Consolata Mutethya poses near her family's dairy cows at their farm in Makueni County, Kenya.
Consolata Mutethya poses near her family's dairy cows at their farm in Makueni County, Kenya. | Credit: Katie G. Nelson for RTI International

More Milk with Fewer Cows: The Potential for Methane Reduction in Kenya’s Dairy Sector

By Judy Odongo, Tracy Mitchell

In November 2021, the United States and the European Union launched the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. As part of its 2022-2030 Climate Strategy, USAID has been contributing to that effort, in part, by supporting partner countries in their work to measure and reduce methane emissions, as well as other short-lived climate pollutants.

While agriculture—particularly the dairy sector—has often been maligned on the global stage as a major emitter of methane, the sector remains critically important as a contributor to food security, nutrition, and economic growth, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In Kenya, the dairy sector is an important part of the economy, accounting for 12 percent of agricultural gross domestic product.

To explore whether certain agricultural interventions may be a win-win to simultaneously meet both climate and food security goals, USAID leveraged the ongoing Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Activity  to determine the impact of the project’s dairy value chain activities on methane emissions intensity in any geographic zone being assessed, as well as the impact of improved dairy practices on smallholder dairy productivity.

Over the past five years, the Kenya Crops and Dairy Activity has worked closely with farmer cooperatives, dairy traders and processors, input suppliers, and county and national governments to build market linkages and access; improve breeding and animal health; leverage extension and advisory services; and promote practices including fodder commercialization, access to better inputs such as animal feed, fodder, and vitamins, and support for policy and legislation. The Activity just received a one-year extension, to conclude in August 2023. 

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Emmanuel Wanyama milks a cow at Sirikwa Dairies Farm in Eldoret, Kenya.
Emmanuel Wanyama milks a cow at Sirikwa Dairies Farm in Eldoret, Kenya.
Promising Findings

Preliminary findings from two assessments that are still in the process of being finalized—one conducted in 2019 and another in 2022—have given stakeholders hope that such a win-win may be possible. Using data from 127 smallholder dairy producers across 10 counties in Kenya’s Western, Eastern, and Nyanza regions, the assessments found that dairy productivity increased by an average of 43 percent between 2019 and 2022 in the geographic areas that were studied, while the intensity of methane emissions decreased by an average of 27 percent in those same areas. Put simply, smallholder dairy farmers were able to produce more milk more efficiently, and with net positive benefits for the environment.

According to the assessments, these emissions reductions were likely the result of farmers feeding their cows more digestible forages and higher-quality concentrate feeds, which they had learned about via dairy enterprises and producer organizations with improved extension systems. The assessment also indicated that there may be potential to almost double dairy productivity in Kenya while further reducing methane emissions by, among other efforts, increasing the training of more animal nutrition extension agents so that they can advise more producers on improved feeding practices and management.  

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Dairy cows in Pamela Ombiyo's farm in Rarieda, Siaya County.
Dairy cows in Pamela Ombiyo's farm in Rarieda, Siaya County.
What’s in it for Farmers?

While higher-quality inputs, such as animal feeds, allow for greater productivity, they also result in higher up-front costs for farmers. Therefore, an important question still remains: Does the increase in milk production result in increased net incomes, making the more climate-friendly inputs worthwhile to farmers in Kenya? More analysis is needed to determine the related effects on farmers’ incomes, which have important implications for sustainability.

Dairy farmers reached through Kenya Crops and Dairy Activity interventions have reported a 60 percent increase in gross sales, hinting that Kenya may have the potential to experience a “triple win” with gains in productivity, incomes, and reduced emissions in the dairy sector.

Moving forward, programs working in the dairy sector in Kenya and beyond should be encouraged to invest in similar baseline and endline studies to both inform program activities and monitor progress toward methane emissions. In doing so, USAID can continue its pledge to improve lives and livelihoods while also reducing the impacts of climate change.


For more information: 

Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems project page

Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems fact sheet

Country
Kenya
Strategic Objective
Mitigation
Topics
Agriculture, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, Carbon, Emissions, COP27, Food Security, Mitigation, Nutrition
Region
Africa

Judy Odongo

Judy Odongo is a market systems/value chain development and monitoring, evaluation, and learning specialist with more than 14 years of experience leading and designing interventions related to sustainable agricultural practices, resilient market systems, and economic competitiveness throughout Kenya. She currently serves as Deputy Chief of Party for the USAID-funded Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Activity, which is working to enhance resilience by expanding access to agricultural markets, improving nutritional outcomes and reducing poverty in marginalized communities across Kenya.

Tracy Mitchell

Tracy Mitchell is the Director of Resilience and Climate Adaptation at RTI International. She currently leads RTI’s resilience practice in the International Development Group’s Agriculture, Water and Environment division, where she focuses on building resilience to climate change, including through initiatives that identify new ways to achieve and measure systemic resilience. Tracy has more than 25 years of experience in international development. She has served as Chief of Party and has provided technical assistance to USAID- and USDA-funded economic growth and poverty-reduction programs in Africa and the former Soviet Union.

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