The morning chill did not deter enthusiastic farmers from flocking the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation’s (Kalro) station in Kandara, Murang’a County last Saturday for the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic.
Armed with a copy of the Saturday Nation, the farmers came from as far as Kisumu, Meru, Isinya and Narok and a majority from the neighbouring counties like Nyeri, Embu, Kirinyaga and Meru.
Ready to quench their thirst for knowledge were experts from Kalro, Egerton University, Elgon Kenya Ltd, Camco Equipment (K) Ltd, Toyota Kenya and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).
Soon, youthful farmer Caleb Karuga, who was the emcee, set the ball rolling as farmers shot a myriad of questions, ranging from pests and diseases, farm management, transport, farm machinery and fertiliser use.
Mr John Kanyingi, a farmer from Isinya, wondered how he could successfully cultivate crops on his farm using salty water from a borehole.
Egerton University agronomist John Ng’ang’a explained that salinity often occurs in areas that experience rapid evaporation.
“Before using water from a borehole for irrigation, test for its suitability in crop cultivation. Some water contains chemicals that interfere with intake of nutrients,” he said.
He recommended that farmers in such areas should use mulching to reduce evaporation, which affects soil moisture.
Mr John Kimuyu from Ithanga in Gatanga wanted to know how to deal with mealybugs, which have attacked his mango and pawpaw plants.
“The mealybugs have colonised a farm with shrubs near mine, making it harder to eradicate them,” said Mr Kimuyu.
Carol Mutua, a horticulturalist from Egerton University, advised the farmer to first clear the infested shrubs near his farm as they act as habitats for the pest.
“You can then spray soapy water on the crops, use neem oil, parasitic wasps, pheromone traps as well as biological pesticides to control the pests,” said Mutua.
She added that crop rotation helps in controlling mealybugs but applies only to crops that are fast-maturing.
Mr Michael Kimani, who grows tree tomatoes, said nematodes had invaded his crops and he did not know how to eradicate them.
Mr Ephraim Wachira, Mt Kenya regional officer at Kephis, informed Mr Kimani that he should in future purchase seedlings only from certified dealers to avoid ending up with nematode-infested plants.
“There are beneficial and harmful nematodes. The latter can be controlled by crop rotation,” he said.
Mr Oscar Muiruri from Maragua wondered why his chickens had scales and blisters on their feet. Dr Salome Karanja, a veterinarian from Elgon Kenya Ltd, explained that the chickens were mite-infested.
Mites, she said, reside in unclean chicken houses and the birds pick them through their feet.
The scales that ensue on the birds’ feet are a sort of defence mechanism as the chickens’ immune system tries to stop the invasion.
“You can use petroleum jelly, applied on the affected parts of the birds and ensure the chicken house is clean to keep the pests away,” she said.
She added that the farmer can then use recommended medication to kill the pests, including drugs used to treat tick infestation.
The chicken house, she observed, should also be sprayed after every seven days, twice to eradicate the mites and acaricides applied in the process. “Ensure you use the correct disinfectant in the footbaths at the chicken house door.
Whatever you use in the footbath to protect the birds from microorganism infestation may not necessarily work when it comes to killing pests such as mites,” she advised.
Bosco Ruto from Isinya complained his chickens always produced a wheezing sound, which Dr Karanja said was caused by microbes and mycoplasma and the situation is usually heightened by antimicrobial resistance.
She advised the farmer to ensure that he removes cobwebs and dust from the chicken house and give the birds treatment against Newcastle and infectious bronchitis.
Joan from Murang’a asked why her neighbour’s heifers were consistently aborting.
Dr James Aura, a livestock expert from Elgon Kenya Ltd, explained that the cow could be suffering from infections including foot and mouth disease, which the farmer probably had not been paying attention to.
He asked the farmer to seek treatment from a certified vet who will visit the farm, examine the animals and prescribe treatment.
Dr Aura further informed a farmer who had sought to know why some cows end up with retained placenta and collapse during milking, that the former is caused by farmers not feeding their cows on enough mineral salts and nutritive enhancements before they deliver.
“It is a metabolic condition indicating that the cow did not get enough minerals during the last few weeks before it gave birth,” he said.
He added that a cow may collapse during milking because it suffers from milk fever.
The cow in this case lacks enough calcium and hence fails to assemble the little it has to sustain milking.
He advised farmers to protect their livestock from mastitis as the disease derails productivity.
“Ensure that the conditions in the milking area are hygienic and try to make the cow remain standing for a while until the teats’ pores close after milking to prevent mastitis-causing microbes from accessing the udder,” Mr Aura said.
Mr Onyango Oyange from Kisumu noted that there were so many quacks masquerading as crop and animal production experts, especially when one visits agrovets.
Dennis Mwangi from Elgon Kenya advised him to work with certified agronomists and vets as some agrovets are sometimes just out to make money.
The Kenya Veterinary Board also issues identification badges and service cards to its members, thus, a farmer should always demand to be shown the card, added Dr Aura.
Fidelis Kiage, a sales manager at Camco Equipment Kenya Ltd, said farm mechanisation is the surest way to enhance food security as it cuts human labour.
Angela Mwangi, a marketing coordinator at Toyota Kenya, noted that for easier transport, farmers should invest in pickups, trucks and an agriculture utility bike that helps in moving produce from one place to another.
Eliud Leshan, a sales consultant at Isuzu, similarly advised on investing in their range of transport solutions as well as refrigerated vehicle bodies for transporting highly perishables as well as milk tankers.
The three firms have partnerships with local banks to facilitate farmers’ acquisition of their products.
Elgon Kenya’s Nelson Maina acknowledged the success of the farm clinic noting farmers are eager to learn.
“Many now realise that it is not so expensive to install irrigation kits on their farms. It is also noteworthy that youths are also seriously embracing agribusiness,” said Maina.