Monday, August 31, 2015

Pest management in conservation agriculture

By Samwel Nyaga
Integrated pest management is important in keeping pest populations below economically injurious levels. Speaking during a six days Conservation Agriculture Training of Trainer (TOT) course held on August 24-29, 2015 at Olympia Hotel in Nyahururu, Mr. Gichuki Hutu, Laikipia West Master Trainer said that dependence on a single pest management method would have undesirable effects on crop production.
He said that farmers should recognize that there is no “cure-all” in pest control and they should determine and correct the cause of the pest problem by understanding pest biology and ecology.
The County Government of Laikipia in collaboration with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations organized the six days course.
Farmers being shown how to use Actellic to control weavils
 “Understanding crop growth and development is an underlying principle of integrated pest management. You need to know how to grow a healthy crop, when it is susceptible to pest damage and stress and how the environment affects pest and crop development,” said Mr. Hutu.
He said that the basic principles of intergraded pest management are prevention, observation, and intervention. He noted that integrated pest management is not static due to emergence of new pests, strains, shift in weed species and pesticide resistance.
The general aim of prevention is to reduce initial severity or buildup of pest infestation. This includes: Growing crops and choosing varieties appropriate for the location; sound rotations; use of herbicide tolerant or pest resistant crops; taking steps to encourage beneficial insects and animals; use of sowing and undersown mixed crops; careful harvesting; good Hygiene; and seed cleaning and storage.
Observation involves determining when and what action to take based on all available information like crop monitoring for pest and damage thresholds. Use of decision support systems to interpret collected data, sound record keeping, and advice and support from experts is also important.
Interventions aim to reduce the effects of economically damaging pest populations, weeds, and disease to acceptable levels through mechanical, chemical, and biological measures. He urged farmers to use pesticides only when the benefits outweigh the risks.
Benefits of an integrated pest management program include: increased consumer confidence in the quality of food; increased crop profitability especially where presently pest control is poorly used or ineffectual; stable and reliable yields; reduced pest infestations; sustainable agricultural production; protection of environment through elimination of unnecessary pesticide applications; and reduced risk of crop loss by pests.
Farmers being traineed on best agricultural practices
Each pest control technique must not only be environmentally sound but should be compatible with producers objectives like being economically viable, effective, understandable and able to be implemented in stages.
He said that it is possible to manipulate the environment to the crop’s advantage by utilizing all suitable pest management tactics like cultural, mechanical, sanitary, natural, biological, and host plant resistance method.
He noted that cultural control effectiveness is through agronomic practices designed to optimize growing conditions for the crops in order to create unfavorable conditions for the pest.
Sanitary control helps to avoid introducing a pest into a field. Cleaning field equipment, planting certified seeds and quarantines can ensure sanitary control.
He said that host plant resistance is by manipulating the crop to withstand or tolerate pests through natural breeding method and use of genetically modified plants.
Pest is an organism with characteristics that farmers see as damaging or unwanted, as it harms agriculture through feeding on crops or parasitizing livestock.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cooperative in an ambitious plan to recruit 1000 members

By Moses Ndungu
The Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society, based in Sipili town, Laikipia West Sub County has started an ambitious plan to recruit 1000 members by December this year. The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre is supporting the recruitment plan.
Currently with a membership of 345, the cooperative is targeting farmers from Sipili, Muhotetu, Karandi, and Ol-Moran areas. The recruitment drive will also see the cooperative open three new aggregation centers to complement the one in Sipili town.
Formed in 2013, the cooperative 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).
Some of the members being trained on good agricultural practices
The cooperative’s mandate is mainly to aggregate the farming communities by pooling them together and empowering them to take control of their farm’s enterprises, aggregation of farm produce and collective marketing to enhance their bargaining power and profit margins.
Mr. Waweru Kanja, Chairman, Laikipia Produce, and Marketing Cooperative Society said that the cooperative is keen to increase farmer’s income and ensure food security thus alleviating poverty amongst smallholder farmers.
He said that new members would be able to enjoy free services that include: training in agribusiness; training in maize, tomato, and tree tomato value chains; text messages on availability of new stocks; aggregation of cereals; access to Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) market; and access to storage facilities.
Other benefits include: guaranteed better market for members cereals; market commodities prices via Sokopepe; training on Farm Record Management Information System (FARMIS); extension services; and better prices for agro inputs.
“Through seeds and fertilizer services, the cooperative has been able to control market prices in Sipili Township, reduced cases of fake seeds and boosted members bargaining power,” said Mr. Kanja.
He said that the cooperative has been linking smallholder farmers with a fair market like HGSFP and reducing exploitation of farmers by traders. Formation of partnerships with input producers has also helped the cooperative to secure farm inputs at fair prices thus reducing member’s production cost.
He said that the support provided by partners that include; ALIN, SNV- Netherlands Development Organization, Kenya Seed Company Ltd, MEA Ltd, Kilimo Biashara Profilers, Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock has enabled them to undertake a lot of activities on behalf of farmers.
“We intend to become a leading farmer   based organization by increasing the wealth, food, and nutritional security of farmers. We are empowering smallholder farmers with skills to aggregate farm produce and become agribusiness oriented,” said Mr. Kanja.
As one of SNV’s Grain Business Hub (GBH), the cooperative has been able to trade in grains efficiently, effectively and sustainably. It has also been able to access other structured grain markets.
Subsidized government fertilizer being offloaded into the cooperative store
Mr. Bob Aston from Ng’arua Maarifa Centre noted that ALIN is keen to ensure members of the cooperative benefit through SOKO+. The digital commodity trading and information system links small-scale farmers to end retailers/bulk purchasers of produce.
“SOKO+ has harnessed the power of information and communication technologies by enabling farmers to efficiently reach and exploit a fair market for their produce,” said Mr. Aston.
He said that the organization is also keen to ensure members of the cooperative commercialize their farming enterprises through use of FARMIS. The service provides farmers with a secure environment to record, store, analyze and generate reports of their agricultural enterprises.
“FARMIS gives farmers holistic year-round monitoring, data collection, entry, storage, and mid-season analysis to enable appropriate farm planning and sustainable market linkages,” said Mr. Aston.
ALIN through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre has been working with smallholder farmers in Laikipia West Sub County by providing information and knowledge products focused on small-scale sustainable agriculture, climate change, natural resources management (NRM), sustainable land management (SLM), and markets.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Empowering Kenyan women through legal protection

By Racheal Thumbi
Gender equality and women empowerment can go a long way in not only uplifting their livelihood but also improving the economy of the Country. Women can only reach their full potential when given an opportunity.
Women empowerment and their full participation based on equality in all spheres of society including participation in the decision-making process and access to power are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development, and peace.
Women have less access to education, land, and employment. Traditional ideas about the roles of girls and women particularly in rural areas have restricted their contributions. These ideas hold women back from contributing to important development goals, especially in areas of economic growth, nutrition and food security.
Women during a meeting
The Constitution of Kenya 2010, lauded as one of the most progressive in the world, provides a comprehensive Bill of Rights, which spearheads the protection of women. It prohibits discrimination based on among other things, sex, pregnancy, and marital status.
The Kenya constitution has also improved women’s rights particularly on citizenship, land, property, and participation in the political process. It has also ensured that a third of elected and appointed posts in public offices are women.
Provisions like Article 27(4) (6) require the state to take legislative and other measures including affirmative action to redress disadvantage. Article 14(1) (2) also guarantees equal citizenship rights for women and in particular the direct applicability of the Constitutional right of women to pass on Kenyan citizenship to their foreign spouses and children born outside of Kenya.
The Country has also put into place important legal protections for women. These include Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that provides for equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.
African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights also articulates a number of basic rights among them Article 18 that provides for elimination of every discrimination against women.
Ratification of conventions like the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has helped to deal with civil rights, legal status of women, reproduction rights, and cultural factors among others.
These existing legal protections all provide an opportunity for the enactment of progressive laws. However, there are several drawbacks, which would constitute unfair and discriminatory laws among the Kenyan women.
Women knitting
Inadequate knowledge in the society particularly in rural areas on the various laws is a hindrance to access to justice. It is also clear that parliament has not prioritized the enactment of a number of bills that would eliminate sex discriminatory provisions.
There is also minimal or lack of effective monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the constitution protects women.
Enforcing the already existing legal protections can improve the legal status of women particularly in regards to sexual, gender based violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is also important to create zero tolerance policy with respect to matters of sexual abuse and punishing perpetrators appropriately.
The enactment of the Sexual Offences Act, 2006 provided a comprehensive framework for the protection of women and girls from sexual violence while the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 prohibited the practice of female genital mutilation and safeguards against violation of a person’s mental or physical integrity.
Despite the availability of the two laws, sexual offences and offences relating to FGM are difficult to prosecute as they often involve close relatives. Cultural attitudes and practices also prevent many women from reporting such cases due to the associated stigma.
While recognizing the ongoing efforts aimed at increasing the enrolment and retention of girls in schools, other barriers such as good quality education, physical infrastructure, trained and qualified teachers hinder the achievement of education.
The countless acts of courage carried out by women and their determination to make positive change has significantly contributed to the social and economic development of the country. However, disparity between women and men characterizes most spheres of society in the Country.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Exchange visit proves beneficial to farmers

By Bob Aston
Exchange visits have become an ideal way of sharing knowledge between farmers. The practical demonstrations not only lead to mutual knowledge increase but also ensure farmers are able to share experiences and also adopt innovations and ideas.
Need for knowledge sharing prompted the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia to organize for a 3 days exchange visit for 35 farmers drawn from various Maize Value Chain Groups (VCGs) in the County.
The farmers leaving Laikipia for Nakuru and Eldoret
On August 12, 2015, the farmers started a journey that would see them visit Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS)-Nakuru, Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) Agribusiness Expo at Kabarak University, Schemers Community Based Organization (CBO), and Kapsuswa Farm in Eldoret.

 Farmers were able to interact, share information, and learn best agricultural practices from their counterparts in Eldoret. 

The visit to KEPHIS provided the farmers with an opportunity to learn about seed certification, Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND), seed handling and selling, seed procurement, quality marks, and documentation.

Nahashon Mwangi, Business Field Coordinator, Laikipia Produce, and Marketing Cooperative Society noted that the information that he learned during the exchange visit has helped him to understand how best he can ensure members of the cooperative embrace agribusiness and how he can manage it.
He was particularly glad that he visited the EAGC stand during the Agribusiness expo. At the stand, he learned more about post-harvest handling.
“The exposure that I received will enable me to convey the information to members of the cooperative and also open their mind on what we can do to ensure that we succeed. Schemers CBO is an example on how we can also improve farmers livelihood,” said Nahashon.
He expects that he will be able to convey the knowledge gained to the members of the cooperative so that they can be able to reduce losses during harvest in order for them to enjoy better returns.
Some of the farmers admiring the 'Charolais' bull during the EAGC Agribusiness Expo
 “The trip triggered and changed my attitude towards farming. I felt challenged to think big and to have a diverse picture about the whole idea of farming. I hope what we have learned will be the fuel to incorporate in us a yes we can do attitude,” said Nahashon.
On her part, Mary Maina from Losogwa Maize VCG said that the information that she obtained from KEPHIS had a huge impact in her life. 
She now knows that she has to demand for official receipts with lot numbers any time when she purchases seeds. This will make follow up easy when she needs to complain to KEPHIS about lack of seed germination.
“I am now aware that I have to ensure that I buy seeds from certified stockists and that I should demand for seed test certificate when I doubt whether seeds are genuine,” said Mary.
She reckons that farmers have never known that carry stock seeds needs re-testing after every season and that seed companies should always check the viability of carry stock seeds. She said that she would now be confirming whether seeds lot numbers are KEPHIS-generated.
“I never knew that seeds have to be tested for two cycles before they are released to farmers. The exchange visit was beneficial. The information that I gathered was invaluable and will impact on many farmers,” said Mary.
Similarly, Robert Ndungu from Karaba Maize VCG expressed his admiration by the work that Schemers CBO has been doing. His group is interested in aggregating cereals this year and he believes the knowledge that he gained will go a long way in making this a reality.
 “I learned a lot about how as a group we can mobilize members to raise funds for undertaking various development projects. I am going to try and see how as a group we can also fund raise in order to start construction of a warehouse,” said Mr. Ndungu.
The farmers enjoying a glass of milk at Kapsuswa Farm in Eldoret
He was able to learn how to manage a store and how farmers can come together in order to bulk produce and seek for market once they harvest. Of particular interest to him was how the Warehousing Receipting System (WRS) works. This is an avenue that he believes can ensure other traders do not exploit farmers.
“The exchange visit was an eye opener. We can also be apostles of change in Laikipia County. It is imperative that as maize farmers we embrace agribusiness and also realize that we can improve our livelihood through value addition of cereals,” said Mr. Ndungu.
On her part, Annastacia Mwaura noted that she had not comprehended the importance of soil analysis until after the visit to KEPHIS. She learned that it is a way of accessing soil fertility and plant nutrient requirements.
She said that the first priority in her farm next season would be to analyze her soil so that she can know the accurate assessment of the soil fertility in her farm and the recommended fertilizer use.
 “The exchange visit enabled me to grasp the fact that community support is the root of a better and successful organization. We were challenged as farmers from Laikipia County as our counterparts from Eldoret are more organized than us,” said Mwaura.
ASDSP is keen in supporting the transformation of Kenya’s agricultural sector into an innovative, commercially oriented, competitive, and modern industry. It has already implemented a concept note on Post-harvest management technologies and is now in the process of implementing a concept note that seeks to increase maize production in Laikipia County and strengthening Maize VCGs to become Grain Business Hubs.

Women Economic, Social, and Political Empowerment

Source: Self Help Groups (SHGs)
Women make up one half of the world’s human capital and yet women continue to be dependent on men as regards control and access to resources and decision making. Thus, empowering and educating girls and women and leveraging their talent and leadership fully in the global economy, politics, and society emerges as a development imperative.
Development experts and policy analysts have claimed that empowering women and girls is quintessential to promoting quick and equitable economic growth and long-term stability. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which all 193 UN member states endorsed, included promoting gender equality and empowering women as its Goal 3.
According to the MDG Report 2012 – “Assessing the Progress in Africa towards the MDGs,” the consequences to society of not investing in gender equality and female empowerment can be heavy.
Over one third of the world’s poor reside in Africa and though over the last century African countries have made significant strides in promoting gender equity, the equality in society in terms of access and control over resources, social, economic and political are yet to be achieved. 
Women knitting. Photo by SHGs
While there has been notable success in some countries in achieving equality in primary education, a lot needs to be done to enhance livelihood options and provide space for women in political decision-making.
In politics, Africa needs to move beyond women’s participation to improving their capacity for contributing to development discussions and outcomes. In India too, the gender divide especially in rural areas, is quite intense and women are often subjected to various kinds of discrimination and denial of rights.
Women bear a disproportionate brunt of poverty, which forces them into increasing drudgery, longer hours of work under conditions of poor nutrition, food insecurity and falling health. The entrenched socio economic prejudices results in progressive marginalisation of women’s role in household, neighbourhood and in the community.
However, despite these limitations, India has achieved some noteworthy success in women empowerment and poverty reduction. Over the years, various efforts have been made by many Government and Non-Government Organizations to promote women empowerment especially in rural areas.
One of the important steps in the direction was the formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs). Linkage between SHGs and microfinance institutions further galvanized the process. By the end of year 2000, microfinance services had reached to over 79 million poor, especially women.
Microfinance Institutions have served as an instrument for empowerment to SHGs formed by poor women by extending credit facility, encouraging savings by the groups and promoting social networking and involvement.
SHGs have played a major role in poverty alleviation in many countries. More equitable access to assets and services – land, water, credit, banking and financial services strengthens women’s rights and promotes economic growth. This would go a long way in ensuring sustainable development.
You can download a copy of the third edition of SHGs here

Kenyan women boost health and wealth by growing crops in sacks

By Caroline Wambui
Central Kenya's Nturukuma region is not kind to farmers - its erratic rainfall, desert vegetation and drying riverbeds push most people into making a living through trade rather than agriculture.
Jane Kairuthi Kathurima toiled for years as an animal herder in the semi-arid conditions of Laikipia County, but struggled to feed her family – until she discovered sack farming, which has transformed her life and those of her children.
“Being in an environment where food was scarce and lacking in nutrition, I had to find an alternative way to survive,” said Kathurima, who is HIV-positive. "If I sat doing nothing I would die, so I had no choice but to embrace farming in whatever manner I could.”
 Kathurima cuts kale from her sack farm. TRF/Caroline Wambui
Sack farming involves filling a series of bags with soil, manure, and pebbles for drainage, and growing plants on the top and in holes in the sides. The sacks allow people to grow food in places with limited access to arable land and water.
Two years after setting up her sack farm, Kathurima now grows enough vegetables - including spinach, lettuce, beet, and arugula - to feed her family and sell the surplus to the community.
By bucking tradition and learning a new way to cultivate crops in Nturukuma's harsh conditions, she has become a successful, well-respected farmer. Now she is supporting other food-insecure farmers by encouraging them to think differently.
The group behind sack farming in Kenya is GROOTS (Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood), a global network of women-led groups which help women solve problems in their communities by changing the way they do things.
Rahab Ngima Githaiga, vice chairman of one of the GROOTS member organisations, says sack farming has empowered women and changed lives by improving family nutrition and enabling children to go to school.
After Kathurima joined Likii Home Base Care, a group that supports people with life-threatening illnesses, she received training in becoming financially secure and eating well. She was also introduced to a variety of farming methods.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Value addition of milk key in ensuring better returns

By Bob Aston
The dairy industry is the most developed of the livestock subsectors. It plays a critical role in the livelihood of many farmers in Kenya. Growth in the subsector has made Kenya to be the highest milk producer in Africa.
At the 1,500 acres, Kapsuswa Farm “land of Grass” located at Sugoi area of Uasin Gishu County, farmers are able to learn first-hand the benefit of investing in dairy farming. On August 14, 2015, the farm hosted 35 farmers drawn from various groups in Laikipia County.
The farmers were particularly interested in learning about value addition and increasing milk production. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.
Some of the cows being milked

Mr. Charles Boit, Group Managing Director of Kapsuswa Farm, SB. Tea Estate Group, and Ratinwet Farm informed the delegation that it had taken them 20 years to reach where they are in the dairy subsector.
The three farms specialize in cereal farming, dairy, and tea production. They employ close to 300 farm workers. Most of the cows are Friesian although there are also Ayrshire, and Jersey.
Mr. Boit noted that success in the industry depends on a farmer’s ability to select the correct breed and ensuring good feeding and management. He urged farmers to invest in high-yield cows.
Initially, the farm used to produce 500 litres of milk per day but this has now increased to more than 2,600 litres per day. Each cow produces an average of 25 litres while some produce as much as 40 litres per day.  Milked cows are usually around 80-90 in a day. He expects the herd to grow to 400 cows in a few years.
The dairy unit houses a calving unit, resting, feeding, and milking area for the cows. The cows feed on different feedlot depending on how much milk they produce.
The farm uses a milking machine. The machine not only reduces labour requirements but also ensures a better quality milking operation. The machine can milk eight (8) cows at once.
A piping system ensures direct transfer of milk into coolers after milking. The farm has batch pasteurizers that preserve quality of milk products by destroying spoilage microorganisms and enzymes that contribute to reduced quality and shelf life of milk.  
Also installed are dispensers, dubbed Any Time Milk (ATM) machine. They can dispense 2,000 litres a day.  The piping transfer system ensures that milk does not come into direct contact with humans.
Farmers being shown the calving unit
A calving unit in the farm ensures protection of calves against climatic stress, infections, and parasites. Mr. Boit believes that proper management of the dairy cow at calving will result in the birth of a healthy calf and prevent losses in young stocks. 
The calves will remain indoors and grow in groups until they attain the required weight for artificial insemination (AI).
 “Calves will never attain genetic potential when not looked at properly. This important stage needs proper monitoring. Males are sold within two weeks of birth,” said Mr. Boit
He said that a section of maize produced at the farm is for making silage for the dairy cows. The farm has five silage pits. They make their own dairy meals.
“Like any other agriculture enterprise challenges are there. There is a time when price fluctuation and milk glut forced farmers to pour milk due to lack of market. Value addition has now resolved such eventualities,” said Mr. Boit.
Through value addition, the farm is able to sell fresh milk between 60 – 75 kshs per litre depending on the season while fermented milk retails at between 70-75 Kshs per litre.
Mr. Boit’s parting short is that dairy farming requires huge investments. The success enjoyed at the farm has taken 20 years.  Farmers should also go for high pedigree cows, as they can be the difference between a successful and struggling dairy farmer.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Enjoying good returns from agricultural enterprises

By Bob Aston
The year 2008 marked a great turning point for Mr. Charles Boit. He quit his job as a Business Development Manager with Unilever Tea East Africa to manage his parent’s farm. The allure to return home and oversee the family agricultural enterprises was too strong and he finally had to accept that agriculture was his calling.
Mr. Boit now the Group Managing Director of Samsaraline Co. Ltd, Kapsuswa Farm, SB. Tea Estate Group, and Ratinwet Farm grew in a family whose farming enterprises included cereal farming, dairy, and tea production.
On August 14, 2015, he hosted a group of 35 farmers drawn from various Maize value chain groups in Laikipia County at Kapsuswa Farm (Land of Grass). The 1,500 acres maize farm located at Sugoi area of Uasin Gishu County is approximately 22 kilometres from Eldoret town. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.
The farmers being shown how a six row planter works

Mr. Boit noted that maize production increased from an average of 15 bags to 30 bags an acre once he started managing the farm.

“I had learned a lot at the farm while growing up. I always had a passion for farming and I knew that one day I would return back to do what I enjoy,” said Mr. Boit.
He said that they are using minimum tillage over the traditional plough-based farming system.  The soil conservation system ensures minimum soil disturbance. Soon they will move to zero tillage.
“The system does not turn the soil over and ensures improved soil structure and less risk of damage of machinery. We are also witnessing reduced soil erosion and runoff,” said Mr. Boit.
He holds an MSc degree in Biochemical Engineering from the University College London and a BSc, Pharmacology, from the Kings College London.
Land preparation and planting
He said that they have managed to improve the PH of the soil from 5.0 to 5.6 through use of lime. The acidic soil used to reduce the productivity of the farm by stunting root growth and inhibiting plant development.
Lime has helped to boost the nutrients in the soil. A tractor pulled lime spreader with two rotating disks does distribution of lime in the farm. After applying lime, they move to harrowing. This breaks up the soil surface to help prepare the soil seedbed for planting.
The farmers at one of the maize fields
Use of a chisel plough after the harrow ensures that hardpans are shattered and water infiltration is improved. The chisel plough helps in getting deep tillage. This aerates the soil while leaving crop residue at the top of the soil.
Mr. Boit said that they have to do one more harrow before planting. He noted that despite the availability of various types of certified seeds they have been using PAN 691 from Pannar Seed Kenya Ltd, as it does not grow long like other seed varieties. This makes it easier to use combine harvester during harvesting.
They ensure that there is maximum yield production through optimized planting. The calibrated 6-row planter ensures factoring in of agronomic principles. With an unconventional spacing of 10 cm -20 cm between seedlings, an acre of land usually takes as much as 3,000 seeds. This is deliberate, as some seeds will not germinate.
Mr. Boit noted that although their seed spacing is unconventional it works for them. He urged farmers to dry plant.
´Planting speed is critical. It is important to ensure that the speed of the planter is between 8-10km/h. Going slower ensures you plant faster and you take good care of your machine, “said Mr. Boit.
The maize is top dressed using UREA due to its high nitrogen content and as it has always given them higher returns. Top dressing machine ensures uniform application of UREA. Manual application of fertilizer is only through application of half a bag of Ammonium Sulfate per acre. Lumax is used both as a pre and post herbicide for controlling weeds.
Harvesting and value addition
Mr. Boit said that they usually harvest maize when the moisture content of maize is around 20.0 percent. Use of combine harvesters during harvesting has ensured that reaping, threshing, and winnowing is a single process. This has reduced harvesting cost and time.
The farmers at the Kapsuswa Farm warehouse
After harvesting, the grain tank is loaded into a tractor pulled trailer and transported to the 33,000 square feet warehouse.  A mechanical dryer then dries the maize to the required moisture content of 13.0 percent.
The warehouse can hold 100,000 bags of cereals. Last year the farm stored 20,000 bags of maize in the warehouse. Part of the produced maize is for making silage for dairy cows. The farm has five silage pits.
In order to reap the benefits of value addition, the farm has invested in a maize milling plant to allow it to mill its own maize flour. The plant will be operational once they receive the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) certification. They will be able to mill 24,000 kgs of maize flour per day
“The problem with most youths is that they expect to get good returns within a very short period. There are no shortcuts in farming, as you have to be patient. We got where we are now through hard work and it took a long time to accomplish what we have,” said Mr. Boit.
Despite the success enjoyed by the farm, things have not been always gone according to plan. Pests and diseases have always affected production. There is a time when they managed to harvest only 35 bags of maize in the whole farm.
Maize is widely considered as a staple food in Kenya. Records indicate that an average Kenyan consumes 98 kilograms of maize per year. Despite various challenges that the sector faces, most farmers do not shy away from investing in maize production.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Agribusiness expo proves successful in enhancing innovation

By Bob Aston
The Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) held an Agribusiness Expo on August 14-15, 2015 at Kabarak University in Nakuru County. The theme of the expo was “Enhancing innovation in Agribusiness to increase productivity and improve food security.”
The expo aimed at increasing the competitiveness of select regional agricultural value chains and bolster regional trade in staple foods. The East Africa Trade and Investment as well as Farming Systems Kenya (FSK) also sponsored the expo, among other organizations.
Participants visiting various exhibition stands
According to EAGC, the Agribusiness expo brought together more than 15,000 farmers, sponsors, and exhibitors ranging from; grain millers, warehouse operators, grain traders, agricultural institutions, agro chemical dealers, agro machinery companies, financial institutions, and civil society, all focused on innovations in the agribusiness sector.
During the first day of the expo, a group of 35 farmers drawn from various Maize Value Chain Groups (VCG’s) in Laikipia County travelled to Kabarak University to attend the expo. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.
The farmers learned that the EAGC Agribusiness Expo is an annual business convergence for the Agricultural industry that provides a platform for networking, sharing, learning, and interacting. It allows stakeholders to launch innovations and products. Industry stakeholders are also able to interact directly with farmers.
Gerald Masila, EAGC Executive Director noted that Kenya is a pacesetter on innovations. Therefore, the Agribusiness Sector should adopt innovations to enhance productivity and food security. He urged Agribusiness actors to transform challenges in the sector to opportunities and turn agribusiness into prosperity.
Farmers admiring the 'Charolais'  bull
The star attraction during the expo was the four year old ‘Charolais’ bull. Auctioned for Kshs. 600,000, the bull weighs 1,050 kgs. According to the farm manager Joseph Bett, the bull could fetch as much as Kshs. 1 million if slaughtered in the farm. The Bull from Kabarak Farm Ltd only feeds on grass and drinks a minimum of 60 litres of water a day.
The exhibition area had various exhibitors who displayed their wares and interacted with farmers. Farmers learned new and existing technology and financial services. The exhibitors were able to create business linkages through interaction and networking. They were also able to share knowledge and experiences as well as sell their produce.
The exhibitors included; EAGC, Kabarak University, East Africa Trade Investment Hub, Farming Systems Kenya, Egerton University, Olerai Ltd, Advanta, Pest Control Product Board,  Trans National Bank, Agri Seedco Limited, Elgon Kenya Ltd, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Advanta, Kenya Seed Company Ltd, Kenya Bixa Limited, Greenlife Crop Protection Africa Ltd, Juanco SPS Ltd, and SGS Kenya Ltd.
Others included; Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute, BASF East Africa Ltd, Hapy Cow Ltd, Osho Chemical Industries Ltd, MEA Ltd, Enterprise Farming Technologies, Exe, Chase Bank, Twiga Chemical Industries Ltd, Boresha SACCO, Unga Ltd, Bell Industries Ltd and Dry Lands Seeds among others.
Some of the innovations displayed at the expo included; alfastop post-harvest solutions to Aflatoxin control. They displayed a Shallow Bed Portable Batch Dryer. The dryer is made of square bed, surrounded by a large canvas bag with furnace and fan to push air through the drying maize, fueled by Maize cobs and fuel. It dries 500kg per batch in approximately 4-6 hours.
Bell Industries Ltd displayed Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bags. PICS bag is a viable management tool for preventing aflatoxin accumulation in storage. The bag also minimizes cost of storage as well as reducing post-harvest grain losses.
Demonstrating how the Shallow Bed Portable Batch Dryer works
FSK displayed traditional high value crops, which can survive harsh climate. At the EAGC stand, farmers learned about G-Soko innovation. This is an electronics system comprising of a network of automated grain bulking/aggregation centers and certified warehouses, linked to a virtual trading platform.
GrainPro Inc displayed an innovative water resistant and gas tight storage solution for dry agricultural commodities. The eco-friendly and pesticide-free product preserves the quality and germination capability of stored grains.
Farmers were able to visit the crop demonstration unit where the agro input companies had planted crops, which had already matured. This provided the farmers with an opportunity to see first-hand how different seed varieties perform. They also leaned good agronomic practices through live crop demonstration.
The livestock demonstration unit enabled farmers to learn more about best practices in livestock production. Many farmers lingered in this area to admire the ‘Charolais’ bull and to pose for pictures next to the bull.
The information gathered by farmers during the Agribusiness expo will certainly play an important role in ensuring they improve their agricultural enterprises. The innovations displayed will go a long way in helping farmers adopt new technologies.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bill formulation embraced through public participation

By Bob Aston
The Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in Ol-Moran Ward, Laikipia West Sub County on August 18, 2015 played host to a public participation forum on formulation of the County Government of Laikipia Finance Bill, 2015.
The public participation meeting helped to ensure an open and accountable way of the Finance Bill 2015 formulation to the citizens of Laikipia County. This is in line with articles 10(2) and 232 (1) of the constitution as well as section 132 of the Public Finance Management Act.
The Bill provides for the imposition or variation and collection of various permit fees, cess, licenses, fees, or charges and for connected purposes. The Bill shall come into operation on the date of publication in the Gazette as an Act of the County Assembly.
Charles Keru, Olmoran Ward Administrator addressing members of the public

“The Bill in essence seeks to address charges, licenses, permits, fees, rent, cess, and payments. It is important for the public to be aware about the content of the bill as they are the ones who will be affected once it is operationalized,” said Mr. Isaac Mirara, Assistant Sub County Revenue Receiver officer.
The Laikipia County Public Participation Act 2014 provides for the establishment of legal framework for facilitating public participation in county government policy processes and service delivery and for connected purposes. Standing Order 120(3) states, “the sectoral committee to which a bill is committed shall facilitate public participation and shall take into account views and recommendations of the public when the committees make their report to the Assembly.”
Members of the public, private sector organizations, professional groups and interested persons/groups drawn from Sipili area gave their views regarding the Laikipia Finance Bill, 2015. This enabled community members to interrogate various charges, licenses, and payments contained in the Bill.
Passenger Service Vehicle (PSV) operators were particularly unhappy with what they termed double taxation. Most of the time they usually pay licenses, stickers, and even bus park fees in most stages.
Participants following proceedings
Bar operators lamented that at what they termed deliberate attempt to drive them out of business through various expensive licenses that are required to obtain. 
Communities in Sipili requested the County Government to harmonize various licenses so that business people are not required to obtain many licenses, as is the case.
Members of the public also requested the County Government to always ensure that communities receive copies of various Bills earlier enough to internalize the contents before the public participation forums are held. This would enable the public to be well prepared.
Each ward in Laikipia County has hosted one public participation forum on the Laikipia County Finance Bill, 2015 apart from Ol-Moran Ward that has hosted two. The other forum in the ward took place at Red-Cross Hall in Olmoran town.
Interested persons can still submit in writing their submission to the County Executive Member-Finance and Economic Planning through or P.O Box 1271-10400, Nanyuki. Deadline for submission is August 21, 2015.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Farmer’s livelihood improving through CBO

By Bob Aston
Schemers Community Based Organization (CBO) in Sambut area of Kamagut Ward, Eldoret West Sub County is changing the lives of more than 200 farmers. The CBO helps farmers from the period of planting to harvesting and selling their produce at better prices. This ensures that farmers improve their livelihood through their agricultural enterprises.
On August 12, 2015, a group of 35 farmers drawn from various Maize Value Chain Groups (VCG’s) in Laikipia County travelled a distance of more than 360 kilometres to Schemers CBO to learn more about the organization. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.
Mr. Isaac Too, Chairman Schemers CBO informed the farmers that students started the organization in 2006 as a self-help group. It later became a CBO in 2009. This was to enable the group to access the World Food Programme (WFP) market. The main objective was to assist the member’s access market for their produce.
Mr. Too showing the Laikipia farmers a section of the warehouse

“We are trying to ensure enhanced food security, improved livelihood and that farmers enjoy economies of scale. We are also ensuring that we have a bargaining power when seeking for a market,” said Mr. Too. 

Agricultural enterprises
Most of the members do not have to worry about market as they usually aggregate their produce at the Schemers CBO warehouse. Non-members can also store cereals at the warehouse at a fee.
The three (3) million shillings warehouse constructed in a one and a half acre farm holds 8,000 bags. Maize is stored under Warehouse Receipting System. The system is helping the group reduce uncertainty and enhance efficiency in cereal marketing. Mobilizing agricultural credit through the system has also been easy.
The farm also hosts an Agrovet, an office block, a posho mill and a green house. The various investments are through member’s contribution, donations, and loans.
Mr. Too said that they borrow money from lending institutions to boost their farming activities. Last year alone they borrowed over Kshs 100 million from K-Rep Bank, Equity Bank and Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) mainly to purchase inputs.
The group started with a membership of 28 and registration fee of Kshs. 500. New members now have to register and buy shares worth Kshs. 50,000.  New members can pay the amount in agreed installments.
In 2013, the CBO won the African Farmers Organization Award (AGOYA) in Accra, Ghana. The Award came with a cash prize of Kshs. 600,000. The manager has also travelled to Rome courtesy of the group.
The Laikipia County farmers sharing ideas with Schemers CBO officials
Meetings and savings
Members meet every Sunday at 3 pm to discuss progress of the CBO and various activities that they intend to undertake during the week.
They do savings of Kshs. 200 per week for each member. The group has already saved in excess of Kshs. 8 million in Equity Bank, K-rep Bank, and AFC. Each member also contributed Kshs. 10,000 for building an office block. 
The office block worth Kshs. 1.5 million houses a store, clerk and manager’s office, as well as a loans office.
Melky Zedeck, Schemers CBO Loans officer noted that they have mobilized their own savings to start giving members loans. The SACCO has already been in operation for six (6) months now. They are planning to give out over Kshs. 4 million as loans to members. The CBO is giving loans amounting to three times the member’s savings.
Partners and stakeholders
Mr. Too said that the support provided to the CBO by partners that include; WFP, SNV- Netherlands Development Organization, Eastern Africa Grain Council, Agri Chain Development, K-Rep Bank, Equity Bank, AFC, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Livestock has enabled the group to undertake many activities on behalf of the members.
Last year, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei donated a greenhouse to the group. They have already prepared a tomato nursery. They will transplant in the next two weeks. The Government will support the group until after their first harvest.
The CBO has been supplying grains to WFP since 2010. They are also supplying cereals through Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP), millers and individual farmers.
The Laikipia County farmers posing for a photo with Schemers CBO officials
WFP usually buy the maize at between Kshs. 2,800 and Kshs. 3,400 a bag between April and July when there is shortage of the grains. They supply an average of 3,000 bags of maize and 2,000 bags of beans annually.
“Our members do not need to sell cereals to other traders as they are able to get better prices for their produce through the CBO. Our success has made many organizations to want to associate with us,” said Mr. Too.
EAGC has donated a digital weighing scale, stitching machine, moisture meter, and computers to the CBO. They have also received a laptop from SNV. WFP has also donated various equipment’s for the warehouse. They have also installed a computerized system that reflects all transactions.
Mr. Too said that they have been buying cereals from members and non-members at the prevailing market price. Farmers receive the additional amount of money received from sale of cereals although less Kshs. 100 per bag. This is to offset the various expenses incurred by the CBO. Non-members do not benefit as profits made from sale of their cereals goes to the CBO.
The need to start other income generating activities has prompted the CBO to diversify to other areas. Soon they will be involved in poultry and dairy cow farming. They intend to employ a farm manager once they start the new enterprises.
Access to certified seeds, subsidized government fertilizer, and market used to be a challenge but the group has managed to address them.
The future of Schemers CBO looks bright. Farmers are not only benefiting through the CBO but they have also been able to improve their livelihood by starting other enterprises through the profits accrued from sale of the produce.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ensuring quality of agricultural inputs and produce

By Bob Aston
Ensuring quality of agricultural inputs and produce as well as plant health is an important aspect of the agricultural sector in Kenya. This is a mandate that Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) has been carrying out in the Country since 2006 with an aim of preventing adverse impact on the economy, environment, and human health.
The government regulatory organization under the Directorate of Agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries is providing an effective and efficient science-based regulatory service for assurance on the quality of agricultural inputs and produce thereby promoting sustainable economic growth and development.
On August 12, 2015, a group of 35 farmers drawn from various Maize Value Chain Groups (VCG’s) in Laikipia County travelled a distance of more than 180 kilometres to KEPHIS Nakuru to learn more about the organization. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.
The farmes holding discussion at the KEPHIS Nakuru premises

History of KEPHIS Nakuru 

KEPHIS Nakuru is one of the regional offices through which KEPHIS offers services to the whole country. Previously, it was the Kenya Inspection Service (KIS). It then became the National Seed Quality Control Service (NSQCS) under Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).
It became a national center for seed quality control in 1979. Upon the formation of KEPHIS in 1996, NSQCS mandate became KEPHIS’s.
Mr. Charles Onyango, KEPHIS Nakuru Regional Manager noted that they serve eight counties namely Nakuru, Laikipia, Samburu, Baringo, Kericho, Bomet, Narok, and Nyandarua.
Services provided
Mr. Onyango said that they implement KEPHIS mandate in Nakuru through quality assurance, phytosanitary, training, and farmer advisory services.
Areas that the organization is involved in include: plant variety testing; administration of plant breeders rights; seed certification; post seed certification surveys; post entry plant quarantine; registration of seed merchants, seed growers, and seed sellers; inspection of import/ export plant materials; and pest and disease diagnosis.
Others include: enforcement of Bio-safety requirements jointly with National Bio-safety Authority; analysis of agricultural inputs (fertilizer, animal feed and agrochemical formulation among others; agrochemical residue analysis in agricultural produce and animal tissues; soil and irrigation water analysis for nutrient status and suitability; environmental monitoring for contaminants; trade facilitation; and training and farmer advisory.
Farmers being shown one of the sections of the Seed Testing Laboratory
“We have to advise the government and the general public on appropriate seeds and planting materials. We co-ordinate all matters relating to plant health,” said Mr. Onyango.
KEPHIS Nakuru has two (2) laboratories. The seed Testing Laboratory, was established in 1944 but moved to Nakuru in 1979. The International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) accredited the laboratory in 2002.
The accreditation has helped the organization to access the International Rules and Seed Testing and other publications as well as aiding in promoting of trade between Kenya and other Countries.
Established in April 2015, the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory’s main objective is to diagnose the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) in maize seed. The lab has so far tested and reported on over 300 MLND samples. It has a potential to expand to other fields of study in the modern seed industry.
Seed certification and quality documentation
Mr. Onyango noted that that the organization lays a lot of emphasis on seed certification. This helps in enforcing government regulations, promoting agricultural trade, curbing the spread of plant diseases and plants and ensuring that inputs/produce offered for sale to farmers meet minimum government set quality standards to maximize their crop production.
He said that they do certification in accordance with Seeds and Plants Varieties Act Cap. 326. The process ensures maintained seed quality during multiplication (bulking) in the field and assures the quality of seed in sale outlets by continuous post certification monitoring.
“We only release seed varieties that will be beneficial to our farmers. Seed varieties must be tested for at least two cycles before it is released,” said Mr. Onyango.
Mr. Onyango holding a discussion with the farmers
He said that farmers should always ensure that they buy seeds from certified stockists and they should demand for seed test certificates when in doubt whether seeds are genuine. He added that KEPHIS and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries always address issues of fake seeds when they are informed.
“Most farmers do not usually demand for official receipts with lot numbers when they purchase seeds. This usually makes follow up difficult when seeds do not germinate. It is important to always keep the receipt until after germination,” said Mr. Onyango.
He advised farmers to avoid carry stocks-seeds remnants at the end of planting season. Respective seed companies need to re-test the viability of carry over seed lots. He said that farmers should ensure that when they buy seeds the lot numbers are genuine and KEPHIS-generated. Farmers should also avoid suspicious looking packing.
Some of the international organizations affiliated to KEPHIS include: Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV); International Seed Testing Association (ISTA); Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for Field Seed Schemes; Codex Alimentarius Commission-Food safety; International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC); Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety–handling of GMOs; and WTO – Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (WTO-SPS).
The visit also provided an opportunity for the farmers to learn about seed handling and selling, seed procurement, quality marks, and documentation, seed certification, MLND, and agronomics.
KEPHIS is an ISO 9001:2008 certified. Amidst many challenges, KEPHIS Nakuru has continued to play an important role in ensuring provision of quality agro-inputs and facilitating international trade in plants/plant produce.
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