Many counties have in the last four years concentrated the bulk of their development money on agriculture while looking for new opportunities. Governor Mwangi Wa Iria spoke to Julius Sigei on why his county is investing big in the avocado
Why are counties going big on agriculture?
I believe that devolution is all about the micro-economics, uplifting households and individuals. We can’t keep concentrating on the macro and cheat ourselves that this is devolution.
In my case, when I came in, I found dairy was disorganised. We had only four coolers with a total output of 20,000 litres serving a million people.
We built 35 new ones (one in every ward) collecting at least 150,000 litres in one evening, and the same quantity in the morning. To manage the volumes, we formed 35 cooperatives.
This saw the prices shoot up from Sh17 a litre to the present Sh35.
Now on average we are able to pay our farmers Sh150 million monthly.
But the quality and pricing of artificial insemination services remains a challenge to farmers.
We offer AI services for free at designated centres and charge Sh500 if we come to the farm. More than 70,000 heifers have come out of this effort.
We also partnered with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation to distribute for free Kakamega 1 and 2 varieties of napier grass, which have very high protein content.
We have also distributed sweet potato vines which have 25 per cent protein content. We are opening in two months a feed-making factory to ensure quality and affordability.
You are investing huge resources in avocado, seemingly at the expense of coffee, any reason for this?
The most important crop to me now is avocado of the hass variety. The fruit has a limitless market in Europe.
We just can’t satisfy that market. Before we regularised the market, farmers used to sell a fruit for as low as Sh1.
Now they sell one for Sh8. We negotiated with four buyers and set the minimum price. Last year farmers in Murang’a earned Sh500 million from avocados.
It is bigger than coffee. One properly watered tree of hass avocado can give you 1,000 fruits a year, which comes to Sh8,000.
However, we have also distributed four million seedlings of the high-yielding Batian variety that is resistant to coffee berry disease and leaf rust.
We gave out 100 seedlings per farmer and they are now harvesting this coffee. The variety has significantly boosted productivity, raising it from Sh17 a kilo to Sh61.
We have also addressed food crops. We have given farmers 2kg of high quality maize seeds depending on their altitude.
Relief seeds is far more helpful than relief food. With the poorest soil conditions, the 2kg should be able to give us three to five bags.
Anything on value addition?
In a month’s time we will have the first farmers owned milk factory since independence. This will complete the milk value chain.
To increase the market for farmers, we have also launched the Murang’a County Schools Milk Programme. Pupils from nursery to Standard Eight get a packet every week.
But how sustainable is this?
The infrastructural investments we have are long-term. With the right management, our children should be able to drink this milk in a sustainable manner.
Why did Murang’a choose to go the organic manure way?
Instead of going for the usual inorganic fertilisers, we went for manure because it has a lasting restorative power on soil.
We buy manure from across the country and sell it to farmers at subsidised rates. It is one of the most popular products.