Kenya: Women make hay while the sun shines

| May 4, 2015

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Redempta Wamalwa’s cow did not produce enough milk for her to purchase her family’s needs. She recalls: “I also tried to rear local chickens, but still they could not make our family life better … I continued to struggle to feed my grandchildren and take them to school.”

Today, Mrs. Wamalwa earns a good living by selling hay. She is a member of the Mwalye women’s group, formed in 2006 in Bukembe, in eastern Kenya.

A government program to promote commercialization for smallholder dairy farmers trained Mrs. Wamalwa and the other 23 members of Mwalye. Officials from the district livestock office gave the women seeds and fertilizer and taught them how to plant grasses for hay.

The group decided to make their living from hay. There is a scarcity of animal feed in their area during the dry seasons, so the group planned to sell hay to other farmers. Every member dedicated a small piece of land to try out Boma Rhodes, a type of grass suitable for haymaking. Mrs. Wamalwa explains, “It did well and we realized it was a profitable crop.”

Sylvester Wafula is the district livestock production officer. He says hay is an effective feed because it is full of carbohydrates and animals eat it in large quantities because of its taste. Also, when a cow feeds on hay, it needs to drink a lot of water. This increases milk production. Increased production means increased sales. The local farmers who buy the hay understand that their increased earnings from milk sales will easily offset the money they pay for the hay.

Bukembe is 400 kilometres northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Most of the land around the town is devoted to growing sugarcane as a cash crop. But sugarcane takes 18 months to mature, so there are long periods without income. The women convinced their husbands to give them land to plant their quick-maturing grass. Each member of Mwalye now has a plot where she grows hay for animal feed.

The women have been selling hay for the past three years. They used a financial grant from the government dairy program to build a barn big enough to store 2,000 bales of hay.

Members grow from half a hectare to a full hectare of grass and harvest it four times a year. After reserving some hay for their own animals, they store the bales in the barn for sale.

They sell each bale for 300 Kenyan shillings [$ 3.20 U.S.], and have accumulated a healthy bank balance. Mrs. Wamalwa says the women have convinced their husbands to give them additional land. The men realize that they earn less from sugarcane than the women earn from hay.

Thanks to their haymaking, the Mwalye women now have more money to spend. Jennipher Mukani is a member of the Mwalye group. She paid for her three children to attend secondary school and had enough money left over to increase her herd. She now has three dairy goats and one dairy cow.

Mrs. Wamalwa harvests up to 200 bales of hay a year. Her cow produces more milk because she gives it better feed. She says: “I also sell some [of the bales] to pay the people who help me harvest. This [extra money] has helped me to buy my grandchildren school items.”

Photo credit: Sawa Pius