Saturday, October 31, 2015

To save forests, Kenyan tea factory brews new way to dry tea

By Anthony Langat
THIKA, Kenya, August 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The first thing that strikes you as you enter the Makomboki Tea Factory is the air. It's clear, absent of the dark smoke that billows from the boilers of Kenya's other tea factories.
Of the 66 tea factories under the management of the Kenya Tea Development Authority, Makomboki is the only one that doesn't use firewood in the processing of its tea.
Instead, the factory has switched to a greener, cheaper fuel: briquettes made of biomass byproducts that would otherwise be treated as waste.
Deep in central Kenya's hilly and fertile tea-growing Muranga county, Makomboki employees feed the factory's boilers with briquettes of macadamia, cashew and rice husks mixed with sawdust.
"We have not used a single cubic meter of firewood in the last six months and we are excited about that," said factory manager John Gitau.
In 2010, the International Trade Centre started a training project aimed at teaching Kenya's tea producers climate change mitigation techniques.

Factory worker delivers factory waste. TRF/Anthony Langat
Inspired by what they learned, Makomboki's board of directors decided to shift their fuel source from firewood to briquettes. Since then, the factory has scaled up its use of alternative fuels and weaned itself of its dependence on firewood.
Makomboki makes its briquettes thanks to a project designed by Living Earth Foundation, a UK-based charity working to tackle the energy challenge facing Kenyan tea producers. Funding for the Makomboki briquette production plant was provided by the European Commission and British retailer Marks & Spencer, which buys tea from the factory.
The husks for the briquettes come from other factories within Muranga and Kiambu counties and the sawdust from mills near Makomboki.
"Saw millers actually have a problem finding ways to dispose of their sawdust," said Gitau. "We are helping them get rid of their waste."
According to Gitau, in the six months that it takes the factory to produce around 2.5 million kilograms (5.5 million pounds) of tea, their boilers used to consume up to 10,000 cubic meters of wood - the equivalent of 30,000 trees.
By swapping firewood for sawdust and briquettes, he said, Makomboki alone will have saved 60,000 trees in the course of a year.
"If the same practice is replicated by all the factories in Kenya, we will have saved a lot of trees and contributed to a better environment," said Gitau.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Sand dams quench the thirst of water-short Kenyans

By Sophie Mbugua, BRACED
LEMISHAMI, Kenya - On a busy market day in Lemishami village, Letilia Lekula herds his goats to a dry, sandy riverbed with a stonewall built across it. The animals wait patiently as he pulls a wooden trough from a nearby thicket and then starts digging in the sand.
After about five minutes, Lekula hears a splash. The sound is now so familiar to his goats that they circle around him as he scoops water from the hole in the sand into a trough for them to drink.
For the pastoralists of Lemishami in Ol Donyiro ward, which lies 115 kilometres (71 miles) from the town of Isiolo in Kenya's arid eastern region, the sand dam is a lifesaver.
Built across the Raap River, the simple wall catches water and silt that flows down from a nearby mountain range. As sand accumulates at the wall, it traps water and holds it through much of the dry season.
Months after natural ponds and rivers have dried up, the sand dam remains a reliable source of water.
Letilia Lekula waters his goats at the Lemeshami sand dam. TRF/Sophie Mbugua
Only a few years ago, villagers could rely on the year-round flow of the Ewaso Ng'iro River. Now, however, with upriver communities using more water for farming, the river has all but disappeared between March and August. The area's rainfall is too sporadic to keep the river topped up.
"It's been dry for the better part of the year," Lekula said. "The rain is unpredictable. Nowadays it's both very heavy and only lasts a few days."
Lekula's village got the sand dam as part of the Isiolo County Adaptation Fund (ICAF), a project funded by the U.K. Department for International Development through the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Set up in 2012, the fund worked with communities in Ol Donyiro, which is classified as a water-stressed region, to understand the challenges they face.
After Isiolo communities proposed sand dams as a solution to their water shortage problems, the fund constructed and rehabilitated a dozen sand dams across the parched county at a cost of 5.1 million Kenyan shillings ($50,000).
The sand dam in Lemishami is so effective that the pastoralists no longer feel the need to move their households, or manyattas, every year in search of water. Children can stay in school and women don't have to walk 30 kilometres to find water for their families, residents say.
While the sand dam doesn't provide enough water for all of the community's cows, which have been moved to more remote grazing fields, the villagers can keep a few goats at home for milk and meat.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tree tomato farmers pride value addition field day

By Simon Munyeki
Tree tomato production is one of the profitable venture farmers in arid and low potential regions can greatly benefit from. This is because tree tomato does well in this kind of regions and less prone to diseases as well as pest infestation and attains quick maturity within six months.
A single tree tomato can yield as much as 20 kg of fruits in a single season if well maintained; a tree tomato farmer can harvest as much as 20 metric tonnes per acre making more returns as compared to a maize farmer working on the same size of land in a year.
Mr Moses Lokwawi from MOALF teaching agriconomics

In order to promote the value chain, the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, and Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society held a farmer field day on tree tomato at Peter Wamugi’s farm at Kahuruko area in Ol-Moran Ward, Laikipia West Sub County on October 22, 2015.
Farmers who attended the field day learned different means on how to maximize their profit margins through value addition. 
Farmers learned how to prepare chemical free tree tomato juice , tree tomato jam as well as tree tomato vegetables  which will be highly welcomed in the market  to replace the current inorganic products with organic which would be healthy  for  the consumers.
The field day attracted exhibitors from different fields, which highly benefited members of the community who turned up in high numbers.
 According to Mr. Kariuki Muigai, such field days need to occur frequently, as information from different fields is available during such events. This enables community members to easily share information and learn from each other.
He said training on proper use and safe handling of farm chemicals was a vital lesson as he managed to learn how to take care of his tree tomato. He is particularly happy that he is now more educated on how to control fruit flies, nematodes, tree tomato worm, powdery mildew, and tree tomato mosaic virus.
“I am particularly happy that I learned about pests and diseases. This is an issue that has been troubling me for quite some time,” said Mr. Kariuki.
On her part, Mrs. Mercy Muthoni noted that training on making organic tree tomato jam, juice, and vegetables made her day. 
Farmers being shown how to use solar cooker
She said that the nutritional value and the importance of the fruit would now make her to ensure it is part of her daily diet.
She managed to visit the Household Economic Empowerment Programme (HEEP), an initiative of Laikipia County Government aimed at reducing poverty level in the county. 
At the stand, she learned that kitchen garden is a simple method of farming that produce fresh fruit and vegetables for delicious, healthy meals.
“I will ensure that my household is food and nutrition secure by adopting kitchen garden model. I now know that having a kitchen garden will ensure that I have constant supply of vegetables throughout the year,” said Mrs. Muthoni.
Laikipia produce and marketing cooperative society used the opportunity provided by the field day to train farmers on use of hermetic bags. The Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) attracted the attention of many farmers who thronged their exhibition stand to learn about the storage bags.
Mr. Julius Kariuki noted that use of hermetic bags is a great step in promoting healthy storage practices to the farmers who are cautious on their health. He said that he learned that the bag is a viable management tool for preventing aflatoxin accumulation in storage.
“I learned that the hermetic bag minimizes post-harvest losses, they are insecticide free, and the quality of stored grains does not decline,” said Mr. Kariuki.
He said that once his grains have dried to the required moisture content he will procure some of the bags from the cooperative store.
Similarly, Mr. Daniel Maina praised the organizers of the field day. He noted that he got an opportunity to learn advancements in the solar technology. He learned about solar cookers and solar lamps, which he said would benefit many people and help on reduction of environmental pollution. He urged communities to embrace solar cookers instead of using wood as fuel.
Mrs Elcy Kigano from MOALF giving tree tomato jam sample
“I have learned that solar cookers are the simplest, safest, and most convenient way of cooking without consuming fuel or polluting the environment. We need to embrace solar technology as one of the initiatives of attaining zero environmental pollution,” said Mr. Maina.
He requested for ALIN and other agriculture stakeholders to organize more field days and workshops for farmers in order to empower them with technology and knowledge that can ensure they practice agribusiness.
ALIN and partners are keen in addressing constraints in tree tomato value chain during production, marketing, processing, and consumption. The organizations organized the field day to allow farmers to bring their unique skills and perspectives together to address various challenges that they face.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weather stations for Africa could help achieve new global goals

By Nick van Giesen, Delft University of Technology, BRACED
World leaders agreed on Friday the U.N. global goals that will provide the blueprint for the world’s development up until 2030. These ambitions rightly include ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water for all, and achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture.
The new global development blueprint is one that is supported by Delft University of Technology and Oregon State University, and the ambitious project they are leading called the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO), which seeks to install 20,000 automatic weather stations across sub-Sahelian Africa.
Recognising that global food production needs to be increased by some 30 percent to 80 percent to meet the demands of rising populations, and the problems of the continent's erratic weather, the scheme is pioneering a cost-effective network of hydro-meteorological measuring stations to provide better maps of water and weather in Africa.

Patrick Kasamu from Chikuni in the South of Zambia. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
This scheme is genuinely ‘game-changing’ because the current African meteorological observation network is very limited. 
As a result, national governments and regional planners do not have the data to make proper decisions regarding investments in water resources infrastructure to boost food production.

TAHMO has already started installing hundreds of stations in Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria.
The stations are entirely self-powered by a match-box sized solar panel, use GSM cell-phone to call in 5-minute readings each hour, reporting rainfall, solar radiation, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, GPS location, lightning location and intensity, soil moisture, and depth to groundwater.
The stations have no moving parts: wind is measure via ultrasonic time-of-flight, and rainfall by counting drips emerging from the gauge.
The potential of the scheme is highlighted by the fact that TAHMO was selected from nearly 500 applications as one of eight winning teams in the Global Resilience Challenge organised by the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Climate negotiators gear up for war of words at Bonn talks

By Megan Rowling, BRACED
"It does not inspire," Prakash Javadekar, India's minister for environment, forests and climate change, said cuttingly of the chopped-down version of the draft text for a new U.N. deal to tackle climate change, released last week.
"We should certainly have a different text for the Paris (climate conference) to become (a) success," he told the Times of India in a recent interview.
Negotiators from India and the other 190 or so nations involved in cooking up a global agreement due in December will be submitting their suggestions to improve that text fast and furiously in Bonn from Oct. 19-23, at the final round of official negotiations before the Paris summit starts on Nov. 30.
As climate talks experts point out, the new text will annoy everyone in some way. Yet in spite its brevity, it still includes the major components countries had wanted to see, with the exception perhaps of forest protection and carbon markets.
"It's a solid foundation to work from," said Liz Gallagher, leader of the climate diplomacy programme at London-based consultancy E3G. "It's quite likely that all countries will both love it and hate it, in equal measure."
Javadekar did not specify what India didn't like about the current draft, which was distilled by the co-chairs of the talks from around 85 pages down to 20 - or put on the "Atkins Diet", as Gallagher quipped.

Environmental activists stage a tug-of-war. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
But India has been vocal in the past about the need for adequate financial and technical support for developing countries to cope with climate change and move to lower-carbon economies. 
And New Delhi often reminds the international community that richer countries must cut down on their consumption and not expect poorer nations to put emissions cuts before economic development.
What is missing?
The chair of the least developed countries group at the climate talks tweeted his disappointment that a proposal by 134 developing countries on tackling loss and damage from climate change - the negative impacts of extreme weather and rising seas that are already happening - had been "ignored" in the new text.
The proposal called for an international mechanism on loss and damage to be included in the legally binding part of the Paris outcome and for the creation of "a climate change displacement coordination facility", to help those forced to leave their homes by climate impacts, among other things.
Others were relieved to see loss and damage get a section of its own in the proposed draft agreement, but concerned that all the detail had been removed. The text notes that progress is being made on the controversial concept, but more discussion is needed on "content and placement".  
That and other discussions will kick off on Monday, with experts expecting countries to react to the new text at the beginning of the session and then get down to work on it line by line.
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