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Monday, 29 September 2014

Empowering women farmers’ key to enhancing food security

By Bob Aston
Women are increasingly playing an important role in food production, notably in small scale farming which plays an important role in achieving greater food security. Despite their contributions to the global food supply, women farmers are often undervalued and overlooked in agricultural development strategies.
Women usually have limited access to the resources necessary to effectively operate their farming operations. This is making it impossible for African women to become the thriving farmers they need to be to pull them out of poverty and give their children a better life.
Women are involved in various types of activities including; producing agricultural crops, rearing animals, collecting fuel and water, caring for family members and many other tasks, which are often not taken into account within the definition of “economically active employment”.
Women farmers planting
Charity Wainaina, 33, has been farming since 2005 in Dimcom area, Sipili Division in Laikipia County. She has been planting maize in a one (1) acre piece of land. She noted that as a woman she faces more challenges that her male counterparts. To begin with, the land that she has been using is registered through the husband’s name though it is a family land.
“Being a woman farmer is challenging. One thing that is very difficult is access to market as middlemen usually exploit women more than men. People do not usually take female farmers seriously. These are some of the things that we have to live with,” said Charity.
According to the United Nations (UN), agriculture is the most important source of employment for women in rural areas. Women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries but despite this their involvement in selection of suitable crops and adoption of innovative and good management practices, is very low.
Women are also said to own less than 2 percent of land and receive only 5 percent of extension services worldwide. Furthermore, estimations by the World Food Programme (WFP) reveal that 60 percent of chronologically hungry people are women and girls.
These statistics highlight the wide gender gap that needs to be bridged in order to achieve greater food security.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.
In many cases women are the farmers, yet they do not have access to land tenure, extension services, finance, education, market, basic infrastructure needs and lack of control of family funds.
Woman farmer at her farm
Women also have to overcome gender discrimination and cultural barriers. Although the Kenyan constitution allows women to inherit and also owe land, traditions and customs in some Kenyan communities continue to prevent women from having effective ownership of land.
It is clear that if women farmers are given equal access to resources there would be significant increase in agricultural productivity. This would go a long way in ensuring that women gain better control of their economic destinies.
According to a World Bank report titled Levelling the field: improving opportunities for women farmers in Africa, a key hindrance to agricultural development and broader growth is a wide and pervasive gender gap in agricultural productivity. The report argues that tackling the barriers that hold back the productivity of female farmers could both enhance gender equality and usher in broader economic growth.
Investing in women farmers and instituting policies that close this gender gap in Kenya could yield enormous benefits for women and their families.
In order to empower women farmers it is important to strengthen women’s land right, improve their access to hired labour, enhance their use of tools and equipments that will reduce the amount of labour they require, encourage them to use certified fertilizer and seeds, tailor extension services to their needs, promote cultivation of high value crops among women, provide market linkages to women and raise education levels of adult female farmers.
Increasing women's participation in the rural economy is a powerful tool for poverty reduction and economic growth because female farmers tend to spend more money on nutritious foods, healthcare, education, and housing when their incomes increase.

CBO making a difference through dehydrated farm produce

By Bob Aston
The importance of value added agriculture has been on the increase as the practice of agri business is being adopted across the country. In Kinamba Division, Laikipia County, a community based organization (CBO) that was formed in November 2012 is making a difference in the region as they are adding value on farm produce. Ng’arua Community Development Initiative Forum is keen in ensuring that produce from the farms do not get spoilt.
“We are utilizing local resources and enhancing the quality of the local community through dehydrating farm produce. Through value added activities that we are undertaking the farmers are able to transform their economic base,” said Anne Mwithiga, the group’s chairperson.
Some of the products that the CBO is currently producing include; arrow root powder, sweet potato powder, dehydrated onions, cabbage, carrots, butternut and sukuma wiki. The group is also producing grain amaranth, body cream, natural honey, green leaf powder and bottled water.
Ann showing some of the products that the CBO has been producing
“Products like cabbages are perishable but once they are dehydrated they can last for more than five years,” said Anne.
The CBO has already registered more than 225 members. For one to join the group he/she requires to pay a membership fee of Ksh 200 while Self Help Groups require Ksh 1,500 to register with them.
Ann said that they decided to start dehydrating farm produce in order to reduce wastage during harvesting and when the market is flooded with particular farm produce. She expects that they will continue uplifting the livelihood of farmers.
She noted that the work that they are doing is mainly aimed at ending poverty. They are now planning to empower groups to start a processing industry. She said that transforming raw agricultural products into consumer ready goods requires lots of managerial expertise.
“We have also been training farmers on how to add value to their products in order to get more money. This has been through training them how to dry farm produce and on packaging,” said Ann.
Some of the challenges that they face include; high cost of value addition, lack of machines/equipments and lack of capacity building opportunities.
The CBO is now seeking certification from Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) to ensure that their products are up to standard. Ann said that the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) helped them in processing their honey after they had taken a sample to them. The honey already had a standardization mark from KEBS.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Building a successful agri-value chain financing

By Bob Aston
Agri-value chain finance offers an opportunity to reduce costs and risk in financing, including outreach to smallholder farmers. For financial institutions, value chain finance creates the impetus to look beyond the direct recipient of finance to better understand the competitiveness and risks in the sector as a whole and to craft products that best fit the needs of the businesses in the value chain.
At the same time, value chain finance can help chains become more inclusive, by making resources available for smallholders to integrate into higher value markets.
The term “value chain finance” refers to the flows of funds to and among the various links within a value chain. It relates to any or all of the financial services, products and support services flowing to and/or through a value chain to address the needs and constraints of those involved in that chain, be it to obtain financing, or to secure sales, procure products, reduce risk and/or improve efficiency within the chain.
Smallholder farmers planting
The strategy for developing or strengthening value chains depends on the business model.  The business model includes the drivers, processes and resources of the entire value chain system, even if the system is composed of multiple enterprises. The business model concept is linked to business strategy and business operations.
If value chain finance is to be successful, the value chain must be viewed as a single structure, with the model of this structure providing a framework for further analysis. It is also essential for the business model to be flexible.
Special emphasis must always be placed on models that allow the full participation of smallholders in value chains. The best strategy or model to use depends on the circumstances and maturity of the respective value chain.
The various players also need to look into the following; product financing, receivables financing, physical asset collateralization, risk mitigation products, financial enhancements and innovations.
Innovations like process, financial, technological and policy innovations can greatly help in reducing costs and risks as well as improving services.
Creating a successful value chain is always an act of entrepreneurship. A value chain strategy is more robust if developed by a leading actor within the chain. It is always important to identify competitive production areas and tailor products to buyers’ needs.
Important considerations in designing value chains and value chain finance interventions include governance, power relationships among actors in the chain, control and sustainability of the chain, and the main beneficiaries of the intervention.
Farmers planting
It is also important to build the capacity of small-scale producers and other weak partners in the chain to support growth towards maturity in the value chain. Building the capacity of weaker members of the value chain may also involve increasing the understanding and capacity of stronger partners so that they can become chain participants.
It is also important to identify initiatives with a strong business case. The underlying industry must be competitive if interventions are to be sustainable. Designing effective interventions requires an appreciation of the structure and dynamics of the target value chain.
Value chain finance cannot be successful when there are no clear development goals. This should be done before decisions can be made about target group, region or sector and value chain specific considerations.
The various value chain players also need to ensure that value chain and segmentation analysis is conducted and that the study involves an analysis of the value-added potential in the chain.
Creating conditions for synergy between grant and debt finance is also important. This will help in ensuring financing of promising value chains and subsectors. Essentially, this will strengthen or build actors’ creditworthiness thus supporting the development goals of increasing financial access and inclusiveness.
This will also go a long way in creating an environment in which commercial financial operators could enter the market to provide value chain actors with the financing they need to improve the operation of the chain.
Value chain finance offers an opportunity to expand financing for agriculture, improve efficiency and repayments in financing, and strengthen or consolidate linkages among participants in value chains as well as improving the quality and efficiency in financing agricultural chains.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

History of Maasai handmade bead jewelry

By James Koinare
Beadwork has been an important part of Maasai culture for many years. It was normally done not for commercial reasons, but as a cultural beautification practice that is endowed with diverse beadwork patterns and styles for respective groups in the community with every group (Morans, Young ladies, and Elders) with its own design.
The Maasai have been creating bead jewelry well before their first contact with Europeans. They initially used the natural resources around them to create their jewelry. These natural resources included; clay, wood, bone, copper, and brass.
In the late 19th century trade with the Europeans made glass beads available to the Africans. The Maasai started using these glass beads to make their necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry.
Today glass is still the main material used by the tribe for their beads. Some of the colours used include; orange, green, yellow and black.
Maasai's from Laikipia on a  bead work exchange visit in Kajiado
The orange usually symbolizes hospitality. This is associated with cattle as visitors are always served cow milk from orange gourd. Yellow also symbolizes hospitality. Visitor’s beds are always yellow in colour. Green symbolizes health and land as cattle graze on the green grass of the land while black represents the people and the struggles that they endure.
Maasai women used to set aside time every day to meet and work on beaded jewelry which includes colorful necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. Sometimes back it was considered the duty of every Maasai woman to learn the jewelry making craft.
All the tribes’ beadwork is made by the women but is worn by both women and men. The jewelry that they create is not only beautiful but also has important cultural significance. The beadwork an individual wears will signify their age and social status.
For the Morans, the mothers were assigned with the duty of making sure that their sons looked smart in order to win the most beautiful girl in the village. 
Unmarried Maasai girls often wear a large flat beaded disc that surrounds their neck when dancing. They use the movement of the disc to display their grace and flexibility.
During wedding days, women would always wear a very elaborate and heavy beaded necklace that hangs down to the brides knees.
Generally individuals of high social standing will wear more colorful and intricate jewelry. Beads also serve as an important source of income for the Maasai. Tourists visiting the Maasai regions in Kenya and northern Tanzania will find many beautiful pieces for sale that make great gifts for women and men. Often the Maasai will wear or give bead jewelry for special occasions.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Co-operative launched as a Grain Business Hub

By Bob Aston
The Laikipia Produce and Marketing (LP&M) co-operative society is now being supported by Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) to become one of its “Grain Business Hubs.”A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalise the process was signed between, LP&MCS, SNV, Eastern African Grain Council (EAGC) and Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) on September 20, 2014 at Timau in Meru County.
The signing was witnessed by officials from the following agencies: The County Government of Laikipia County; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and members of the Mount Kenya North Producers and Marketing Cooperative Society, which hosted the occasion.
A GBH is a business characterised by amalgamation of supportive businesses/services linked to grain business that enables an organisation to trade in grains efficiently, effectively and sustainably; and ensures grain suppliers (farmers) access goods and services through check-off system.
The various officials signing the MOU
It functions as a collective of supportive businesses and services that help the production activities of member farmers. It does this through managing the collection, distribution, and marketing of food products, mainly grains, from farmers and, also, other non-members.
Farmers will now be able to sell their grains to LP&M Co-operative Society GBH, which will buy them in bulk then distribute and sells them to schools and other structured markets.
As a GBH, the co-operative will now be able to supply grains to schools throughout the year in Laikipia County. This is expected to increase access to Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) market by small scale farmers as well as increasing direct purchases from small holder farmers.
This will also enable farmers to sell grains more efficiently and profitably and ensures that they can access any needed goods and services to help them in selling their products. The GBH will also enable farmers to store grains to a standard required by most structured markets.
The Procurement Governance for Home Grown School Feeding (PG-HGSF) which SNV has been implementing has been developing and expanding the Grain Business Hub (GBH) model, an initiative that further strengthens the linkages and capacities smallholder farmers have to school feeding.
ALIN through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre, with support from the Ford Foundation, initiated the formation of the Co-operative. The Co-operative which was formed last year already has more than 290 registered members.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Pastoral women out to make a change through bead work

By James Koinare
The Maasai tribe of Africa is well known for its traditional handmade bead jewelry. Beadwork has been an important part of Maasai culture for many years. It was normally done not for commercial reasons, but as a cultural beautification practice that is endowed with diverse beadwork patterns and styles for respective groups in the community with each having its own design.
The women listening to one of the facilitators during the exchange visit

In a bid to learn what Maasai’s from Kitengela in Kajiado County are doing, Yiaku Laikipiak Trust (YLT) undertook a two (2) days exchange visit for twenty (20) women drawn from four (4) women groups in Laikipia County.
The exchange visit took place courtesy of support from United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) which has funded YLT.
The main purpose of the exchange visit was to look at the available opportunities in three (3) major aspects namely; business perspective of handmade bead jewelry, identifying possible linkages and networks for marketing and identifying partnerships for strengthened skills development through training.
YLT realized that most of the women had been doing much of their work amongst themselves. This has tied them to restrictive pattern making that only serves the interests of few people in the locality.
Being close to the capital, and with regular and multi-diverse cultures interacting makes Kitengela a warehouse of reciprocating innovations that have weaved  the best designs of beadworks in the modern world.
Some of the women wearing bead jewelry
The exchange visit enabled the women to share from diverse exhibitions on the work that is being undertaken by other women and the skills they have borrowed from others. This new skills will enable them to not only know how to make beads the Maasai way, but also go an extra mile to encompass the desire and the likes of many within Kenya and the Diaspora.
YLT hopes that the exchange visit will influence the participant’s decisions and inculcate a new concept in traditional beadwork that targets to impact the present global market.
Today’s world calls for much in terms of creativity and innovation in order to attract a larger market for finished goods. Borrowed skills and knowledge on value addition are critical in achieving this noble cause.
There is a lot of dynamism in the world today, and much more is needed in order to match the unforgiving competition. Many people are capitalizing on the Maasai intellectual property. Value added Maasai works are on sale on larger markets of the world and its time Maasai women embraced the modern beadwork technology if they are to go commercial and earn a living from the work of their hands.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

ALIN trains CBO on blogging to spur knowledge sharing

By Bob Aston

The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) on September 11, 2014 trained four (4) members of Upper Ewaso Narok Water Resource Users Association (WRUA) on blogging. The training which took place at Kwa Wanjiku in Marmanet, Laikipia West is set to spur knowledge sharing as Upper Ewaso Narok WRUA will now be able to document and disseminate their project activities.
The 4 members being trained on blogging
The training was conducted to complement an earlier training for United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) grantees from Laikipia County.
The grantees had earlier on been trained on news writing, creative writing, feature writing, photography, interviewing, online journalism (blogging) and media law and ethics. This is one of the additional ways that is being used in aiding knowledge sharing amongst the grantees.

This is expected to not only enhance their online visibility but also help in closing knowledge gaps, improving accessibility of indigenous knowledge as well as ensuring that communities are better informed about Sustainable Land Management (SLM).
Grace Njihia could not hide her joy after the training. Apart from documenting and disseminating information about Upper Ewaso Narok WRUA she expects to apply her new found knowledge in creating a blog where she will be expressing herself through her music. She has released two (2) video DVDs but she now wants to explore the online community through blogging.
Grace also plans to introduce blogging to a community group called Focus Kenya which she is a member. The group has been targeting youths and helping them to nurture their talent through creative arts and agriculture.
Two of the members practicing how to publish articles
“The knowledge that I have gained is invaluable. I plan to train other youths on how they can create their own blogs. Apart from that it will now be easier for us as members of Upper Ewaso Narok WRUA to share our project activities with our online audience,” said Grace.
Mr. Peter Gitau, Chairman Upper Ewaso Narok WRUA noted that the work that they are doing of promoting sustainable management of the water resources within Ewaso Narok sub catchment for enhanced livelihoods of the communities living there will now be easier as they will be able to use the social media tools for dissemination.
“The skills that we have acquired will help us to articulate the experiences that we have gathered while conserving Ewaso Narok sub catchment. This will help in ensuring there is wider knowledge sharing,” said Mr. Gitau.
Upper Ewaso Narok WRUA has been promoting SLM for increased crop production as well as rehabilitation of Ewaso Narok sub catchment through reafforestration. The Community Based Organization (CBO) has also been actively advocating for environmental conservation and promotion of sustainable agricultural and nature based livelihoods.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Harmful effects of plastic wastes on livestock

By Philip Nandwa
It is estimated that hundreds of millions of plastic bags are been handed out in Kenya by supermarkets, vegetable and fruit vendors, shops and many other businesses. These contribute to the hundreds of millions of plastic wastes which pose a threat to animals if they ingest them while grazing or searching for food.
A quick survey of Marigat town in Baringo County indicates that from a simple transaction of purchasing vegetables at the roadside to shopping, one cannot miss out on the use of polythene as the main packaging materials.
The large quantity of polythene released to the environment is further amplified by the fact that packaging polythene bags are mostly meant for single use and they stay in the environment for a long time after use. As a result of these two interacting factors coupled with the throw away culture of most people, they rapidly increase and accumulate in the environment.
Staff at Chemeron farm examine a dead cow
A walk around Marigat and its environs would enable one to observe open dumping of wastes including plastics and polythene in residential areas, on roads sides and in business areas. One will also encounter deliberate burning of wastes and plastics contributing to air pollution and accumulated litter composed mainly of polythene.
Plastic wastes are a threat to livestock. A good number of livestock’s that roam freely in areas littered with plastic wastes may ingest them due to their indiscriminate eating habits.
Indicative conditions resulting from ingestion of plastics and polythene include; indigestion, immune suppression, ruminal obstruction, loss of weight, depression, reduced milk yield and bloat. This leads to increased veterinary costs of caring for such an animal. Such livestock may eventually die if veterinary care is not fast enough.
In Marigat, three cows that had died at Chemeron farm were found with an assortment of plastic materials in their stomach. Before the cows died they had exhibited general loss of weight, bloat, body weakness and they could not stand on their own without being supported.
Other impacts of plastic wastes that end up in the environment include; clogged drains and sewers, soil and visual pollution as well as posing danger to marine life and wildlife.
In many Kenyan towns, plastics litter the landscape and streets. Some are blown by the wind and get caught on fences, trees and other vegetation. These create an unsightly scene which degrades the aesthetics of the environment and has a negative effect on tourism if not checked. 
In spite of the advantages attached to the use of plastics and polythene, there is need to control its use in order to minimize the negative impacts that come with it. This calls for policy issues as well as change of behavior on our part.
Polythene bag recovered from a cows stomach
While some countries have instituted a complete ban on the use of plastics, it is clear that this is not feasible in Kenya as it may have many economic implications. The question therefore is, how can Kenya integrate the continued use of plastics with environmental protection and reduce the danger that livestock are exposed to, and more so in Marigat where livestock keeping is a major livelihood.
The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has provided the 4Rs solution to the problem in the country. That is reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery.
In Marigat some of the mitigation measures worth considering are; creating awareness on the possible dangers of careless disposal of plastic bags, organizing clean up campaigns as a demonstration to sensitize the community on the importance of cleaning such wastes, advising livestock owners on habit of allowing animals to roam freely in search of food, enforcement of existing laws and regulations on control of animals in urban areas, discouraging throwing of food items in polythene, encouraging use and re use of polythene bags and reduction in quantity of plastic bags used by shoppers/consumers by introducing a special fee for every plastic bag/ polythene that is used regardless of its size. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

About farmer profiling through FARMIS Kenya

By Martin Murangiri
Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS-Kenya) is a farm management and diagnostic tool based on the use of farm records aimed at identifying productivity trends, profitability of different farm enterprises and producing evidence for use in decision making at the farm, County and National levels.
The process of profiling farmers through FARMIS-Kenya begins with taking a primary profile of the farmer including: name, age range, gender, size of land, location of the land - including GPS coordinates - and whether the land is owned or leased.
A Production Information Agent (PIA) then takes a photograph of the farmer and posts the profile to a central server located at Sokopepe headquarters in Nairobi. The information is also available online thus enabling real time updates.
Farmers in Meru being trained about FARMIS-Kenya
The primary profile enables the farmer to begin the process of digitizing his records. Those who have been profiled receive a certificate and they can visit their profiles online at the FARMIS Kenya website.
Thereafter, the farmer acquires a Farm Book and starts keeping a record of all production activities he or she undertakes on the farm including the cost of inputs such as seeds and fertilizer and the cost of labour associated with each stage of crop production namely tilling, tending the crop, harvesting and post-harvest costs.
As the farmer inputs the data into the Farm Book, the PIA visits the farmer periodically to capture the same data on a smart phone and upload it to the central server. This data can then be availed to different agencies that work with farmers such as banks, input providers and agriculture officials. It becomes much easier for banks to determine the credit worthiness of farmers who are in FARMIS-Kenya.
There are numerous advantages of joining FARMIS Kenya. At the end of each season, the farmer is able to tell with accuracy whether or not he has made a profit from a certain crop. Should he/she realize that he has made a loss, he can make an informed decision to grow a different crop the next season.
With a complete record of his farming enterprise, the burden of proof of creditworthiness is greatly reduced because the bank can access his records at the touch of a button.
FARMIS Kenya can also enable a farmers to: Generate on-demand customized reports on the status of their enterprises, produce seasonal profit and loss statements, project the income potential of their farming enterprises, access input and other service providers, develop a farm activity calendar and link with peer farmers for aggregating produce to sell in bulk.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Stakeholders hold REDD+ regional awareness workshop

By Peter Gitau
The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) organized a two (2) days regional awareness workshop for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+) between 3rd to 4th September, 2014 at Green Hills Hotel in Nyeri.
The workshop was held to widen informed stakeholder’s engagement for REDD+ by looking at key elements of wise REDD+ project, strategies and approaches that can be used in implementation of wise REDD+, how participants can be engaged, readiness progress and status over REDD+ projects in Kenya and various case studies.
Priority areas of focus for REDD+ in the country includes; reducing pressure to clear forests for agriculture, settlements and other land uses, promoting sustainable utilization of forests by promoting efficiency and energy conservation, improving governance in the forest sector by strengthening national capacity for forest land enforcement and governance (FLEG), advocacy and awareness as well as enhancement of carbon stocks through afforestration, reforestation and addressing fire problems.
Currently the United States Department of State funding for Conservation International is supporting five (5) governments namely; Kenya, Costa Rica, Peru, Suriname and Vanuatu to strengthen and broaden engagement of key stakeholder groups like government officials, civil society, indigenous people and the local community in REDD+.
Some of the key project deliverables expected by EAWLS and ICUN include; Identification of stakeholder engagement platforms (mechanisms) to use for consultation, capacity building for key stakeholder groups on specific REDD+ issues and documentation of the lessons learnt from the stakeholder consultation.
EAWLS and IUCN expect to meet the national REDD+ goals as well as contributing to global climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts and helping in the realization of the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) goals.
REDD+ is a mechanism that has been under negotiation by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 2005.
The main objective has always been to mitigate climate change through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases as well as removing greenhouse gases through enhanced forest management.