Friday, December 18, 2015

Reminiscing Nga’arua Maarifa Centre work in 2015

By Bob Aston
Established in 2007 by the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), Ng’arua Marifa Centre in Ol-Moran Ward at Laikipia West Sub County has been facilitating learning and skills transfer among communities embracing a culture of knowledge sharing.
The Maarifa Centre has been offering free services that include Library services, E-government services, multimedia content, internet access, citizen journalism training, ICT training, advisory services, publications like Baobab, Joto Afrika, and Laikipia Mali Asili, SOKO+ and Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS-Kenya).
The Maarifa Centre has also hosted a Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Sustainable Land Management (SLM) knowledge sharing Mazingira Centre.
Beneficiaries of one of ALIN`s initiative
This year more than 2,000 community members have benefited through various services at the Maarifa Centre. In addition, 721 farmers benefited through field days and workshops.
The Centre has been instrumental in sharing knowledge with farmers through organizing open learning days, exchange visits, outreach events, video documentations, and articles aimed at farmers and pastoralists.
The year at a glance
During the year, ALIN through the Maarifa Centre successfully completed the implementation of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Program (SGP) project titled: “Enhancing Communities’ Participation for effective Natural Resources management and Enhanced Resilience in Laikipia County.”
The project offered a platform for knowledge sharing between partners supported by UNDP under GEF SGP. The project saw the inception of Laikipia Mali Asili newsletter while 30 grantees and other partners received citizen journalism training.
The year also saw the successful completion of Climate Smart Agriculture project in Matwiku area. The project aimed to strengthen communities’ resilience to impacts of climate change while conserving natural resources in Laikipia County.
Members of Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help Group were capacity built on drip irrigation installation, water harvesting technologies, plant protection, harvesting, value addition, marketing and climate smart Agriculture.
ALIN through the Maarifa Centre also increased capacity-building support for Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society during the year. The cooperative emerged from the work undertaken by ALIN with the support of the Ford Foundation’s Expanding Livelihoods for Poor Households Initiative (ELOPHI).
Three years down the line, the cooperative is among the fastest growing in Laikipia West Sub County and farmers have started benefiting through various services from the cooperative.
Strengthening maize, tree tomato, and tomato value chains has been a key achievement during the year. Through a participatory approach in 2013, farmers had identified the three value chains as the priority areas in the ward.
ALIN through the Maarifa Centre has held workshops and field days for farmers involved in the three value chains. Such forums have enabled them to enhance their production skills, share production, and marketing experiences, enhance systematic record keeping, and create linkages. Investing in the three value chains is an ideal way of promoting inclusive economic growth.
In addition, the Maarifa Centre also collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, MEA Ltd and Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society in establishing five conservation agriculture demonstration plots.
Social media platforms reach
The Laikipia Rural Voices (LRV) and Ng’arua Maarifa Centre blogs have reached a wider audience this year. The blogs have been highlighting community local issues, development initiatives, farmer innovations, climate change adaptation, climate smart agriculture, natural resource management, successes, and issues faced by youths in agriculture, environmental conservation, and other livelihood issues.
ALIN Christmas card
Blog articles shared through LRV this year are 203 while articles shared through Ng’arua Marifa centre blog stands at 106 this year. Blog visitors now stand at 119,104 and 82,464 for LRV and Ng’arua Maarifa Centre blog respectively.
Some messages received through the various social media channels have really been uplifting. Such responses show that many people appreciate what the Maarifa has been doing.
“I am impressed by the work you are doing to help improve the livelihood of my people in Laikipia West. I am always enlightened as a resident and as a professional based so many miles away from home,” said Steve Kamario.
Special thanks go to all the partners, blog readers as well as community members who have been contributing articles and helped make 2015 an intense year.
These being the last blog post in 2015, ALIN through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre would like to wish all their readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May this year’s Christmas end the present year on a cheerful note and make way for a fresh and bright new year.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Climate Change portal: Bridging information gap in Kenya

By Bob Aston

Climate change and climate variability pose major threats to the environment, to economic growth and to sustainable development of Kenya. Rise in temperature, decreasing rainfall trends, frequent flooding, and prolonged droughts are clear signals of the effect of Climate Change.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to increase and on the present path, global average temperature rise will exceed the goal to limit well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.
A screen shot of the climate change portal
Despite this, access to climate change information has not been easy in the country. In most cases information provided through various forums has at times been inaccurate. 
At the same time most organizations dealing with climate change adaptation rarely share information on what they do or adaptation mechanisms.
Kenya has now addressed such constraints by developing a climate Change portal. The Kenyan Climate Change Portal is a one-stop repository of climate change information.
The virtual online platform has provided and shared data and information related to climate change thus encouraging cooperation and informed decision making by both the national and county governments as well as private sector players and farmers. It has also showcased initiatives by different organizations.
In essence, it can now be the first point of call for basic climate change and related information. Widespread access of the portal can go a long way in helping communities in the country understand what climate change is as well as mitigating measures. This will ensure that the country has played its part in informing the public on climate change.
The Climate Change portal is an initiative of the Low Emission and Climate Resilient Development (LECRD) Project which aims to contribute to Kenya’s overall goal in achieving transformative development, accelerating sustainable climate resilient economic growth while slowing down Green House Gas emissions.
This is particularly important as Kenya is among the 195 countries that agreed on a comprehensive climate change deal that seeks to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels and to try for 1.5-degree Celsius if possible.
Through the portal, Kenyan’s can find data related to climate change adaptation, climate change finance, policies and strategies and low emission development action as well as capacity building. One can also access information about various initiatives by both the government and other organizations related to climate change.
The LECRD Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and implemented through The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities (MENRRDA), aims at; supporting Kenya’s efforts to pursue long-term, transformative development as well as accelerate sustainable climate resilient economic growth, while slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
The 3 (three) year project will contribute towards the implementation of the Kenya’s National Climate Change Action Plan (2013- 2017) which has the overarching goal of enhancing low carbon climate resilient development outlined in Kenya’s economic blueprint, Vision 2030.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Strengthening environmental resilience and social inclusion in Maize production

By Bob Aston
The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia, held a Maize Value Chain Platform workshop on December 9, 2015 at Olympia Hotel in Nyahururu to sensitize the members about the second concept note titled:” Promotion of environmentally resilient and socially inclusive maize production, post harvesting and marketing through Strengthening of Institutions in Laikipia County.”
The concept note that is being implemented during the 2015-2016 financial year aims to lay more emphasis on promoting environmental resilience for value chain actors including vulnerable groups as well as creating awareness, knowledge and appreciation of natural resources management and climate change are important aspects in ensuring a food secure country.
Farmers admiring maize in a maize field
Mr. Bob Aston from Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) noted that the main objective of the concept note include: Increasing adoption of climate smart production technologies through use of adaptable seeds, soil fertility analysis and integrated pest management; improving maize marketing organization and linkages; increasing accessibility to investment capital; and increasing accessibility to market information.
He said that maize value chain platform in Laikipia County ranked post-harvest loss, poor quality, and high cost of input, low soil fertility, limited access to information, low adoption of appropriate technology and limited accessibility to financial services among others as a priority constraint and thus the development of the concept note.
“Various constraints identified in the Maize Action plan, ASDSP county brochure, maize baseline survey, gender and social inclusion action plan and strategic environmental assessment report played a huge role in coming up with the concept note,” said Mr. Aston.
He said that the concept note also aims to address weak market organization and linkages through business forums between private sector actors, agro producers, agro wholesalers, and agro retailers.
Another important aspect in the concept note is linking women with financial institutions for advice on existing grants and credit facilities.
He said that selected youth groups would benefit through training on existing market platforms for proper integration in the value chain. Maize Value chain groups will benefit through training on development of business plans, entrepreneurship, stakeholders engagement, market linkages, and market specification.
He said that expected beneficiaries are 28 agro-producer groups, 6 agro wholesalers, 1 youth agro-transporter group, 5 agro-input suppliers, and 15 agro-retailers.
Partners and collaborators like ASDSP, Netherlands Development Organization (SNV), ALIN, Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC), Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, African Conservation Tillage (ACT) Network, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations-Laikipia, Equity Bank, Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network among others are overseeing implementation of the concept note.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Laikipia Maize Value Chain groups plan on sustainability

By Bob Aston
 The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia, held aworkshop for 33 maize value chain groups drawn from Laikipia West Sub County on December 8, 2015 at Olympia Hotel in Nyahururu.

The main aim of the workshop was to discuss the sustainability of the groups and particularly Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network. Established in 2015, the Umbrella organization is a network of 43 maize Value Chain Groups drawn from Ol-Moran, Igwamiti, Githiga, Salama, Marmanet and Rumuruti wards.
Representatives from Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC), Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), and Jabali Millers also attended the workshop.
Laikipia maize value chain development network members following the workshop
Mrs. Jane Kirimi, ASDSP noted that the Umbrella body and the value chain groups must come up with ways of sustaining themselves as the first ASDSP phase would end in December 2016.
She said that strengthening the various structures and organizations established in 2014 and 2015 would play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of the various institutions.
“ASDSP and other stakeholders will continue to facilitate market linkages between the umbrella organization and other structured market to ensure smallholder farmers benefit through such initiatives,” said Mrs. Kirimi.
She urged the groups to adopt sustainability strategies like bulking of maize for common marketing, construction of group stores, resource mobilization through table banking, enhancing linkages with financial institutions to promote commercialization, and embracing cost sharing among others.
Similarly, Mr. Waweru Kanja, Chairman, Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network noted that the umbrella maize organization will continue to play a big role in improving organization and co-ordination of the maize value chain in Laikipia County as well as championing the collective interests of the value chain players.
He said that benefits of farmer groups joining the umbrella organization include marketing of maize on behalf of the maize value chain groups, capacity building for farmers and their value chain leaders, bulking and aggregation of maize for market and bulk purchase of agro-inputs.
Others include coordination of maize farmers for better penetration of markets and bargaining power, lobbying for more funds from County, National government as well as other institutions, bargaining and advocacy on behalf of the value chain groups and support to farmers for improved production.
“We are laying a lot of emphasis in ensuring farmers are able to access school market in the government led home grown school feeding programme,” said Mr. Kanja.
The broad objective of the Maize Value Chain in Laikipia County is to enhance viable and equitable commercialization of the maize value chain.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gender bias may limit uptake of climate-smart farm practices

By Julie Mollins, CIMMYT
Farmer education programs that fail to address traditional gender roles may sideline women, limiting their use of conservation agriculture techniques, which can boost their ability to adapt to climate change, a new research shows.
Conservation agriculture involves minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and the use of crop rotation to simultaneously maintain and boost yields, increase profits and protect the environment. It contributes to improved soil function and quality, which can improve resilience to climate variability.
Although some scientists believe that, such techniques have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, which can help mitigate the impact of global warming.
 It is important to note that  the potential benefits of certain aspects of conservation agriculture -- particularly not tilling the soil -- have been overstated, write the authors of the study from the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) and the Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
Smallholder farmer prepares maize plot for planting in Embu.CIMMYT.file

Titled “
Gender and conservation agriculture in east and southern Africa: towards a research agenda,” the paper discusses the lack of research conducted into interactions between conservation agriculture use and gender. 
It proposes a research agenda that will better understand how African farming systems remain strongly stratified by gender.

Despite an increase of women smallholder farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa – one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change worldwide – agricultural service suppliers and policymakers remain “locked into the conceptual norm of the primary farmer as male,” said co-author Clare Stirling, a senior scientist in the Sustainable Intensification Program at CIMMYT.

“The ability of women-led households, or male-headed households with women as primary farmers, to adopt conservation agriculture may be compromised if government policies, extension systems and other actors continue to design interventions and target information and training around the conceptual norm of the male-headed household,” Stirling said, adding that a gender-sensitive approach should become part of mainstream research.
“Overall, normative conceptualizations of ‘farmers’ can result in inappropriate targeting and ineffective messaging,” she said.
There is almost no understanding of how gender relations in smallholder agriculture – particularly with regard to decision-making over technology adoption, roles, and responsibilities for specific farm tasks – may influence the likelihood of adopting conservation agriculture techniques, the paper states.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Exploring the maize value chain in Laikipia County

By Bob Aston
Maize is among the staple food in Kenya but statistics indicate that production across the country has been steadily declining as many farmers opt to diversify and cultivate other types of crops.
In a good year, the whole of Laikipia County usually realize 1.5 million bags of maize. Communities in the county consume 500,000 bags while farmers sell the surplus. As of December 9, 2015, the county had only realized 785,466 bags of maize.
Farmers at a field day
Mr. James Kamau, Ol-Moran Ward Agriculture officer noted that land under maize cultivation in Ol-Moran Ward has been increasing while production has been declining over the years. The same applies across the county.
Farmers in the county face challenges like high input cost,  frequent drought, substandard inputs, low soil fertility, human-wildlife conflict, lack of access to appropriate information, difficulty in accessing credit facilities, high cost of unskilled labour, pests and diseases, and high post-harvest losses.
To ensure that maize farmers improve their income stream, there is need to enhance coordination of the maize value chain in order to champion the collective interest of the value chain actors.
Why value chain approach is the way to go
The value chain approach enables various actors in the value chain to create a competitive value chain hence contributing to inclusive economic growth. It allows the identification of specific advantage points a long a chain, reducing the average cost per unit by increasing the number of units produced.
Value chain approach builds internal capacity to address value chain constraints. A strong value chain facilitates access to inputs, improves access to financial services, enhances flow of information, ensures improved market access for farmers, and promotes value addition.
It offers an opportunity to expand the financing opportunities for agriculture, improve efficiency and repayments in financing, and consolidate value chain linkages among participants in the chain.
It also seeks to understand the business, risk tolerance level, environmental factors, and other such non-financial determinants.Farmers understand consumers’ needs and vice versa thus rather than focusing profit on one or two links all the actors in the value chain benefits.
Maize value Chain training
Farmer training on value chain approach is important in ensuring that they play an active role and they realize higher income. Many organizations have been at the forefront of ensuring farmers are capacity built on the issue.
In Laikipia County, the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries held a two-day workshop on Maize Value Chain at Olivia Court Motel, Sipili in Laikipia West Sub County on November 25-26, 2015.
A total of 85 farmers drawn from Ol-Moran Ward attended the workshop.  Its aim was to enhance farmer’s production skills on maize value chain, to share production and marketing experiences, to enhance systematic record keeping by maize farmers, to improve cereals aggregation and to reduce post-harvest grain losses.
Such trainings usually go a long way in empowering farmers and equipping them with necessary skills and information that can help them tap into various opportunities available in the value chain.
What is next after the value chain training?
Mr. Albert Kariuki, a maize farmer from Kabati has been getting an average of 18 bags in a three-acre farm. He noted that the workshop enriched his knowledge on maize farming particularly on soil analysis.
Farmers being trained on Ware housing receipt system
He said that he has been using fertilizer without knowing the required amount, as he has not analyzed his soil. 

This has always resulted to low yields. He is now planning to follow up on the issue to ensure that come next year he will be aware of his plant nutrient requirements and management.

"Determining genuine and licensed dealers of genuine seeds have been a problem for many farmers. Many profit oriented traders have been selling fake maize seeds for unsuspecting farmers," said Kariuki.
Mrs. Rahab Wanjiku has been cultivating maize in a 5-acre piece of land. She noted that learning about maize production practices and management enabled her to realize that thinning is important in realizing the right plant population per acre thus improving her yields.
Rahab used to plant more than three seeds per hole. This used to lead to poor growth due to competition for vital nutrients.
She said that she did not know that she could practice rouging as an effective way of disease and pest control method at early stages of infestation, which would in return save her money, which she would have used to purchase fungicides and pesticides as well.  
Mr. Joseph Ngundi, a member of Sipili Cereal Bank said that he has not been keeping farm records. Knowing whether he has been making a profit or loss has been a problem.
He said that learning about record keeping systems like Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS-Kenya) enlightened him and he now understands the importance of record keeping as an important tool in agribusiness.
He said that it would now be easier to know profitable enterprises and the ones “eating” into his profit margin.
Mr. Ngundi said that as a member of Sipili Cereal Bank the training on Warehousing Receipting System (WRS) was of immense benefit to them, as they now know certification requirements.
He appreciated the fact that once they receive certification, farmers will be able to access bank loans with ease without having to sell their cereals in the warehouse until the price improves.

"Warehousing receipt system will greatly help farmers to have a bargaining power and sell maize at high prices to the millers and schools without middlemen making huge profit out of the poor maize farmers," said Mr. Ngundi.
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