Biko Kithinji shares tricks of milking a fortune from dairy cows
Dairy farming is not everyone’s glass of milk. Policy-related challenges abound in the sub-sector and its performance has been dwindling over the past few years.
Yet those bold enough to get in and do things right are savouring its lucre.
Mr Biko Kithinji, the cow-passionate 27-year-old founder of Green Farm Dairy Group Kenya in Githunguri, is glad he followed his family’s passion. A Business Administration graduate from the Methodist University, many imagined he would dust his shoes and head for the city to get an office job. But he instead ventured into dairy farming at the start of 2015 and has been enjoying the flow of profits.
“I grew up in a family that reared cows, so you understand the attachment. Love and passion for the animals started some time back,” he says.
Contributing 3.5% to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the World Bank, the dairy industry is very significant to the country’s economy. It supports thousands of entrepreneurs, small and big, and millions of households and feeds a whole value chain in the larger agricultural sector.
Despite the challenges, it keeps attracting entrepreneurs like Biko, who says the business DNA has been flowing in his blood since his school days. “I got in trouble with the high school administration for selling biscuits in school, when I was student,” he says with a hearty laugh.
The dairy group to connect dairy farmers across the country – offers on-farm training on the best breeding practices, advice on the construction designs for cattle dens among other services.
With just one farm and a few cows that he bought from his personal savings and some little assistance from his family at the start, Green Farm Dairy’s growth has been exponential. Currently, the group oversees more than 100 farms, each with an average of 40 heads of cattle, with about 6,000 registered members across the country.
“The idea was smart-dairy,” he says. “I saw a situation where farmers were not able to market their produce properly, so I came up with a concept to solve that by offering them the best consultancy services and link them to both local and international dairy experts for assistance.”
With the help a friend, Biko developed SmartDairy, a dairy management software that enables farmers to track cow records, milk production records, breeding, cow sales, daily milk sale, feed monitoring and stock control as well as cow health. It has worked wonders.
Much more is coming for the members of the dairy group. “Towards the end of this year we will have a countrywide dairy farmers expo that will attract both investors and experts from, among other countries, Israel, Holland and Germany, and this will be free to our members,” he says.
The other services that Green Farm offers to its members are on start-up finance outsourcing (especially to the new entrants), marketing of cows and dairy products, where a heifer, for instance, can fetch over KSh160,000.
Green Farm Dairy’s mission is to extensively enhance the overall effectiveness of dairy marketing, breeding and improve productivity of dairy farming in Kenya.
Like many startups, the major challenges when starting was capital. “When you are starting very few people, or none, will commit their money on you because the trust has not been built. It takes time to build it. I walked around a lot, trying to convince people about my idea, and banks politely rejected my plea for funding,” he says.
Now that he has great cashflow, it’s his turn to turn banks away.
Green Farm is planning to introduce more hi-tech dairy farming in Kenya, which will include modern farming with milking machines and better coolants, milk being highly perishable.
There are challenges affecting the dairy industry especially when it comes to regulation. People lack knowledge about the industry and its operations, while threats include veterinary quacks and lack of record keeping skills.
Biko is dreaming big for Green Farm Dairy. “Soon we will have a ranch, and be the main supplier of pure highbred cattle in the country and transform the dairy farming industry. It will be more integrated and more professional,” he says.
Do your research well
To upcoming entrepreneurs he has this to say: “Don’t fear starting,” he says, “and you don’t need lots of cash to start. Simply start small and grow steadily. Do your research well to have information and you are good to go.
To succeed in business, you must be confident enough to accept your faults since even the most successful individuals have weaknesses. The trick is to accept and work on them. “Accept mistakes and use them to build your character,” he adds.
Money is a huge motivator in life but, it’s passion for what you do that guarantees success. A remember your customer is your number one brand ambassador.”