Some came on foot, others on motorbikes, personal vehicles, matatus and school buses.
Not even the early morning chilly weather thawed the enthusiasm of the farmers as they flocked Kaguru Agricultural Training Centre in Nkubu, Meru, for the fourth Seeds of Gold Farm Clinic.
In their hands were notebooks and pens, and a copy of Seeds of Gold, all in anticipation of what they were going to learn at the event.
“I am a keen follower of the farm clinics. I attended the previous one in Kitale and did not want to miss this one in Meru,” said Christopher Saina, a dairy farmer from Nandi Hills, who also grows coffee on 20 acres.
The farmer arrived in Nkubu a day before the event, and sought accommodation at a nearby hotel. “What I learn from the clinics is invaluable. I always ensure I arrive early so that I don’t miss anything.”
Saina was not alone, farmers came from as far as Marsabit and Nakuru, and from neighbouring counties such as Embu and Tharaka Nithi.
With the theme of event being ‘Creating new opportunities in dairy and horticulture farming’, the two agribusinesses were at the centre of discussions.
Elizabeth Kathure, who runs A.J. Nkwiga Farm, a dairy enterprise in Meru, wanted to know about the best practices to follow to improve her dairy herd.
“Successful dairy farming involves giving your animals balanced feeds, have good record-keeping practices, proper breeding and frequently check on the animals’ health,” David Mukindia, a successful farmer explained.
Mukindia practices steaming up, which involves feeding an in-calf cow extra rations, especially of grain and concentrates, to promote maximum milk production from the early beginning of lactation.
STEAMING-UP YOUR COW
This usually commences about a month before calving. Dairy experts noted that cows under the programme should be separated from each other for better results, that is, more milk yields after calving.
“This feeding allows a cow to store some reserves that will be used for milk production from the beginning of the lactation,” said Mukindia, adding a cow should get extra dairy meal concentrate at a recommended rate of 2kg.
James Macharia, who works with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), told farmers to invest in nutritious fodder such as brachiaria to boost their herds’ feed provision as well as sell the grasses.
Evans Muriithi, a small-scale dairy goats and vegetable farmer from Chuka, was worried about watering his crops when rains are scarce.
James Koome, a horticulture specialist from Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (KAVES), a USAID-sponsored initiative, informed him of the use of solar-powered water pumps.
“These pumps are affordable and efficient for the smallholder farmer. They enable one to cheaply water their greenhouses as they can pump water to an elevation of 33 feet and a distance of up to 70 metres.”
Pinkeye, an infectious and contagious bacterial disease of sheep, goats and other animals, also arose as a challenge to many dairy goat farmers.
Paul Kinoti, the principal of Kaguru ATC, suggested that affected animals be isolated from the rest of the flock to prevent spread of the disease, and they should be treated and housed in a clean, dry and comfortable place.
“Good hygiene, by cleaning and disinfecting the animal houses, good disposal of manure and other waste and good fly control, both on the animal and their dwellings help curb the disease.” he advised.
IDENTIFY AND MAINTAIN SEASONED VET
Kinoti also advised farmers intending to administer Artificial Insemination to their goats to identify and maintain a seasoned, trusted certified vet to undertake the process.
For successful breeding, he further advised farmers to maintain proper records of their dairy goats.
Cecily Mureithi, a farmer from Embu, called upon her colleagues to interact and share knowledge and ideas on agribusinesses to uplift each other.
Nelson Maina, Head of Communication at Elgon Kenya Ltd, said that the clinics offer farmers a golden opportunity to get quality knowledge and skills, access a wide range of products at farm level as compared to when they just go to an agrovet and purchase a product that they have very little knowledge and guidelines about.
“The importance of such events is that farmers come with questions and go back home with solutions.”
Peter Njeru of Simba Corp noted that farmers currently have an array of machines that they can use to transform their farms, including pick-up trucks and tractors. Look out for the next clinic.
Agricultural experts cited information gap as one of the major barriers hindering farmers from achieving their full potential.
Mwinyi Bwika, Head of Marketing at We-Farm, said farm clinics and technology can help bridge the gap, enabling farmers to access knowledge freely.
Peter Njeru, a marketer with Simba Corp lauded the clinics noting that they have offered farmers access to machinery aimed at making work easier while at the same time helping farmers save on cost while making money.
“Machinery like trucks can be used on the farm for transformation by enhancing efficiency, saving the farmer on transport cost, while at the same time a farmer can also hire out to other farmers and still make money.”
The experts stressed the importance of farmers turning agriculture into business by embracing technologies and modern methods of farming so as to reap greater benefits.
The main aim of farming should be to ensure that the livelihood of people is improved and this will happen if farming is done as a business.
Seeds of Gold farm clinics were initiated by Elgon Kenya Limited and Nation Media Group.
They have brought to the fore the thirst for correct information among smallholder farmers so that they can feed the nation.
The first clinic was held in Thika, the second in Nakuru and the third Farm Clinic was held in Kitale.