Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Agriculture reality show launched in Kenya

By Bob Aston
The creators of Kenya’s first makeover television series Shamba Shape Up have introduced the first agriculture reality TV show in East Africa. Robert Godec, the United States Ambassador to Kenya launched Don’t Lose the Plot (DLTP) TV show at PAWA 254 in Nairobi, Kenya on May 2, 2017.
Don't Lose the Plot presenters @DLTP
The show features four young farmers from Kenya and Tanzania who battle it out for an agricultural investment worth USD 10,000. The show sets out to change the perception of farming among Kenyan and Tanzanian youth as a “cool” and viable career venture.
Speaking during the launch, Ambassador Godec said that agriculture presents a real opportunity for youth employment and development. He said that the show would help to change the negative perception that agriculture is only for old people.
“Agriculture presents a real business opportunity for youth in Kenya. Such kind of investment will help spur innovation and give rise to a new generation of agripreneurs,” said Ambassador Godec.
He thanked the Don’t Lose the Plot producers and partners for the inspiring show and their resolve in improving the image of agriculture.
He said that youth involvement in agriculture would reduce rural-urban migration. He said that there is a lot of money available in agriculture and it is worth investing in.
Patricia Gichinga, a Producer at Mediae Company and Co-Director of DLTP said that they selected the four contestants from a pool of 200 applicants. The four chose their own crops. They had to pitch a budget of their expenses to the judges before getting funding for farm inputs.
She said that they want to educate youth on the myriad opportunities at their disposal to enter into and to grow agricultural economic activity, and to improve their food production and livelihoods. She said that youth would have an opportunity to learn and emulate the four contestants.
“We cannot build tomorrow agriculture using yesterday's methods. We need to change the profile of farming," said Ms. Gichinga.

She noted that the average age of farmers in Kenya is 61 years hence the need to change youth perception of farming.
The launch also featured presentations from the show’s Producer Mediae Company, Africa Lead and Mercy Corps’ Agrifin Accelerate program.  Two Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine (KIE) agribusiness entrepreneurs and a digital financial consultant participated in a panel discussion titled “Youth and Agribusiness: The Future of Food Security in East Africa.” 
The agriculture reality show is set on a rural farm with multiple plots. The four contestants compete against each other while living together on the farm. Each contestant has 9 months to turn an acre piece of land into a successful agribusiness.
The show has a call centre, a budgeting tool and an interactive SMS platform. The platform enables viewers to send questions or request for information on agribusiness.
The youth farmers receive guidance and practical insights from agriculture experts. The support includes financial planning, planting strategies, agricultural inputs and marketing. In the end, the farmer with the most profitable and sustainable farm will win the USD 10,000 prize.
Citizen Television in Kenya aired the first episode of Don’t Lose the Plot on Sunday at 1:30 pm. Subsequent episodes will air on Thursday’s at 1:30 pm in English and Sunday’s at 1:30 pm in Kiswahili. Episodes in Swahili will be airing in Tanzania on ITV on Fridays at 6:30 pm starting on May 5, 2017.
The reality show is supported by Feed the Future, the U.S Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, and USAID Kenya/East Africa Mission through Feed the Future’s continent wide capacity building program, Africa Lead. The support focuses on increasing media content on the agriculture sector and opportunities for youth employment and development.
Mercy Corps AgriFin Accelerate Program also supports the program. The accelerate program provides the contestants with financial management and access to finances.
We wish the best of luck to Kenneth, Leah, Issah and Winrose as they battle it out to win USD 10,000. We hope that more youth will adopt agribusiness after learning from their peers how to turn farming into a profitable business.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

App helps Kenya’s small farmers tackle pests, map crops

By Caroline Wambui
KATHERI, Kenya - Sitting under a cypress tree on his farm to escape the scorching heat, Michael Mwenda is deeply engrossed in his phone.
"I am getting the latest info on diseases attacking French beans," he said. "My neighbours' beans were attacked by a pest and I don't want the same thing to happen to mine."
Farmers in Katheri village in central Kenya - and in many other parts in the country - regularly battle pests that attack their crops, a problem made worse by recurring drought.
Countries with confirmed outbreaks can face import bans on their agricultural products.
Farmer weighing his produce in Meru County, Kenya. TRF/Caroline Wambui
However, a mobile app called Farmforce is helping farmers and exporters access information to contain pest outbreaks, track harvests in real time, and monitor pesticide residues to comply with global food standards.
Developed by the Syngenta Foundation and the Swiss government in 2013 in Kenya and other countries in Africa and Asia, the initiative employs field workers who record information about farmers such as their address, land acreage, the crops grown and pesticide records, among other things.
This enables real-time monitoring of products from cultivation to harvesting "as farmers receive progress reports regularly – telling them for example whether or when to spray pesticides", said Gideon Aliero, an agronomist at Interveg Exports, a company that exports fresh fruit and vegetables and has been using the app for four years.
To receive the information on their phones, farmers need to be registered with a food exporter.
Less Paper, More Money
Faith Kamenchu, project manager at Farmforce, said the app allows farmers, food processors and exporters to cut down on cumbersome paperwork.
"Most smallholder farmers use pen and paper methods to record their activities whereas exporting markets demand a range of highly detailed information on the produce," she said.
"Collecting that information by paper is time-consuming, difficult to aggregate and inconsistent, which makes it hard for farmers to meet global standards and export their produce."
A Farmforce field agent is allocated to a group of farmers depending on their location, and advises them based on the information they receive from the app – for example, on when they should harvest their crops. 
Kamenchu believes this simplifies export companies' management.
"The app informs field staff when farmers' actions might threaten compliance – like overuse of chemicals – and ensures that the agents actually go in the field, as they have to activate their location on their phone when they report."
Fraud used to be a significant problem among field agents, he added. "They would pretend to be on a farmer's field and send inaccurate information, with no way for the export company to detect any lies. But that is no longer an issue, as field officers need to turn the location mode on to access the app on their phone."
So far, the technology counts about 100,000 users – both farmers and exporters – across the country, Kamenchu said. 
However, Gabriel Ayoki, a farming consultant, said the technology's impact may be limited in remote areas where farmers experience frequent power failures and cannot charge their phones to access the app.
Mwenda, who grows maize, tomatoes and beans, says he used to struggle to sell his produce to export companies "as it was of poor quality and often affected by bacterial wilt disease, which I had no information about."
Now that he has been using the app for three years, he manages to harvest more food and of better quality, and makes over 50,000 Kenyan shillings  ($484) in one harvesting season (three months), compared to 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($193.61) previously.   
"My income is now steady, so I can make plans for the future like pay for my children's education," he said.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Friday, April 28, 2017

Joto Afrika issue 20 is out

By Bob Aston
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) is pleased to present issue 20 of Joto Afrika newsletter. The issue is a joint effort between ALIN and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources through the Low Emission and Climate Resilient Development (LECRD) Project.
Joto Afrika issue 20
Funding for the LECRD Project is by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), this is within the framework of the US Government led effort on Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategy (EC-LEDS).
Joto Afrika, meaning “Africa is feeling the heat’ in Kiswahili is a series of printed briefings and online resources about low emission and climate change adaptation actions. The series helps people understand the issues, constraints, and opportunities that people face in adapting to climate change and escaping poverty.
Issue 20 focuses on National and County Government response to climate change and highlights contributions from other non-state actors.
The issue tackles how climate change response requires coordination across the different stakeholder categories, and between national and county government institutions. This ensures synergy between national and county government efforts to address climate change. It also minimises duplication and wastage of resources and reduces institutional conflicts.
The Climate Change Act (2016) recognises the complementary roles of the national and county governments in climate change affairs. The Act, consequently, recognises that climate change impacts are localised, placing the county governments in a better position to identify and address them.
One of the objectives of the Act is, therefore, to “integrate climate change into the exercise of power and functions of all levels of governance, and to enhance cooperative climate change governance between the national government and county governments.”
The Act establishes a legal and institutional framework to mainstream climate change at the national and county government levels.
It is our hope that readers will find issue 20 of Joto Afrika as informative and that it would add value to their work in understanding the issues, constraints and opportunities that people face in adapting to climate change. You can download a copy of Joto Afrika issue here.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sokopepe issue 3: Farm records for improved productivity

By Bob Aston
We are pleased to present issue 3 of Sokopepe Newsletter. The issue is a joint effort between Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) and Sokopepe Ltd.
The end of March 2017 marked the end of a successful roll-out phase of the Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) innovation by Sokopepe Ltd in the nine Sub Counties of Meru. This followed a pilot phase in five sub counties in Meru in 2014-2015.
Sokopepe issue 3 newsletter
The past 11 months has proven that farmer-serving agencies are able to leverage on the digital record-keeping platform to reach farmers with various services and products.
Our supportive farmers during the roll-out phase made us appreciate that farm records could transform their lives. It has been a humbling experience hearing and seeing the various micro-innovations that they undertake.
Our networks of Production Information Agents (PIAs) have played a pivotal role in ensuring successful completion of the roll-out phase of FARMIS innovation. Providing record keeping data, demand-driven extension services, boosting farmers’ access to information through the PIAs has helped many farmers to realise increased productivity and profitability.
More farmers are now able to use the record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable. This is helping them to make right farming decisions, as they are able to know the crops that are “eating” into their profits.
We are now working to ensure that we launch our second Agriculture Production Report (APR) next month. We hope that through the report, the government and other agencies would be able to obtain reliable, regular, and high-quality data on the status of agriculture in Meru County.
We hope that the aggregated FARMIS data will help to identify trends, which will support appropriate decision-making, while the farm level data will continue to determine the credit worthiness of farmers.
It is our hope that readers will find the third issue of Sokopepe Newsletter as informative and that it would give them a deeper understanding of what we are doing. You can download a copy of the newsletter here.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nurse with a passion for agribusiness

Thomas Ngaruiya
In Muiriene village in the heart of Meru County, Mrs. Doris Mutirithia’s 1-acre farm has since 2010 helped to support her family by paying school fees for her two children through the proceeds received from the sale of farm produce.
In a good season, the government nurse at Kibaranyaki Hospital in Imenti Central makes more than 100,000 from the sale of cabbages, capsicum, carrots, or potatoes. There are times when she takes her produce to Gakoromoni market in the morning before heading to work. She divides her time between her profession, family and her agribusiness.
Doris Mutirithia inspecting her cabbages

“Farming is the only business that can allow me enough time with my family, profession and still serve humanity by providing quality farm produce," says Mrs. Mutirithia.
Initially, it was hard for her to know whether she was making a profit of loss. She formalised her farm records when she adopted Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) in 2016. A neighbour who had adopted the innovation recommended it to her as an easy way to manage her agricultural enterprises.
She has been doing crop rotation on a three-acre farm to improve soil stability and control pests and diseases. Like many farmers in the region, lack of market information and inadequate information on best agricultural practices used to be a challenge. Sokopepe has since addressed this.
She says that Sokopepe has enabled her to have better control of her economic destiny. Although she spends most of her time working at Kibaranyaki Hospital and with her family, she always ensures that she spends a bit of time at her farm.
“Sokopepe has helped me to embrace agribusiness. I am able to track all my enterprises and farm expenses,” said Mrs. Mutirithia.
Last year she received her first profit and loss statement after selling cabbages. She is now able to use record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable. This has helped her to make right farming decisions. She plans to venture into pig farming using the profits received from the sale of farm produce.
Doris Mutirithia preparing onions for storage
Each season she is able to know which crops are eating into her “profits” and which ones are more profitable. FARMIS has allowed her to evaluate her income and expenses. This has eased her decision-making process.
“I can now account for every expense that I incur in the farm. Initially i never kept farm records and I could never tell how much I was getting from the sale of farm produce,” said Mrs. Mutirithia.
She said that the record keeping data has made her learn from her past mistakes. She now only invests in profitable farm enterprises.
Sokopepe has assigned her a Production Information Agent (PIA) who visits her farm once a week. Besides record keeping training, the PIA also provides her with extension services, market information, and linkages.
She has urged other professionals to embrace farming as a way of investing their money. She also urged other farmers to formalise their records to improve their economic gains and increase profit.
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