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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The strength of a woman in conservation

By Bett Kipsang'

The world is now faced with unprecedented effects of climate change. Environmental degradation due to human activities coupled with laxity to replenish the tree cover is worsening the problem. Communities have been sensitized to plant trees, but the lessons and magnitude of the problem is perceived differently by individual community members. 

Jane Wangari watering her seedlings
Jane Wangari Muchiri 66, from Sipili in Laikipia County has developed a passion and determination to earn a living by conserving the environment. 

She has curved a niche for herself as an expert in seed collection and establishment of tree nurseries.  Jane is so passionate in pursuing her goal of tackling the environmental challenge. She works for endless hours, even if it means going without food. “Sometimes I fail to eat, not because there is no food but because sometimes I am so tired and exhausted after work, that i just go straight to sleep’’ she said.

Jane has set up a large tree nursery right within her homestead. The magnificent sole venture now has fifty thousand (50,000) tree seedlings of all kinds both exotic and indigenous species. Exotic species sells between ten (10) and twenty (20) shillings, while indigenous species goes for between fifteen (15) and thirty (30) shillings. 

Jane expects to earn up to half a million shillings by selling all the seedlings. In spite of this rich economic potential, Jane is grappling the challenge of water scarcity. The seasonal dam in her farm is the may source of water. ‘‘Water in the dam are almost drying up and I will be forced to buy the commodity from vendors, the cost is too high and I sometimes watch helplessly in dismay as my seedlings dry up from the sun’’ she said.

Jane’s tree nursery has become a tourist attraction site; hundreds of visitors throng her homestead every year to learn from her as they marvel at her passion and determination to conserve the environment. 

The Ng’arua Maarifa center published a story about Jane’s nursery last year and it has been read far and wide. Jane has told the Ng’arua Maarifa Centre that a team of potential customers who read the story came all the way from Narok County to place an order for seedlings from her nurseries. 

However, her customers cum visitors had a very huge order and they could not buy immediately, since they needed seedlings enough to fill a lorry.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Agriculture students practice adaptation skills from Joto Africa

By Bett Kipsang’

Teachers and students of Mithuri secondary school in Ol-Moran Division of Laikipia County have started making and conserving hay after reading the Joto Africa Magazine. The school’s principal, Mrs. Margaret Njoroge has known the Maarifa Centre for the last two years.

Students lift a bale of hay they have made
She found Joto Africa to be very beneficial to her as she could read many articles about adaptation measure being done by people in many other dry lands like Mutomo and Kyuso. “I have started a kitchen garden, near the school’s water tab so that we utilize waste water from the kitchen and spillovers from the tab’’ she said.

The catchment of the school is inhabited by pastoral communities who are mostly hard hit by effects of climate change. “Dropout cases in the school are common due to high level of poverty and migration in search for pasture for the animals’’ the principal said, adding that some of the families leave their school going children with neighbors as they move away with animals in search for pasture. Girls in particular are married off earlier sometimes to older men who pay cattle in form of dowry.

After reading the magazines, the principal decided to start a hay making project involving the agriculture students with an aim of empowering them to be able to encourage their families to preserve hay and leave a few cattle to support the students continue with school during droughts and when migration for the larger herds is inevitable.

The students are show how to tie a bale of hay
The principal has read many issues of Joto Africa, she remember reading about yams and cassava in Mutomo, women as key players in adaptation and effects of climate change in pastoralism, which includes issues 6 and 7 among others.

The Agriculture students have also started reading stories in Joto Africa magazine, delivered to their school from the Maarifa centre.
On Wednesday I went to the school to disseminate the Joto Africa Magazines, that is when the principal reported to me that she has mowed the whole field using a tractor and she needed skills on how to demonstrate hay making. On Friday, I demonstrated a simple method of making hay bales to students and teachers.

The method entails constructions of a rectangular shaped structure by fixing sticks on the ground, a sisal twin thread is first placed on the structure then dry grass are compressed and tied, a huge bale of hay is then removed and stored in a dry place. After the demonstration, students learning agriculture participated actively by making bales on their own.  The principal and agriculture teacher said they will organize student to continue making more bales during free time and will be stored in the firewood shade for the time being.

The project is aimed at breaking the circle of impoverishment among pastoral communities whose livelihoods are climate sensitive. Articles in the magazine have brought enlightenment and understanding of the people’s livelihood systems and hence ways to better adapt and take up opportunities to mitigate effects of climate change. While giving a vote of thanks after the exercise, a student by the name, Wilson Maina, made the rest burst into laughter when he said “from now onwards we will not be lifting up emaciated cows to stand during the dry spell’’

The youths are better placed for capacity building to become advocates and agents of change who will go out to challenge the prevailing misconceptions about their livelihoods. Participation of youths in decision making will see them shape their rights and family decision which are critical for their future and the development of their areas.

AMIRAN and Chase bank officials visits Ngarua Maarifa Centre

By Bett Kipsang’

The Ng’arua Maarifa Centre has upped its efforts in farmer mobilization and relationship building among service providers like companies and micro-finance institutions. A meeting between AMIRAN Kenya and Chase Bank officials and Laikipia Produce and marketing cooperative society and the Ng’arua focal group, was held at the centre on Thursday 16th January 2014. The two farmer organizations are affiliated to Ngarua Maarifa centre.

The meeting take place near Ngarua Maarifa Centre
 The consultative and relationship building meeting was planned with a few of financial support and technology transfer to the farmers. The visit was made possible courtesy of the good networking abilities of Ngarua Maarifa Centre and the ongoing engagements with farmers in Laikipia West. 

AMIRAN and Chase Bank have products targeting to promote Agri-business especially among organized groups. 

 “AMIRAN deals in all that a farmer needs’’ said Andrew Nguyo, an agronomist and AMIRANs regional manager based in the west rift (Nakuru-Kisumu). Nguyo said that AMIRAN has a partnership MOU with Chase Bank to provide low interest finances for farmers to buy green houses and drip irrigation technologies. They also carry out farmer’s capacity building and sale of farm chemicals among other farm inputs.

Five cooperative members attended the meeting and appreciated the knowledge gained. “This is an eye opener to our young cooperative’’ said Samuel Mbogo the cooperative society’s vice chairman. Mbogo said that the society currently has a membership of over two hundred farmers and have collected about 120 bags of maize.

Drip irrigation Kits are available at AMIRAN Kenya in three sizes.  According to Andrew the smallest kit, good for a kitchen garden is 90 meters long and sells at fourteen thousand five hundred shillings (14,500/=), followed by a kit that fits an eighth of an acre which sells at twenty three thousand five hundred shillings (23, 500) a one acre kit goes for one hundred and twenty three thousand five hundred shillings (123, 500/=). 

Andrew said that it is necessary for a farmer to think critically and learn as much as possible before starting a green house business. “Green house business requires psychological preparation on the side of the farmer’’ he said. Once a farmer takes the loan the whole package comes with seeds of what the farmer decides to plant, fertilizer for all the season, a chemical sprayer bump and protective clothes used during spaying. 

Andrew also encouraged farmers to access market information and start producing good quality products needed in the markets. He cited sweet pepper, which he said does well under a green house and are quite marketable when ripened to the desired level. ALIN is implementing an online and mobile phone market access project called Sokopepe, a swahili word for virtual Market, The link to the portal is(

Andrew advised farmers on how to reduce the cost of farming to maximize on profits. Likewise, greenhouses come in different sizes and prices. An (8 by 15m) green house goes for two hundred and seventy five thousand shillings (Ksh275, 000) while an (8 by 24m) goes for (Ksh 350,000)
Farmers were encouraged to strengthen their organizations because it is easier to support them in organizations than individuals. 

The meeting also attracted youths who have developed interest in joining the cooperative. James Muthee a youth from Sipili said that he will join the cooperative and reap the benefits of being a member. Also present in the meeting were; Regina Wokabi, a young lady who is a citizen journalism reporter, Bob Aston the citizen journalism trainer at Ng’arua Maarifa Centre,  Noah Koinet from the ministry of Agriculture and Pauline.
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