They came from far and wide. Some from Makueni and Trans Nzoia, others from Machakos, Baringo, Nyeri and Nakuru.
And as they trooped to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) demonstration farm in Njoro, Nakuru County where the second edition of the Seeds of Gold farming clinic was held last Saturday, they had one goal in mind – to pick as many lessons as possible to better their agribusinesess.
Armed with notebooks and recorders, the farmers navigated their way through the lush green farms eager for latest innovative farming methods.
Waiting patiently to serve them were experts from Kalro, Egerton University, University of Eldoret and Elgon Kenya, among others, all dressed in white overcoats and black gumboots.
The questions were varied. From agro-inputs to pests and diseases to farm management, soil testing, crop husbandry, livestock and agriculture financing.
On the wheat farm, Prof Miriam Gaceri Kinyua from the University of Eldoret, who is also a plant breeder, informed farmers of newly released varieties that are resistant to deadly stem rust.
Eldo Mavuno and Eldo Baraka, which were introduced last season, are not only resistant to the disease but offer higher yields.
PERIODIC SOIL TESTING
“They yield between 30 and 35 90kg bags per acre,” said Prof Kinyua. The control of stem rust in the new varieties is inbuilt, thus, farmers don’t have to worry any more of how to stop the disease.
“Curbing stem rust has been a costly affair to farmers since time immemorial since it involves heavy use of expensive chemicals. It costs more than Sh10,000 for every acre sprayed but this will now be a thing of the past,” added Prof Kinyua at the event sponsored by Elgon Kenya, Nation Media Group and Kalro.
Most farmers, according to her, spray their crops more than three times with fungicides to deal with stem rust.
Prof Kinyua, however, advised farmers that planting certified seeds would not guarantee them high yield as they must also weed in good time.
She further asked farmers to periodically do soil testing as it is a key component to higher yields.
“Planting certified seeds is not enough. Farmers must make sure they test their soils before planting to check acidity levels and diseases.”
Fredrick Otieno, a field assistant at Karlo, had a busy day explaining the new varieties of sweet potatoes and their nutritional values.
At least five varieties have been developed at Njoro and are unique as they are orange-fleshed, have Vitamin A and boost eye sight, and in particular, are good for diabetic and HIV patients.
ABOUT NEW VARIETIES, DISEASES CHALLENGES
The new varieties are named Kenspot 1-5. “These varieties are resistant to viruses, drought and are early maturing and can be grown where there is minimal rain.”
A farmer planting the crop as fodder must plough the land and dig ridges, which must be 30cm apart and apply fertiliser when they start growing.
However, for a farmer planting the crop for commercial purposes, the ridges should be a metre apart and the seedlings should be 30cm long.
“These vines should be planted in a slanting way and two-thirds should be buried in the soil and a third should remain on top of the soil. The reason for planting this way is to enable farmers to get more root tubers,” explained Otieno, adding one of the reasons farmers fail to get maximum yield is because they don’t follow planting instructions.
He advised those planting for seed multiplication to make a 1m by 50m bed and apply DAP fertiliser. And they should plant the vines without the leaves by making sure two nodes are beneath the soil while one node should be above the soil.
“The vines should be cut in three pieces that have three nodes each and make farrows and insert them in the soil in a slanting way. The spacing should be at least 10cm.”
An acre, he said, requires about 14,000 vines of the new varieties, which are high-yielding in comparison to the old traditional vines.
One of the major challenge that farmers were eager to learn on sweet potato was about diseases caused by aphids and white flies.
ON GREENHOUSE FARMING
“Spraying the crop with pesticides will help eliminate diseases as viruses have no cure and if the problem persists, we strongly recommend uprooting of the diseased plants,” said Otieno.
At Elgon Kenya stand, it was apparent that farmers were eager to farm in greenhouses as they cited success stories of their neighbours.
However, not many had knowledge on how to start a greenhouse and complained of unaffordable prices that were beyond their reach.
John Kabue from Laikipia County wanted to find out the size of the smallest greenhouse and the right materials to use.
“An 8×15m greenhouse goes from Sh150,000 but since majority of smallholder farmers cannot afford, we recommend they buy timber to subsidise the cost and we design for them and also provide them with polythene materials,” said Nelson Maina, an officer from Elgon Kenya.
Another farmer, Nelson Omboki, from Rongai in Nakuru County, sought to know what went wrong after he planted tomatoes in a greenhouse and they died at three months.
“Planting tomatoes in a greenhouse is not enough, ensure the soils are tested, then spray the crop at the right time to curb diseases, ventilate the structure to allow the right temperatures for the crops to mature at the right time,” said Maina, adding farmers should use fertiliser at the recommended times.
CARE OF DRIP PIPES
The drip pipes should continuously be monitored to make sure they are not clogged with dirt, leakage or soil that might disrupt the smooth watering.
Nicholas Kiplimo from Nandi County asked on usage of fertiliser on tomatoes in an open field farm.
“We encourage farmers to apply Potassium Nitrogen 2020 when the crop is young and just before it matures we recommend for NPK,” said Maina.
At Egerton University tent, there were several new varieties of high-yielding pigeon peas, beans, finger millet, chicken peas and sorghum.
Kithukumi Kioko, a farmer from Makueni asked Dr Benard Towett of the institution, why the bean variety he has been planting had not been giving him good yields.
“You are using old variety that takes up to six months to mature. We recommend you use Chelalang, which matures in three months,” Dr Towett said.
Another popular stopover was at the napier grass farm where a Karlo official showed farmers new varieties namely Kakamega 1, Kakamega 2 and 3.
Other varieties include Guatemala, Uganda and Pakistan.
“These types are good in dry areas and thrive well as they don’t require a lot of water,” said a field assistant Henry Rotich.
However, he noted Guatemala is not recommended to feed the animals directly as it will leave a smell on the milk.
“We advise the farmers to ferment it for a week before feeding the animals as this will help kill the smell in the milk.”
A new variety that is a crossbreed of Kakamega 3 and sugarcane was being developed at Kibos in Kisumu and has big leaves and cane with a heavy biomass, he said.
Kalro centre director, Dr Immaculate Maina, said to address farmers’ concerns, the centre will hold clinics regularly.
Filling the void
- Farming clinics help address the current problems farmers are facing in access of extension services.
- Currently, a single agricultural officer is expected to serve up to 1,000 farmers.
With the rapidly changing climatic conditions, farmers are facing numerous challenges that include new diseases and pests.
EDITOR: Watch out for the next Seeds of Gold farming clinic that would be held early next year at a location near you.