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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Governor with a passion for agriculture

By Bob Aston
It has always been noted that few people in power in Kenya are involved in agriculture. Laikipia County Governor Joshua Irungu is among the few Governors in Kenya who openly has a passion for agriculture.
The father of three boys and a girl is always at his home overseeing the progress of his farm when not in Nanyuki or doing official rounds.
On July 24, 2015 the Governor hosted a team of 20 stakeholders in the maize and dairy value chains at his homestead in Kinamba, Githiga Ward to deliberate on the progress made by the two value chains, challenges and possible solutions in the two value chains.
After the meeting the Governor invited the stakeholders on a tour of his farm. Although he has leased lands for farming in the area, the two and a half acre farm near his homestead is his pride. He could not hide the passion and excitement as his visitors toured his farm.
The Governor at the indigenous poultry house

“Most farmers have been involved in agriculture as a hobby instead of business. We have to embrace agribusiness as a County. We have to ensure that farmers improve their livelihood,” said Governor Irungu.

His farming enterprises include: cabbages, kales, tomatoes, beans, maize, tree tomatoes, avocadoes, bananas, yellow passion, macadamia, indigenous poultry, dairy cows, dorper sheep and dairy goats.
The farm and his homestead are also dotted with indigenous trees. He has been promoting macadamia as an alternative cash crop. Each tree produces between 30-50 kgs of macadamia.
The Governor has a strong background in Agriculture as he has a Master’s degree in Agriculture and Community Development from Nairobi University. He also worked for a long time as an Agriculture and Livestock Development officer in charge of Laikipia West and Nyahururu divisions of the then larger Laikipia District.
His quest to grow other crops besides maize has made him an example of how to organize a farm and reap from diversity. His two and a half acre farm is divided into different sections.
A zero grazing unit that can house ten (10) dairy cows is under construction as well as a dairy goat, dopher sheep, hay store and an incubator shade units. Already a section of the farm is home to 2,000 indigenous poultry. An incubator with a capacity of 5,000 eggs will soon be installed near the poultry house as well as a machine for making animal feeds.
Section that will house the dorper sheep under construction
“I want to be a model farmer particularly because of my position. I always do not tell farmers what to do unless I lead by example and that is exactly what I am doing,” said Governor Irungu.
Not surprising with Governor Irungu’s background, he has a solid plan of using his farm as a farmer learning centre. The Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries will start using the farm ones the various sections are completed
“I am determined to inspire young people to go into farming. Farming is lucrative, very few youths have realized that. I hope through the farmer learning centre youths will be able to diversify and maximize profit from agricultural enterprises,” said Governor Irungu.
The governor is determined to apply what his government is promoting, particularly through the Household Economic Empowerment Programme (HEEP), which he started aiming at reducing poverty level at the County.
Targeted enterprises include: indigenous poultry; dairy goat; rabbit production; and kitchen garden. Various groups have also benefited from incubators through the programme. He is determined to ensure that he is involved in all the enterprises in HEEP.
Water harvesting is a huge component of his farm. He has two underground tanks. The tanks have capacities of 120,000 litres and 150,000 litres respectively. Water has never been a problem in the farm even during dry spells.
A section of the farm is also under drip irrigation. Water flows through gravity to the different sections of the farm from an elevated tank with a capacity of 20,000 litres. He believes that embracing climate smart agriculture technologies can be helpful in enhancing food security in Laikipia County.
The Governor explaining how drip irrigation works
He said that plans are underway to get a hay baler for Muhotetu area. On the same sector the county government is also promoting dorper sheep breed in Laikipia North. He has already decided to lead from the front by keeping dorper sheep.
Dorper is a suitable sheep breed in Laikipia County as they do well in arid areas. They are also fast growing meat producing sheep that does not require a lot of care.
However, there is one aspect of his farming that he is not proud of. He says that he expects that he will only be referred to as a dairy farmer once he improves his breeds when the zero grazing unit is completed.
He noted that they are currently promoting hay in the County and he expects that Laikipia will soon be a hay county. The County has already entered into an agreement with other counties to supply hay.
 “My government is promoting dairy farming and we have already given out milk coolers to dairy cooperatives. You can now see that I want to lead from the front in what I am advocating for as the governor,” said Governor Irungu.
His advice to youths is that they have to work hard and be patient in farming. He said that youths should not shy away from agriculture and they should always seek the services of agriculture extension officers.
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