Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Youths learn to conserve Mother Nature

By James Maina

Residents of Olmoran ward Laikipia County turned up in large numbers to conserve the environment Wednesday. The day was marked with a road show from Lariak Primary school to Mlima meza (Flat topped hill) where pupils parrents and teachers planted trees and climbed up the hill to view the landscape. Few trees were planted due to scarce rains, but there are enough seedlings to be planted when enough rain sets in. Laikipia is currently witnessing a spate of dry spells. The aim of the event was to conduct sensitization on climate change to avert global warming.

 The activity was sponsored by Tree is Life Trust (TILT) an NGO which deals with environmental conservation. The organization has been championing planting of trees in schools, hospitals and other public places and also promoting the use of renewable sources of energy. Other organizations which graced the occasions were ALIN, CFA, WRUA, BUNDELL and government departments.

 The event kicked off with a procession which started at Lariak primary school with over five hundred people participating. Pupils and students from the neighboring schools and members of the public participated in the awareness creation event. The procession snaked through the streets of Sipili market before matching to Mlima Meza. This historical hill stands near Sipili primary school about 5 kilometers away from Sipili market.

 Pupils of Bondeni, Sipili, Lariak and Machunguru primary schools told Ngarua Maarifa Centre (NMC) that they have learnt good lessons on conserving and protecting the environment. James Kariuki a pupil in Sipili primary school said, “The ball is now on our bay. I need to plant a tree every week and care for the existing ones here in school and at home.” Others who were contacted by NMC were students and teachers from the participating schools. Members of the public planted seedlings at the foot of the hill while pupils helped in watering them.

The day culminated in speeches from representatives of different groups. Speakers emphasized on the need to protect environment for posterity. They were concerned with sporadic cutting of trees and clearing of thickets which has led to fluctuating weather conditions. Residents were asked to take personal responsibility to avoid the wrath of Mother Nature. Laikipia is known for agricultural productivity but recently farming has been hampered by poor rainfall.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The maize flavor for Laikipia farmers

By Elvis Ndiritu

 The harvest season in Laikipia west is here once again, maize are in plenty, the weather is conducive for harvesting, drying and even transporting the produce to the market, yet farmers have nothing to smile about it.   

 The prices offered at the local market are too low and do not fully compensate the farmers for inputs, labor and time, spent on the farm! An estimated yield per acre is 25 bags of 90kgs which is an average harvest compared to expected maximum of 35 bags per acre.

Maize being sun-dried at sipili market
 According to Maina Minjire, a maize farmer in Mwireri and Kagaa villages, the farmers have had difficulties during production including the cost of inputs and human wildlife conflict. Elephants attacked and damaged their crops leading to low yields. Wildlife attacks were however not as common this season unlike in the previous years.

 The main challenge this year was sky-rocketing prices of farm implements tools, fertilizer, seeds and manual labor which have gone up by a big margin from previous years.

 Prices are rapidly fluctuating on a downwards trend. In less than two months, the price has gone down from two thousand four hundred shillings (2400/=) per 95Kg, currently farmers are selling their Maize to brokers at Kenya shillings two thousand one hundred (2,100/=) per 95Kgs bag.

  This means at the peak harvest season prices are diving to the lowest levels. Local trading centers in the area are now a beehive full of brokering activities, maize being the main product.  Middle-men are collecting even small portions, where they buy a Kilogram at mere Ksh 22/=, this price is too low for the farmers to make a return on the investment.  

 The chain is even getting longer and longer, most farmers harvest their crops before it is completely dry, then they sell to local small scale traders who goes ahead to sun-dry the maize, before selling to another trader at a small profit of as little as one hundred shillings. Large scale traders have the capacity to bulk the produce or even transport it to bigger towns and some of the arid areas where the commodity is fetching higher prices. Farmers who have no contact to main market conveniences often rely on the price set by the maize tycoons and brokers.

  The main market targets are at Meru and Mararal. At the moment, the Mararal market is saturated and that leaves the main market at Meru. The prices here are at around 2,650/= per bag and thus this is a profitable business but only for those who can afford to transport loads of maize to the places.
It is however projected that five months from now, that is at around April next year, the prices are usually as high as 3,500/=

 Farmers in this place need to find out what they haven’t done to access this market. Arid lands information network is implementing a market access project which involve building the capacity of farmers, to manage the commodity value chains and by bulking to enable them gain the bargaining power when auctioning the produce.

The project relies on modern technology where famers are trained to use mobile phones to inquire for market prices in various towns. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Women play a big role in climate change mitigation

By Bett Kipsang'
It is no doubt; women play a critical role in conserving the environment. Women on the other hand are more likely to suffer from environmental degradation than men. 

Jane Wangari Watering the Seedlings. (Photo by Bett Kipsang')
Jane Wangari Muchiri, a grandmother from Wangwachi location in Laikipia west is putting up an impressive campaign to demonstrate the profitability of establishing tree nurseries. 

Jane acquired her skills of establishing commercial tree nurseries when she attended a seminar four decades ago.  In 1969, Jane and other farmers went to a seminar at Njabini Farmer Training Centre where they were trained on how to establish and manage tree nurseries and other farming methods. ‘‘After the training, I realized that it was cheaper to establish a tree nursery than to buy tree seedlings’’ Said Jane as she produced a certificate of participation which she had studiously kept for the last 43 years.

 She has also attended other seminars on leadership, group's by laws, leader’s roles and participated in the National Agriculture Livestock extension Program (NALEP), as a member of the focal area development committee. Her rich background in capacity building through training workshops and seminars have contributed to improved farm practices in her ten acre piece of land. She has fruits like oranges, mangoes, Bananas.

However, the demanding task coupled with her advanced age is now overwhelming for her and that is why she resorted to the less demanding duties like setting up a tree nursery. 

Jane's Nursery serves as training ground for the community
She has dug a shallow borehole in the compound to provide water for domestic needs and to water her 24,500 tree seedlings in the nursery located within the homestead.

Jane has mastered the skills of collecting tree seeds and carefully sowing them in nursery beds.  ‘‘Due to group challenges, I chose to work alone, nurseries are demanding and delicate and any slight negligence can lead to heavy losses as young trees can easily dry up’’ said Jane.  

Her nursery has an assortment of several kinds of trees, all are doing well. Jane observed that, in the recent past it was hard to market tree seedlings, but with the coming in of environmental programs like ALIN, Community Forest Association (CFA) and SCODE, Jane has had a sigh of relief.  ‘‘CFA is buying seedlings for planting to re-establish the Lariak forest and first priority is given to members who has nursaries’’ Said Jane. 

Being a member of the CFA has given her an upper hand in marketing her seedlings. ‘‘The organization has booked seven thousand seedlings in my nursery and I expect to receive a cheque soon’’.  Jane said with a broad smile.

She is also a member of TIST, an organization which keeps records of trees planted and compensates farmers for the carbon credits earned from trees over one year old. Jane observed that nurseries are now very profitable and have a big potential in the area.  She told the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre that one million tree seedlings are needed for planting in Lariak forest but the forest officers have not had enough from local nurseries in six locations. 

‘‘Am now targeting to attain 50,000 tree seedlings in my nursery because am aware that many organizations are now out to support establishment of tree nurseries and there is ready market due to climate change awarenes’’ she said.

Jane Wangare has earned close to 40,000 Kenya shilling from the sale of tree seedling, some of the money were ploughed back to expand the nursery.  She is now expecting the highest returns from the current stock.
Jane Wangari not only sell all her seedlings but has also planted 110 trees and is planning to increase the area under trees to four out of her ten acre piece of land. ‘‘A big portion of my farm in now lying idle or untended, due to my age, but am finding the small plot under tree nurseries more profitable and easy to manage’’ Said Jane.
This kind of work is however not a walk in the park for many women Like Jane. There are many challenges to contend with that can lead to setbacks due to heavy losses and difficulties at work.
There is need for sufficient starting capital to afford seeds, tools and pay casual labor to supplement her efforts. Tools like wheelbarrow and a stable source of water are key to making the work forthcoming.
The prices of tree seedling are relatively low; currently a seedling goes for ten shillings an improvement from five shillings in 1995. 
Jane is appealing for support to enable her buy a water pump, so that she can easily move water from the borehole to the nursery.


Farmers consult their mobile phones to access market information

These farmers from Mwenje were exited with mobile phone market application 
These farmers from Mwenje village, Laikipa west are discovering a new way of accessing market prices. 

 They were attending a field day where they learned about Sokopepe and could not resist the urge to try the new technology using their mobile phones.

 The short messages generated indicated that the price of 90Kg of maize in Nairobi was Ksh 3,800, while it is was selling at Ksh 2000 in Sipili. 

That information was more than exiting to the farmers who are now thinking of taking steps to access the Nairobi market and earn and extra Ksh1800. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

World Food Day Celebration

Ngarua Maarifa centre's stand, during the World Food Day
N'garua Maarifa Centre has been awarded a certificate for being the best stakeholder in efforts to promote food security in the area.

 This information was announced in Sipili during the world food day celebration attended by staff from  the ministry of Agriculture and a team of local leaders. 

The certificated was jointly signed by and Food and Agriculture Organization and the ministry of agriculture.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Farmers explore collective marketing through ICT

   By Bett Kipsang'

  Farmer representatives in Sipili resolved to form a Producer and Marketing Organization (PMO), Wednesday. The farmer organization is aimed at supporting ALIN’s online marketing initiative through Sokopepe. The resolution was reached during a market access meeting organized by the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre on 10th/10/2012, at the chief’s office in Sipili.  Members of sipili stakeholder forum attended the meeting.
Participants follow meeting proceedings
 The mission of ALIN is to improve the livelihoods of arid lands communities in East Africa through delivery of practical information using modern technologies. Mobile phone technology, is in this case a convenient means through which farmers can access market information contrary to the current trend where brokers set prices for commodities during harvest seasons.  
The meeting was attended by 30 participants (17- Male and 13- Female) comprising group leaders, Agricultural officers, Wangwachi chief Mr. Paul Nasky, and Stephen Munguti of SACDEP. 

Participants unanimously resolved to expedite the process of mobilizing like minded farmers to support the initiative. They also agreed that the PMO should be up and running before the peak harvest season due in a month’s time, this was accelerated by the huge Argo-marketing challenges faced by farmers each season.
 Participants heard that last year, ALIN through a marketing consultant, facilitated commodity testing for quality assurance. One maize sample was approved by a Nakuru maize miller and the other sample was rejected due to poor quality. 

The Miller latter offered a price of Kenya shillings three thousand one hundred (Ksh 3,100) which was eight hundred shillings higher than the local market. In spite of that, farmers we unable to deliver their produce to the miller due to lack of timely Co-ordination, poor quality, lack of awareness and suspicion.

Mr. Paul Nasky the chief of Wangwachi location promised full support in mobilizing farmers in the division. He gave an assurance that his office will make every effort to mobilize all cereals traders to attend capacity building meetings in future and learn about the SMS system with a view of discouraging them from lowering prices. His sentiments were echoed by the Divisional Agricultural Officer Mr. James Kamau.  

 Farmers were shown how to query for commodity prices through SMS by typing: (price#crop i.e. maize#location i.e. Kisumu then send to 3227). The meeting became interactive and participatory as everyone took out a mobile phone to try out the system. 

The SMS's started streaming within a few minutes. Mr. David C. Maina reported the feedback on his phone showing a price of Ksh 4,400 per 90 kg of maize in Kisumu. Peter Muturi reported that green maize sold at Ksh 2,700 in Nakuru. The messages also showed dry maize sold at Ksh 3,800 in Nairobi. With this information, farmers are likely to make a profit of between Ksh 1,600 and Ksh 2,200, if they were to deliver their Maize to Nairobi and Kisumu.  

 The information flowing into the mobile phones elevated the spirit of farmers who saw the importance of forming a common marketing platform. Laikipia west is expecting plentiful harvest of maize this season and prices are already shooting down, a bag of 90Kg is now going at Ksh 2,300 down from 3,500 a few months ago.

Participants were challenged to think broadly and explore ways of finding access to better markets instead of having to sell their produce at throw away prices while middlemen bulk the produce and latter sell at better prices due to the economies of scale. The farmers agreed that they were capable of marketing their crops after accessing updated market information through Sokopepe system.  

The latter did an analysis of opportunities at their disposal which they can utilize for their empowerment and concluded that Sipili had some key strengths that can propel them to great economic heights. 

Existence of an organized stakeholder’s forum in Sipili division, has seen farmers come together to chart the way forward. The forum comprises NGO’s, government departments and several farmer groups. 

ALIN has brought in the use of ICTs to access market prices while the Sipili Cereal Bank, a self help group, has offered to cereals from farmers until  prices stabilize. 

It was reported that the government has provided a maize drier to ensure farmers meet the required quantities. Sipili cereal bank has acquired a moisture-meter for testing the moisture content in maize before storage.

Farmers suggested that the new PMO, should explore ways in which a micro-finance institution can be identified to facilitate advance payment for the cereals stored to enable farmers to run their errands as they wait for prices to shoot up. The steering committee was tasked to explore all possible ways of creating networks which are beneficial to the farmers.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Ng’arua Co-operative Society: The beacon of hope for Laikipia

 By Bett Kipsang’ and Dennis Kipkirui

Cooperatives play an essential role in employment generation, poverty alleviation and food security and are extremely important in the agricultural sector. They supply agricultural credit and funds and have the potential to deliver goods and services in vital areas where state and private sectors have not been able to do very much.

The Ng’arua Co-operative Society (NCS) started in 2001 as a self- help group with only 14 farmers as members. Today it boasts of individual membership of 2000 and an affiliated group membership of 40. Credit for inception has largely been dedicated to one Mr. Irungu, the then Divisional Agricultural Officer, who helped farmers to realize the need for value addition on farm inputs.  The group has developed a grand master plan that will propel this farmer’s organisation to revolutionize the economy of Laikipia County. 

Mr. Charles Thuku the factory supervisor inspecting the flour.
 NCS is situated along Nyahururu-Kinamba road in Laikipia County of Kenya, Its main activity is milling of maize flour, production of livestock feeds and supply of farm inputs. It relies on farmers to run its operations. The cooperative provides market for maize which they buy in bulk from farmers. 

The co-operative society was transformed in 2008 from a self-help group after increase of membership with support from the ministry of cooperatives and marketing. The society which runs a milling plant currently has an asset base of $ 179,878 (Ksh.15 million).  Its capital was largely drawn from resources pooled together by farmers. In its initial stages K-Rep, a micro-finance institution granted them a loan to start the society. The society has also received support from Co-operative Bank and Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE).

The funds have been used for training farmers on maize drying, cereals banking, right seeds selection, value addition and quality of produce. Committee members and employees have also been trained on business and management skills. The funds have also supported  building related infrastructure that includes a filling station, an administration complex, and farmer’s shop among others. 

The society has a managing committee which oversees the planning and management, the committee meets quarterly to discuss their business progress. The society has a constitution and a strategic plan in place which governs the day to day running of their activities. 

The society has employed 19 people and occasionally recruits casual laborers in its operations. All workers are members or immediate family members of share holders. The driving factor behind this is the inculcated ownership in the organisation that makes employees feel the need to work hard to build their institution. 

‘It is possible to operate as a  cooperative , we  can collect cereals from other cooperatives, in the whole county, so we  hardly lack supply of raw materials, we want to also venture into cereal banking, says Mr. Charles Thuku, the Manager.

The main challenge has been internal wrangles among members and lack of a proactive support by the government. According to Mr. Charles Thuku who is currently overseeing the operations of the milling plant, these teething problems are largely contributed by the local committees as most of them lack the requisite knowledge of running a co-operative society and are only in leadership by virtue of ownership. He pinpoints cases of some even forcing their hands in recruitment of employees.

 On the part of the government, Mr. Thuku indicates that officials don’t visit them regularly and only intervene when the society has problems. They also fail to give regular advice to the society on its growth and general development. 

There is evidence of replication of the practice. This is seen from the many small posho (maize flour) mills in the area which mill and sell flour. In addition, a Multi-purpose Farmers Cooperative Society has been started in Sipili as a result of the success noted in Ng’arua Cooperative Society.

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