Thursday, March 27, 2014

How does index based insurance work?

Index-based livestock insurance is slowly gaining popularity in North Eastern Kenya mainly because of the unpredictable weather, which decimates their livestock.

Andrew Mude, a programme officer with the International Livestock Research Institute, says insuring livestock and assessing the value of  damage during severe drought may not be profitable for conventional insurers.

 “It is difficult and costly for assessors to come to the arid and semi-arid areas to establish the cause of death for animals,” he said

Index insurance, therefore, insures the pastoralists against conditions that lead to stock losses.

 “The key nutritional input for livestock is forage and there is a very big correlation between the availability of forage and health of livestock,” he explained.

 “The more limited the forage, the more likely the animals will die.” 

 To assess the scarcity of  forage,  Ilri uses various sensors, like those owned by Nasa, European Union and the  other research  satellites to tell the level of photosynthesis activity. 
The high resolution sensors normally cover areas of 250 metres by 250 metres, taking photos of the vegetation in a particular area every 10 days.
When the research began in  2008, Ilri  was using satellite images covering eight square kilometres, which, over the years, they have  scaled down to improve the accuracy of their  predictions.

The data collected on the availability of grass and vegetation is measured against data on livestock death from both the arid lands management programme and the World Bank.

A model with a precise relationship between forage availability and livestock death is formed, leading to the formation of an index-based insurance cover for a particular area.

Images of the devastation the severe drought of 2011 had on livestock in the Horn of Africa PHOTO: OXFAM

If the trigger level is reached in a particular area, the insurance company compensates the affected pastoralist, regardless of livestock loss.

“The more the index is above the trigger levels the higher the payout, which enables them to buy feeds for the livestock and compensates them against any loss they may have incurred,” he said.

 Apart from insuring livestock, the indexing can be used to insure crops like maize and wheat in areas where farmers  rely on them for their livelihood but productivity is affected by adverse weather.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Statistics from FAO report on GMo traces

This slideshow was first published on the Business Daily website


Fears as GM traces in convetional foods grow

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has, in a new report, raised the alarm over the increased cases of genetic contamination in globally traded foods.

The survey conducted in 193 countries between February and June last year showed that more conventional foods were being found to have genetic modification (GM) contamination.

The report comes at a time when Kenya is considering maize importation to plug a deficit following poor production last year.

With traditional white maize import sources facing challenges of their own it is expected that Kenya’s imports will be sourced elsewhere.

According to the FAO report the increase in contamination has impacted global import and export trade, especially for countries with zero tolerance to genetically modified foods.

FAO reported that over the period of the survey, 25 countries across the globe blocked imports after finding traces of GMOs.

Incidences of discovery of genetically modified material in non-GM food, the report says, has been on the increase for the last 12 years, with  cases more than doubling in the last five years.

Between 2002 and 2009, 60 cases of contamination were reported among the surveyed countries compared to the 138 cases reported up to last year.

The island of Madagascar destroyed a consignment of maize it had imported from France after it was found to have traces of GM contamination.

Last year the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) reprimanded individuals deemed to be responsible for producing and marketing maize products that allegedly contained GM in a consignment imported from neighbouring Tanzania.

The report noted that while the number of cases of contaminated consignments was relatively smaller than the total amount of food and feed traded globally on any day, the increased occurrence is a worry as it leads to costly trade disruptions.

In most cases the genetically modified crop is authorised for use and sale in one country but may not be legalised in the importing country. If traces of GM are found in a non-GM consignment, the shipment may be destroyed or returned to the country of origin.

Levels of contamination in human food and animal feed varied from one country to another, with a general range between detection of low levels of GM crops that have been approved after a food safety assessment to the adventitious presence level where unintentional presence of GM crops that has not been approved on a food safety assessment in any country was discovered.

FAO said that trace amounts of GMO could be mixed with non-GM food and feed crops by accident during field production or during processing, packing, storage and transportation when the two interact.

The FAO report also identified the inadequate separation between commercialised and field trial production areas as a major contributor to the resulting trade risks.

The fact that different GMO policies exist between trading partners also raised the possibility of imports being rejected over contamination.

Botswana, Congo, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique and the Gambia were among African countries included in the survey.

Others were Mali, Morocco, Somalia, Namibia, Sudan, Niger, Seychelles and Togo.

Linseed, rice, maize, rice cracker and noodles were the most common contaminated foods, with the traded papaya, pet food, canola and soybean products also showing some levels of GM contamination.

Most of the shipments found to have low levels of contamination came from the US, Canada and China. The increased incidence of reported contaminated consignments has been attributed to the increased production of genetically modified crops around the globe.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) estimates that the total acreage of biotech crops increased by five million hectares from 2012 to reach 175 million hectares in 2013.

In their global status of commercialised GM crops 2013, ISAAA noted that of the 27 countries that had grown genetically modified crops, 19 were developing countries that planted an acreage that exceeded that of the industrial nations.

The leading growers of genetically modified crops last year were the US, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada.

ISAAA also identified soybean, cotton, maize and canola as the major biotech crops planted last year.

Seventy nine per cent of global planting, equivalent to 84.5 million hectares of GM soybean, was grown in 11 countries while 23.9 million hectares of genetically modified cotton was grown in 15 countries last year, representing 70 per cent of global planting.

About 57.4 million hectares of maize, considered a staple food in several African countries, planted last year was genetically modified representing 32 per cent of global planting while 8.2 million hectares of GM canola was grown in four countries in 2013.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The mouse scared of elephants!!

They say that elephants are most afraid of mice. Spotting of a tail let alone the body of the small creature can cause a very big stampede.

I beg to differ.

You see at the start of the year I had vowed to that this would be the year I go back to my roots.

 My plan was very simple I wanted my father to lease me half an acre of his land so that my dreams could take off.

My vision for the year has been growing dimmer and dimmer as the days go by. It all started a week after the New Year; the land in our rural home (or shaggz as many Kenyan youth would call it) was still green form the short rains of the previous planting season.

While performance of maize was not satisfactory, the people in my village were hopeful that they would harvest a lot of the vegetables.

You see we the Taita (the Kenyan coastal tribe that I come from) seem to eat a lot of naturally occurring herbs as of my friends once noted when she visited our home most of which are an acquired taste.

When it rains it is almost like clockwork that vegetables which are now in excess supply are harvested and dried either in the sun as they are or after they are boiled. In this way they are able to stay for longer up to three months providing for families.     

When we were young and my grandfather still lived in a mud house the situation was the same if not worse. the elephants would come to the homesteads and help themselves to the rough surfaces of the homes in the dead of the night just to get rid of a bugging itch.
But I digress. 

While villagers were celebrating the harvests in January
, jumbos from the nearby national park were also thanking their maker.  They became the new menace tearing into the farms eating all that they could.

Recently when I visited our rural home and everyone was quick to inform me of the Jumbo imposed curfews.

 There had been far too many close shaves with most of my relatives as they came from the farm and they knew too well that a city mouse like me cannot be able to withstand a confrontation if left to my own devices.

As petty as this might seem to some, many of my relatives most of whom had close shaves with the jumbos have not returned to the farms fearing for their lives.

It got me thinking, do I really want to farm that much that I would be willing to endanger my own life or that of those working for me? Do I even have the resources to spend on a farm only to have an elephant come trampling on the harvests?

I am forced to wonder how many more people in Africa are found in predicaments similar to that of  my kinsmen and what would be the lasting solution to this?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition

My blog qualified for the second round of the YOBLOCO awards, (Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition).

 In this round the 121 blogs in the individual category and 24 blogs in the institutional category from 40 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are publicly evaluated.

Your vote will help me advance to the next level of the competition


1. Go to the link:

2. Vote for Smattakenya by Sandra Chao from Kenya and another blog of your choice

3. Go to your email address and Click on the confirmation link otherwise your vote will NOT be valid.

Quick reminder after you have voted please check for the confirmation link either in your inbox or spam folder and click on it.

You can only vote once per email address so you can vote severally with different emails.

Thank you for your time
Sandra Chao

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tanzanian farmers get taste of mobile extension services

Extension services in Tanzania are set to go mobile thanks to a Norwegian funded program at the Sokoine University of Agriculture.

The new system will help farmers access the vital market information as well as pass on information on various technologies to use to improve farm productivity.

The system will enable the little number of extension workers to reach as many farmers as possible.
According to reports from Tanzania the Enhancing Pro-poor Innovations in Natural Resources and Agricultural Value-chains (Epinav) Program is currently being tested in Kilolo in Iringa and Kilosa districts in Morogoro region.

Kenya’s well developed technology sector has enabled many individual and organizations to come up with both web based and mobile platforms that help farmers and other players within the agricultural sector value chain.

If technology is integrated well with agriculture has the potential to increase productivity and the socio-economic status of many smallholder farmers in the continent.