Coast farmers tipped on how to reap from soil
Reliance on rain-fed farming has been blamed for food insecurity at the Coast.
Morris Dzuya of the Agriculture Trading Centre in Mtwapa said besides relying on rains, most farmers use indigenous seeds that offer low yields.
“Planting hybrid seeds like PH4, which guarantees over 25 bags of maize under intensive management, cannot be compared to the farm-saved seeds that are prone to diseases,” said Dzuya, who was speaking during a farmer sensitisation forum.
He asked farmers to adopt tomatoes, okra, amaranth, capsicum, carrots and even cabbages.
“But for farmers to reap well, Coast governors should address the land crisis so that people have places to farm,” he said.
Lucy Mwavumba, a farmer in Kilifi County, urged women to embrace farming, saying there was enough market for vegetables at the Coast region.
Concern as most seed firms focus on maize
Most seed breeding companies in the Eastern and Southern Africa region have concentrated on maize programmes, raising questions on the future of other crops.
According to the Access to Seeds Index 2019, Eastern and Southern Africa report, maize breeding programmes are twice as many as those for other crops such as dry beans, soybean and tomatoes.
The report, therefore, raises concern on the ability of smallholder farmers to access a wide range of modern varieties of other important food crops.
Where there are relatively active breeding programmes for the other crops, according to the report, the youngest variety on offer is over three years old, raising the question whether the industry’s response to rapidly changing climatic conditions is sufficient.
The index, which is generated by the Amsterdam-based Access to Seeds Foundation, ranked East African Seed and Seed Co. first and second respectively, having both grown their activities in the region since the first index was published in 2016.
“The ranking is no surprise, given their deeper understanding of the region and the challenges smallholder farmers face. But Thailand’s East-West Seed in third place is outstanding too, because it suggests they are transferring their know-how and experience with smallholders in Asia to Africa,” said Sanne Helderman, the senior research lead at the Access to Seeds Index.
She added that this shows the relatively small seed companies are ahead of larger multinationals in integrating smallholder farmers into their business models.
“The index also reveals that African seed companies are successfully serving smallholder farmers,” said Ms Helderman.
The industry’s reach, according to her is, however, still far too low, as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa reports that just 23 per cent of the smallholder farmers in its member countries have access to improved varieties of major field crops, resulting in low productivity and raising food security challenges.
Deadly disease hits Niger donkeys
A contagious bacterial infection known as "equine strep throat" has killed more than 4,000 donkeys in northern Niger since early December, raising fears that it could spread to other parts of the continent.
"Of the 8,392 donkeys affected by equine distemper or equine strep throat, more than half succumbed since the infection appeared in the first 10 days of December," said the regional authorities in Agadez.
The others survived after being treated for the infection, which hit donkeys in the Ingall area.
"You can see bodies littering the pastureland and the watering holes and there is a real danger of contamination spreading through the area,” said government’s minister for pastoral issues, Mohamed Boucha.
The risk "is even greater" due to the fact that the infection can be transferred between equine animals and also through the pasture itself, given that the treatment of a sick animal can take several weeks, veterinary officials said.
Donkeys are used by millions of people to get around Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world. Niger has a population of more than 1.5 million donkeys.
Vets push for enactment of law to protect animals
Animal health practitioners have agreed to push for enactment of a law seeking to protect livestock.
The Animal and Welfare Protection Bill, which has been in the pipeline for the past four years, seeks to protect animals from farm to the abattoir.
The director of veterinary services at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Charles Achodo noted that many farmers, buyers and other handlers were mistreating animals.
“If this bill becomes law, those who fail to adhere to the accepted standards of feeding, housing and offering veterinary services when the animals are sick will be prosecuted,” said Achodo.
He noted that transportation of animals was another area that the bill will address as the country does not have standard carriers to ferry livestock.
Dr Samuel Kahariri, the national chairman of the Kenya Veterinary Association, said protection against cruelty to animals must be enhanced.
“This business of carrying chickens upside down or sheep in a matatu rooftop or on a boda boda must stop as the law will be tough on offenders,” said Dr Kahariri during a meeting in Nakuru this week.
Breakthrough in fight against cattle disease
Scientists have discovered two chemicals in donkey and sheep droppings that attract female stable flies to lay their eggs in what could be a breakthrough in the fight against trypanosomiasis.
International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) researchers and their colleagues from the University of South Africa said the findings indicate the chemicals could be used in baiting traps to attract pregnant stable flies.
“Stable flies are a serious challenge to livestock and people across the world in general, and in Africa specifically. These blood-sucking insects transmit various pathogens, for example trypanosomes, that cause the deadly trypanosomiasis,” said Merid Getahun, a scientist at Icipe, who led the study.
Getahun noted that besides causing the disease, the painful bites of the flies also lead to loss of blood, reduced weight and poor lactation in afflicted livestock, severely diminishing productivity.
“These results have great potential. These chemicals could be used in baiting traps to attract pregnant stable flies, hence reducing populations from one generation to another,” Bernard Baleba, a PhD student at the University of South Africa, who was part of the research, said.