Brief news on farming and agribusiness in the country

Brief news on farming and agribusiness in the country

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Counties asked to help farmers form stable cooperative societies

County governments have been asked to assist farmers market their produce to reap maximum benefits.

Speaking during a farmers’ conference in Thogoto, Kiambu County, the Kenya National Farmers Federation (KENAFF) chief executive Mwenda M’Mailutha said county governments need to come to the aid of farmers, who despite their hard work find themselves stranded with perishable products with no market.

He noted that lack of market for farm produce has been identified as a key challenge facing farmers across the country making them incur huge losses, thus, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

He said the achievement of the food security part of the Big Four Agenda, Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy and Kenya Vision 2030 relies heavily on farmers.

“All these strategies depend on how well the agricultural sector performs and this is all about farmers,’’ he said.


He further stated that devolution of agriculture continues to impact positively on the sector. Therefore, county governments need to closely engage with farmers to better the sector.

He advised farmers to form co-operatives and run them themselves for better income.

“This will enable farmers gain more control in marketing their products to increase the price they receive and reduce the costs of obtaining agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertiliser,” he said.

“The co-operatives accomplish these objectives by performing functions such as packing, storing, cooling, shipping, promoting and selling,” he added.

Co-operatives also negotiate for better market terms because of huge volumes and variety offered by their members and buying production inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and containers in large volumes at lower prices.

Other challenges farmers face, according to the meeting, are climate change, emerging pests and diseases, suboptimal supportive policy frameworks, unsustainable land use and management practices (including land fragmentation) and inefficient technical advisory services.

M’Mailutha said the role of KENAFF is to be farmers’ voice in the country.

“We do this by actively engaging county governments to implement strategies that will empower farmers at the grass roots and create a more organised and sustainable farming sector,” he said.

Set up 4K Clubs to help curb malnutrition, schools told

Primary schools have been encouraged to set up agricultural groups, commonly known as 4K Clubs, to help address malnutrition among children.

Speaking during the launch of an agricultural club at Nchaure Primary School in Meru this week, Nestlé Kenya head of corporate affairs James Ojiambo said the clubs help raise food and nutrition awareness among children.

Nestlé Kenya, through its Nestlé Healthier Kids programme, is supporting schools to set up the clubs and the gardens in Nyeri, Meru and Murang’a counties.

The programme seeks to provide pupils with learning materials on nutrition as well as supporting schools to set up kitchen gardens. The organisation will spend Sh10 million in the three counties.

Ojiambo said the school kitchen gardens would cover 50 out of 700 schools currently benefiting from Nestlé Healthier Kids learning materials.

“Nestlé Kenya is facilitating the formation of 4K clubs and supplying them with seedlings, organic fertiliser and giving the learners technical support to take care of the gardens. We have partnered with the county governments to provide support to the schools,” he said.

Ojiambo said the revival of the 4K Clubs will instil hands-on skills among lower primary school learners in line with the competency based curriculum.

Under the programme, the clubs sell the produce to their schools and use the income to expand their garden at the institutions as well as their homes.

Poor policies on urban farming exposing consumers to health risks, researchers caution

Lack of clear policies in the management of urban agriculture is exposing town dwellers to more health risks, researchers have warned.

Dr Diana Lee-Smith, an associate at Mazingira Institute, noted that other than Nairobi city, major towns like Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kakamega lack clear policies to govern urban farming.

“So far only Nairobi city has policies to mitigate the health risks that could come with urban farming. They have about 250 staff who are directly involved in the task,” said Dr Lee-Smith in Kisumu this week.

About 40 per cent households in urban areas grow their own food in kitchen gardens.

However, there are health risks when a greater number of farmers use untreated sewer water to produce their crops.
“We really have a problem with enforcement of existing laws. There are two types of health risks that come with urban farming. First there is bacteriological risks and, second, use of toxic chemicals which cause chronic illness,” said Dr Lee-Smith. Some of the chemicals comprise of heavy metals which usually lodge in the body therefore causing chronic diseases such as cancer, she said.

The enforcement of existing laws such as the Public Health Act, Food, Drugs and Chemicals Substances Act and EMCA would help in taming the health risks in urban agriculture, according to the researcher.

“There is need for urban agriculture to be included in urban food and planning policies to ensure sustainable urban food system. It is also essential to identify and address the risks along the food chains with different stakeholders.”

Dr Samuel Onyango, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said that nine years ago, the national government had drafted policies on urban agriculture which are yet to be implemented.

“Since 2010, we have had a draft policy on urban farming and livestock production. But it seems the county governments are confused as to who is to take the lead in policymaking in urban farming,” said Dr Onyango.

Since agriculture is a devolved function, the policymaking role has been left to county governments.

“What most counties are doing currently is the implementation of the Urban Areas and Cities Act and discussing on the best way forward to incorporate urban farming in city planning,” he said.

He added: “As researchers, we are trying to step in and help the county governments in formulating policies on urban farming. There are so many opportunities in urban farming that should be exploited.”

Firm unveils app to help agribusinesses make data-driven decisions

A new app that seeks to help farmers make data-driven decisions around water, climate, mobility and performance of their physical operations has been launched.

Dubbed Vipimo, the internet of things platform by Upande was launched yesterday at the ongoing Naivasha Horticultural Fair.

Vipimo, a Swahili word for measurement, is a sensor subscription service for farmers who need to make crucial decision on their activities using reliable data.

Speaking during the launch at the fair, Mark De Blois, the chief executive of Upande, underscored the importance of planning for farmers, adding that having a platform to measure all variables that facilitate a successful planting season would help farmers get maximum returns during the harvesting season.

“Weather patterns are shifting; climate variability is a fact. This brings further challenges to already challenging conditions for most farmers in Kenya. When do you plant? When do you irrigate? How do you ensure you get maximum returns on your inputs? How do you make sure your farm is run well throughout the year? This is where technology comes in handy,” he said.

Vipimo sensors include water flow, water level, water pressure, temperature, humidity, power consumption, door position, vehicle movement, vehicle fuel level, soil moisture, pH and weather station.

Nicholas Ambanya, the chief executive of Magana Flowers in Kikuyu and Shaun Brunner Facilities/Security Manager Kuehne & Nagel in Nairobi, highlighted the importance of having the platform.

“We have had improved disease control, increased flower head/bud and length of stem, better water conservation, all as a result of daily use of data from Vipimo,” said Ambanya.

Drinking tea regularly improves brain health, study says

A recent study led by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) revealed that regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions — and this is associated with healthy cognitive function — compared to non-tea drinkers. The research team made the discovery after examining neuroimaging data of 36 older adults.

“Our results offer the first evidence of positive contribution of tea drinking to brain structure, and suggest that drinking tea regularly has a protective effect against age-related decline in brain organisation,” explained team leader assistant professor Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Past studies have demonstrated that tea intake is beneficial to human health, and the positive effects include mood improvement and cardiovascular disease prevention. Results of a study led by Feng, which was published in 2017, showed that daily consumption of tea can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older persons by 50 per cent.

Following the discovery, Prof Feng and his team further explored the direct effect of tea on brain networks.

The research team recruited 36 adults aged 60 and above, and gathered data about their health, lifestyle, and psychological well-being. The elderly participants also had to undergo neuropsychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The study was carried out from 2015 to 2018.

Upon analysing the participants’ cognitive performance and imaging results, the research team found that individuals who consumed either green tea, oolong tea, or black tea at least four times a week for about 25 years had brain regions that were interconnected in a more efficient way.

“Take the analogy of road traffic as an example — consider brain regions as destinations, while the connections between brain regions are roads. When a road system is better organised, the movement of vehicles and passengers is more efficient and uses less resources. Similarly, when the connections between brain regions are more structured, information processing can be performed more efficiently,” explained Feng.

He added, “We have shown in our previous studies that tea drinkers had better cognitive function as compared to non-tea drinkers. Our current results relating to brain network indirectly support our previous findings by showing that the positive effects of regular tea drinking are the result of improved brain organisation brought about by preventing disruption to interregional connections.”

Dairy society, semen firm partner to boost AI services

A dairy cooperative has partnered with a Dutch semen importer, Bles Dairies East Africa Ltd, to directly access the product for high milk production.

Mr Timothy Businei, the executive director of Tarakwo Dairies, said the cooperative decided to partner with the semen importer to eliminate brokers.

Businei noted that there is need for laws to protect farmers from exploitation by the service providers.

“We don’t know whether the artificial insemination (AI) kits sold in the market are in good condition or damaged. In some cases, when you buy the AI straws from the agrovets or local inseminators, they don’t work and no one is compensated despite the huge losses,” said Mr Buisenei.

He observed that their members will access the sexed-semen at a discounted price of Sh4,500 while conventional ones will go for between Sh1,500 and Sh1,800.

Bles Dairies East Africa Limited MD Dirk Harting noted the partnership was a first as it entails ‘track and trace’ to ensure farmers attain productivity.

“We realised that the problem in terms of quality, happens along the distribution of the AI semen. We decided to start this programme to support farmers through training and identify AI technician to ensure best breeding practices,” he said.

Test to curb maize disease unveiled

A test dubbed Immune-strip that aims to help fight Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) has been unveiled.

The deadly disease is caused by the combination of maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV) and sugar cane mosaic virus. The viruses are vectored by pests such as maize thrips, rootworms and leaf beetles.

Using the new method, farmers can now detect the lethal disease before it destroys their crops by testing the sap in their plants.

The immune-strips, which retail at Sh180, have the MCMV, which reacts with the antibodies from the maize plant extracts infected with MLN. One strip can test up to six samples. The two strips can also be used to test an acre of maize, making them a bit affordable to farmers.

The strips were unveiled during the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) open day at Kalro in Naivasha this week.

“This will greatly help our farmers and seed producers to ensure the seeds they produce are MCMV-free,” said Mr Francis Mwatuni, project manager, MLN diagnostics and management at CIMMYT. Once a farmer detects the virus, they should uproot plants that show symptoms, enhance field hygiene and use disease-resistant seeds, he said.

MP pushes for ban on harmful pesticides

Parliament has been petitioned to push for the withdrawal of harmful pesticides from the market.

Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Shollei, in a petition to Parliament on behalf of various organisations including Route to Food Initiative, said there has been an increase in harmful pesticides that pose danger to human health and to the environment.

“There are products in the Kenyan market that are certainly classified as carcinogenic (24), mutagenic (24), endocrine disrupter (35), neurotoxic (140) and many others which show clear effect on reproduction toxicity, which have been banned in Europe and US,” her petition read. She asked Parliament to push for a ban on harmful pesticides and for a monitoring system on the use of the chemicals.

Makueni government, MESPT sign deal to improve food safety

Micro Enterprises Support Programme (MESPT) and the Makueni county government have signed a deal to promote food safety.

The deal, which will see Makueni build a college that will offer agriculture courses, is part of a Sh12 billion European Union programme to promote the production of high quality avocado, milk, fish, mango and French beans.

Other counties covered in the programme are Nyandarua, Kilifi, Machakos, Kiambu, Embu, Meru, Kirinyaga, Nakuru, Migori, Bungoma, Kakamega and Kisii.

“The 100 million Euro programme seeks to enhance capacities of counties to train farmers in producing high quality food,” Mespt CEO, Charles Nyawade, said during the event tis week.

The five-year programme is expected to not only ensure that food products grown in the country are competitive in the markets but also that they are safe for local consumption. Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana said the initiative will boost extension services to farmers.


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