Egerton University in Njoro, Nakuru County, was the place to be last Saturday for any discerning farmer seeking to grow their agribusiness.
The university was a beehive of activity as tens of agriculture experts, agro-dealers and farmers congregated for the Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic, Rift Valley edition.
Driven by thirst for knowledge, the farmers came from far and wide, eager to engage the experts and pick as many lessons as possible from the event, whose theme was, ‘Enhancing food security through technology and innovation’.
Some came from Nakuru and its environs and others from the neighbouring Nairobi, Kiambu and Narok counties.
Well, there are those who travelled all the way from Bungoma, Makueni, Nandi, Kericho, Embu, Siaya, Busia, Trans Nzoia, Murang’a and Kakamega.
And the farmers did not disappoint, shooting straight the questions as soon as the event got underway shortly after 9am.
The issue of aflatoxin in maize, wheat and animal feeds stood out as the country grapples with the problem that has been linked to an increase in cancer cases.
Joshua Kering, a farmer from Njoro, lamented that every year, a huge chunk of his maize is declared unfit for consumption when he takes it to millers in Nakuru Town.
Dr Meshack Obonyo, a researcher in biochemistry at Egerton University and a specialist on reducing aflatoxin, advised farmers to adopt safe post-harvest practices.
“One of the challenges is that farmers harvest their grains, which have high moisture content but don’t dry them properly. They then store them in ordinary bags, hence cases of rotting,” said Dr Obonyo.
Then instead of disposing of the bad grain, they feed it to their poultry and dairy cows.
“Aflatoxin is bad to animals just as it is to human beings. Once the animals feed on the bad grain, when you milk them or eat the eggs, you accumulate the toxins in the body, which cause problems to body organs such as liver, kidneys and oesophagus,” said Dr Obonyo, noting the toxins lead to cancer.
He advised farmers to use improved storage bags that have three layers of polythene material to store their maize after proper drying.
“The bags keep away aflatoxin and pests for more than two years if the maize is hygienically dried,” said Dr Obonyo.
Josphat Karanja from Kiambu lamented how his cows take up to six months after calving to get on heat, despite feeding them with minerals.
He also wanted to know why his animals don’t conceive with first insemination.
Dr James Obiro, an animal health scientist from Egerton University, said heat failure can be caused by poor feeds and hormonal imbalance.
“An animal needs a balanced diet and one must get veterinary advice once the animals calve. Such an animal should be given a hormonal therapy and offered any other treatment to ensure they are healthy.”
Eliud Kahi from Bungoma was keen to know how to increase milk production
Dr Ochieng Odede, a veterinary and animal nutritionist at Sidai Africa Ltd, advised farmers to feed their animals with enough dry matter after calving.
“The dry matter, water, minerals and dairy meal helps make more bacteria, which the cows use to produce milk,” said Dr Odede, who added that animals also need plenty of zinc and copper, among other minerals, to produce more.
John Magut from Nandi County wanted to find out why his cow produces watery milk.
Dr Tobias Okeno, an animal scientist from Egerton, said this is due to feeding their animals excess fresh matter, which has more water.
Judith from Kakamega wanted to know other crops she could intercrop with her sugar cane, apart legumes.
Dr Obonyo advised her to plant peanut and beans as they do not compete for nutrients in the soil.
Farmer Elijah Chesire from Nakuru wanted to find out how to address pests in cucumber.
MEMORABLE, WHOLESOME EXPERIENCE
James Aura of Elgon Kenya asked him to use selective pesticides and insecticides to eliminate the insects.
Mary, a farmer from Kericho, sought to know how to control poultry stress. Ronald Kimetei from Egerton University informed her to construct a modern coop, which has free movement of air to reduce heat, avoid direct sunlight and feed the chickens well with quality feeds.
David Oduor from Siaya County, an avocado farmer, was eager to know how a small-scale farmer can access the Chinese market.
“You must first be in a group. Through the group, you can access the Chinese market by becoming growers for private sector actors such as Kakuzi who have the infrastructure for freezing,” said Dr Maina.
Nakuru deputy governor, Dr Eric Korir, challenged farmers to adopt Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in their farming and use it as a tool for research and to gain knowledge.
Elgon Kenya director of communication Nelson Maina noted that the farm clinic was a success in many ways since the hosting university is in itself is a one-stop shop for all farming knowledge and information that farmers may have required.
“Farmers had a platform to interact one-on-one with the different experts especially during the farm tours,” Maina said.
Joseph Ng’ang’a, New Holland regional sales consultant, informed farmers on their wide range of agricultural tractors and their implements and combine harvesters to ease work and that financing is available with local banks.
The event was sponsored by farm input supplier Elgon Kenya Ltd, fertiliser distributor OCP-Kenya, farm machinery suppliers ISUZU EA, CMC Motors and Toyota Kenya, animal health and crop production inputs dealer Coopers K-Brands, pharmaceutical products manufacturer Cosmos Ltd, agritech-management solutions firm Eprod Solutions Limited, animal health and nutrition firm Sidai Africa, seed maker SeedCo and beer manufacturer East Africa Breweries Ltd.
After the question and answer session, farmers were taken on farm tours at the expansive college, with specific experts acting as guides. They later left the event with a memorable, wholesome experience.