For a kid from small-town America, Jesse Greene never expected to find himself working in Kenya. Any childhood daydreams of East Africa probably included storybooks of lions, cheetahs and giraffes. And yet, an animal off the safari circuit would end up being his ticket to this far-off land: dairy cows.
Dairy farming is a popular way of life in Kenya. As the country’s middle class grows and more people are finding jobs in urban areas, demand for meat and dairy products is on the rise. Yet commercial farms only make up 5 percent of the industry; supply can’t seem to keep up. While today you are more likely to find a few cows owned by a family using traditional farming methods, tomorrow is looking different. Times are changing.
More Kenyan farmers are seeing opportunities in commercializing their dairy businesses. Here’s one way to get them there: quality animal feed. This is where Land O’Lakes, Inc. and Jesse see untapped possibilities.
“Kenyan farmers have the opportunity to see more productivity per animal, and we have an opportunity to get them there by providing a consistently reliable product,” says Jesse, Bidco Land O’Lakes feed plant manager. “When we provide quality feed to customers, we enable them to meet demand. It’s why Land O’Lakes came to Kenya. It’s why I came to Kenya.”
Jesse still remembers the phone call that eventually led him nearly 10,000 miles from home. Working with Land O’Lakes as a plant operations manager at a Purina Animal Nutrition – an industry-leading animal nutrition business – feed plant in Portland, Ore., he got word that Land O’Lakes was starting a joint venture feed business in Kenya. They were looking for a feed expert up for an adventure.
They were looking for Jesse.
Jesse, a farmer at heart who is drawn to the unknown, also happens to have an agribusiness degree and six years of working in Purina plants across the United States.
“He has the operational experience – quality commitment, team building, plant manufacturing – but he’s also the guy that will roll up his sleeves, grab a hammer and fix a machine,” says John Schmitz, Land O’Lakes vice president for international business.
The next thing Jesse knew, he was on a plane.
“I didn’t know where the road would lead, but I was excited,” he says.
The road would lead Jesse to Nakuru, Kenya. Here, Land O’Lakes and Bidco Africa began a feed business partnership in 2016 called Bidco Land O’Lakes. Bidco Africa is East Africa’s largest consumer goods company with more than 35 years of market knowledge, customer insights and distribution networks across the region. Matched with Land O’Lakes’ almost 100 years of feed technology and formulation, commitment to quality, and comprehensive approach to animal health – these two companies have found strength is combining forces. Together, Bidco Land O’Lakes aspires to be the market leader in animal nutrition in Kenya with a vision of improving farmer productivity and well-being.
Jesse starts out his day by checking emails, production from the previous day, the loading schedule and making calls with Kenyan suppliers and traders. He then goes to the plant floor, helping his team with machinery, unloading deliveries and even learning a Kiswahili (the native language) phrase or two.
No matter what is on Jesse’s task list for the day, product quality is always top of mind. Historically, feed quality has been unreliable for Kenyan farmers. They’ve lost their trust in many feed products, and for good reason – farmers couldn’t count on reliable results from their dairy cows. Bidco Land O’Lakes is already well on its way to breaking this stigma.
On average, the plant handles about 400 metric tons of goods per day, including arrival of raw ingredients and shipping of finished products to distributors. Jesse and team ensure that each delivery gets tested upon arrival at a state-of-the-art Bidco Land O’Lakes laboratory. As one of the best of its kind in Kenya, the lab tests products going in and out of the plant for aflatoxin (a toxin produced by mold) and to ensure feed formulas have the correct ratios of proteins, minerals and fats. Coming straight from the Land O’Lakes toolkit, this technology is a critical piece of the Bidco Land O’Lakes business model and brand.
This commitment to quality has enabled the Bidco Land O’Lakes team to build trust with its customers. That is, this and one other critical piece to the Bidco Land O’Lakes business: farmer education.
Having grown up with show animals, Jesse will be the first to tell you that diet is just one important piece of an animal’s well-being. That’s why Bidco Land O’Lakes is committed to helping farmers improve overall animal care by offering trainings across the country.
“We do customer site visits. Some farmers are cutting-edge with things such as automation and controlled environments for the cows. Others are more traditional,” says Jesse. “No matter where the customer is, we want to help them take their farm to the next level.”
Hands-on trainings include best practices in on-farm management such as animal water intake and hygiene. They also include tips on managing farms as a business, including using a mobile application to track input costs and daily yields.
For Kenyan native Cyrus Mutonga, Bidco Land O’Lakes national sales manager, it’s about changing mindsets.
“Let’s help them do the right thing on the farm. For us, it’s not just about our own profit. It’s about improving farmer’s businesses, and their livelihoods,” says Cyrus.
For Kenyan families with a few cows, on-farm advances can have a substantial impact on yields. And an increase in yields matters.
“It can pay for school fees, power the home and [buy food for] a more balanced diet,” says Cyrus.
“We have the knowledge. Sharing it is to the benefit of everyone in the future,” says Jesse.
This kind of support to farmers may sound familiar to you. That’s because organizations such as Land O’Lakes International Development, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit affiliated with Land O’Lakes, have been laying the groundwork for dairy industry growth in Kenya for the last two decades. This work has primed the industry for the next phase – commercialization and private sector investment. With its unique partnership and quality commitments, Bidco Land O’Lakes is well-positioned to be a market leader in building on this progress.
While Land O’Lakes’ international animal feed production is currently focused just in Kenya, we have high aspirations for East Africa.
Jerry Kaminski, Land O’Lakes executive vice president and chief operating officer of International Business, is excited about the growth potential in the region. “With nearly 450 million people, these are large markets that will continue to grow rapidly and where more middle-income consumers are being added every day because of strong economic growth throughout the region,” says Jerry. “We know from experience that the demand for animal protein products (milk, meat, eggs) in Kenya and East Africa will continue to grow. Bidco Land O’Lakes can take a leadership position by leveraging our world class animal feed capabilities from the United States to help East African farmers produce more, high quality products. This joint venture along with our investment in Villa in South Africa position Land O’Lakes to be a leader in the growing African marketplace.”
After one year of operation, Bidco Land O’Lakes sales have more than doubled – but this is just the start.
The feed business is already making plans to get ahead with a new mill in Nakuru. With more space and better equipment, the business can tackle a growing demand for different kinds of feed, including value-added products and more best-in-class formulas from our Land O’Lakes catalogue.
In the meantime, Jesse and the team are staying busy keeping up with customer needs, rolling out new product packaging, maintaining a high level of quality and, as always, helping Kenya unlock the potential of one of its finest members of the animal kingdom: dairy cows.