Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Governor with a passion for agriculture

By Bob Aston
It has always been noted that few people in power in Kenya are involved in agriculture. Laikipia County Governor Joshua Irungu is among the few Governors in Kenya who openly has a passion for agriculture.
The father of three boys and a girl is always at his home overseeing the progress of his farm when not in Nanyuki or doing official rounds.
On July 24, 2015 the Governor hosted a team of 20 stakeholders in the maize and dairy value chains at his homestead in Kinamba, Githiga Ward to deliberate on the progress made by the two value chains, challenges and possible solutions in the two value chains.
After the meeting the Governor invited the stakeholders on a tour of his farm. Although he has leased lands for farming in the area, the two and a half acre farm near his homestead is his pride. He could not hide the passion and excitement as his visitors toured his farm.
The Governor at the indigenous poultry house

 “Most farmers have been involved in agriculture as a hobby instead of business. We have to embrace agribusiness as a County. We have to ensure that farmers improve their livelihood,” said Governor Irungu.

His farming enterprises include: cabbages, kales, tomatoes, beans, maize, tree tomatoes, avocadoes, bananas, yellow passion, macadamia, indigenous poultry, dairy cows, dorper sheep and dairy goats.
The farm and his homestead are also dotted with indigenous trees. He has been promoting macadamia as an alternative cash crop. Each tree produces between 30-50 kgs of macadamia.
The Governor has a strong background in Agriculture as he has a Master’s degree in Agriculture and Community Development from Nairobi University. He also worked for a long time as an Agriculture and Livestock Development officer in charge of Laikipia West and Nyahururu divisions of the then larger Laikipia District.
His quest to grow other crops besides maize has made him an example of how to organize a farm and reap from diversity. His two and a half acre farm is divided into different sections.
A zero grazing unit that can house ten (10) dairy cows is under construction as well as a dairy goat, dopher sheep, hay store and an incubator shade units. Already a section of the farm is home to 2,000 indigenous poultry. An incubator with a capacity of 5,000 eggs will soon be installed near the poultry house as well as a machine for making animal feeds.
“I want to be a model farmer particularly because of my position. I always do not tell farmers what to do unless I lead by example and that is exactly what I am doing,” said Governor Irungu.
Section that will house the dorper sheep under construction
Not surprising with Governor Irungu’s background, he has a solid plan of using his farm as a farmer learning centre. The Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries will start using the farm ones the various sections are completed
“I am determined to inspire young people to go into farming. Farming is lucrative, very few youths have realized that. I hope through the farmer learning centre youths will be able to diversify and maximize profit from agricultural enterprises,” said Governor Irungu.
The governor is determined to apply what his government is promoting, particularly through the Household Economic Empowerment Programme (HEEP), which he started aiming at reducing poverty level at the County.
Targeted enterprises include: indigenous poultry; dairy goat; rabbit production; and kitchen garden. Various groups have also benefited from incubators through the programme. He is determined to ensure that he is involved in all the enterprises in HEEP.
Water harvesting is a huge component of his farm. He has two underground tanks. The tanks have capacities of 120,000 litres and 150,000 litres respectively. Water has never been a problem in the farm even during dry spells.
A section of the farm is also under drip irrigation. Water flows through gravity to the different sections of the farm from an elevated tank with a capacity of 20,000 litres. He believes that embracing climate smart agriculture technologies can be helpful in enhancing food security in Laikipia County.
He said that plans are underway to get a hay baler for Muhotetu area. On the same sector the county government is also promoting dorper sheep breed in Laikipia North. He has already decided to lead from the front by keeping dorper sheep.
The Governor explaining how drip irrigation works
Dorper is a suitable sheep breed in Laikipia County as they do well in arid areas. They are also fast growing meat producing sheep that does not require a lot of care.
However, there is one aspect of his farming that he is not proud of. He says that he expects that he will only be referred to as a dairy farmer once he improves his breeds when the zero grazing unit is completed.
He noted that they are currently promoting hay in the County and he expects that Laikipia will soon be a hay county. The County has already entered into an agreement with other counties to supply hay.
 “My government is promoting dairy farming and we have already given out milk coolers to dairy cooperatives. You can now see that I want to lead from the front in what I am advocating for as the governor,” said Governor Irungu.
His advice to youths is that they have to work hard and be patient in farming. He said that youths should not shy away from agriculture and they should always seek the services of agriculture extension officers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dairy and maize value chain farmers strategize with Laikipia Governor

By Bob Aston
Laikipia County Maize and Dairy Value chain farmers held a meeting with Laikipia Governor Joshua Irungu at his homestead in Kinamba, Githiga Ward on July 24, 2015. The meeting was held to brief the Governor on the progress that the two value chains have made as well as deliberate on challenges and possible solutions in the two value chains.
During the meeting it was noted that the value of Laikipia County maize is approximated at 3.4 billion kshs and that the effect of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease has not been reported in the County this season.
Governor Irungu noted that such forums are always useful as the County Government is able to know what farmers needs to be addressed. He said that Laikipia has enormous potential that needs to be tapped to ensure that communities improve their livelihood.
Governor Irungu addressing Dairy and Maize Value Chain stakeholders
He said that most of the County economic pillars are related to Agriculture. He noted that the County Government is investing heavily in the dairy value chain and already 3 milk coolers with a capacity of 10,000 litres each have been given to dairy cooperatives while 3 more coolers with a capacity of 5,000 litres each will be given out soon.

“Most farmers have been involved in agriculture as a hobby instead of business. We have to embrace agribusiness as a County. We have to ensure that farmers do meaningful business and that as a County we are able to influence the maize market,” said Governor Irungu.
He said that plans are underway to get a hay balers for Muhotetu area. On the same sector the county government is also promoting dorper sheep breed in Laikipia North.
Mr. Waweru Kanja, Chairman Maize Value Chain Core Group informed the Governor that 43 Maize Value Chain groups in the County formed Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network with an aim of improving organization and co-ordination of the maize value chain in the County as well as championing the collective interests of the value chain players. This is towards enhancing a viable and equitable commercialization of the maize value chain.
Mr. Kanja noted that some of the issues that the County government needs to address include: late distribution of subsidized government fertilizer; lack of market for farmer produce; and lack of good cereals storage facilities in most parts of the County.
Others include: lack of collateral for smallholder farmers to access business funds; soil testing and training of farmers; lack of agricultural research facilities in the County; and involving agriculture stakeholders when preparing County budget.
He said that constraints in the maize value chain include: high post-harvest losses at an average of 30 percent; poor quality of inputs; high cost of inputs; low soil fertility; frequent droughts; wildlife conflicts; limited access to information; and low adoption of appropriate technology.
Other constraints include: limited accessibility to financial services; pest and disease incidents; poor infrastructure; and high cost of unskilled labour.
The Governor posing for a photo with the value chain stakeholders
He said that activities earmarked in the maize value chain this year and early next year include: to increase adoption of climate smart production by maize value chain actors including vulnerable groups; to increase equitable access to market; improving adoption of on-farm and community grain storage technologies; and to strengthen capacity of maize value chain groups.
On his part, Mr. John Kimani said that the dairy value chain with a membership of over 6,000 farmers is striving to support consistent supply of standardized branded quality hay from Laikipia County, reduction of spoilage and promotion of value addition of milk.
This year the dairy and hay value chain stakeholder’s are concentrating on capacity development of dairy and hay farmers, supporting development of business plans for farmers, undertaking waste disposal and management, supporting value addition and product development, training on dairy husbandry technologies and training on hay production, harvesting and storage.
Mr. Kimani said that challenges experienced by dairy farmers include: inadequate feeds; pest/diseases; poor quality inputs; fluctuation of milk prices; poor breeds; perishability of milk; and low adoption of existing technologies.
Others include: limited access to information; unpredictability of weather patterns; high cost of inputs; low value addition of milk; and inadequate access to finance.
He requested the county government to fast track operationalization of milk coolers that they had provided. He also requested the County government to support value addition, dairy exhibition day, support strengthening of the Laikipia Hay Company as well as helping to integrate youths in the dairy value chain by developing all the value chains as agriculture business hubs.
Governor Irungu promised that the County Government will address the issues addressed. He noted that some of the issues could have been addressed in the County budget if they had been raised earlier.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Agriculture stakeholders to hold a field day at Makutano B

Bob Aston
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Participatory Approaches for Integrated Development (PAFID), Kilimo Biashara Profilers, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society, will hold a farmers field day on Conservation agriculture on August 4, 2015 at Peter Mwaniki’s farm in Makutano B near Sipili Catholic Church in Laikipia West Sub County.
Also expected at the field day will be various organizations that include; Pioneer Hi-Bred, Pure Circle Kenya Ltd, Bell Industries Ltd, Syngenta Kenya and International Small Group and Tree Planting Program (TIST).
The field day will provide farmers with an opportunity to learn about conservation agriculture and specifically its many benefits to smallholder farmers. The Laikipia Country Government is also keen on upscaling the adoption of conservation agriculture as a Climate Smart Agriculture technology that farmers can adopt to mitigate against the effects of climate change.
Farmers during a field day
Mr. James Kamau, Olmoran Ward Agriculture officer has urged the public to turn up in large number during the field day. He said farmers will be able to know how to combine profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, conservation agriculture is a concept of “resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment”.
Farmers will also get an opportunity to learn about Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS). PICS is a viable management tool for preventing aflatoxin accumulation in storage. PICS also minimizes cost of storage as well as reducing post-harvest grain losses.
Farmer field days usually provides an avenue for farmers to interact, share information and learn best agricultural practices from each other. The field day will enable farmers to learn the difference between conservation and conventional agriculture.
Conservation agriculture holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems, but its adoption is perhaps most urgently required by smallholder farmers, especially those facing acute labour shortages.
On behalf of ALIN we would like to welcome members of the public to the farmer’s field day on conservation agriculture which will be held at Peter Mwaniki’s farm in Makutano B area near Sipili Catholic Church on August 4, 2015 from 10:00 am.

Uniting for the benefit of environment and community development

By Evalyne Nyambura
Most of the time it is always hard to find students who have a passion for environment and community development. Youths tend to shy away from environmental issues and voluntary work.
In Sipili Town of Ol-Moran Ward in Laikipia West Sub County, a group of youths are determined to reverse this trend. The youths have formed Green Mind Community Based Organization (CBO) with an aim of spearheading environmental conservation and protection.
Majority of the members are university students aged 20 years undertaking different undergraduate courses but what sets them aside from other youths is their shared passion for the environment.
Green Mind CBO was conceived during a unity purpose meeting by the students. They had come together to discuss how each of them can help to improve the livelihood of community members.
Some of the members during a mentorship program at Lariak Day Secondary

“We first came together for unity purposes and later on the idea of forming a CBO was mooted by some of the members with an aim of improving the livelihood of community members,” said Kennedy Wanjiru, Secretary Green Mind CBO.
Kennedy recalls that during most holidays he has been seeing the effect of climate change with most of the time his parents realizing low returns. This prompted him to think of ways of mitigation. Ol-Moran Ward has been receiving sparse rainfall due to the effect of climate change.
The members have been frequenting Ng’arua Maarifa Centre to do research and also to seek for advisory services. During one of the meetings the centre linked them with Sipili Community Forest Association (CFA) and Sipili Water Resource Users Association (WRUA).
Kennedy who is third year student studying Environmental Science (Community Development) at Kenyatta University believes that the 23 member CBO, 17 male and 6 female can not only be a tool for change but can also empower communities for prosperity.
Initiatives being undertaken
Since its formation the CBO has been keen in greening schools, public institutions and community land. They have also been providing education on protection of sensitive ecosystems.
“We want to provide a forum, where members would give the community members social, economic and mental support wherever possible. This will go hand in hand in developing and upholding the best cultural, social and economic heritage of communities,” said Maina.
The organization has been able to plant at least one thousand trees in schools visited by the CBO’s mentorship program members. They have also been planting trees in member’s homesteads as well as community lands. This is towards supporting the County’s projected 10 percent forest cover. Through contributions, the members are able to raise funds to support these activities.
Some of the members planting trees
The CBO is also involved in voluntary work like garbage collection. Plans are also underway to involve community members in cleaning of rural towns in Laikipia County. 
They are also doing civil education to community members on environmental conservation and protection.
Ken Maina, Chairman Green Mind CBO noted that changing the mindset of some community members has been a problem. 
He said that some community members deem what they are doing as a waste of time and something that youths should not be doing.
“Some people have been looking down upon us as they say that youths have nothing to offer to the community. Instead of some supporting our initiatives they have been at the forefront of discouraging us,” said Maina.
Future plans
Some of the planned activities include: publishing an environmental magazine; holding awareness marathons on issues like drug abuse, environmental conservation and health; educating community members on agriculture and livestock through seminars and meetings; starting conflict resolution forums; and developing software’s for use by schools.
Young people have a special interest in maintaining a healthy environment because they will be the ones who will inherit it. The involvement of youths in environmental conservation will ensure a sustainable future for themselves and for future generations.
Green Mind CBO can be reached through their Facebook page Green Mind Kenya

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Affordable solution for safe food storage

By Bob Aston
Storing maize without sufficient drying and storage capacity is challenging due to the potential risk of aflatoxin contamination. Many smallholder farmers usually experience high post-harvest losses due to lack of storage facilities.
This challenge is now being addressed by Bell Industries Ltd. The organization has introduced an affordable solution for safe food storage in Sipili area of Ol-Moran Ward, Laikipia West Sub County.
The organization on July 21, 2015 entered into a distributorship deal with Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society to supply Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS). PICS bags is a viable management tool for preventing aflatoxin accumulation in storage.
Peter Chomba from Bell Industries Ltd holding PICS bag
What is PICS bag
PICS is a triple-lined 100 kilogram hermetic bag that farmers can adjust for lower volumes while still allowing the bag to be hermetically sealed.
The bag consists of two layers of bags that are surrounded by a third layer of woven bag thereby creating a hermetically sealed environment in which harvested cereals are stored.
 Triple bagging creates an airtight environment and seals any pest present in the cereal inside the bag.  The third layer of woven bag provides the mechanical strength.
“The bags not only ensures food security and minimizing post-harvest losses but also helps farmers to make profit from their produce by minimizing the costs involved in preserving cereals, “said Leah Muriuki, General Manger, Bell Industries Ltd.
Advantages of the bag
PICS bags provide many benefits to smallholder farmers. Not only is this an effective insecticide-free, low cost method of storing cereals but it can also be stored in family homes making it an effective way of storage for most smallholder farmers.
The quality of grains stored in PICS bag does not decline and grains can be stored for more than a year. This can ensure that farmers store their grains until they are able to get better returns thus realizing higher profit.
Muriuki noted that the bags helps farmers to reduce the high cost of chemicals used for preserving their cereals as they do not require use of chemicals.
Other advantages of the bags include: they prevent infestation because rats search for food using sense of smell, since the bags are airtight no smell can be detected; they can be reused for three years provided they are free of holes and tears; the bags can also be opened any time. When they are unsealed the cereals are ready to be consumed.
Peter Chomba from Bell Industries Ltd demonstrating how the bags are used
How to use the bags
Grains stored in PICS bags should be dried with a moisture content of 12.0. This is to prevent mould growth, grain rot and aflatoxin. Farmers should ensure that the bags have three layers.  
The two inner liners should be checked for holes or tears. Defective liners should not be used.
Pour a small amount of grain into the first liner, then put it inside the second liner. Insert the two liners into the woven bag. Fold over the tops of all three bags together. Fill the bag with grain while shaking gently to avoid air pockets. The quantity of cereal does not matter although it is advisable not to fill the bag so that enough space is available for sealing it.
Pack the grain lightly to remove air then twist the lip gently. Fold it over and tie using a string or cord. Tie each of the three bags separately starting with the first liner, then the second and finally the third.
Muriuki said that the bags should not be stored in direct sunlight or extreme heat. Elevated platforms should also be used to keep the bags of the ground. The bags should also not be stored in areas where there are infested grains.
“Farmers should ensure that the bags are kept in an environment that is free of external threats like mice and rats. This is because PICS bag do not protect grains against such threat,” said Muriuki.
The use of PICS is not only going to ensure that smallholder farmers have an affordable solution for safe food storage but could also make a significant contribution in ensuring food security in Laikipia County. The storage bags are available at Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society Store at Kshs. 250.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Farmers linked to aggregators to benefit through an innovative financing

By Bob Aston 

Smallholder farmers from Ol-Moran Ward, Laikipia West Sub County linked to Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society will start benefiting from an innovative financing from K-rep Bank.
This is after K-rep Bank accepted an expression of interest from Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society for it to become one of the banks aggregators. The two organizations held a meeting at Ng’arua Maarifa Centre on July 17, 2015 to finalize discussions on how to implement the initiative.
K-rep Bank has entered into a partnership with Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) Finance innovation for Climate Change Fund (FICCF) to provide innovative financing to sorghum, cassava and legumes farmers linked to aggregators in their bid to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture approaches, practices and technologies.
“K-rep Bank will work with the cooperative to provide clear funding and repayment system for loans by farmers. The cooperative has to provide a clear link to the end market for their farmers. The cooperative will also qualify for some loan financing instrument,” said Sylvia Kamau from K-rep Bank.
Sylvia taking the cooperative committee through the requirements
Sylvia informed Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society that as an aggregator they will be able to access subsidized loans and technical assistance from K-rep Bank as well as FICCF. She said that the bank is also partnering with APA insurance to ensure that farmers produce is guaranteed.
She said that individual farmers will be able to receive loans from K-rep Bank through the cooperative. Aggregators are required to open an account with K-rep Bank while individual members of the cooperative who want to benefit from the initiative must also open an account with the bank.
There is no ceiling for loans while interest rate is negotiable at 16 percent. This will depend on the intended project and projections. Interest rates for farmers is also 16 percent although it is also negotiable.
 The cooperative will act as security for the members hence farmers will not be required to produce collateral in order to receive a loan. The partnership with FICCF is for 3 years while agreement with aggregator is continuous until loan is repaid. Repayment period will be agreed upon with the cooperative.
The cooperative is an aggregator of cereals but are planning to diversify to other value chains.  They have been addressing the challenges facing smallholder farmers in procuring farm inputs and marketing of produce. The cooperative has also been empowering smallholder farmers with skills to aggregate farm produce and become agribusiness oriented.

Samburu cooperators on a benchmarking mission in Laikipia

By Bob Aston
Laikipia West Sub County based Ng’arua Maarifa Centre on July 16, 2015 played host to a team of nine (9) cooperators from Samburu County who were on a benchmarking mission in Laikipia County.
The cooperators were at the Maarifa Centre to learn more about activities carried out by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre and also to exchange ideas with members of Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society.
Samburu County cooperators at Ng'arua Maarifa Centre

Speaking during the visit, Mr. Mike Kumpan, Samburu County Cooperative Development Committee (CCDC) Chairman said that the group drawn from various cooperatives in Samburu County were keen to learn what their neighbours are doing.
He said that cooperatives from Samburu County are keen to adopt best practices from their neighbours to ensure continuous improvement of their products and services. The group identified Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society as an institution that they can learn from.
“We are evaluating various aspects of our cooperatives in relation to best practices. Measuring our performance with other cooperatives will enable us to improve on what we are currently doing,” said Mr. Kumpan.
Mr. Waweru Kanja, Chairman, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society said that the cooperative is addressing the challenges facing smallholder farmers in procuring farm inputs and marketing of produce.
He said that as a result of engagement with other partners like ALIN, Netherlands Development Organizations (SNVs), Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC), MEA Ltd, Kilimo Biashara Profilers, Kenya Seed Company Ltd, Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, the cooperative has been able to reach out to its members with a variety of services and also has increased its membership, sales and community good will.
Mr. Kumpan during the meeting
“ We intend to become a leading  farmer   based organization,   increasing  the  wealth  ,food and  nutritional  security  of   small holder  farmers  in  Laikipia  County by empowering smallholder farmers with skills to aggregate farm produce and become agribusiness oriented,” said Mr. Kanja.
The benchmarking visit provided members of Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society and the Samburu cooperators with an insight on how their organizations compares with others offering similar products and services. The leaders were also able to share knowledge on best cooperative practices as well as establishing linkages.
Mr. Noah Lusaka, ALIN Project Manager informed the Samburu County cooperators that the international organization has been partnering with County governments and specifically Laikipia and Kajiado County Governments to implement various projects.
He said that the organization will not hesitate to partner with Samburu County Government when the need arises. He said that the organization is keen on knowledge sharing and the visit came at an opportune time for Laikipia Produce and Marketing Cooperative Society as they will also be able to learn a lot from their counterpart.
Due to its nature of mobilizing communities into economic activities, the cooperative movement has been proven to play an active role in poverty alleviation, employment creation, food security and equitable distribution of natural resources.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Resource mobilization key to sustainability of cooperatives

By Bob Aston
Resource mobilization is critical to any cooperative as it is able to support an organizations sustainability. Speaking during a two days Resource Mobilization Workshop organized by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) for Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society at Ng’arua Maarifa Centre, Laikipia West Sub County on July 16-17, 2015, Mr. Anthony Mugo, ALIN Deputy Director said that resource mobilization always allows for improvement and scale up of products offered by cooperatives.
Participants during the workshop
Mr. Mugo said that the cooperative needs resources so that they can be effective and sustainable. 
In order to achieve this he said that the cooperative needs to ensure that they have good income streams, good management, a commitment to sustainability and financial resources.

Local support including good human resources, a supportive political, legal and fiscal environment is also important.
“Your performance as a cooperative today impacts your ability to generate resources tomorrow. We are glad that you have been building a good reputation which is also essential when mobilizing for resources,” said Mr. Mugo.
The resource mobilization workshop was organized to enable the cooperative to be sustainable and to maintain a healthy account that can provide solutions to the members many agricultural needs.
 The resource mobilization workshop was also intended to help the cooperative to tap into various resources from the county, national government and other organizations through proposal writing and fundraising.
Participants during the workshop
Mr. Noah Lusaka, ALIN Project Manager urged the cooperative to also consider proposal writing as one of the ways of mobilizing resources. 
He said that before writing a proposal the cooperative needs to be clear about why and for whom they are writing the proposal to. 
The cooperative also needs to know the funder whom they are preparing the proposal.

"You cannot hope to sell or promote a project if you do not know, and cannot present, a picture of your organization as a good risk. Resource mobilization efforts should align with the cooperative mission, objectives and vision,” said Mr. Lusaka.
The cooperative managed to map out existing resources, review their business plan and strategy as well as coming up with new sources of finance.
The Laikipia Produce and Marketing cooperative society emerged from the work undertaken by ALIN through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre with the support of the Ford Foundation’s Expanding Livelihoods for Poor Households Initiative (ELOPHI). It is a vehicle for bulking, marketing and trading in farm commodities and other products and services.
Resource mobilization refers to all activities involved in securing new and additional resources for an organization. It also involves making better use of, and maximizing existing resources.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Maize Value chain institution strengthened in Laikipia County

By Bob Aston
The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) held a Maize Value Chain Platform meeting on July 15, 2015 at Olympia Hotel in Nyahururu, Laikipia West Sub County. The platform meeting provided maize producers, processors, financiers, input suppliers and extension service providers in Laikipia County with an opportunity to not only strengthen the platform but also to reconstitute the Maize Value Chain Core Group (VCCG).
In attendance included; Laikipia County Director of Agriculture, Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP), Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, Equity Bank, SNV-Netherlands Development Organization, National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), cooperative department and Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN).
Some of the participants pose for a photo

Others included: Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), Kenya Farmers Association (KFA), Meteorological Department, Laikipia County Natural Resource Network (LAICONAR), Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network, ACT, Ng’arua Millers, and producer representatives.
Speaking while opening the meeting, Mrs. Elizabeth Mwangi, Laikipia County Director of Agriculture (CDA) said that farmers need to diversify and also embrace appropriate technology in order to produce more food.
She said that the County Government is currently partnering with various organizations in the agriculture sector in order to improve food production. She noted that the entrance of Micro Enterprise Support Program Trust (MESPT) in the County will help to increase the production of Macadamia particularly in Laikipia East.
“Farmers are experiencing a lot of challenges due to climate change. The County Government is working towards ensuring that farmers adopt climate Smart Agriculture by embracing Conservation Agriculture. We are going to partner with FAO to upscale conservation agriculture,” said Mrs. Mwangi.
The maize value chain actors were able to learn about the progress made in the implementation of the first maize concept in Laikipia County which dealt with post-harvest management.
One of the participant sharing his ideas during the meeting
The concept note aimed to ensure that post-harvest losses in the County is reduced from an average of 30 percent and above to below 15 percent by the end of this year.
“We managed to realize more than 97 percent success rate in the implementation of the first maize concept. Our aim is to enhance viable and equitable commercialization of the maize value chain,” said James Kariithi, ASDSP, Laikipia County Coordinator.
Implementation of the second maize concept titled:” Increasing Maize Production, Strengthening Maize Value Chain institutions to do grain business,” is due to start during this financial year.
The objectives of the second phase concept include: To increase adoption of climate smart production technologies by value chain actors, including vulnerable groups; increase equitable access to market; improve adoption of on-farm and community grain storage technologies; and to strengthen capacity of value chain institutions.
During the reconstitution of the VCCG, Francis Kanja, Chairman Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network was elected to chair the VCCG while Zachary Ndirangu, Agribusiness officer, Equity Bank Nyahururu was elected the Secretary.
The VCCG is responsible for planning, co-ordination, implementation and monitoring all activities in the maize value chain on behalf of the value chain platform which brings together various actors in the maize value chain in Laikipia County.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kayanet Women group empowered on production of fireless cookers

By Julyann Mutuku
Kayanet women group from Kitengela Ward in Kajiado County is reaping the benefits of a capacity building training on making fireless cookers. The group of eleven members, 8 women and 3 men were trained by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries under the Home Economics department which works closely with Energia Kenya Network in Kajiado County.
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) is the focal point for Energia Kenya Network activities in Kajiado County through support from Practical Action.
Most of the women had been introduced to fireless cookers and are even using them in their households but now want to be actively involved in its production in order to improve their livelihood. They are enthusiastic about the benefits of the fireless cooker and are seeing a bright future ahead.
Heard of a fireless cooker?
A fireless cooker is a simple basket which uses the vacuum flask technique to cook food. The inside part is insulated with heat retaining materials which are easily available such old clothes or banana leaves.
A Home economics expert holding a fireless cooker basket
The food is first placed on a convectional source of heat such as wood fuel till boiling point then put in the fireless cooker for continued cooking for a given period of time which varies with the type of food. 
The basket keeps the food warm for a longer time saving on fuel that could have been used to re-warm the food.
Monicah Musila a member of Kayanet Women group noted that some of the women have been making a profit of Kshs 1000 per basket by selling the fireless cookers to their neighbours. With training on market awareness creation and best business practice skills she hopes to be able to make ten or more baskets per month.
Similarly, Linah Maiyo, Secretary Kayanet Women group said that the fireless cookers have been beneficial to her household as she has been able to save wood fuel and charcoal. 
It has also made her work easier as she does not have to worry about fire accidents when her children are alone at home. Her husband is also a beneficiary for ‘when he comes home late at night, he gets the food warm and ready to eat’ remarked Linah.
“It would be my joy if Energia Kenya helped us in reaching more households in the ward to enjoy the use of fireless cookers as we do,” said Maiyo.
Fireless cooker making is mostly done by women who can testify to the many benefits, it is however not common in Kajiado county.
Group challenges
The women group is facing a major challenge in marketing since most people in the area hardly know about fireless cookers. In order to address this, Energia Kenya is organizing a Participatory Market System Development (PMSD) training for the group and other energy entrepreneurs in Kajiado County.
Scarcity of production materials like baskets has been a hindrance to the group. Most of the time they have to travel to Ruiru or Thika to purchase materials. The added transport costs at times makes it hard for the members to realize good returns.
Energia aims to address energy, poverty and gender issues in Kenya, while providing strong linkages with relevant institutions and organisations and generating and sharing knowledge and information on gender based issues.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Supporting ICTs for extension and advisory services

By Bob Aston
The rapid growth and increased access to modern information and communication technologies (ICT) can contribute to improved delivery and effectiveness of extension and advisory services, especially among rural smallholder farmers.
ICT has a vital role to play in getting information to farmers and vice versa. It has great potential to transform the way extension and advisory services are delivered to farmers. It is also an entry point for non-traditional actors who see advisory services as an area of intervention and for giving greater emphasis to subjects traditionally deficient in extension services.
Extension and advisory services are relevant to agricultural and rural transformation processes. Extension officers need to continuously develop new capacities and keep abreast of emerging technologies.
Nyaga holding chick peas plant
Samuel Nyaga, a farmer based in Naibrom area of Ol-moran Ward noted that access to ICT has enabled many farmers to access information that has enabled them to adopt best agricultural practices. Nyaga has been a frequent user of Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in Sipili town, Laikipia West Sub County.

“I acquired basic computer skills at the Maarifa Centre and since then I have been frequenting the facility to access extension and advisory services. As a farmer I have been able to learn a lot through use of ICT,” said Nyaga.
Traditional media such as radio and television have played a major role in extension and advisory services dissemination. Growth in internet and increased access to and use of mobile technology has also improved farmers’ and intermediaries’ access to information relevant for smallholder farmers.
These are now used to raise awareness and to provide information in response to questions about agricultural technologies, markets, prices and knowledge management
Nyaga has been using Maarifa facilities to learn about chickpeas, Stevia, cowpeas, tasha beans, purple sweet potatoes, special green grams and dairy goats. He has also been using SOKO+ at the Maarifa Centre.
The digital commodity and information system has been providing him with commodity prices from major markets, e-extension services and a listing of various technical and logistical support providers.
Community members accessing different services at Ng'arua Maarifa Centre
“ICT has made our work as farmers to be very easy. This days I get a lot of information through the internet. I now want to start practicing Climate Smart Agriculture as I have realized that climate change is a reality and I have to adapt,” said Nyaga.
Apart from accessing extension and advisory services from the Maarifa Centre, he is also an avid fan of Shamba Shape Up program which is usually aired on Citizen TV and Seed of gold publication which is available on Saturdays through Saturday Nation Newspaper.
Extension and advisory services should take full advantage of the potential of new technologies.  ICTs should be used more innovatively to achieve the goals of extension, and efforts should be made to attract women and young people to work in extension and advisory services.
Weak linkages between researchers, extension and farmers have been a major constraint in the application and uptake of new ICT innovations.  The capacity of farmers and extension officers need to be built in order to achieve the desired agricultural transformation that can help improve the livelihood of rural smallholder farmers.
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