Economic bloc a boon to Elgeyo-Marakwet farmers

Sunday October 4 2015

Elgeyo-Marakwet County Governor Alex Tolgos. PHOTO | FILE

Elgeyo-Marakwet County Governor Alex Tolgos. PHOTO | FILE 

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It is almost three years since you took office, how have you bettered farmers’ fortunes?        

Before devolution, most farmers were planting maize and keeping cows for sustenance. We have now rolled out, with the help of Tea Research Foundation, an initiative to promote the crop. So far, we have distributed more than 710,000 tea seedlings, which they were buying at a subsidised price of Sh10 each. Over 72,500 coffee seedlings have also been given out to farmers.

Recently, county bosses in North Rift came together to form an economic bloc. What is the stake of farmers in this unit?

The bloc consists of eight counties namely Samburu, Baringo, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet and Turkana. Each county will specialise in a particular value addition chain. For instance, West Pokot County will construct an abattoir as we set up a milk processing unit so that all milk from the other counties are bought and processed here.

We are in talks with a private investor to establish the milk processing unit. Currently, we are distributing mango seedlings to boost production so that we can start a processing plant in about five years. 

And as you are aware, the mango fruit flies had hampered production of the fruits.

We have partnered with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service to roll out a campaign in which farmers have been taught new methods to trap the insects using the female pheromones. We are discouraging the use of chemicals as this will disadvantage our farmers when accessing the export market.

So is value addition the way to go?

My dream is that all produce from this county is sold when it has been processed. That is why my government allocated Sh7.8 million to support over 20 cooperatives to set up the milk processing plant. An investor will install the equipment next month. We expect the plant to process about 10,000 litres a day.

To ensure we have plenty of milk, we have employed 11 inseminators and gave them motorbikes to enable them access all parts of the county. My initial target is that each household produces at least 10 litres of milk be it for sale or consumption.

In addition, we bought a sheller and roaster, which we are using to process peanuts grown in Kimwerer, where 70 acres are under the crop. This has significantly improved earnings from Sh50 per 2kg at farm level to Sh300 a kilo.

Elgeyo-Marakwet County has huge potential for pyrethrum cultivation. Any plans to revive the crop?

Most farmers planted pyrethrum in 1980s because there was good market. There was a time when Kenya used to produce about 50 per cent of the crop in the global market. However, poor prices made farmers to abandon the crop but we are keen to revive the sector.

Last year, we distributed seedlings but the rains destroyed them. We have now turned to cloned seedlings. So far, we have distributed 16,309 seedlings to farmers

What about Merino sheep farming, this county was once a top wool producer?

The sheep is mainly kept in Lelan but wool production was going down due to continuous inbreeding. We initiated a programme where sheep farmers are given a pedigree ram for mutton and wool in exchange of two indigenous ones. So far, we have distributed more than 50 Corriedale pedigree rams and we are optimistic production would go up.