Private extension officers help farmers at grassroots
Simon Ndanda is a private extension officer in Godo village, Mwereni ward in Kilifi County.
After getting training in conservation agriculture from Food and Agriculture Organisation officials in 2016 alongside 119 other private extension officers, Ndanda started a demonstration plot, which he used to train two farmer groups – Sagalato and Songa Mbele - every Saturday.
“Before we adopted the farming concept, we used to harvest 90kg of green grams per acre but now we are averaging 270kg per acre,” said Ndanda.
Sagalato and Songa Mbele have 45 and 25 members each respectively, 60 of which have at least three acres where they grow green grams. They are expecting to harvest three 100kg bags per acre.
Initially, a kilo of the legume was going for Sh35, but Ndanda saw the need to aggregate the farmers’ produce and seek better markets. Last year, the two farmer groups harvested 12 100kg bags and he was able to sale the produce at Sh100 per kilo.
The Sh120,000 income generated last year allowed the group to be able to meet the Sh21,250 per acre needed as input (seed, fertiliser and herbicides) for maize and green gram intercrop.
For Ndanda, the journey so far has been a labour of love. Each day, he sets out at 6am and ventures out to recruit farmers, who then meet at the demonstration farm every Saturday.
As part of the aggregation exercise, Ndanda solved the storage problem by taking up an abandoned bar and rehabilitating it to hold the increased bags of harvested green grams that are duly packed in hermetic bags.
“When I started, conservation farming was frowned upon by the community. After the first harvest, the farmers’ incomes have been increasing every year. Now children are always in school with their fees fully paid, there’s enough food for everyone and most of all, the land is preserved,” said Ndanda.
Mariamu Mlongo and Loise Ega of Sagalato group says initially, they used to get very little income from their farms.
“With our intercrop of green gram, cow peas and maize, we not only have our source of income secured,” said Mlongo, adding that thanks to the concept, they minimally dig their farms, a thing that has reduced labour costs.
Vet board calls for setting up of health services commission
Kenya Veterinary Board has called for a constitutional amendment to establish a Health Services Commission (HSC) that will address the human resource requirements of veterinarians.
Dr Christopher Wanga, the chairman of the vet board, also said inspection of meat products should be done by the national government, noting that counties have interests that hamper the enforcement of food safety regulations.
Dr Wanga made the recommendations recently to the Building Bridges Initiative that was collecting views on a planned referendum.
“The constitution devolves the delivery of veterinary services to counties excluding the regulation of the profession and the veterinary policy. This makes animal disease control impracticable since outbreaks do not delimit their spread to county boundaries,” said the board chairman.
He added that the inability to control animal diseases and guarantee safety of food of animal origin denies the country lucrative international markets. “Unless the national government guarantees safety of foods of animal origin with support of counties, we shall continue remaining helpless in addressing the safety of our meat and milk,” he said.
Traditional veges can help lift rural economies, say experts
Agriculture experts have called for increased commercialisation of the African indigenous vegetables to improve the economies of rural communities and small-scale farmers.
The vegetables include amaranth (mchicha), spider plant (saga), African nightshade (managu), jute mellow (mrenda), cowpeas (kunde), pumpkin leaves (malenge) and slenderleaf (mitoo), among others.
Most farmers in rural areas uproot the vegetables from their farms because some of them are weeds. But the experts noted these vegetables can be processed in forms that can be used in children’s foods (amaranth) and packaged in relief foods.
Studies conducted by the Rutgers University in collaboration with researchers from Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, show that the African indigenous vegetables have not been fully explored.
Dr James Simon of Rutgers University acknowledges that although a majority of consumers prefer to eat indigenous vegetables, they do not actually consume them as often.
“To move to the formal market sector, indigenous crops need to come in a predictable fashion and with a predictable level of quality. If done correctly through irrigation and water distribution systems, farmers can grow and sell these crops throughout the year,” he said.
Dr Jane Ambuko, a horticulturalist from the University of Nairobi, acknowledges that as a modern working woman, it is difficult to go to the market to look for vegetables, thus, many now opt to go to supermarkets, which sometimes are limited in variety.
“The only readily available vegetable is managu, which may still not be fresh by the time one gets from the office. It would be nice for people to come up with other ways of repackaging the vegetables, clearly labelling them to maintain their freshness and avoid wastage and loss,” she said.
As a quality measure, she added, the vegetables can be certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards so that they can be sold freely in the Kenyan market and beyond.
Climate change and food loss are among the greatest challenges facing indigenous food production, noted Nutrition specialist in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics at the Kenyatta University, Dr Judith Kimiywe.
-Claire Wasilwa and Sarah Nanjala
Farmers troubled by whiteflies
Farmers in Kirinyaga County are counting losses as whiteflies destroy their crops.
“The flies congregate on the underside of leaves, lay eggs and suck out the plants’ fluids while injecting toxic saliva,” Jackson Karani, a French beans farmer in Kiumbu village, said.
The insects have invaded his seven-acre farm, destroying the crops’ leaves. Most of them have now turned yellow and fallen off.
The tiny whitish flies are attracted to young leaves and in their feeding, they not only transmit diseases, but they also secret honeydew that develops a dark mould that disrupts photosynthesis
Farmers are supposed to spray against the pest every fortnight, but due to the outbreak, they are being forced to spray every week raising their cost of production.
The county government has promised to assist the farmers manage the pest.
Ex-Ethiopian PM vows to push for tech-driven agriculture as Agra chair
Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has said his goal as the new Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) board chair will be to push for technology-driven farming.
Speaking after taking over from Zimbabwean telco mogul Strive Masiyiwa in Nairobi recently, Desalegn added he will work for the transformation of the continent’s agricultural structures from subsistence to high-value production and export.
Agra, a pan-African agricultural organisation headquartered in Nairobi, was established in 2006 to spur green revolution and food security across the continent.
Desalegn, who will assume office next month, becomes the third chairman of the organisation’s board, with his other predecessor being Kofi Annan (deceased).
He also pledged to rally various African Heads of State to honour their commitment to the Maputo declaration of 2003, which directed all African Union member states to commit at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to agricultural development.
“Our agriculture needs more than technology, it needs good policy and functional markets,” said Agra President Agnes Kalibata, who added that political goodwill in crucial in policy implementation.
Masiyiwa, who served as the Agra board chairman for 15 years, noted that African states had for many years abandoned agriculture especially between 1970s to the 90s for the extractive industry, but funding is coming back.