Scarcity of molasses has hit dairy farmers across the country, affecting preparation of animal feeds, including silage.
Molasses is an important ingredient on dairy farms as it is used to provide sugar to animals, improve palatability of feed rations and is used in silage making to aid in fermentation.
The shortage started last November and still persists. Consequently, prices have been on the rise, with dealers selling a 20-litre can for up to Sh1,500 from an average of Sh500 last year.
“Molasses is the new gold right now. Supply is very low that we are only selling on order,” said Michael Gitonga, who runs an agrovet in Nkubu, Meru.
Phillip Kiruki, a farmer in the county, said he has stopped making silage due to lack of molasses.
“Without molasses, I could not make silage last month from napier grass, forcing me to harvest the crop prematurely,” said Kiruki, who is now feeding his dairy cows hay, and further uses fodder yeast and barley to make a solution he uses as an alternative to molasses.
Jack Otieno, a dairy farmer in Kajulu, Kisumu, said the price of a 20-litre jerrican of molasses in the area has gone up to between Sh900 and Sh1,000 from Sh450.
“Even then the supply is erratic, and one can be on the dealer’s waiting list for up to a month. The quality is also compromised as the unscrupulous dealers are adding a lot of water to the molasses to cash in.”
The high price has raised production costs for farmers as milk yields fall. “Since I feed the animals’ dry grass and maize stover, the low palatability due to poor quality molasses or lack of it has lowered my milk production,” he said, adding that with no stockiest of yeast culture in Kisumu, he has trained his cows to get used to what is available.
Dr Stephen Muthui, a dairy farmer with 28 animals in Bahati, Nakuru, says his production costs have increased as he buys 20 litres of molasses at an average of Sh800, from half the amount.
“These are hard times for many farmers, especially those who feed their animals with dry matter,” said Dr Muthui who is also a lecturer at Egerton University, adding that despite escalating costs, the price of milk per litre remains at Sh35.
Philip Oketch, a dairy consultant in Meru, noted that molasses improves palatability of feeds while at the same time increasing the feed intake.
“Molasses not only helps reduce the dusty powdery nature of some finely ground feeds but it also makes the mixture more palatable to livestock.”
Use of molasses currently is vital as crops like maize not only failed, but also never got to the dough stage where they have a lot of good energy for fermentation.
“For farmers to preserve this maize inform of silage, they need molasses to ensure sufficient energy for the microbes to conduct fermentation. But if they preserve the silage without molasses or the required energy, chances of it rotting will be very high,” he said.
Livestock Principal Secretary Andrew Tuimur attributed the molasses shortage to the demand that has shot up because of the drought.
“Many farmers are going for it to make the dry matter palatable for their cows. But this shortage has also been caused by an increased use of the chemical on illegal brews. It is sold mainly in the black market,” said Dr Tuimur.
He added the government would crack on the illegal sale as one needs a licence to buy large quantities.
Ronald Kimitei of the Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University, further noted that the woes afflicting sugar sector have added to the crisis.
“Some farmers have stopped growing sugarcane due to challenges in the sector which has affected cane processing and thus molasses, the by-product,” he said.
Although many farmers rely on molasses, experts noted that there are several alternatives.
“Farmers can turn to using maize germ, maize bran, rice bran and wheat bran/pollard which are energy grounded in silage making to replace the sugars in the molasses,” says Simon Mutoru, a dairy consultant with Shedwin Agribusiness Consultants.
“A farmer can opt to mix the chopped maize with one of the energy concentrates. For those in the sugarcane cane region, farmers can also crush cane and mix with either chopped napier or maize that has been affected by the dry spell to make silage. The sugarcane mixture will compensate the missing sugars in molasses,” he added.
Further, Effective Micro-organisms (EM) can also be used, together with maize germ, to form a solution that can be used in fermentation.
Alternatively, one can use fodder yeast and barley to form a solution that is used in fermentation.
“Use of fodder yeast and barley is cost-effective. A kilo of fodder yeast goes for Sh250 while a 90kg bag of barley is going for Sh3,000,” said Kiruki.
The farmer mixes a kilo of fodder yeast with 200 litres of water and 30kg of either barley, wheat bran, or sunflower and leaves it to ferment for four days after which he spreads the mixture on chopped fodder.
“The mixture is good but farmers should ensure that there are no traces of mould in the content which can affect the cows,” said Oketch.
-Additional reporting by Francis Mureithi