When Alex Gitonga graduated from Nairobi University with a degree in Food Science and Technology, he struggled to find a meaningful way to use his education. It wasn’t until he participated in Africa Lead’s agricultural leadership training, “Champions for Change” in 2010 that he’d find the right direction. Little did he know at the time, it would be his of love of milk that would help shape his future.
Supported through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Africa Lead is a primary capacity building program in sub Saharan Africa.
“When we were trained by Africa Lead, we were taught to become leaders that champion change within the society. We were taught to find something that you love and can use to impact the people around you positively. For such a cause you must have an entry point, because you cannot change everything,” said Gitonga, reflecting on the training. “Wangari Maathai had an entry point. Trees were her entry point. From my upbringing I saw how milk changed lives. I saw people being educated through the proceeds of milk, and so it was easy to get into dairy,” he says.
With no cows and no land, he set out to find a place for himself within the dairy sector. After researching the market and talking to farmers, he founded Tanelope Consultancy, a firm that helps farmers develop solutions to adequate milk production, processing and marketing. Armed with training and educational material, Alex targeted farmers to help them see dairy as not just cool, but also profitable. His first client was Tassells Dairy farm, run by Mr. Muturi Njoroge and his wife Susan Nyambura Muturi, based in Kiambu County, near Kenya’s biggest city, Nairobi.
“People don’t really understand [dairy] as a business. Our mindset was traditional, old school and outdated. We thought it was just a matter of keeping cows and getting milk,” confesses Mr. Njoroge. “Here comes a person who teaches you about new techniques in breeding, feeding the animals, milking and milk handling, automation and mechanization which contribute to efficiency in production. This is the kind of knowledge that Alex Gitonga has brought to us. Within a short time he changed our mindset.”
Mr. Muturi Njoroge (center) talks with Alex Gitonga (right) along with a Tassells employee at Tassells Farm in Nairobi, Kenya. They are discussing Tassells' livestock feed that is packaged and sold by the company as a value added product.
Tassells Farm is benefiting in ways that neither they nor Gitonga could ever have imagined. With 200 cows producing milk and yogurt, it’s one of only a few zero-grazing units near Nairobi. Zero-grazing is a system for keeping dairy cattle in densely populated, high potential areas where land per farm family is small, and the cattle are fed and milked in a controlled environment. Tassells Farm is also one of the very few demonstration farms in the region, with a classroom on the premise. Last year they hosted 6,000 visitors from East Africa.
“Most of the dairy farms in Africa don’t open their facilities for farmers to learn. Alex taught us to share our knowledge with others. We were not the only farmers that were suffering from lack of information. He changed us, and we allowed our farm to be used as a demo farm,” says Njoroge. “These are people interested in learning. We have made sure that people who come into the farm are people who are ready to go back and do it.”
Mr. Muturi Njoroge and his wife Susan Nyambura Muturi in Tassells Farm's classroom where the company hosts trainings for dairy farmers from across Kenya and East Africa.
Gitonga’s work is helping organizations and Kenya’s recently formed county governments better understand how to develop dairy policies. Through organizations along the dairy value chain, such as the Kenya Livestock Marketing Council and the Kenya Livestock Producers Association, he has been able to train farmers through monthly exhibitions and facilitate policy review in the dairy sector. Over the next five years, he believes he can train thousands of more farmers who can in turn, train other farmers.
Gitonga admits that the Champions for Change training had a tremendous impact on his business’s effect on the lives of dairy farmers across East Africa today. “When I attended the training I was taught to lead from the front. You must be a good example, you must inspire people, you must show people the way, and that’s how Tanelope Consultancy has been able to transform a whole generation of young people through our clients.”
Thanks to Alex Gitonga, more people are loving Kenyan milk as much as he does, including Kenya’s dairy farmers.