that are mandated to, among other duties, hold the sector to the prescribed standards.
This is one sector that possibly every year (or season) there is a chemical that is either banned or minimum residual levels are revised downwards; a pest e.g. fruit fly in mangoes, that can lead to total ban on exports; change in grading and packaging or a new tariff which the industry has to conform to.
Though I don’t have the financial figures, if the presence of greenhouses laid out with drip lines can be used as an indicator, then the horticulture and flower industry has grown in the last 2 decades. Figure this: In the late ‘80s, as a student of horticulture in Juja we were bussed to a farm in Naivasha to see commercial greenhouses and drip irrigation.
Not because the college wanted to give the students an extended outing (which students never mind), but Naivasha was the place to go if you wanted to see greenhouses in Kenya.
The waaahs and oohs that the flip board clutching college students gave, were only silenced by the fact that one had to write a report on the field trip. Thanks heaven this was pre-selfies age!
Move on to 2016, greenhouses are kawaida in just about every hamlet in Kenya.
How about drip lines? Zinafunga kondoo, kuni (tether the sheep, tie firewood) and for the ever resourceful and recycling Kenyans that we are – the drip line is the hinge for the sagging farm gate.
The above is a proof that initiatives that aim to raise quality in an industry by introducing standards and testing lead to growth and prosperity of the stakeholders.
Grant it, some players in the industry will fall off, possibly from failing to read the change in consumers demand or outright wanting to challenge the initiatives.
Let’s get back to our case: Who should do visual tests of grass at the farms, so as to get quality hay?
In my opinion as a CHP, it is the dairy farmers, either individually or through their saccos. This is because if they don’t get to see the grass at the farm and wait until the truck is off-loading the already paid for hay at barn, there is really nothing they can do about quality. They have to accept the hay as it is.
We are fortunate that we are raising this question in 2016, when the dairy industry is thriving backed by:
- Knowledgeable and by choice youthful farmers who are willing to disrupt how things are done.
- Hands-on skills transfer to the small holder dairy farmer, from donor backed agencies which are right in the ground, e.g. Kenya Agriculture Value Enterprises (KAVES) work in Meru & Tharaka-Nithi.
- Good communication and advance in technology.
- Structured Saccos & CBOs, (Community Based Organisations).
Unknown to many dairy farmers and saccos, many hay farm gates would be wide open for your visits. Reason:
- For the CHP, he gets a chance to pitch his product based on farm noticeable quality rather than the size of the bale or the grass species.
- Where farm visits lead to a contract to supply hay, the hay delivery chain is reduced leading to a reduction on price.
But be careful that you don’t devalue the farm visit by just discussing the price with the rider; hay ni ya kushikilia tumbo, huko kuingine nitanjipanga na concentrates! (Hay is for filling the stomach, as for the rest – I will sort it out with concentrates).
Hallo, your shilling should be buying you value. Also consider that transport costs will be the same, whether you buy low or high quality hay.
What if dairy farmers and saccos wringed their hands in frustration and argued that they want the same treatment as the horticulture industry and be allocated statutory bodies for quality control, standards and testings of hay?
In my opinion, this could work, but because it would involve regulatory legislation with its accompanying bureaucracy, it would take a long time before benefits can be actualized.
Dairy does not have the luxury of time because small scale farmers need to improve their earnings with the urgency of now, if keeping dairy cows is going to continue being relevant to them.
Besides, the fact that the problem of quality hay is shared by the farmers in Eldoret and Endarasha, Githunguri and Gilgil, Nkubu and Nairobi, Maragwa and Machakos, as well as in all parts of the country, it gives dairy farmers a numerical advantage which they can use to push for the hay standards that they want.
In conclusion, knowing that people and governments like to be associated with success, should the dairy farmers kick start with earnest a My Hay My Choice type-campaign, with strong emphasis on quality and standards, they might be pleasantly surprised by the support and goodwill they will get.
Who knows, this goodwill may help to break bureaucracy and to cut down the time needed for legislation of regulatory frame work for hay standard.
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Contact the blog author, Anne