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Brief news on farming and agribusiness in the country

Thursday November 14 2019

A farmer checks on bananas in his farm in Kasarani, Nairobi in this past photo.

A farmer checks on bananas in his farm in Kasarani, Nairobi in this past photo. Banana farmers in Taita Taveta County have been asked to increase production to benefit from a Sh116 million processing plant that is under construction. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

SEEDS OF GOLD TEAM
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Banana farmers ready for boom as EU builds processing plant

Banana farmers in Taita Taveta County have been asked to increase production to benefit from a Sh116 million processing plant that is under construction.

The plant will give farmers an opportunity to earn more after decades of selling their produce at a loss. The construction is funded by the European Union and the county government. The county’s department of agriculture said the factory will be completed by March next year.

Deputy Governor Majala Mlagui said farmers need to increase production to be able to sustain the plant.

“Increase your banana acreage so that we can benefit from this project,” she told Taveta farmers. County chief officer for Agriculture Boniface Mwakio said they had been advising farmers to embrace tissue culture crops, which yield more.

He said the bananas, besides being high-yielding, are less prone to diseases unlike the traditional variety.

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Mwakio said they were concerned that farmers from neighbouring counties and even as far as Tanzania would benefit from the plant if locals fail to increase their production.

Over 500 farmers are expected to benefit from the plant once it starts operation next year.

“We have distributed tissue culture seedlings to farmers across the county. We don’t want them to be unprepared when processing starts,” he said. Some farmers have been transporting their green bananas to markets in Taita Taveta, Mombasa and Nairobi towns. Some also sell them to Tanzania but at low prices.

-Lucy Mkanyika

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Varsity to offer free soil testing services

Chuka University will offer free soil testing services to all farmers in the region for the next two years.

The university will provide on spot soil analysis and fertiliser recommendations to farmers, saving them between Sh1,500 and Sh2,000.

Dr Jafford Njeru, who is in-charge of the services, said it is important farmers understand their soil components and the nutrients necessary for the growth of specific crops to improve production. "We realised that most farms in the region have low pH, very high potassium, and very low organic matter," he said.

The scanners analyse the content of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, organic carbon and soil pH in minutes and adviseson the actual nutrients needs of the specified crop, he added.

To reach a wider clientele, the university is collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture and using the local media.

Dr Njeru noted that being an institution that was appointed by the government to educate farmers on agribusiness, the soil analysis will help boost food security.

-Caroline Wambui

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Researchers develop tool to monitor weather patterns

Researchers from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have come up with an innovation capable of giving temperature and rainfall prediction for up to 100 years.

Known as the Climate Atlas, the Web-based weather prediction tool has the map of the country and weather data of all the regions, enabling it to give accurate climate situation and soil moisture.

Dr John Wesonga, the lead researcher in the project, says the technology provides a long-time projection, which will in turn help counties, plant breeders, farmers and innovators invest in the right technologies that can survive prevailing weather conditions.

Speaking during a Food Security and Water Partner Day 2019 conference organised by the Dutch Embassy in Nairobi recently, Dr Wesonga said counties will be the primary users of the tool.

“Financial institutions that deny farmers loans on agricultural investments due to unpredictable climate changes will also be reassured by long-term weather projections,” he said.

He further observed that the tool can be used in risk assessment by insurance providers and drought management authorities to deal with expected climate change scenario.

“Farmers will log onto the website and look at weather-temperature and rainfall situation in their respective counties. It gives a maximum number of continuous wet or dry days, thereby advising them on the right crop to grow,” he said.

The tool was developed by the Dutch government in partnership with the Kenya Meteorological Department and JKUAT.

The technology, which has taken over two years to develop, is currently being piloted in Kajiado and Kiambu counties.

Sanne Willems, the First Secretary for Food Security and Water at the Kingdom of the Netherlands, said his country has spent 16.4 million Euros this year on over 40 projects related to water, food security and climate change in Kenya.

Ms Willems lauded the Climate Atlas, saying it will help counties support farmers either in short or long-term by following weather patterns provided.

“It will warn (farmers) not to grow crops that need a lot of water when it is going to be dry,” said Sanne.

Dr Wesonga noted that if farmers have the right temperature projections, they can invest in cooling technologies such as agroforestry or sprinkler irrigation while breeders can develop crops that can tolerate higher temperatures.

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World Bank offers Sh38m to boost food production

Some 240 farmer groups in Homa Bay County have received a grant of Sh39.4 million from the World Bank to improve agricultural production.

The funds have been given to the farmers though a project dubbed National Agricultural and Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) to sustain food production in Nyanza.

Homa Bay is among the counties in Kenya that are implementing the NARIGP project.

Governor Cyprian Awiti and Agriculture executive Aguko Juma presided over the distribution of the funds at the county headquarters.

Mr Awiti said the funds would help the beneficiaries improve agricultural production to support the rising population.

“Homa Bay County is one of the producers of food in Nyanza. With the support from World Bank, we expect to have increased yields in the next season that would support Kisumu, Siaya and Migori County,” he said. Homa Bay produces cotton, poultry, bananas and dairy products.

-George Odiwour

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Use certified potato seeds to boost yields, farmers told

Farmers have been asked to plant only certified potato seeds for better results. Joseph Ndirangu, a potato seed multiplication specialist, asked farmers during a recent field day to mark World Food Day at Gatura Farm in Nakuru, to buy seeds certified by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service.

“We have the tissue culture technology, which is a new method of seed production. The technology has more advantages compared to the tubers since seeds can be multiplied in a small area within the farm,” said Mr Ndirangu.

He said certified potato seeds are free of diseases because they are not contaminated. Esther Thumbi, a potato farmer in Elburgon, said the event was helpful to farmers.

“I have bought more than 100 pieces of potato seeds which I will plant and expect more seeds after three months,” said Thumbi.

Nakuru Agriculture executive, Dr Immaculate Maina, said the county is one of the leading in potato production, but use of uncertified seeds was slowing down farmers.

-John Njoroge

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Co-operative Bank, machinery company sign deal to ease acquisition of farm equipment

Farmers will now have an opportunity to buy farm machinery and equipment at affordable rates following the signing of a partnership between Co-operative Bank and CFAO Kenya Ltd, initially known as Toyota Tsusho East Africa Ltd.

The two firms signed a deal this week in Nairobi in a partnership targeting farmers and cooperative societies.

Farmers will thus be able to purchase machines such as tractors, sprayers, combine harvesters and harrowers affordably.

In the scheme, farmers will be able to get up to 80 per cent financing, enabling them to acquire new Case IH Tractors.

Mr Vincent Marangu, the director of Co-operative Banking at Co-operative Bank, said the project will help farmers succeed in their agribusinesses.

“We want farmers in cooperative societies and even those who are not there to mechanise their farms with quality and trusted equipment,” Marangu said.

The managing director of CFAO Kenya, Mr Toyoki Kuno, said the partnership will help the country achieve food security, thus boosting the Big Four Agenda.

“CFAO is committed to supporting the Big Four Agenda by offering solutions to farmers, but which are not limited to selling tractors,” he said.

-Brian Okinda

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Cheap milk imports affecting prices, farmers say

Farmers have cried foul over an influx of cheap milk imports from the neighbouring countries, noting they are killing their businesses.

They are now asking the Kenya Dairy Board and other agencies to step in and regulate the cheap imports. The influx of the milk has pushed down the price at which processors buy produce to as low as Sh21, with the farmers noting that they cannot break even.

Meru Dairy Union chief executive Kenneth Gitonga asked the national government to regulate the importation of cheaper milk and save farmers from losses.

“Farm inputs and labour are so high, pushing up the already soaring cost of production. This has made the cost of milk from the country go up. We are thus unable to compete with produce from Uganda,” he said.

The cheaper milk from Uganda is not only ruining the livelihoods of farmers but is also destroying the local dairy sector and in turn the Kenyan economy, said Gitonga.

Nicholas Murungi, a farmer in Tharaka Nithi, noted that the dairy sector is on its deathbed due to low purchase price of milk.

“I am currently selling my milk to a cooperative at Sh25. The milk sector is on the verge of collapse even with the adoption of modern farming technologies and an increase in fodder production aided by the rains. The farmer is totally losing, and it’s the high time the government cushions the dairy farmers against losses,” he said.

-Caroline Wambui