Some carried their diseased plants while others had note books and pens in their hands as they walked briskly into Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) station in Kitale, Trans-Nzoia County, last Saturday for the third Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic.
A look at their faces and the distance some had travelled showed the thirst for knowledge the farmers had.
Random chats with the farmers showed some had travelled from as far as Limuru and Thika in Kiambu County, West Pokot, Siaya and Kakamega while others had come from Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia.
Waiting to engage them were experts from Kalro, Egerton University and Elgon Kenya, among others, all dressed in white overcoats.
And there were also several exhibitors that included Total Kenya, SimbaCorp, Tinga and ACRE Africa.
The farmers’ questions were varied, from agro-inputs to pests and diseases to farm management, soil testing, crop and livestock husbandry, market for produce and agriculture financing.
Mary Koech, a soil scientist from Kalro told the farmers to first begin the planting process by conducting a soil analysis and market research to be ahead of competitors.
Kalro, a government facility, is among places where farmers can contact a soil test by paying Sh1,000 for a sample delivered.
The test takes 14 days, she answered a farmer’s question, as she advised that the tests should be done early to avoid rush associated with planting season.
And when it came to fertiliser choice, whether for planting or top dressing, she told farmers to check the nutrient content of the package and not just buy the name.
“Don’t look at the bag, what matters is the amount of phosphate, calcium or potassium, but this will only be helpful if you have done a soil test,” she said.
David Kipkosgei, an ardent reader of Seeds of Gold, travelled over 70km from Cheparus in Eldoret, accompanied by his 10-year-old daughter.
Kipkosgei, who keeps several Friesian dairy cows on an acre, had attended the event to learn more about feeding his animals.
William Ego, a livestock expert from Kalro, explained that low dairy productivity was becoming common in the region and linked it to inability of farmers to feed their animals properly.
“If you want to know if a feed like hay is of good quality, take a piece then dip in water for 10-20 minutes. If it turns to green, then you know it is of good quality if not, it is bad.”
He asked farmers not to dry feeds directly in the sun but under a shade as he recommended caliandra and sesbania fodder crops, which are high in protein.
Dr Joyce Malin’ga, the Kalro Kitale Centre director, said the institution mainly focuses on maize research across the value chain since they are located in a cereal growing zone.
“We have developed a new bean variety Rosecoco 8 which is resistant to root rot,” she added. The variety is good for mid-altitude areas such as Uasin Gishu, Kisumu, Trans Nzoia and goes at Sh400 for 2kg.
A farmer from Bungoma reported about an armyworm invasion.
Dr Maling’a told him the issue was being studied to understand how wide spread it was, as she encouraged farmers to report cases of invasive pests to the Ministry of Agriculture instead of controlling them by themselves.
One of the popular attractions at the event was a poultry stand where farmers were introduced to the latest innovations of a wooden kerosene brooder and solar incubator.
“It is important to have solar power to back up your electric incubator so that you don’t lose your stock when electricity goes off,” said Morris Shisya, a poultry expert from Kalro.
THIRST FOR INFORMATION
The solar incubator works just like the electric one, only that it uses the sun, he said.
Jerry Barasa, 29, a farmer from Tongeran in Bungoma County who rears over 400 birds and grows maize said he attended the clinic to know how he could improve his stock as well as get advice on the best seed varieties in the market.
Farm machineries such as tractors and pick-up vehicles were available at the exhibition, with a farmer purchasing a Mahindra pickup worth over Sh2.8 million from Simba Corp.
Dr Jendeka Mahasi, the Kalro Centre Director Coffee Research in Bungoma, asked farmers in the North Rift to embrace coffee as the area has vast fertile lands, appropriate soil and climatic conditions suited for the cash crop.
“Maize monoculture has led to soil degradation, dwindling yields and high poverty level. Therefore, embrace coffee to reduce over dependence of maize.”
Nelson Maina, Head of Communication at Elgon Kenya, said the event was a testimony of farmers’ quest to grow food from a point of information.
“It was the best attended clinic since we introduced the scheme with Nation Media Group last year. The thirst for information was evident among farmers and we are happy that we are filling the gap by providing extension services,” said Maina.