Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mobile app provides forecasts for Rwandan coffee farmers

Technology is great! It helps you do stuff you never thought you would be able to and in quite a short time. 

In the sphere of agriculture technology has helped improve the quality of seeds and enable farmers easily access extension services and increase their productivity.

Rwandan coffee  farmers are  set to  get  a boost  in the  fight  against  coffee rust with the  creation of a mobile app created  by a startup incubated at  ESA in the  UK.

The  app  will enable the   coffee  farmers  protect and improve their  crops  by providing  highly localized weather  forecasts helping them make  the best  decisions at the right time.

The hyper local forecasts can alert farmers to   changes in rain patterns and any disease threat. 

The weather safe coffee farmer edition app can run on multiple mobile software like Apple ios, Android and Blackberry.

For more information


Monday, April 14, 2014

The heavens come pouring

The long rains are finally here with us. Yes many parts of Kenya are indeed wet. infact last week there  were  flash floods in certain parts of the country as a result  of the heavy rains.

It is good news all over, even farmers who were holding onto their  maize stocks are  now selling  in preparation for the new planting season.

Kenya  like many African countries is  dependent on rain fed agriculture meaning that the onset of the long rains is a relief  for  the country's  break baskets and strategic grain reserves.

Last year, the poor performance  of maize, (the staple food)  left a shortage of 10 million bags. The poor performance was evidence in other traditional sources  like Tanzania and  Malawi which we  trade with to supplement our deficits.

It is this background that has got me thinking, the rainfall we had last year  was part of the attributes for the poor maize production, how do we make  this planting  season different.

While there are many rain harvesting techniques employed on small scale mainly by non governmental organizations in arid and semiarid parts of the country many farmers have left their produce  at the mercies of the gods, so to speak.

If it rains, the  food production will be enough for  subsistence use  and sale, if the rains are below average we suffer food  shortage.

The long and short  of  it is that  with  the increasing threat of climate change we need to think  away from rainfed agriculture.

What technologies whether simple or complex can be employed  to ensure that  farmer  productivity is not  grossly affected.

Should  we dig  more boreholes or use rooftop water harvesting systems? Is it possible to dig dip trenches along the farm borders to trap rain water?

I am not an expert in this neither am I in a capacity to recommend technologies. What I do know  for  certain is if  we do not  find and implement technologies on larger  scales that work for  farmers then  we risk  being caught in the endless cycle of drought and famine.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Modern farming technologies coined to attract youth to agriculture

The Youth Agro Environment Initiative, a non-governmental organisation based in Nairobi is training young people on modern farming technologies that can enable graduate but unemployed youth to earn a living.

One of the crops that they chose for this project is the arrowroot which has traditionally been grown near water bodies due to its high water consumption.

The scarcity of water and dwindling water sources has discouraged many young farmers. It is cumbersome to practice this type of farming

The Youth Agro Environment Initiative is now educating farmers how to grow the arrowroots in uplands – far from the river – and still get good yields.

Grace Wanene, the project co-ordinator and head trainer, notes that farmers should first remove weeds from the land. “You then dig a one metre wide trench that is 60 centimetres deep and line its base with a polythene sheet,” she says.

In order to ensure that the arrow roots enjoy conditions similar to those grown along river banks, Wanene states that farmers should irrigate them once a week. They should also, mulch the land during dry seasons so as to prevent water loss through evaporation.

Wanene explains that the polythene sheet is a heavy gauge material that does not let water through. It therefore ensures that the soil is water logged – just as on riverbanks – which provides a suitable environment for proper growing of arrowroots.

With this technology, young people can comfortably grow these arrowroots anywhere they want to and generate income,” says Wanene.

She adds that using irrigation also enables farmers to grow the crops and harvest all year round. “This can’t happen if you plant the arrowroots near rivers as water levels keep fluctuating depending on rainfall patterns.”

Wanene advises farmers to use the appropriate arrowroot suckers when growing them in uplands. She cites one type known as Colossia Esculena which is high yielding and consumes less water. “But if such varieties are not available. Farmers can still use what is present in their area,” she says.

Arrow root tubers cost between three to ten Kenyan shillings. About one hundred of them can fit in a ten metres by ten metres piece of land.

The plant matures after about six months and once farmers have harvested the arrowroots, they can use the ensuing tubers as planting material for the next season.

Wanene notes that with this technology, arrowroots can be grown near homesteads where they are more secure. “Those grown near rivers are at risk of destruction by floods especially during intense rainfall,” she says.

The Youth Agro Environment Initiative is currently piloting this project with ten Youth groups in Gatundu and plans to scale it up in the entire Central Kenya region.

The initiative is assisting the youth groups to set up demonstration plots through training and financial support. “Once they harvest, the proceeds are then used to set up plots for each member within the group,” says Wanene.

She adds that this approach addresses two key challenges that youth keen on starting agribusiness face: lack of capital and knowledge on modern technologies.

Wanene notes that most young people often fail to succeed in their first attempt at farming, thus they may be unable to repay money borrowed from banks. “So we are giving them loans which they repay by establishing plots for fellow youth.”

In Kenya, agriculture accounts for about 26 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and over 60 per cent of total foreign exchange earnings. The sector also provides some 80 per cent of all employment opportunities in the country.

However, most of Kenya’s youth still shy away from farming. Majority of their parents – mainly small scale farmers – employ traditional farming technologies which results in low yields and minimal returns.

They thus remain poor and make young people view agriculture as an unattractive career,” says Dr. Augusta Abate, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Assistant Representative in Kenya.

She adds that the education system also conditions young people to go for white collar jobs. “Most of them have a negative view of agriculture as labour intensive and unrewarding,” says Abate.

Wanene notes that availing capital for leasing agricultural land to the youth will consequently increase their participation in agriculture and help change these negative perceptions.

With improved agricultural performance, Kenya will make great strides towards achieving MDG 1 which seeks to eradicate poverty and hunger in nations.

The story first appeared on the Entrepreneurship Africa website written by Wairimu Nyambura

The ABC of sheep breeds in Kenya

By their nature, sheep are followers. They follow the shepherd to pastures, to the market and to the slaughterhouse.

You just need to show the way and they will follow. I am sure this picture reminds you of Limuru, where many people keep sheep.
Today, I would like to focus on two primary sheep breeds, namely the Dorper (pictured) and Red Maasai. The Dorper is a breed that was developed in South Africa and was introduced into the country through the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in 1950s.

 It was developed by crossing the Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian breeds, hence the name ‘Dorper’. The animal is identified by its characteristic black head and white body.

The breed has been widely adopted across the country due to its commendable adaptability to semi-arid and arid environments. The Dorper exhibits good mothering abilities, calves twice a year and can attain a live weight of 36kg in four months.

However, when compared to local breeds, the Dorper may be termed as ecologically-challenged as it is not resilient to drought and common sheep diseases such as gastro-intestinal parasites, commonly referred to as worms. The latter are known to cause serious losses to sheep owners.

On the other hand, the indigenous Red Masaai sheep are mostly found in Rift Valley. The sheep are synonymous with pastoralists. The Red Maasai breed is mainly reared for meat, and not wool. It has reddish-brown fur. It spots a shaggy coat of hair, not wool. The pastoralists are extremely fond of this breed due to its numerous adaptive traits.

However, the down-side of the species is that it is characteristically small compared to the exotic breeds, thus it does not make much commercial relevance.

Clearly, both breeds have merits and demerits. How can a farmer gain from their respective strengths?

The answer lies in crossbreeding. Developing a composite breed that would be relatively more resistant as compared to a pure exotic Dorper and more productive as compared to an indigenous Red Maasai would be an ideal approach.

The crossbreeding approach has been undertaken and indications are that a 50/50 cross is relatively more resistant and productive, and an increase to 75/25 pedigree would ultimately improve the productivity of the animal but require increased management.

The crosses offer better meat and milk, are drought-tolerant and worm-resistant, have higher lamb survival rate, exhibit faster growth, achieve higher slaughter value and are preferred even in local markets.

The crossbreeds perform better in terms of body weight gain and growth rates than both the pure Dorper and the indigenous Red Maasai.

The crossbreed is of clear economic relevance to the smallholder farmers. Crossbreeds can be bought from local farmers around Kajiado and Nakuru.

So, where can you sell sheep? They are mainly sold in local markets at about Sh4,000 an animal. The Kenya Meat Commission is another potential market. Their docile nature makes sheep very easy to rear. They can be comfortably kept on a small portion of land. Sheep also provide very good quality skins for the leather industry.

A good breeding ram would cost approximately Sh12,000.

Being a shepherd may be the next big thing.

Why the crossbreed is value for your money
  • Offers better meat and milk
  • Drought-tolerant
  • Worm-resistant
  • Has higher lamb survival rate
  • Exhibits faster growth
  • Achieves higher slaughter value
  • Preferred even in local markets

The story first appeared in the Daily Nation Newspaper written by Mary Muchunguh