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EDITORIAL: Proposed milk rules punitive, need review



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New regulations published by the dairy regulator on sale and consumption of unprocessed milk require proper discussion before Parliament ratifies them. While the objectives of the Kenya Dairy Board are reasonable and desirable, the context of implementation is difficult and punitive.

The Dairy Industry Licensing Regulations seek to outlaw sale of raw milk precisely because of health risks. Milk requires proper storage and marketing as well as high hygiene standards, as it is highly perishable. Often, the hawkers operate without regard to health standards, exposing consumers to grave hazards.

At the economic level, informal sales deny dairy farmers good incomes from their produce. Statistics from the dairy board show that the raw milk sold informally to neighbours, mainly in rural settings, is 20-50 per cent cheaper than the processed product. In effect, farmers are unduly disadvantaged when they resort to milk hawking. Certainly not their wish, but circumstances so dictate.

The National Dairy Development Policy of 2013 provides the framework for the production, marketing and consumption of dairy products and the basis for current licensing plans. Principally, the policy roots for proper milk handling, including better methods of animal husbandry, milking, distribution and sale of dairy products. Significantly, though, it recognises that the bulk of milk sales — 80 per cent — is through informal channels.

Essentially, small-scale farmers lack easy access to milk cooling plants, transport and infrastructure for quick commodity deliveries. But since they live from hand to mouth, they cannot afford to supply cooperatives or big private investors, who take months to pay for deliveries. Veterinary services are not easily available.

Conservative estimates indicate that, whereas Kenya produces about five billion litres of milk annually, a large chunk of it is lost to spillage since milk has a short shelf life.

Moreover, milk production by small-scale dairy farmers is seasonal, and quantities fluctuate with weather changes. They record bounty produce during the rainy season when pasture is abundant but the converse is true during drought. Which explains why the farmers cannot cope with the demands of organised marketers.

But that is not to say there is no inspiration to attain that threshold. Regulation of milk marketing should go hand in hand with other policy, infrastructural and administrative support systems. Ideally, milk hawking should stop, but our reality is different.

The Agriculture ministry and the counties must create options for dairy farmers — storage facilities, marketing outlets and financial support — before enacting these regulations which, as currently envisioned, are punitive and counter-productive.

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