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 ,

Friday, 10 February 2012

Commodities Trading in Kenya - Illusion or Possibility?

One of the reasons behind this post is the rise of incidences of robbery coming from coffee farms and factories alike especially from the Nyeri side of Central Kenya, and challenges facing Kenyan farmers in the selling of their produce - be it for cash crops or food crops. As you would know coffee one of Kenya's prized commodities and major foreign exchange earner has over the year taken a major dip in production.
Black Gold 

Black Gold of Kenya?
Part of the reasons this happened was because of the low prices that the international markets attracted up to and around the mid-2000s.  The changing weather patterns and expensive farm inputs have also contributed to a lowered interest in the crop. There is also the swelling population that has put pressure on land and this has seen many farmers opting to go into property development and also partitioning their land for other commercial purposes.
But in the last 2 years, global prices for coffee have been on an upward trend, thanks to increased consumption of the product and also reduced output from the one of the world's biggest coffee producers, Brazil. Locally some would say the rise in coffee establishments have contributed to the same but then again much of the coffee sold has been Grade II and Grade III while the Grade I is exported and repackaged selling at a fortune in major stores worldwide.
A little over 5 years ago, the Government liberalised the coffee milling process ending KPCU's (Kenya Planters' Co-operative Union) monopoly. This encouraged private millers to buy coffee beans from local farmers but it has also seen a rise in theft of the same since most milling companies operate at below optimal or optimal capacity. Again the lure of the improved prices has meant increased demand for the beans.
Calls have been made to brand our coffee and authenticate it as being from this part of the world and Brand Kenya has made a weak case for the same. But this requires more focussed branding and marketing of the product if Kenya's to expect to earn more from its traditional cash crop product. Lessons can be learnt from our northern neighbour, Ethiopia. Some say it's the birth-place of the product hence the general acceptance as the 'national choice of drink'. They have managed to leverage their coffee to be labelled and branded as having come from the country. Also helping their cause is the fact that they have a vibrant Commodities Exchange, Ethiopia Commodity Exchange ,one of the biggest in Africa.
Goodies, Take your pick

Commodities Exchange ala Kenya style
This brings me to the gist of this post, what is a Commodities Exchange and why do we need this to be actively pursued in Kenya?
According to Wikipedia; " a commodities exchange is an exchange where various commodities and derivatives products are traded. Most commodity markets across the world trade in agricultural products and other raw materials (like wheatbarleysugarmaizecottoncocoacoffeemilk products, pork belliesoilmetals, etc.) and contracts based on them." It goes on to say, "...Commodities exchanges usually trade futures contracts on commodities, such as trading contracts to receive something, say corn, in a certain month. A farmer raising corn can sell a future contract on his corn, which will not be harvested for several months, and guarantee the price he will be paid when he delivers; a breakfast cereal producer buys the contract now and guarantees the price will not go up when it is delivered. This protects the farmer from price drops and the buyer from price rises"
Right here in Kenya, we have 4 known commodities exchange namely;
1) Africa Mercantile Exchange - a commodity futures and options exchange, privately registered and is said to be ' Africa's first mercantile exchange, with a truly diversified product portfolio.
2) Mombasa Tea Auction - as the name suggests this is for trading in mainly Kenya's tea as well as other regional tea and used by major tea producers and marketers to buy and sell the product to regional and international buyers. It is managed by among others Africa Tea Brokers Limited. 
3) Nairobi Coffee Exchange - this is run by the Kenya Coffee Producers and Traders Association. This has been actively engaged to buy and sell Kenyan coffee to the wider global market. 
4) Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange - This is run by a privately-owned firm started by one Dr. Adrian Mukhebi  - one of Kenya's foremost authorities in agricultural economics. This particular exchange helps small-scale farmers and producers as well as middlemen access price information from various regions on the produce and its availability. It has been able to provide up-to-date info using mobile and other ICT platforms to access commodity prices.

As you can see from the list above, most of these commodities exchanges are privately run ( some bordering on cartel-like structures...) which makes it quite difficult for budding or established smaller-scale farmers to be able to buy and sell their produce. If you look at some like the coffee-farming, most of the time, unless one is a large-scale farmer and managing/running his/her own coffee bean factory, the produce is most;y bought by co-operatives and sold to the milling firms as a body, thus making it more difficult to access price margins.
Tea farming has similar challenges and this explains the reason why most small-scale farmers are still paupers 10-20 years since planting their first bushes. 
Mixed basket - images from & worldcloud

As regards other commodities such as dairy, maize and wheat, the former has seen much appreciation thanks to the State-run milk processing firm Kenya Co-operative Creameries( renamed New KCC after 2003) whose revamped processors meant competition with Brookside Dairies making them the 2 largest milk processors in the region. Other smaller dairy firms have also seen the price of milk rise upwards though a large number of smaller-scale farmers still prefer 'hawking' their milk to kiosks and individual consumers. (Once in awhile, I must confess I do use the KCC collection points for an extra shilling but much of the milk's consumed at home and the rest sold to neighbouring farms...).

All in all, I do hope the little educative post I have done is bound to spur interests in commodities trading which ought to be a gold mine for budding entrepreneurs and ultimately help develop our agricultural marketing skills which have been largely exploited by middlemen in the country. Back to the farm now for a wrap on the week's work...

Monday, 6 February 2012

Of Frost, Sunshine & other news...

As you would know for any Kenyan farmer, after the festive season in December, January and the better part of the first quarter becomes a busy month what with finishing off any pending harvests of any crop - be it cash- crops ( for me in the form of coffee), tea or food crops , maize, beans and the others.
It has also been a busy one for those who keep animals since the weather now has taken its toll on most of the vegetation and what would be otherwise be easy pickings for the cattle is now a hard day's work 3-4 times in a week.
Tea Bushes affected by Frost ( notice the discolouration) - image from 
Talking of weather, the region I come from ( or undertake most of farming for that matter) has been in the news due to frost affecting the tea farms both small-scale and large scale. It is quite tragic if you ask me because for the longest time Kenyans have been ignoring the calls for environmental conservation. The haphazard weather patterns we have seen in the last 5-10 years have been worrying especially considering our country is smack in the middle of the tropics.
Tree-cutting has been the order of the day and recently the area around Mt. Kenya - which is less than 20 miles from the farm - had a wild fire which was contained after more than 3 days. A similar but less serious situation was also reported along the Aberdare Ranges. These two highlands provide the area around Central Kenya with much of its water and this also trickles down to the other parts of the country in Nairobi, Eastern and Coastal regions. Reduce the acreage of trees on these areas and you drastically affect the water table and patterns downstream. I'll not lecture you on this for now.
Back to the frost and tea, and estimates put the loss at approximately KSh.100 million which is quite substantial  if you factor in that this is usually the low season for tea-picking due to the hot sunny conditions around most parts of the country. Kenya's foremost tea marketing agency KTDA quickly came together with stakeholders to introduce an insurance package to help cover farmers against such risks. This is a step in the right direction though it would most likely be adopted by large-scale farmers than the smaller-scale ones who are less educated on such products.
All in all, it would be advisable for farmers to make sure that they have a portion of their farms dedicated to trees which will not only save them from adverse weather conditions but also supplement their daily fuel and basic construction needs which is a challenge to most small-scale farmers.
Lucky for us the coffee bushes had largely been cleared of the harvest thus not much effect to that. We're also in the process of pruning the suckers and adding organic manure to the soil to ensure some moisture content and richness to the area around the bushes.

ION, the litter of dogs have been growing oh so fast and had their last set of injections in the last week of January. Just like human babies, the puppies ought to be treated with the utmost of care to ensure they're not  attacked by any virus or other conditions that may arise. They have also developed a healthy appetite and quickly trying to find their place among the other more mature dogs. I've had many people making promises of purchasing them but since most are non-committal I have opted to keep the puppies for the next couple of weeks.
Beautiful Heifer - image from Heifer International
Well, as I had said earlier, this time of the month becomes tricky fending for animals as fodder becomes scarce by the day. Thankfully we had some silage in place and this will supplement the daily requirements of the cows. Did I say that there is an addition to the small herd? Well a nice heifer turned 1 month on January 28th. It has been awhile since female calves were delivered in our part of the world, so this was a big blessing indeed and maybe a form of endorsement to our humble beginnings.

My farm-helps and I are now engaging in preparation of the grounds for planting for the long rains which ought to start anytime from the end of March or thereabouts if there are no delays like has been in the last couple of years. We have also been exploring hardy fodder which can be used to supplement the traditional napier grass, hay and other grasses.

I shall endeavour to chronicle some more activities in and around our part of the world, time permitting and Net connections being on point.  You can also drop me a line or two on your take on farming in Kenya and maybe even give us a tip too. E-mail me on or follow my tweets @E_Kamwenji.