Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Mixed Basket - 2012 That Was

This post has been in the pipeline for the last 4 weeks but every-time I sit down to get word on the keyboard I’m quickly pulled out or called for this or that errand. The last 3 months for anyone is agriculture in Kenya especially has been a blessing or a curse depending on which activity you’re engaged in. 

{Incidentally CitizenTV had a feature on Charoza Farm on the news segment 'Movers and Shakers' yesternight 15th January which gave me renewed purpose to push work on the farm

‘Short Rains’?
For the uninitiated, the last quarter October to December usually has what in Kenyan parlance is called Short Rains. It represents the last chance to redeem yourself as a farmer if your work had not borne fruit in the Long Rains which usually come around March-May/June.
Out with 2012...2013 is the new bud

For 2012 though, the rains came and even as I write we have had a heavy downpour quickly filling up the water-tanks which we had just drained only last week for the 4th time (we have used rain water on the farm for the last 15 years, only twice have we fetched river waters). That’s 5 months of good weather where the Sun shines for at least 3-4 hours every day and there is rain 3-5 days in a week.
The land is plush with greenery and the area that I come from, farmers are spending nights in their farms figuring what to do with the tea leaves whose production in the last 3 months has increased Christmas break (the only other time I recall this happening was during the El Nino rains in the late 1990s).
Tea factories are operating at optimal levels and thus the demand for fuel in whatever form ( in 2009 factories from our area we given the go ahead to start using boilers fuelled by wood fuel thus the demand for timber shot through the roof endangering the trees around). It should mark a good start for one of Kenya’s main foreign exchange earner.
Back on my farm though the greenery includes napier grass, grass for the cattle which is now more than enough. We have also been replenishing the stock of silage as we prepare for rains to stop anytime (or whenever the weather changes drastically). There are supplies of Lucerne, desmodium, sweet potato vines among other foods available for cattle. The farm helps have also been busy adding more manure to the bananas which have flourished quite well in the last 1 year.
There have been the occasional fruits which keep up with this season. The passion fruit have done well ( though I don’t do this commercially, just for the family to enrich their diet), tree-tomato (or whatever you call it in your locality…the fruit produces an red ooze when cut in half & is popular for fruit juices in restaurants in Kenya), a few mangoes and avocadoes. These too I don’t invest heavily in but are for local consumption.
In another part of the farm, my mum has been working on her arrowroots and sweet potatoes which have been doing well. These she supplements some of her income and also come in handy when she’s visiting the city folks who have developed a palate for traditional foods. They have substituted the increasingly expensive loaf of bread on the breakfast table.

Birdie bland
Now on the flip-side, I have lost some of my poultry especially the rather fascinating geese. They had proceeded on well but come the ‘short rains’, some sort of infestation and change in weather patterns seems to have affected them. I have lost about 7 of these which has dealt a blow to my bird business; I sold 4 and now left with 3 which I’m still seeking to sell.
Graceful Geese
Initially we had 50 birds in the coop but lost some 15 chicks from the brood of hens, that we had gotten affecting the numbers too. For some strange reason, some of the egg-laying ones have become cannibalistic feasting on the eggs even after we tried supplementing their diet with all the appropriate nutrients and even feeding them with sand (and dropping feeds on a pecking stone …in the hope of blunting their beaks). These hens and cocks were quite unlucky to find their way onto the dinner table during the festive season as the city-folks came for the holidays. I have left that side of the work to my old lady who’s sentimental about kukus.
The weather also affected the goats where I had about 6 goats, 3 died and I slaughtered 2 for the family and the last one gave out to an in-law. They had served their time too and I couldn’t bear to see them all die.
The more profitable bit of my year has been the dog business. These have helped me tremendously recover from the heavy losses and though not yet fully streamlined, I’m bound to keep these and the cows for the coming year.


Commercial feed – from cattle, chicken to the dogs, commercial feed costs have been rising and are not coming down anytime soon. Feed companies may need to seek rebates and tax relief from the Government otherwise many a farmer is opting out of these. There are also companies which have brought feeds in the market which don’t quite measure up to the quality expected. You feed the animals for the longest time yet no improvement is seen on the output. This is so with the cows and poultry.

Reliable veterinary services – there are either too many quacks operating in this field or there is a new breed of diseases and infections or worse still they don’t train them as well as they used to in colleges anymore. The geese problem opened up my eyes to this deficiency. Check the Kenya Vet Board website, enough said...
Jab it here! That won't hurt

Marketing – there are too many hurdles and also loopholes that see many a farmer exploited for their hard-earned work. There are enough middle-men and obstacles before you get to sell some of your produce and even if you do this through a co-operative, the price is heavily under-cut by market forces. Commodity markets, anyone?

Credit – too many co-operatives and micro-finance institutions have been sprouting all over agricultural zones. But many of these have not engaged their clientele in educating them ways of using credit, cheaper repayment schedules and the benefits of saving. Many a farmer is heavily indebted to the co-operative societies and micro-finance lending institutions that by year end, they still owe monies in their thousands. Most farmers still take advances for educational, conspicuous spending, unnecessary trips which end up eating into the income that they may receive.
Where I come from tea and coffee are the two main cash crops and we used to have boom or bonus periods (used to be from October to December). Patriarchs in their families would make major farm works, buy new items, livestock, repair houses and build new structures etc. while others disappeared from their address for days on end. We don’t notice these anymore. In fact, some old men are said to go into hiding to avoid loan repayment officers who may come around.

Weather – in our part of the world, agricultural activities are still heavily dependent on weather patterns. That’s why the food market is now flooded with cheap vegetables which cost an arm and a leg not too long ago. It’s the reason there is milk flowing even to the dog’s bowl and even this mongrel pushes aside. If the rains subside and disappear for 3 months, some parts of the country will beg for relief food, a rather embarrassing thing for the authorities.

Deforestation – though in our part of the country squatters were chased out of the major forests, there is a crisis in the making where farmers are not replanting trees in their farms and their surroundings. A quick survey in our locality found that our farm had some of the widest and oldest varieties of trees ( I try planting at least 50 trees every rain season). Trees species such as cedar, cypress, fig tree are almost folklore where plenty existed. Even the infamous eucalyptus tree is under threat as the alternative timber source.

Well, folks that was my brief for the last months of the year that was. If the rains continue, 2013 should be a blessing for us, but then again its early days! Have a fruitful one to you all! Hope the blogging muse is still alive in the coming weeks...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Improved Milk Consumption - Will Kenya Dairy Board & Milk Processors hack it?

The Kenya Dairy Milk and milk processing firms in Kenya want you to consume more milk. This is contained in a promo which stated with a TV ad (If you have not seen the advert yet, you can catch the YouTube link here ) among other media promos.
Want Milk? 

Most farmers will applaud this but the tough job will be how to sustain the consumption amidst changing feeding patterns in and around the region. According to an article appearing The East African title 'Got Milk? Kenya's Dairy firms in joint publicity campaigns' Kenyans remain the highest consumers of milk in the East African region ....this is a fact usually seen in simple practice as tea-making and taking which is easily Kenya's 'social drink'. In some countries such as Tanzania, black tea or coffee is more common,a trait replicated in countries such as Ethiopia and shattered Somalia.
The same article also notes the case for lactose intolerance ( a condition where the human body lacks the digestive enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose contained in milk). Its is quite high in most adults in the country though majority still do not know they suffer from the same. This is bound to hamper consumption of milk in its purest form ( yoghurt and other cultured milk such as mala can be consumed by those suffering from lactose intolerance if you may).
This campaign seems to be targeted at all the age groups though from the TV ad, there might be a misleading element if one has to be a kid to drink milk or if its meant for the 'young at heart'.
The other dilemma is if the milk processors are able to sustain the milk production without compromising on both the quantity and quality. In February and March of this year, there was a milk glut in most urban centres which led to a price increase of almost 35% of the commodity. Fairly good rains in most of the agricultural regions has seen the milk output increase and reach optimal levels. However, a lot of wastage is still seen in some areas where the infrastructure is lacking.
Another case study which the Kenya Dairy Board needs to remember is the Nyayo milk - the free milk programme in primary schools in the 1980s and early 90s. Though the milk was secured to milk processing firms, much of the content consumed at the schools had been stripped off much of its nutritional value. There were also reports of drugs lacing the milk to induce impotence among other claims. Such scenarios would be in the offing if the KDB would decide to revisit such a programme as earlier indicated in the year.
Also, if the campaign is to be successful, dairy farmers across the country need be included and remunerated well for their efforts in ensuring good milk production and supply. The whole supply chain needs to be streamlined to see to it few or no bottlenecks exist. The farmers can also participate in weekly or monthly awareness forums to sensitise locals on the need for consuming milk.
David Rudisha takes mursik too - 
Another element which the KDB would have 'milked' is the sportsmen and women from this country.That they have been able to make their exploits across the world thanks to regular consumption of milk is without a doubt. Maybe someone should even look at patenting and packaging the famous mursik from the Rift Valley region ( some sports science researchers have tried to link its consumption to Kenya's prowess on the track but no conclusive findings have been ever been made). Imagine would impact this would have when our world-beaters at the Olympics hold up a gourd/glass of this drink at every public event and aggresively engage in its consumption?
All in all, it is a good start and it is our hope that the renewed interest in milk consumption will not just benefit the milk processors who are more commercially driven but also work to promote a healthy feeding culture in the country and region. It should also benefit the farmers with increased earnings from their labour in dairy farming.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

ASK Shows - Do They Make Any Agro-Business Sense Anymore?

In a few days, the ASK Kisumu Show will be opening doors to farmers, business men and the usual entourage of students, learning institutions and financial institutions to name but a few. Oh you might want to add the usual circus of our Kenyan politicians who come to open or close the Show(s) or award this or that 'Best Stand', 'Best Exhibitor', 'Best Parastatal' or ' Best Cow' etc.
ASK Official Logo

But strictly speaking have ASK Shows lost their essence and become more about showmanship than agricultural and business learning places?

Information from the ASK website,(which I must say was a complete suprise to see that they even have an up-to-date website) shows that these exhibitions started in Kenya back in 1901, about 111 years ago. Kenya then being under what was to become a British colony, had seen farmers from parts of England, Scotland, Ireland and others as far as Australia eventually settling in the country. It started out as the East African Agricultural and Horticultural Society (EAA& HS). It's objective was to 'promote agricultural development based on European settlement'.

It was renamed the Royal Agricultural Society of Kenya in 1949 at the height of colonial rule in Kenya. In 1964 it dropped the 'Royal' to remain Agricultural Society of Kenya as it is to date. Since the initial stages, it has enjoyed patronage from Government officials. It's current patron is the Head of State with the Agriculture Minister ( along with the unnecessary Minister of Livestock Development & Fisheries) serving as Deputy Patrons.

Currently there are 3 categories;

  • International Fairs - including Nairobi International Trade Fair and Mombasa International Show;
  • National Shows -  which have Kitale, Eldoret, Nyeri, Meru, Nakuru and Kisumu Shows;
  • Regional Shows - with Embu, Kakamega, Kisii, Kabarnet, Machakos, Garissa and Nanyuki Shows
Enough with the history of ASK, and now to the more urgent issues. In all honesty, some of the reasons why agriculture does not enjoy uptake among the youth and younger at heart is the fact that most of the practices are not 'youth-friendly'.
ASK Logo - courtesy of
The last time I went for such a Show was the Nairobi International Fair some few years ago and besides bored officials sent from the offices and others there for the simple fact that they will earn some daily allowances. It was quite hard to extract meaningful information, with most telling you to go visit your nearest Agricultural official, KARI ( Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) centre among others. Well the reason I went for the Show is so that I can get that information easily at one go!
Secondly this exhibitionist nature is just for show quite literally. It would be more practical if they managed to have successful farmers showing us how and what they did to improve yields on their farms and how they might have tackled issues such as pests, diseases or low soil fertility. That way it would be make more sense to some of us. Those demo farms that are usually there serve for the purpose of showing ideal situations but very few farmers have such situations in their farms - if you get what I mean.

Well they do try to showcase the animals which come to be paraded and eventually sold out in some auction either to face the butcher's knife or become a prized piece for some farmer's cattle. This is one of the few reasons that it still makes sense to those of us keeping animals for commercial reasons. But besides the grade breed cows - the Friesians, Jerseys and others of this world- it would also be good to showcase mixed breeds too.

And while there are many young schooling students and farmers who show up to the grounds, I can assure you 75% of them have never held a hoe or panga save for the time they have to attend to some punishment meted out in school. Right from the days they step in school, they are made to understand their mission in school is to pass and move on to blue-collar jobs - doctors, lawyers and engineers - no dirtying of hands there!

Such shows should have tertiary institutions come with the best-of-practice and innovations they have been working on to make sure that they attract attention not just from budding farmers but also from investors who may fund their ideas from lofty dreams to practical work.

The Show should also ensure some of the outreach services that are usually show-cased at the grounds cane be extended beyond the 3-5days that people visit the venues. This should be to see that those who may have burning queries continue to be served by the agriculture and livestock officers - services such as A.I, veterinary, etc.

And it ought to be that exhibitors show innovative ways of working on the farms and getting better output from their animals. This thing of regurgitating the same exhibits and ways of doing business is just boring. When you see the same thing in one Show to the next, it not only becomes monotonous but annoying.

Out of curiosity by the way, do they still have membership for young and other members? I remember back in the day when one of my parents bought us the Junior members cards. This meant with that card I could gain entry to any Agricultural Show without having to pay any gate charges. Wonder how many junior members they have these days....

That I can't renew such membership on an annual basis, the way I do for such services as A.A (Automobile Association of Kenya) membership. And the challenge for ASK going forward is to entice the younger generation to take up farming and offer alternatives to the careers. Farming is no longer a part-time job as many would be wont to believe.

For all you Kisumu young farmers go forth this weekend and make them understand this...

{Thanks to the people working on the ASK website, the info was helpful though I wish you had more details on the National & Regional Shows -unique features of each}

Monday, 25 June 2012

Shamba Shape-Up -- Great Innovation in TV Programming for Agriculture

In a time when media houses have been focussed on politics and socio-dramas to enhance their viewership, some of the leading media outfits have been able to air an agricultural and farming production. The programme which goes by the name of  "Shamba Shape-up" has been airing for quite sometime now...lucky to have caught it in the last couple of early Sunday afternoons.
Shamba Shape-up Presenters  - Naomi Kamau & Tonny Njuguna
Image courtesy of 

 "Shamba Shape-up" - focuses on a practical, hands-on production which features one or more farmers who gets a visit from the 2 presenters. These presenters are able to come with experts in various agricultural fields including veterinarian, crop production experts, soil scientists, carpenter( for animal structures) among others.
The presenters and experts use local Swahili language to explain the various challenges that the farmers and farming profession faces and how best to overcome them using local methods and solutions. They have also partnered with various local agricultural supplies firms such as Kenchic, Unga Group, Coopers(K), Syngenta, KARI along with agro-financing institutions such as FSD Kenya , AECF (Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund) and AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa).

This is a great idea especially to us young farmers who are busy trying to make it in a field which has been shunned by many. It also helps to provide alternative solutions for us farmers with less of the textbook solutions that many others offer. Most of the ideas explored are usually very practical and one can always compare notes with what you are doing on your own farm.

Kudos to the producers, partners and all those who have made this innovative programme. We just hope it will continue coming on our screens and get more support. We would also love for other national and regional media houses to carry it to engage farmers from across the region in various ways of improving both crop production and animal husbandry.

Let's 'shape-up our Shambas'

For more info, you can check their link here, and also view some of the past episodes. Hope they can also work on improving the social and online media interaction to reach a wider audience of their targetted audience, in this our era! 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Kenyan Budget 2012/13 Estimates - What does it mean for Kenya's Agriculture?

Last week on Thursday, the Kenyan Finance Minister gave his ritualistic Budget estimates to the August House and the country as a whole, for the year 2012/13. With an election year beckoning and also the new structures of governance as recommended in the new Constitution, Mr. Njeru Githae had a tough task of balancing his figures
Finance Minister holds up Budget suitcase - Image courtesy of Business Daily

Of importance to us though is what these estimates bode for the agricultural sector. Here are some of the recommendations that directly affected agriculture;

  • An additional amount of KSh. 1. billion was added to the Agribusiness Fund to help promote credit access to Kenyan farmers. This is together with the agreement for banks to invest 10 Shilling. for every 1 shilling of Government invested bringing the total allocated to Agribusiness Fund to KSh. 10 billion.
  • KSh. 1.5 billion was recommended to write off farmers debts in the sugar, rice and coffee sectors. 
  • KSh. 1.6 billion was set for Strategic Grain Reserves and another KSh. 2 billion for famine relief.
  • Contigency Fund was allocated KSh. 6 billion to help mitigate against unforeseen conditions and market forces. 
  • KSh. 8 billion was allocated to the National Irrigation Board - which manages various irrigation schemes in the country - this is to help bring agriculturally potential areas to optimal production levels.
  • KSh. 53.3 billion will be spent by the Ministries of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries and others relating to the agricultural sector. This represents approximately 5% of the total budget ( remember agriculture remains one of leading sectors bringing in about 25% of total revenues especially in foreign exchange terms...)

Other recommendations include;

  • Tax issues - Exemption of duty for importers of inputs in bee-keeping ( apiculture)
  • Trade promotion strategy for expanding and diversifying exports, main focus being on nuts ( macadamia and cashew-nuts) 
Overall, in my opinion, not much effort was made to enhance Kenya's food production. This is because, more efforts would have been put in enhancing value addition in export-oriented products. A case in hand is the coffee industry which should borrow a leaf from the Ethiopians who were able to get Starbucks to recognise their brands of coffee.

More items and food production inputs should have been zero-rated to enable Kenyan farmers produce more and a cheaper cost. Items such as fertilisers, machinery parts and also fuel which plays a major role in almost all sectors could have been on a lowered tax regime or staggered over the next 12 months.

But as financial analysts will tell you, the figures are the easy part, implementing and balancing them is the tougher battle. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Maize Imports in Kenya, Not Again!

Press reports and information coming from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that the country may not be able to fully cater for local maize supplies thus the need to import more maize grain. Well, this must be one of those Ministry directives that hurts many Kenyan farmers and millers alike ( OK depending on which side you're rooting for anyway...)
Healthy Maize crop

In the last 2-3 years, the country's grains production has come under severe threats thanks to factors both within our reach and others not entirely our fault. From
- environmental concerns - drought and poor rains;
- reduced yields in traditional bread baskets of Western and Rift Valley;
- poor storage methods which lead to bad grain - remember aflatoxin in Eastern parts of Kenya?
- poor farming practices - this is especially so with the small-scale farmers who use archaic methods of planting and tending to their shambas
- poor marketing practices which have led to grain farmers losing their grain to middlemen who are out to make a killing by hoarding this for speculative purposes. Read this article about rice and the EAC.
- invasion by disease and pests - this is the case with the weaver birds invading parts of Narok and also the current mosaic disease affecting some areas in the country

This has seen our strategic grain reserve under threat in the same number of years ( we can't forget the rumoured sale of grain reserves by some Ministry operatives in 2008-09 in the guise of seeking cheaper imports only to re-route the local grain back to the market at a higher price...).

Its begs the questions;

  • Why can't the Ministry of Agriculture and other related Ministries such as Environment and Forestry come up with a master plan to improve farming practices both for large-scale and small-scale holders to ensure improved yields?
  • Can the Ministries also improve our storage capacities across bread basket regions by building bigger and more silos to store these grains as and when they are harvested?
  • In terms of irrigation, Kenya is still operating below the required minimum while the rate of population growth has been shooting up, what plans are there to ensure the Irrigation Schemes operate at above average and the harvest combined to ensure good yield across the country?
  • Instead of always looking out for 'cheaper' imports, why can't the Ministry of Agriculture subsidise the farm inputs for the local farmers to ensure improved yields and thus better supply to the local market? The excess grain can either be exported or also used as animal feed where possible. The animal husbandry in the country has been growing and the processed feeds prices rising by the day...
  • Remember the Bible story of Joseph dreams in Egypt of 7 prosperous years and 7 hard years? These good and bad cycles with regards to weather, climatic conditions have become shorter and every 2-3 years Kenya is bound to have drought and related conditions. Learn from them!
  • A Commodities Exchange being set up? This has worked in other African countries such as Ethiopia and South Africa. Kenya can learn from the same.
  • Initiatives such as those done by East Africa Breweries with regards to barley and sorghum farming should be encouraged. (Read more on what EABL is doing with sorghum here in beer production) You wonder if major millers in Kenya engage farmers and their co-operatives anymore or do they always want to hide under the guise of cheap imports to lower production costs? 
  • Can the efficiency of such bodies as National Cereals and Produce Board, Kenya Seed Company and related bodies be enhanced? Instead of appointing political rejects and rewarding your bosom buddies, Ms Waziri you can do the country a favour by standing up to competency and ensuring the security of our country's food reserves.
  • Kenya lies right at the heart of the tropics. The said issue of reafforestation has NEVER BEEN taken SERIOUSLY and our forest cover percentage against recommended global benchmarks is really ALARMING! The handling of the Mau and other forest areas evictions have been badly handled yet we've all seen the effects it has on the environment. Can't we ensure that there is minimum forest cover in every county to ensure mitigating against environmental concerns? 
  • Over-emphasis on cash crops at the expense of food crops - though many may not agree with my opinion, we have been laying emphasis on cash crops such as tea and coffee for too long yet we're not sufficient in supplying food to our local populace. Can the Ministries rethink these models?
  • What quotas are given to millers who get the right to import the grains? 

Wheat harvesting 

Answers to these questions will ensure Kenya becomes self-sufficient in grains to feed not just her own population but also feed neighbouring countries. This will ensure enhanced food security and grain reserves not just for the country but for the region too. In a continent that is growing in leaps and bounds, food security is imperative if Kenya is to achieve its ambitious economic goals.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Long Rains in Kenya - Blessing or Curse?

For you in Kenya right now, depending on your particular location, the rains have really pounded much of our land. Save for a few areas towards the Eastern, Northern and Coastal parts which have been experiencing average to below average rainfall, the greater part of the Central,Western and Rift Valley regions have seen good rains. (Look at the Meteorological Department forecast for 2012 here)
Rains pour on a Kenyan woman
To most farmers this is a good boon after experiencing dry weather from late in December 2011 to late March. This had led to well-below average yields for most crops - both food and cash crops with some suffering devastating effects thanks to the dry conditions. This was reflected in the increase in most food prices - with basic commodities such as maize meal, wheat flour, milk being priced beyond most households income levels.

But that's a discussion for another day....

My main focus here is the Long Rains as we commonly refer to them in Kenya. Have they become too much of a blessing turning into a curse or are we just not able to contain it as we should?
In my living memory most regions experience these types of rainfall this time of the year. We have the famous Western region with its dynamics from its biggest water sources in River Nzoia and its floods at Budalangi ( even though dykes have been construed to be constructed only for them to collapse for poor maintenance and workmanship). Mind you the Nzoia River is one of the rivers supplying the Lake Victoria source to the River Nile...conspiracy of geography???

In parts of the Rift Valley, thanks to the hills and valleys, rarely will most areas flood save for the Southern Rift regions which have more flat plains and cereal plantations. However due to land degradation some parts in the Central Rift regions of Naivasha have seen landslides, flooding and land fissures which were not too common little over 15 years ago. As I write this parts of the South Rift are inaccessible thanks to this still-unexplained geographical and weather phenomena.
Parts of Central Kenya do also experience landslides and these will increase unless the previous vegetation and forest cover issues are addressed. Lots of areas have been cleared for agricultural purposes and also real estate development which I focused on in another blog-post I did sometime back. These developments have meant degradation of land and water resources. We all witnessed the drying up of water sources around Mt. Kenya and surrounding areas meaning reduced water flows to the rivers and the main sources of water for the dams along Tana River which is Kenya's main supplier of power - Seven Forks Dam .
Eastern parts of the country have long suffered the vagaries of desertification which is increasing a fast rate even as some authorities try to make claims of increased forest cover in the Kenyan lands. The potential of these parts of the country have been largely under-exploited with Kenya's major rivers in Rivers Tana and Athi both traverse the areas.
The same goes for the Coastal province which has had failed agricultural projects time and again, yet if the populace would embrace modern agrarian practices, it would feed a large part of the country. From cashewnuts to fruits and vegetable production, along with dairy farming which has been seen to do very well with the right focus; the area is teeming with potent. Don't forget the coastal line of naturally occurring coconuts which are currently on the decline too - thanks to lack of value-add into this crop.
Now with the rains quite literally beating us, Kenyan authorities and farmers will still watch much of the water go to waste. I'd like to make some quick recommends here to curb this wastage;
- Water pans - these would be best suited for flat areas where the land can be prepared in advance and the necessary pans dug along with the trenches and overflows to prevent any spillage that would take place.
- Dykes/Levees - these are usually for flood-prone areas along large rivers. This would work well in the Western region of Kenya which has been trying to make the same. But regular maintenance would regulate the water flowing into these. They have been successfully used to manage water bodies in the Netherlands ( Holland if you like); parts of US State of Illinois to curb flooding of the Mississippi and Sacramento rivers.
- Aqueducts - these were used by Greek and Roman empires back in the Early Ages to water drier areas of their lands. In the same vein these can be used in parts of Eastern province and Coastal regions before the rivers spill their contents into the seas.
- Water tanks - though they may appear to be on a smaller scale, that is if the Government was to make it a requirement for water harvesting to be undertaken by every building and housing consultant especially in regions where rainfall is fairly reliable. This would go a long way in ensuring that each household and commercial building doesn't have to rely on the main water supplying services, in effect subsidising their own water. It would also save them in cases where water levels diminish.

The sad reality of the fact is that we have a Ministry of Water and Irrigation whose mandate is to 'conserve, manage and protect water resources for socio-economic development'. Their focus has been in formulation of Water and Sewerage companies which are private in nature at the various urban areas for water supply and sewerage services. As regards issues such as water harvesting and irrigation or formulation of policies which would see such practices adopted for both agricultural, domestic and consumption of water in the country.

Until then, Kenyans keep yourselves sheltered from the rains and ask ourselves where it beat us.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Nominations in the BAKE Blogger Awards 2012 in Agriculture

My blog together with 4 more in the Agriculture Category has been nominated in this years BAKE Blogger Awards.

BAKE(Bloggers Associaton of Bloggers) is a body that promotes content creation on the web in Kenya and represents a group of content creators who are of Kenyan origin, descent or are based in Kenya and want to: Syndicate their content, network among other fellow content creators as well as get legal and communal representation from the Bloggers Association of Kenya

Formed in the year 2011, the Association has upto 50 registered members so far drawing from various bloggers in Kenya. They have maintained their growth through constant online engagement with their members as well as through the Blogger Happy Hours held every end month.

The BAKE Awards Gala is set for May 5th.

Find the full list of nominees in the 14 Categories here.

To vote for me, click here 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Awards Time :- Youth in Agriculture Blogging Competition (YoBloCo) Awards Winners announced & BAKE Awards

YoBloCo Awards
Yes while we were away, the Youth in Agriculture Blog competition winners were announced. This competition is what inspired this blog's birth along with the need to enlighten young people and those with access to platforms such as ICT tools offer.

Congratulations to the winners! Individual and institutional alike. Our very own Anthony Mwangi through his blog The Young Agropreneur was placed 3rd overall in the individual bloggers. Congratulations once again!
This effort has borne many an agricultural blog and if the interest is anything to go by, its bodes for agriculture not just in Kenya but Africa as a whole.

The other list of winners is as below;

Winner: Nawsheen Hosenally (Her Blog)
2nd place: Sourou H.A. Nankpan (Blog)
3rd place: Anthony Mwangi ( Blog)

For full information on the results of the Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition - YoBloCo Awards check this link here.

BAKE Awards
Still keeping it with awards, Bloggers  Association of Kenya (BAKE) has announced its inaugural BAKE Blog Awards 2012. This is meant to reward outstanding bloggers in various topics as articulated by their platforms i.e.their blogs. Once again, you can nominate a favourite blog that you may know of and hope they do win in their respective and overall awards. For more info, check this link, 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Dairy Farming in Kenya - Tough Love

As you may have noticed, my blog-posts happen to be few and far between, thanks largely in part to the engaging work that is farm-work. And yes the actual physical bit is quite trying contrary to what people usually think it ought to be. Now especially due to looking for fresh feeds and reliable water, blogging becomes quite secondary.
A few weeks ago, it was rumoured that the Kenyan dairy sector players is considering re-introducing free milk to school going children. The last this was seen was in the 1990s under the Moi regime which had introduced the practice in 1979 with much aplomb to cater for excess capacity of milk production and ensure healthy feeding among primary school kids.
Dakar School kid sips milk - image from 

It was a noble idea but as is often the case with Government/Presidential decrees, there is prone to be abuse from the people entrusted with implementation. The programme started with an estimated 44 million litres distributed but due to drought, production inefficiencies, corrupt officials and reduced milk production, supply was at around 3 million litres by the time the programme ceased.
Other reasons cited were lack of funds to spur milk production, closure or lack of maintenance at dairy plants, non-payment of distributors.
In the last 15 years though, the Kenya dairy sector has grown to one of the best examples of agri-business in the continent. In fact, neighbouring countries are often sending delegations of farmers and Agriculture ministry officials to visit dairy milk processors, farmers and related services. Rwanda for example even sought Government of Kenya assistance and local milk processors Brookside Milk to help train dairy farmers in Rwanda.
This has meant that milk production in Kenya is at optimal levels but there are still issues which need to be addressed;

  1. Expensive feeds and supplements - due to the high cost of producing commercial feeds, it is quite expensive for any dairy farmer to largely depend on the same. Regular fresh fodder is also an issue depending on which parts of the country you're in. 
  2. Unpredictable weather patterns- this mean less fresh feeds and unforeseen shortages. Due to deforestation and poor farming practices, it requires proper planning for emergencies and contigent measures.
  3. Poor storage facilities - most farmers are not equipped with proper storage facilities thus some milk usually goes to waste on production. This happens a lot during the rains when milk production's at its peak. We have witnessed this in parts of Central Kenya and other high potential areas.
  4. Poor infrastructure - this relates to roads meant to access dairy farms. Though the Government has been trumpeting its achievements on roads maintenance and development, most of the high yielding areas are still under-served by proper roads -either graded or otherwise.
  5. Delayed payment - this irks many a farmer that upon delivery, payments are usually delayed. This is the reason behind most farmers opting to hawk their milk. Major milk processing companies are the main culprits though this is also dependent on how aggressive your co-operative, self-help group or local delivery centre is on getting it done.
  6. Disease and quarantine - due to changing weather patterns, the incidence of disease is quite high now and depending on how soon you're able to diagnose this, it can mean the end of your beloved stock of cattle.
  7. Diminished veterinary services- this means that securing a vet's service can be quite expensive unlike past practices where Government officials did rounds in the farms. This also applies to A.I services which have also become quite pricey.
Do it, this way & that way - 

Quick Remedies:
a) Diversity in farming practices - this will ensure that one's farm not only has regular feeds for the livestock but also crops that can supplement food for daily consumption. 
b) Trees, trees, trees - yes, our Science teachers in primary school may have been laughable saying that trees attract rain but in a sense they were right. Trees provide shaded areas which can help ensure that the farm land takes longer to dry and thus support more fodder. Some trees have also been known to be used to supplement fodder.
c) Silos and cold rooms - if farmers were regularly educated on how to make simple silos for their fodder, this could help a lot. The same can be said of cold rooms which will preserve the milk for a little longer while waiting for collection.
d) Regular road maintenance - when the Government collects road levies, most of these end up not being used for the purpose they were meant for. It is also sad some of the road contractors engaged do shoddy jobs. With upcoming county governments, we hope this trend is reversed and more resources distributed to areas meant for development.
e) Innovative payment modules - with the mobile payment platform among others recently innovated, payment for milk delivered should be prompt. This goes a long way in encouraging delivery and consistency of the same.
f) Subsidies - this maybe a tricky situation for the Government of the day, but when your economy is almost 75% agri-based, it's a no-brainer! I usually wonder why we spend heavily on Defence and recurrent budgets such as salaries but can't afford to offer subsidies to farmers. The net effect would be felt in cheaper feeds and drugs alike.
g) Better outreach services- in this era where youth are busy claiming there are not enough jobs, agricultural-based services would serve those with interest in agriculture well. Farmers need this education from time to time. Over to the concerned parties...
h) Value-adding services - part of the reason dairy products have grown in demand is the value add they have. From fresh milk, yoghurt, butter, whole milk among others, to powdered milk makes it more marketable and wider consumer base. More options need be explored to ensure less wastage and more product diversity.
i) Affordable credit - if the Government can't subside inputs, then access to credit ought to be enabled and at affordable rates. Many young people are lazing about in urban areas but if they have a taste of the fruits of their labour in agriculture, they would be willing to get financed to work on the lands. 

As for the proposed milk school feeding programme, the modalities of this need be worked out properly not making populists moves to please farmers and stakeholders alike. And if the programme is not heavily subsidised or initial seed money set to make it commercially viable, then it's just non-starter! Check out this interesting blog on Dairy Farming in East Africa ,