Addressing variation in smallholder farming systems to improve dairy development in Kenya

Salome Atieno Migose

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Mixed crop-livestock (MCL) systems with small herds of improved dairy cattle breeds produce the bulk of Kenya’s milk. The adoption of interventions to achieve increased cow productivity and increased market orientation has been relatively low, which could be due to the fact that variation between MCL farming systems is not taken into account in development projects. Variation among farming systems is determined by their market quality for inputs and outputs, by their availability of production factors, and by their biophysical context. These aspects are associated with spatial variation, i.e. they differ among locations. Consequently, farming systems in different locations will be different, will have different constraints and different targeted interventions to overcome these constraints. Better understanding of the variation in these systems and the context they operate in can inform development interventions towards their market-orientation and productivity. The aim of this thesis was to understand the variation in farming system development, constraints for development and targeted interventions for development, in order to increase market-orientation and dairy cattle productivity of smallholder MCL system in Kenya. I concluded from my studies that in Urban Locations (UL), farm development was constrained by scarcity of fodder, replacement stock and hired labour, and the limited availability of production factors, while in Rural Locations (RL) farm development was constrained by low quality of concentrates and low prices of milk. In UL, most perceived positive deviant farmers (PDs), i.e. farmers that overcame constraints and/or were perceived successful for dairy production, were economic PDs. Results suggest that in UL, PDs overcame constraints by increasing herd size and intensity of production, whereas non-PDs lacked the skills and financial stability to increase herd size and milk production per cow. In RL, PDs overcame constraints by increasing herd size, whereas non-PDs lacked the skills and financial stability to increase herd size. A method was developed to estimate milk production per lactation (MPL) from recall data, which was used to assess the biophysical factors constraining milk production. Results suggest that the level of accuracy of estimating MPL based on recall data were acceptable. In all locations, feed was the most important biophysical constraint for increasing milk production and protein deficiency was a pervasive constraining factor during lactation. Therefore, supplementing lucerne, with or without concentrates, increased feedlimited milk production, suggesting that sourcing affordable protein supplements of good quality is a priority for increasing productivity. These results imply that development interventions should address the different constraints in the farming systems. UL farmers and PDs are following the stepping-up livelihood strategy and relevant interventions should be tailored for commercial production including to develop and/or strengthen market-oriented fodder production and value chains, infrastructure, and training and extension. RL non-PDs are hanging-in and interventions should address both production function and subsistence function of cattle and should include improving farmers’ financial stability, access to grazing areas, and skills as well as improving breeds. Future dairy development in Kenya will follow diverse pathways with mid-rural location (the location between UL and RL, about 15 to 50 km from the centre of UL) as the most promising optimal location for dairy development because of land availability and potential to develop formal dairy value chains and infrastructure and recycle nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • de Boer, Imke, Promotor
  • Oosting, Simon, Co-promotor
  • Bebe, B.O., Co-promotor
Award date10 Mar 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463952576
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2020


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