Wednesday, September 17, 2014

'Tuta Absoluta’ a threat to tomato production

By Samuel Nzioka

Farmers practicing horticulture in Laikipia County are facing a new threat as new tomato pest emerges and leaves them with empty pockets.  Tuta absoluta (tomato leaf miner) is a devastating pest affecting tomatoes and is considered to be a serious threat to tomato production in East Africa region.

Infected crop in Matwiku 
The new pest which originated from South America is said to breed between 10-12 generations a year. Each female can lay 250-300 eggs in her life time. This pest is crossing boarders and devastating tomato production both protected (green house) and open fields. The infestation of Tuta absoluta has also been reported on potato, watermelon and common beans.

Infected tomato fruit

Tuta absoluta has proved very challenging pest to control. Effectiveness of chemical control is limited due to insect's nature of damage as well as its rapid capability of development of insecticide resistant strains.

The use of biological factors is still largely under development and not ready to combat this pest effectively and in a cost effective way. Sex pheromone trap (TUTRACK) that has been developed by Kenya Biologics limited has been an effective tool for early detection of the pest.

Mass trapping and lure which contains pheromone has been found to be effective to control Tuta absoluta by attracting and trapping the male Tuta absoluta month. IPM strategies are being developed to control the pest.

Farmers practicing horticulture in Matwiku, Githiga ward of Laikipia west sub-county have however reported to have used chemicals like collagen and Belt which are very expensive with just 30mls of each going for Kshs 700.

"I have witnessed a farmer who had planted tomatoes and whose farm was affected by the pest use Collalen and Belt consecutively and has been able to control the pest although the chemicals are very expensive. As a group, we were hesitant but we will now plant our tomatoes and hope for the best". Said Peter Gatheru, Chairperson Matwiku horticulture self help group.

 ALIN, Ministry of agriculture and other stakeholders working with farmers in Laikipia county are working tirelessly to ensure farmers get a solution for this problem by training farmers on pest control measures.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Farmers keeping farm records despite crop failure

Farmers in sipili division have embraced Farm Record Management Information System (FARMIS), a product of Sokopepe Limited that is helping farmers keep good farm records. Since its introduction five months ago, more than four hundred farmers have been registered. Changing weather patterns as an effect of climate change has been linked to crop failure in most part of the country. Laikipia county has not been an exception and most parts of the county has recorded massive crop failure due to lack of enough rainfall to support crop growth.

Mrs. Elcy Kigano , crops officer during one of the farmer trainings
Most farmers in Sipili division have planted more than three times as a result of unpredictable small amounts of rainfall which has been falling in the area leaving crops to die at an early stages leaving farmers pockets dry. Farmers have been receiving training from ALIN and Ministry of Agriculture on better cropping systems and how they need to take care of their crop. This has been accomplished by setting up demonstration plots at different locations within Sipili and Muhotetu divisions.

 Mr. Stephen Kariuki, a farmer in Sipili  has felt the heat as he has planted three times without success.
"I have planted three times this season. every time I use more than four thousand to purchase certified seeds for my three acre farm. I'm discouraged as I used all the money I had saved and the third crop has dried up."

Mr. Francis Kiarahu, also a farmer, has also been affected by the drought. However, he has diversified his farming and incorporated other crops like cassava, sweet potatoes, indigenous vegetables, herbs and fruit trees. Despite the crop failure, he has been earning money from the sell of fruits and herbs.

Mr Kiarahu updating his farm book
"I have been surviving on sales from fruits and herbs. Although my first crop failed, My second crop has survived and doing well." Said Mr Kiharau.
"I am now keeping good track of my production costs through FARMIS and I want to ascertain weather I make profit of loss from my farming." He added.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr. Peter Mwangi who is using Farm book to track production costs on his three acres of maize and one acre of wheat.

"I want to do farming as a business despite the weather challenges and have learned without good records, Its not possible. Thanks to Sokopepe Limited and ALIN for the service." said Mr Mwangi.

Rains have been experienced in the month of August. However, most crops had either stunted growth or dried up and this has caused may farmers to replant.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Laikipia west farmers worried by new Maize diseases

By Samuel Nzioka

Farmers within Laikipia west sub-county are worried of new maize disease that is destroying their crop. Maize Lethal Necrosis disease has affected maize crop in many farms leaving farmers panicking for their produce.  The disease has been declared as ‘New threat to Maize production’. Being a new disease in Laikipia County, farmers lack information on how to tackle its spread.

The disease
According to Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries State department of Agriculture, Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) results from co-infection of two viruses; Maize chlorotic Mottle Virus and Sugarcane mosaic Virus. The disease is reported to be spread by insect vectors such as Maize thrips, Maize leaf hoppers, leaf beetles and aphids. In Kenya, the disease was first reported in Bomet County in September 2011.
Commonly grown maize varieties are susceptible to the disease. Losses associate with the disease ranges from 30 to 100% depending on crop growth stage when the disease attacks.

Symptoms and effects of MLND
  • Bright yellowing starting with the upper young leaves
  • Stunted growth with shortened internodes
  • Death of inner parts of the plant leading to premature plant death
Infected crop in Matwiku, Laikipia west sub-county
  • Poor pollen production and sterility of plants
  • Comb husks appear mature (brown color) while the grains inside are still milky and the rest of the plant is green
  • Partial grain or no filling capacity, the formed grains also become moldy with brown discoloration
  • At late stages of plant growth, there is a lot of fugal growth on stems and combs
  • Death of entire crop gives a blighted appearance to the maize field. The disease can be seen from as early as two weeks after emergence on wards

What to do about it
a)      When planting maize;
·         Use certified seeds approved by relevant authority (KEPHIS)
·         Use manure and include basal and topdressing fertilizers
·         Plant at onset of rains, undertake timely weeding and field sanitation
·         Planting tolerant or resistant maize varieties would be the longterm and sustainable solution
b)      Do not grow maize in consecutive seasons
c)       Practice crop rotation and diversify crop choices with alternatives like irish potato, sweet potato, beans and vegetables
d)      Practice regular scouting for insect vectors and early appearance of MLND
e)      At early stages of disease onset, rogue out infected plants. This material can be used to feed livestock
f)       Grains and cobs that are rotten are not supposed to be fed to humans or animals but rather be destroyed by burning
g)      Do not move green maize materials from infected regions to disease free areas within and outside the country to minimize spread of MLN disease.

There is a need to have farmers trained on intervention measures so as to have them prepared to tackle the disease whenever it strikes and to avert crop losses cause by the disease. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ngarua Maarifa Centre connected to solar Energy

By Samuel Nzioka

Ngarua Maarifa Center has been running on grid electricity to power computers and other machines until last week when it was connected to Solar energy. Recurring power blackout prompted the action by ALIN to install Solar energy so as to provide uninterrupted services to community members. The journey has not been so easy as the power blackouts have been interrupting smooth running of the Maarifa Center and slowing many activities including response to urgent matters.

It took the technical team three days to complete the installations, a job  that could have taken them at most five hours. This was caused by power blackouts during the week. Mr. Kibe, the Alins technician said that, its dangerous when power is on and off oftenly as it can damage equipment's connected to it. He however advised people using electronic machines like computers to install power guards or battery backups so as to prevent further losses.

Solar power inverter and Storage batteries 
The recurring power failure has cost the economy in Sipili township lots of money as many business men/women especially the photocopy, printing, welding, Maize millers and timber yards remain out of business when the power goes out as they solely depend on power for their daily incomes.

Some community members have applauded the bold move by ALIN to embrace renewable energy option quoting that, it will serve as a good example to other people who want to remain in business and reduce the operating costs for their business enterprises. Samuel Njogu, a businessman operating a stationery visited the Maarifa center when he was strolling after power blackout and on finding the Maarifa center power on, he was interested to know where our source is.

"I'm amazed by the idea and I want to be the first stationery shop in Sipili using renewable energy so that I can provide uninterrupted services to my customers. This will also cushion me against losses I make during power blackouts." said Samuel.

Samuel provides all office services including printing, photocopy, lamination and also runs an ICT training school.

Regular Maarifa center users also embraced the idea and affirmed that, it will go further to help them access services better.

"Continued services will allow me to attend my needs promptly as opposed to when the center used to solely depend on grid electricity. I have applied for several jobs forwarded to me by my friends away and have been able to hit the deadlines even when there is power blackout." said Peter Nderitu, Egerton  University psychologist graduate.

Youth Enjoying services at the Maarifa center
Mr. James Mwangi, a Mathematics and Computer science student at Jomo Kenyatta University Of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has been able to accomplish many tasks due to uninterrupted power supply at the Maarifa center.

"I have been able to log in to my schools' student portal and respond to urgent matters that could have costed me if not attended to. This has been possible through continued services at the Maarifa Center. I have also been able to get timely farming information as I am also doing farming to raise my school fees and pocket money for the next semester."

James also wants to be a good example as he is successfully doing farming despite weather challenges faced by many farmers in Laikipia county. Read; Youth farmer not deterred by water scarcity. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Community Groups urged to be vibrant in development initiatives

By Samuel Nzioka

A joint meeting by Arid Lands Information Networks (ALIN) and Office of the Member Of county assembly, Sipili/Olmoran ward saw more than 150 Community groups representatives operating in Sipili/Olmoran ward convene at Catholic hall  to discuss issues affecting their development. The main agenda for the meeting was to identify the active self help groups, welfare groups,Community based organizations, NGOs and other development groups with an aim of looking for intervention strategies to help the groups to become more effective. Another agenda was to introduce FARMIS to wide range of stakeholders and create more momentum for farmer profiling.

 All group representatives were given opportunity to present their groups activities and achievements. Speaking during the meeting, Mr Kero, the ward administrator urged the groups to take advantage of devolution and apply for county funds through tenders and other grants. he also urged the youth and women to apply  for youth and women enterprise funds from the national government and not to just sit and wait. ALIN through  Ngarua Maarifa Centre  were tasked  to ensure the application forms are available to the willing  groups.

Mr. Noah Lusaka addressing the participants
Mr Noah Lusaka, ALINs project manager led the participants through ACT! project which has its main goal as 'enhancing community resilience to adapt to the impacts of climate change for improved livelihoods'. The project will focus on a series of community consultative meetings with an objective to lobby for development of climate change adaptation framework, enhance communities capacity to adapt climate smart Agricultural practices (CSAPs) for improved livelihoods and enhancing communities access to usable information and knowledge on climate change adaptation for increased resilience. He also urged the groups to write down their own profiles and forward them for future reference.

Participants were taken through FARMIS Kenya where they were urged to embrace farming as a business and focus on making profit from their enterprises. Speaking during the meeting, Mr. Samuel Mwangi urged the farmers to take advantage of the platform and manage their farms in prudent ways to avoid post harvest losses and make a business case.

Farmers also got an opportunity to interact with Juhudi Kilimo, a microfinace institution
supporting farmers to access asset based loans and basic finance training to smallholder farmers and enterprises that allow them to purchase wealth generating  financial solutions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pomp and color as information sharing kibanda is Launched

By Samuel Nzioka

There was joy and celebrations at an open day held at Ng’arua Maarifa Centre, located at Sipili Sub-County office on July 12, 2014. The event which was graced by among others Laikipia County representatives, Mr. Godfrey Ndonye  and Mr. Njuguna who represented the guest of honor, the county Commissioner Mr. Wilfred Kinyua  also marked the official launch of the Sustainable Land and Natural Resources Management Centre dubbed ‘Mazingira Knowledge Centre’

Other partners present were, The international Small Group & Tree planting Program (TIST), East Africa Grain Council (EAGC), Community Forest association, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society (LP&MC), Laikipia Centre for Knowledge and Information (LACKIN), Pure Sacco, Laikipia central community Development (LAICCODO) and Juhudi Kilimo among others.

Participants visiting LAICCODO stand
The open day aimed to create an effective knowledge sharing platform to build communities’ capacity for effective stewardship of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices and enhanced resilience in Laikipia County. The event provided an opportunity for community members to share knowledge on various technologies and innovations on climate change mitigation and adaptation among other services and products which were on display during the event.

Information materials were also archived and pinned at the knowledge sharing Kibanda for communities to learn new technologies and ways of reducing environmental degradation.

Some of the innovations and technologies that were on display during the open day included; energy saving cooking stoves, castor oil cooking stove, Solar lanterns, soap and candles made locally from bee wax, information materials on use of biogas and other bio fuels, water harvesting technologies and forest conservation strategies.

Speaking during the event, Mr. Ndonye urged participants to be good ambassadors and share with fellow neighbors and other community members what they had learned from the event. He also noted that, he has learned a lot from the event especially the use of castor oil as biofuel for cooking and keeping away mosquitoes and flies from the houses.

Participants also learned of different climate change adaptation strategies from farmers who displayed their fresh fruits like Mangoes, pineapples, passion, Tree tomatoes and thorn melons while others had value added products like dried cassava, rosemary and vegetables.

Mr Kiarahu explaining value addition technologies to farmers
Mr. Francis Kiarahu, a farmer who has participated in several events both locally and internationally explained to farmers how it’s important to diversify their farming during this time when the weather changes are unpredictable. He explained how he doesn’t depend on maize and beans as many farmers do.

“I don’t depend on one crop during my farming. My farm has fruit trees, cassava, pineapples, tree tomato, oranges, indigenous vegetables, and the rest portion has maize and beans. During this dry season, my family is comfortable since there is a lot of cassava in my farm. I’m also earning from my fruit trees.” Said Mr. Kiarahu.

Farmers also got an opportunity to learn more about SOKO+ and Farm Record Management Information System (FARMIS), where queries on the same were addressed.  Those who had not subscribed for the services were also registered.  

Participants visiting FARMIS stand
SOKO+ is a digital commodity trading and information system linking small scale farmers to end retailers. It also provides commodity prices from major markets and e-extension services.  

FARMIS is a farm management and diagnostic tool based on the use of farm records. It was developed for use by diverse stakeholders in the agriculture sector aimed at identifying productivity trends, profitability of different farm enterprises and producing evidence for use in decision making at the farm.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sokopepe helped me get a buyer!

By Bett Kipsang'

Mr. Peter Maina Mwaniki,a farmer in Sipili division Laikipia County has a reason to smile after Sokopepe enabled him sell his Lima beans at a higher profit. 

 Mr. Mwaniki, a retired teacher is an energetic farmer who is always enthusiastic to learn new skills; his desire for new knowledge led him to use Ng’arua Maarifa Centre which champions a market portal called Sokopepe- an online and SMS based platforms that provide market prices information to farmers and links farmers with buyers.
Peter Mwaniki harvesting Lima Beans

 ‘Last year I decided to do a market research on Lima beans, I checked at a local market selling price per kilogram and it was selling at KES 60 (USD 0.7) which I felt was very low compared to the expenses I incurred during farming. I traveled 60km away to Nyahururu to check the selling price and I found out the price per kilogram was KES 80(USD 0.9). I remembered Sokopepe and decided to visit Ngarua Maarifa centre where I took sample of Lima beans so that a photo could be taken for uploading on the Sokopepe marketing portal.   I send an SMS TO 20245 and checked for prices of Lima beans in Nairobi and saw it was selling at KES 150 (USD 1.8) per kilogram. With the support of the field officer at Ngarua Maarifa centre the produce was uploaded with a price tag of KES 150(USD 1.8) per kilogram.A buyer from Nairobi visited the Sokopepe site and spotted the product displayed for sale and placed an order for 5kgs of Lima beans. The produce was delivered to the buyer and I was paid KES 150 (USD 1.8) per kilogram up from the KES60(USD 0.7)per kilogram offered at the local market. After three weeks again a buyer from Mombasa placed another order, the produce was delivered and I was paid. I have never been to Mombasa but my Lima beans have! The use of mobile phones to get market prices is a blessing to us as farmers. I am now able to query market prices in major towns at the comfort of my home using my mobile phone, ’says Mr. Mwaniki.

Farmers are facing a lot of challenges in marketing of their produce.They have always been exploited by middle men who buy their produce at very low prices since the farmers have no access to market prices.However with the introduction of Sokopepe, farmers can query prices in major towns in Kenya and make an informed decision on where to sell and at what price thus have a bargaining power. Additionally Sokopepe provides other services like access to input suppliers, extension services and a pool of information on both crop farming and livestock.

Mwaniki has seven acres of land; he cultivates only four acres. He also has a fruits orchard next to his home. He does poultry rearing, dairy farming and growing of maize and other cereals crops like grain Amaranth, Lima Beans and Dolichos.   He is a member of Ng’arua focal group, where he has received lots of information and capacity building on farming.Mr.  Mwaniki is also a member of two farmer groups; Umoja Wendani and Gazina self-help groups. In these groups, Mr. Mwaniki has encouraged members to register on Sokopepe and use its services since he has seen the benefits.

Mr. Mwaniki can be reached at +254725152750

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Demo gardens enhance farm practices

By Bett Kipsang'
Demo Garden near Sipili
 Introduction of a high yielding maize variety “Pioneer 30G19’’ will boost food security and agribusiness in Laikipia west. The seed produced by Pioneer Hi-bred, a Kenyan registered company, promoting production of white maize.

The company has employed very elaborate and practical methods of training farmers in best agronomic practices from land preparations to harvesting and post harvest management. 

‘‘To educate our farmers, we established several demo gardens in strategic areas within Sipili division’’ Said John Ndegwa, who works with the company. He said that the company provided farmers with seeds to plant and instructed them on the best methods of management. The method was found to be very effective, farmers are able to see the difference between the crops planted in “usual” style and those planted following the right procedures. 

  Pioneer 30G19, variety takes between five and six months to mature and the potential yield per acre are 50 bags on average.

  According to Ndegwa, poor farm management practices are to blame for poor yields, farmers mostly compromise the standard spacing, crop population in the farm and inter cropping which leads to unfair competitions for light and nutrients. 

Wajoram Displays a maize cob picked  from the Garden
Most farmers also do not know the soil requirement for their farms, and they tend to plant very large portions of land without following good procedure, a factor john attributed to poor yields and eventual losses.

Lack of soil knowledge has also led to continuous use of the wrong fertilizer every year. Ndegwa observed that soil samples from every farm needs to be tested to determine the kind of fertilizer and amount to be used. The required spacing for maize is (75 x25cm).

John Ndegwa Pioneer staff
  Pioneer 30G19 does well in medium to high altitudes between 1,000 to 1,800 meters’ above sea level. The company has organized field days at the demo gardens to show farmers the difference in yield and hence change the attitude of farmers after witnessing the starling performance of the maize variety. 

The crop has a good standing ability and is not very tall, hence cannot be fell down by the wind. This variety is also drought tolerant, resistant to many maize diseases and has good quality grains.

Friday, January 31, 2014

ALIN’s intervention inspire farmer’s to create wealth

By Bett Kipsang'
Farmers in Ng’arua Laikipia west district have had to contend with perennial challenges of adulterated planting materials for a long time. Their lamentations usually start long after the planting season, especially when the crops are about to mature. That is when farmers start suspecting something could have gone wrong at some point. It’s often too late, and they stare helplessly at the possibility of heavy losses, food shortage and a bleak future. What a crippling reality for families whose mainstay is agriculture? The little harvested crops are usually disposed at through way prices due to lack of organized marketing structures.

However, an intervention by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), in Ng’arua to mobilize and empower small holder farmers to take the lead in value chain development for their farming activities, has renewed the hopes of farmers. 

Farmer organizations and market access - The Ng’arua Maarifa Centre was set up by ALIN seven years ago. An online marketing platform Sokopepe( loosely meaning a virtual market was piloted at the centre. The project has now proved noble in reversing the negative effects of farmer exploitation and positioning small scale farmers in the path of enterprise development. 

The experiences gained from Sokopepe, informed the organization to advice farmers on the crucial role of farmer organizations in farm production and marketing. Farmers in Sipili chose to revisit the cooperative movement, though the name did not have a soft landing due to its not very nice past.

A concerted effort was put to mobilize farmers into producer groups, followed by a series of capacity building trainings and linkages to other development partners. The good news is that farmers are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, the new farmer organizations are now taking the bull but its horns and their efforts are yielding big success.
Cooperatives around the world have had their fair share of challenges and farmers in ng’arua were not an exception. They had been into many cooperatives which have since gone under with their investments. Convincing farmers to go the cooperative way was not a simple task. However, the government has established a fully fledged ministry of cooperative and enterprises development and passed appropriate legislation to govern the sector. 

Laikipia Produce and marketing cooperative Society was registered in June 2013, courtesy of ALIN and the ministry of cooperative’s intervention. Seven months down the line the society boast of over two hundred members they have hired a store and bulked a few hundreds of maize bags to be sold when prices improve.

After registration, ALIN responded to the societies plea for access to certified seeds by linking them to the Kenya seed company. The cooperative farmers in Sipili, started the process of acquiring agency certificate without hesitation. Kenya Seeds Company and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) have completed the process of awarding an Agency certificate to the society. All systems are ready to go as the cooperative prepare to buy inputs directly from authorized suppliers and distribute to members and the community in general. 

 Reports privy to the societies accounts have indicated that the society has collected close to a million shillings from farmers in readiness to buy seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season. 

The Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society is planning to launch the inputs distribution enterprises sometimes next week. Plans are underway to negotiate with Kenya Seed Company to deliver the first consignment to the ground. 

 The Ng’arua Maarifa Centre conducts community needs assessments and package appropriate information products to meet the needs of local farmers. This can be in form of farmer organization, networking, market linkages, value chain development and post harvest handling.

The cooperative society will be a direct beneficiary of the market access initiatives via Sokopepe which utilizes modern technologies, like internet and mobile phones in sourcing and dissemination market information like prices and farming tips among others. 

 Farmer profiling - ALIN is now partnering with Farmer Record Management Information System (FARMIS) ( to roll out an information management system to support farmers in managing their farm records; the system generates a report at the end of every season and the data generated by farmers into the system will be beneficial when they are bargaining for Agri-business loans and will inform decision making along value chains based on facts. 

Networking and linkages - ALIN works hand in hand with stakeholders like government agencies, private companies, small scale farmers and NGO’s in the area. Ng’arua Maarifa Centre scouts for potential networks and partnerships linkages with stakeholders seeking to reach grass root farmers with information, products and other development assistance. 
So far the centre is in touch with partners like; Agriculture Sector Development Support Program (ASDSP) Laikipia county, East African Grain Council (EAGC), Kenya Seed Company Ltd, AMIRAN Kenya, Chase Bank, among others. The centre has also organized meetings between farmer groups and companies like Chase Bank, AMIRAN, Kenya Seed Company and EAGC. 

The linkages created facilitate information sharing which is fast expanding the knowledge base of farmers in the area and promoting a sense of enthusiasm and motivation to take farming to the next level.

Speaking during a visit to Ng’arua Maarifa Centre this month, Mr. Samuel Rutto, the regional manager, East African Grain Council, informed farmers that EAGC has a mandate to certify cereal stores so that farmers can benefit from a program called warehouse receipting system.

 The system enables farmers to get access to bank loans using the cereals stock as security, until prices improves. Rutto commended the centre for the noble activities and offered to link the farmer organizations to any of the other input suppliers he knew. He introduced the cooperative to MEA, a company distributing fertilizer.

Communities converge at the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre to access information, new developments and opportunities; they no longer have any cause for worry.

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