Liberalization of Artificial Insemination (AI) services has had diverse impacts in dairy farming in Kenya. It has brought about accessibility and costs issues to the small-holder farmers and increased the number of private AI technicians and service providers who have tended to hub around urban areas abandoning rural areas where they are needed most. Reliance on foreign germplasm has also increased. All these have both economic and genetic implications which are bound to affect the Kenyan dairy industry in the long run.
The Changing AI policy
Artificial insemination of livestock as a reproductive technology was introduced in Kenya with the establishment of the Central Artificial Insemination Station (CAIS) in 1946 as a means of rapid spread of genes from superior bulls to the large indigenous cattle population. The services were heavily subsidized as one of the strategies to realize rapid genetic improvement. Since then there have been great genetic improvements with grade cattle population in Kenya increasing from less than 250,000 in the 1960’s to 3.3 million cows by 2009.
CAIS with the capacity to produce 0.5 million doses of semen per year monopolized the production and distribution of local semen. But the facility operated at 40% of its capacity and almost all the semen went to the local market. CAIS continues to produce the semen but distribute it through private agents while the KNAIS, working closely with the District Veterinary Offices, has assumed a supervisory role to oversee the private inseminators.
Only a few large-scale farms had access to imported semen prior to 1992. Small-scale dairy farmers can now access imported semen through WWS, ABS, Semex and HighChem (E.A. Dairy). Cooper Kenya Ltd distribute on behalf of Holland Genetics. Most of the semen importers also use the storage facilities at CAIS at a fee.
Accessibility and costs of AI services
As part of the economic re-structuring, the government reduced the level of support and interventions to the dairy industry. These actions have altered the access of small-holder dairy producers to AI services.
But AI services are now more readily available than when the services were being offered by the government. Where dairy co-operatives exist, farmers enjoy the daily routines made on specific routes. However, the cost of the service is perceived to be quite high, and repeated services are often of great concern.
Local semen is charged between Kshs 400 to Kshs 1500 and imported semen from Kshs 900 to Kshs 3500 per insemination. But most farmers in the rural areas prefer semen from the local bulls because it was easily available and attracted lower costs compared to foreign semen.
Perceived high cost of AI services has forced some farmers to opt for natural services using the available unproven bulls from the neighborhood. Bull service costs vary from Kshs 300 to Kshs 500. Farmers who chose to use natural services say that AI services has low conception rates and increased numbers of inseminations per conception.
Technicians purporting to provide high quality imported semen while using local semen exploit ignorant farmers who do not distinguish between local and imported semen.
Private AI technicians and service providers and decline in AI services
Hoping that the private sector would take up its role the government privatized AI services in 1992. Some private sector operators have responded by vertically integrating their market operations by linking semen supply, distribution, training of inseminators and supply of equipment to inseminators and community based organizations. But the government has not yet recognized the training offered by some operators arguing that the curriculum has not been approved.
Since the liberalization of A.I services many individuals and organizations have been licensed to offer the services to farmers. Out of this number are private individuals and companies, co-operative societies and self-help groups. Registration barriers to entry are nominal as groups and co-operatives are only required to have a qualified inseminator and a qualified supervisor who as a rule is a qualified veterinary doctor. Companies need their registration certificates and to meet the other conditions set for groups and co-operatives. The government district veterinary officers in most cases act as the supervisors.
Although the number of inseminations by private providers has steadily increased, the combined services provided by both the private sector and government only cater for a quarter of the total requirements. AI service in the country has tremendously declined and this shows the potential and challenge that faces the private sector AI providers. The decline in the number of inseminations affects all the regions and particularly areas where there is limited presence of private AI providers.
Distribution of private AI service providers
The privatization of AI seems to have had a negative impact on the dairy industry in rural areas. Natural mating has steadily increased accounting for over 90% of the inseminations. Use of AI is more accepted around urban centers because AI technicians are easily accessible. Most areas in rural areas are characterized by poor road networks which are sometimes impassable during the wet season. The terrains hinder effective communications thus attracting only a few private AI technicians who are willing to invest in the service. Poor and unreliable milk markets coupled with low milk prices has also discouraged farmers to procure AI services.
Large herds of indigenous cattle are found in Nyanza, Eastern and Western provinces while Central and Rift Valley harbor the largest stock of pure breed cattle and crosses. The distribution of AI providers is heavily skewed with Central province accounting for the majority of licensed providers and co-operatives, followed by Rift Valley concentrated in Nakuru County. This distribution is related to the concentration of dairy animals, farmers’ willingness-to-pay and high presence of co-operatives and self-help groups. But some major dairy production areas have failed to attract adequate private investments due to lack of economies of scale and scope. In such situations farmers are forced to use natural service.
Reliance on foreign germplasm
Over the years there has been an increase in the quantity of semen imported in the country since the liberalization of the dairy industry. The USA is the major source of genetic material imports with little amounts coming from Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and some parts of Europe. Imported semen accounts for about 20% of the domestic genetics market and appear to respond to the milk market.
The breeding value of imported semen is well established unlike that of local semen. This way the farmers are assured of high quality semen. Beside the semen cost, the farmers’ choice for either local or imported semen is influenced by information provided by the AI technicians. Farmers have consequently relied on imported semen on the assumption that they will be able to achieve increased milk production similar to that obtained in the exporting countries. This assumption might not be true since these countries have different production systems and operate under different environmental conditions.
The net effect has been to weaken the local breeding programs to produce bulls of higher genetic merit and increasing the dependency on imported semen, culminating in a vicious cycle that will be hard to break. A policy aimed at limiting such imports and promoting use of local germplasm to generate genetic improvement in dairy cattle populations seems inevitable in this context.
Recent studies on genetic evaluation of breeding strategies for improvement of dairy cattle in Kenya have reported genetic correlation lower than the recommended threshold that would warrant the use of imported germplasm. Earlier studies reported that local dairy cattle populations can only benefit up to 44% of the total response to selection accrued in exporting countries. The findings therefore suggested substantial existence of genotype x environment interaction, which may reduce the potential benefits of strategies utilizing imported semen. Therefore the upsurge in semen imports, as a way of achieving substantial genetic progress in Kenya would be a less optimal strategy in the long run. Policies pertaining to semen imports for genetic improvement of local dairy cattle populations would have to be re-examined with the view of shifting to establishment of local breeding schemes.