Farming smart with harsh climatic conditions in mind

Wednesday March 18 2020
climate1

James Iddah, who works with Simlaw Seeds tends climbing bean plants at the Eldoret ASK Grounds. The crop yields more; up to 25-30 bags per acre, and is hardy, making it a better option for farmers seeking to earn more amid the changing climate. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By SEEDS OF GOLD TEAM

Peter Murimi and his wife Nester Gaturi farm as a couple on their one-acre farm on the outskirts of Kianyaga town in Kirinyaga County.

The young couple’s farm is a beehive of activity at any time, as one will always find some workers either harvesting, weeding or spraying crops.

The crops’ section of the farm is dotted with coffee, Hass avocados, pawpaws, macadamia, bananas and vegetables. The couple also keeps dairy cows and 100 chickens.

“We do mixed farming to maximise usage of our land and boost production and income because we cannot lack something to sell at any time of the year, even when there is drought,” says Murimi.

The couple says they embraced the system of farming to beat the unpredictability of the weather, which was threatening their livelihood.

“We depend on the rain to farm and most of the time these days there are more dry spells than rain seasons. We got training from Ministry of Agriculture officials on how to farm smart,” Nester explains.

They engage in sustainable farming practices, as much of the waste from the crop farm is decomposed and used as fertiliser. They also plant improved, high-yielding varieties of crops, which are tolerant to drought and resistant to pests.

“We use waste from the vegetable farm to feed our livestock. Our farming activities complement each other,” Murimi offers.

The couple grows 300 stems of coffee, 25 Hass avocado fruit trees, 20 pawpaw plants, five macadamia trees and 30 banana stems.

“Coffee is our main crop because that is what we found our parents growing, but we have been diversifying over the years. Over time, our plan is to reduce the acreage under coffee,” they say.

To equip themselves with farming knowledge, the couple regularly attends trainings offered by Ministry of Agriculture officials and by different independent organisations and agricultural training centres.

“We also visit other farmers to ensure that we know what they are doing and we are not exploited by the middlemen when selling our produce. This has helped us join groups through which we bulk our fruits and sell to licensed buyers,” says Murimi, noting that they belong to Kirinyaga Avocado Growers Co-operative Society Limited.

The couple harvests an average of 3,000kg of coffee every year, selling each at Sh70 to Kianyaga Factory. They sell milk from their two cows to Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Limited.

“We also harvest some 500 pieces of Hass avocado fruits a season and sell each at Sh6 to Kakuzi Company, 500kg of macadamia nuts with each going for Sh200, while we sell bananas and pawpaws locally at Sh800 per bunch and Sh20 per kilo respectively,” he explains.

The farmers earn handsomely every year from their different ventures, managing to educate their children in good private schools and have purchased land in Mwea at Sh400,000 and built a permanent house.

“We have no regrets for engaging in mixed farming. Even if you have a small farm, diversify because when one enterprise is doing poorly in a season, you can make some income from another,” Murimi explains.

Phillip Oketch, who educates farmers in Tharaka Nithi under the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project, which is run by the Ministry of Agriculture, says the model of farming helps farmers increase productivity with minimal costs as they farm in a sustainable way.

“With mixed farming, one cannot lack money because if crops fail, one earns from livestock.”

-By Caroline Wambui

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To harvest in plenty, I rotate my crops

The lush green sukuma wiki (collard greens) plants on the one-acre farm near University of Eldoret in Uasin Gishu County stand out because of their huge leaves that would make any mama mboga want to have them at her stall.

Timothy Kimutai, 33, the owner of the farm, is dressed in a green overall and is checking on the crop as he supervises his two workers who are harvesting potatoes.

Apart from potatoes and collard greens, the farm also hosts spinach and nightshade as well as tomato trees.

Kimutai has mastered the art of crop rotation, a climate-smart farming practice that is helping him ward off soil-borne diseases such as bacterial wilt and boost soil fertility.

“I will plant beans where I am currently harvesting tomatoes,” he says. “The sukuma wiki plants are sitting on the plot where I harvested peas,” he adds.

On the one acre, potatoes take up half of it, vegetables (managu, sukuma wiki and spinach) and bracharia grass for his five cows are on the rest.

His journey into farming began in 2010 after completing a diploma course in Information and Communication Technology at a college in Eldoret. After searching for a job in his line of study in vain, luck struck when he landed a job as a manager on a farm in Uganda.

“I was earning USh300,000 (Sh8,200). I later moved to a sugarcane farm owned by a Pakistani who was paying me USh1 million (Sh27,000).”

It is while working on these farms that he realised that agribusiness pays. In 2014, he resigned from the cane farm and returned home to invest his savings in seven acres of maize and potatoes.

“I had not foreseen a dry spell that affected my maize, but I got 100 bags of potatoes, which I sold and made Sh200,000.”

Kimutai sells most of his produce at the university and the adjacent trading centres such as Kidiwa and Kimumu, as well as Eldoret Town.

“I sell the vegetables, from sukuma wiki to spinach and night shade at between Sh30 and Sh100 per kilo depending on season. There is a ready market for the crop. Most of the traders come to the farm for my produce,” says Kimutai, who bought another half-acre where he grows more potatoes and has leased five acres where he farms maize.

He advises young people to take up farming to create jobs, but he acknowledges that it is not a smooth ride.

“Last year, I lost my dairy cow and an entire crop of cabbages due to lack of water. There are disappointments in farming but only the patient benefit.”

The young farmer is planning to take a bank loan to put up a new zero-grazing unit for his three dairy cows as well as poultry and aquaculture enterprises.

Dr Ruth Njoroge, a soil scientist at the University of Eldoret, notes that crop rotation increases nutrients in the soil, which translates to minimal fertiliser use, ensuring reduced cost of production as well as improved crop yields.

“Rotating cereals with legumes is commonly advocated. However, good rotation practices go beyond just the two crop types and may mean incorporation of others such as vegetables, fodder, fruit trees and cover crops. Rotation may be seasonal, annual or over a period of time.”

Dr Njoroge notes that rotation helps in climate change mitigation due to nutrient use efficiency and reduction of emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“This is because soils in a rotation system are able to store more carbon compared to the mono-cropping system.

“Rotational farming is also a sustainable land-use system as it reduces the risks of land degradation. Crop rotation also reduces soil erosion through low soil disturbance, especially when land is left fallow for a longer period,” observes Dr Njoroge.

-By Stanley Kimuge

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Practices that keep my birds happy despite many diseases

A cacophony of squawks welcome Josephine Chege as she enters her chicken house at Lare farm in Kieni, Nyeri County, where she is rearing over 600 Kienyeji hens.

With her farm sandwiched between two water towers, the Aberdare and Mt Kenya, her flock is highly susceptible to diseases that strike during the cold season.

Josephine started keeping poultry some 23 years ago with a few chicks, before expanding her venture over the years.

Just like any other business, on several occasions she has lost dozens of chickens due to the cold weather, which is getting colder.

At one time she resorted to using blankets to warm the coops and prevent diseases such as coccidiosis, which affects the chickens’ respiratory system during the cold weather.

Mostly, she laid blankets on the semi-stoned chicken pen during the night to keep the birds warmer because warming the house with charcoal or electricity was expensive.

But luck came her way through the introduction of climate-smart farming lessons by the county government. These include use of indigenous methods to cure or prevent cold-related diseases.

She crushes aloe vera leaves and mixes it with water and other herbs and gives the cocktail to her chickens. She has also learnt how to make her own feeds to reduce the cost of production.

“We were taught how to use specific feed ingredients and formulas to make quality feeds. For instance, we have been advised to mix either sorghum, millet or green grams with soya or fishmeal to make feeds.”

She says the cost of feeds has shot up, driving many farmers out of business.

“But with climate-smart training especially on crops we can use as feeds, this saves us costs,” says Josephine, adding they are being advised to rear black soldier fly for poultry feeds.

“With home-made rations from the flies, this ensures that farmers have an alternative source of protein for their flock, especially during the dry weather,” says Caroline Wanjiru, the head of research for Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project in the region.

In the group of 30 farmers to which Josephine belongs, the members are set to receive 33 chicks each for rearing in a sustainable way.

“They will be improved Kienyenji chicks that are climate-smart because they mature faster and are resistant to various diseases that affect poultry,” says Wanjiru.

-By Irene Mugo

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Thanks to greenhouses, our fish matures faster, is bigger

A 10-minute drive from Eldoret Town on Ziwa Road lands the Seeds of Gold team at what has become a model farm on climate-smart fish rearing.

Elizabeth Mwikali, the manager of the fish farm run by the University of Eldoret, is busy floating fish pellets in a pond inside a greenhouse when we arrive.

"This fish farm was established in 2017 at Sh350,000 to serve as a hatchery for fingerlings to boost fish production,” she says.

The farm has two greenhouses measuring 20 by 30 metres each and has employed 12 people who work as egg harvesters, feeders and water quality managers.

“We have 47 ponds in the greenhouses, where we stagger fish, from fries to fingerlings to brooders in the various units to ensure continuous production,” Elizabeth says, noting that they keep mainly tilapia. The farm, according to Elizabeth, currently has 1.5 million fingerlings.

“We sell fingerlings that are 28 days old at Sh5 each to farmers from as far as Uganda,” says Elizabeth, who used to run her own fish farm before the university employed her.

But why do they keep the fish in a greenhouse?

“This technology is appropriate because it enables faster growth of fingerlings, besides protecting the fish from heavy rains or drought, which have become common.”

She notes that it also enhances returns, compared to rearing fish in the open. “When fish is kept in waters whose temperature is below 24 degrees Celsius, the growth is retarded. In the greenhouse, they can be maintained at the desired 25-28 degrees Celsius. This enables us to harvest the fingerlings twice.”

When grown inside the greenhouses, Elizabeth notes that the fingerlings take five months to fully mature. “But when they are kept in an open system, the fish can take up to 11 months if the conditions are not right,” she says, adding they also make their own fish feeds and conduct research and training.

Fingerlings are fed three times while fries six times to boost their growth.

Mathew Kipsang, an agricultural engineer from the Rift valley Institute of Science of Technology, says greenhouse fish farming requires lots of investments but it promises high yields at a minimal cost.

“When using greenhouses, one also prevents surface run-off of chemicals, pesticides and soil into the fish pond,” he adds.

“The future of fish farming now depends on innovations aimed at increasing production and growing bigger fish,” he adds.

-By Richard Maosi