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Friday, 29 January 2016

Ng’arua Dairy making a fortune from chilled milk

By John Kimani and Richard Murigu
Before October 2015, inadequate marketing of milk due to non-collection of evening milk, limited milk uptake by processors, poor milk handling techniques, and low value addition were major challenges faced by Ng’arua Dairy Cooperative Society in Kinamba area of Githiga Ward, Laikipia West Sub County.
A 5,000-litre milk cooler donated by a processor did not help much because the cooler could not receive evening milk and the members were incurring Kshs 1.50 per litre as charges for milk chilling.
The persistent challenges faced by the farmers prompted the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) to support 45 farmer groups among them Ng’arua Dairy Cooperative Society through training on clean milk production, group leadership, milk value addition and farmer knowledge sharing exposure tour.
The milk cooler at Ng'arua Dairy Cooperative premises in Kinamba,Laikipia West
The cooperative together with two others benefited through provision of a 10,000-litre capacity milk cooler by the County government.
Mr. John Ndegwa, Secretary Ng’arua Dairy Cooperative Society noted that the support provided by ASDSP and the Laikipia County Government has enabled the 1700 farmer organization to increase the shelf life of members milk. 
This has empowered the group as they can now freely negotiate for better prices with buyers.
The cooperative has managed to increase milk supply from 3,000 litres to 8,400 litres by January 2016. The price of milk has increased by a bonus of kshs 3 per litre due to chilling. This has enabled the cooperative to generate an extra Kshs 756,000 per month.

“The trainings received by members of the cooperative through ASDSP, good rains and the cooler received from the Laikipia County Government have helped in the milk increase. Our members have been able to increase their income through increased production and better marketing,” said Mr. Ndegwa.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Fanning hay business in Laikipia County

By Jane Kirimi and Paul Gichungu
Laikipia County has experienced an exponential growth in hay production and trade. This is because of an enabling environment created through interventions by the county government and the Agricultural Sector Development Support Program (ASDSP).
In May 2015, actors in the hay value chain registered Laikipia Hay Company Ltd. The private limited company is now addressing the existing gaps in production, harvesting, storage, and marketing.
Some of the services provided by the company include creation of market linkages, sourcing for livestock inputs, and providing appropriate technologies to farmers.
Company Directors on a fact finding mission in Nakuru
The company in collaboration with ASDSP and the County government is taking lead to address two intertwined challenges of hay quality and standard control. This includes standardizing the size of hay bale, timing of harvesting and post-harvest handling.
Mr. Eliud Karani, Chairman, Laikipia Hay Company Ltd noted that through support from ASDSP, they have been able to help livestock farmers improve their production and income through provision of quality hay.
The company has a 20-acre Rhodes grass farm in Sweet Waters, a 15 km distance from Nanyuki town. The farm serves as a demonstration farm for best practices in hay farming.
Mr. Karani said that they have now started buying and bulking hay for marketing within and outside the County. This will ensure smallholder farmers get a ready market and stable prices for their hay.
He said that they are planning to venture into value addition of hay by making blocks through fortification and blending of nutrients.
“We want to have Laikipia Hay standardized, packaged, and branded. We have achieved a lot in less than a year and the future is extremely bright. Hay will be the cash crop for Laikipia County,” said Mr. Karani.

Hay changing farmer’s fortune in Laikipia

By Jane Kirimi and Paul Gichungu
Frequent drought in semi-arid Laikipia County has been contributing to crop failure, inadequate feeds, decreased production, and food insecurity. Overgrazing has also increased land degradation.
In a bid to reduce the 46 percent poverty level in the County, the Agricultural Sector Development Support Program (ASDSP) in partnership with Laikipia County government, CARITAS Nyeri among others undertook to promote hay commercialisation in the dairy value chain.
The initiative involved organizing farmers into 28 groups comprising 1064 farmers, 632 male and 432 females, training them on grass management practices, seed harvesting, storage, marketing and providing them with hay grass seed. ASDSP has also issued the groups with a hay-training manual.
Eighteen (18) farmer groups received 7300 kgs of Rhodes grass seeds. This resulted in establishment of 1800 acres of grass across the county. The farmers have also formed Laikipia Hay Company Ltd to champion Laikipia as a hay county.
To support the demand for expansion of acreage under Rhodes grass, farmers are harvesting and selling seeds to improve their income. The number of hay producers has also increased from 1,500 to over 5,000 farmers.
Mrs. Ann Mwangi in her hay store
Among the group that benefited included the 70 member Tigithi Umoja Hay group. 
Mrs. Ann Mwangi, a member of the group planted her Boma Rhodes seeds in April 2015. Last season, her 3-acre land produced 500 bales of hay of which she sold 400 bales valued at Ksh 120,000. She harvested 100 Kg of seeds valued at Ksh 50,000.
“I used to experience frequent crop failure before ASDSP started working with us. The various trainings that they gave us have empowered our group members. We have increased our production and income through the ASDSP program,” said Mrs. Mwangi.
Currently she has 5 acres of land under grass production with an expected yield of 1,000 bales worth Ksh 300,000. She has migrated from nomadic lifestyle to zero grazing method of dairy farming.
She is now planning to increase hey hay acreage in order to feed her five dairy cows and sell the surplus to increase her income.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Laikipia farmers get access to improved breeds

By Nyapola Atenya and David Wanjohi
Laikipia County has an estimated population of 400,000 goats and 700,000 sheep’s. The main production system practiced is nomadic pastoralism. The main breeds kept are the Black head Persian, Red Maasai, Dorpers, Small East African goats, and Galla goats. Galla goats and Dorper sheep are mainly in commercial ranches.
Poor genetics, inadequate uptake of modern breeding technologies and poor animal husbandry had led to slow growth rate and low mature weight of 25-30 kgs in animals. This has a net effect of low return to investment resulting in high poverty levels.
The Agricultural Sector Development Support Program (ASDSP) in collaboration with other partners has been addressing the challenges by improving access to better breeding stock through capacity building trainings, awareness creation as well as creating linkage to service providers.
Laikipia Governor presenting Dorper rams to members of LLMA
Among the beneficiaries included members of Laikipia Livestock Marketing Association (LLMA).  ASDSP then linked the group to African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Eco-Agriculture.
Since then AWF has supported 13 group ranches in Laikipia North with 20 improved dorper rams. 
Different households receive a ram to serve a flock of 50 ewes for 3 months after which a different household also benefits from the initiative. The long-term plan is to serve 3000 households in Laikipia North.
On their part, ECO –Agriculture partners has supported Kijabe Integrated Youth against Aids and Poverty (KIYAAP) with 33 Galla Does and 3 bucks and 51 Dorper rams for distribution to households.
The program has already ensured breeding of 31 kids and 160 lambs of improved breed while the next lambing has commenced.
The association has also engaged in rangeland rehabilitation with 50 acres already established for seed multiplication and hay as feed for the improved stock.
The community through LLMA is now able to access quality breeding stock, which was not possible individually due to prohibitive cost. Currently 93 households have accessed the improved breeds.

Farmers take charge of maize market in Laikipia

By Lincoln Njiru and Peris Mutua
Low maize prices due to poor market channels have always affected farmers in most parts of the Country. In Laikipia County, maize farmers through the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) decided to form an umbrella organization to address the issue.
ASDSP with financial support from Kenya and Swedish Government is implementing the program in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Netherlands Development Organization, Eastern African Grain Council and Arid Lands Information Network.
Some of the Umbrella Maize Organization officials

Established in 2015, Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network is an umbrella organization consisting of 43 maize Value Chain Groups drawn from Ol-Moran, Igwamiti, Githiga, Salama, Marmanet, Rumuruti and Ngobit Wards.
The umbrella Maize group is improving the organization and co-ordination of the maize value chain in Laikipia County as well as championing the collective interests of the Maize Value Chain. This is towards enhancing a viable and equitable commercialization of the maize value chain.
A total of 951 farmers, 518 male and 433 female (69 youth inclusive) drawn from the umbrella directly received training on formation of groups, by-laws development, group dynamics, leadership roles, marketing, production, entrepreneurship, soil sampling and post-harvest management.
  • Negotiated prices for farmers from Kshs 1,800 to Kshs 2,300 per 90 kg bag
  • Drawn contract with Tech For Trade and Ng’arua Millers for enhanced marketing of farmers produce
  •  Opened an office in Mutanga, Marmanet Ward for proper coordination of activities
  • Engaged national government for the supply of maize through Home Grown School Feeding Programme
  • Sourcing for farm inputs for farmers thus reducing input cost and ensuring farmers are able to get certified seeds and subsidized government fertilizer.
Some partners at the Umbrella Organization Mutanga office in Marmanet Ward
Mr. Waweru Kanja, Chairman Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network noted that farmers have been receiving an extra Kshs 500 per bag thus translating to an extra Kshs 10,000 for a farmer who is producing 20 bags of maize per acre.
 “Our farmers are happy as they have increased their income. Issues of fake seeds, fertilizer, and exploitation have been addressed by the umbrella organization,” said Mr. Kanja.
He noted that they have started the process of ensuring that Ndurumo, Sipili, Divai, and Ol-Moran Cereal Banks also enjoy the Warehousing Receipting System (WRS) status as Ng’arua cooperative. This he said would enable farmers have an extra storage capacity of more than 40,000 bags.
Formation of the umbrella organization has ensured farmers have a higher bargaining power. The success of Laikipia Maize Value Chain Development Network is a clear indication that this is the way to go in ensuring better returns.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Program assists maize farmers to reduce post-harvest losses in Laikipia

By Peris Mutua and Lincolm Njiru
Kiamburi farmers in Githiga Ward, Laikipia West Sub County have reduced maize post-harvest losses from an average of 20 percent to an average of 5 percent after the interventions by Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP).
Post-harvest maize management has been a major challenge for many farmers as it leads to reduced farm incomes. In Laikipia County, farmers lose close to 30 percent of their farm produce after harvesting due to pests, bad weather, and poor handling techniques.
Through ASDSP’s extension interventions, the farmers formed Mubau Maize Value Chain group comprising 76-members, 33 male and 43 females to undertake the value chain activities.
The ASDSP interventions included: training the group on formation of groups, development of by-laws, group dynamics, leadership and advocacy; post-harvest management; marketing and agri-business; production practices; and linkage to hermetic bag suppliers like AgroZ and Bell Industries.
Stooked maize in a field
The group has bought an eighth of an acre land worth Kshs 200,000 for building a cereal store for Warehousing Receipting System (WRS). This is after some of its members attended a knowledge exchange visit organized by ASDSP at Schemers Community Based Organization (CBO) in Eldoret.
Mr. Francis Mbogo, Chairman Mubau Value Chain Group said that the group has an ambitious plan to set up a 2 million shillings warehouse in the land. They have started buying building materials.
“We were challenged at Schemers CBO and we realized that we can achieve a lot as a group. We want to be a model maize value chain group in Laikipia County,” said Mr. Mbogo.
According to Mr. Mbogo, the training on post-harvest management and particularly on harvesting, storage, and marketing empowered him and his group to improve their production, reduce post- harvest losses and adopt agribusiness. The group is among the 704 farmers, 410 male and 294 females who directly received training on post-harvest technologies.
“I used to lose around 2 bags per acre due to post harvest losses. Through training on timely harvesting by ASDSP, I have been able to control weevils that used to attack my maize while in the field,” Mr. Mbogo.
He said that he has been using the post-harvest manual, which his group received from ASDSP to train his members as well as other farmers around Kiamburi area.
He noted that the members have also benefited through the umbrella maize organization formed through the ASDSP initiative. The members have been selling their maize at Kshs.2,300 instead of the Kshs 1,800 thus enabling them to earn an extra Kshs. 500 per bag.
The farmers have embraced the use of hermetic bags to store their maize for household food security through purchase and use of 135 special bags.
With the adoption of these interventions spearheaded by the ASDSP, farmers in Mubau Maize Value Chain group have realized a reduction in post-harvest losses in Maize. The members of the group have also reduced grain losses due to rotting which leads to aflatoxins contamination.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Building a System for Land-based Emissions Estimation in Kenya

By Winfred Musila
Achieving long-term sustainable economic growth in Kenya in the face of climate change is a primary concern. There is need to use knowledge driven insights to help communities effectively mitigate, prepare and adapt to climate change.
In the current information age, with institutions and individuals producing new data each day, “big data,” or large, complex datasets are being generated at high speeds. Understanding and sharing of these massive amounts of data provides an opportunity of addressing climate change. Shared information has the potential to inform, educate, and usher a new wave of communication, innovation, and opportunities.
Decision makers, land-managers, and farmers need to have access to accurate data to effectively manage land, mitigate adapt to climate change. However, data in Kenya is fragmented, incomplete, or inaccessible providing little benefit to Kenya’s development. For the last three years, Kenyan Government officials, academia, and scientists have been working with the Clinton Foundation to address this problem by building a System for Land-based Emissions Estimation in Kenya (SLEEK).
This program is supported by the Government of Australia and will help provide essential information about Kenya’s land sector. The program’s primary goal is to build a national emissions estimation system for Kenya. 

Emissions estimation systems play a key role in tackling climate change for a number of reasons. Firstly, they allow a country to understand their emissions with great precision. Without this precision, it is impossible to know the impact of policies on a country’s emissions.
Secondly, emissions estimation like SLEEK allow countries to model and plan different scenarios. It allows countries to compare different approaches to make climate smart decisions. 

Finally, it builds confidence among donors and investors to invest in carbon reductions, as they know that carbon reductions are being properly tracked and measured. 

This has the potential to unlock access to the $100 billion of climate finance funds that has been promised to help tackle climate change.
To achieve this, SLEEK will bring together five key data sets namely: Soil data providing information about soil nutrient and carbon levels; data showing forest distribution in Kenya and how much carbon is stored; Comprehensive weather maps, showing key climate indicators across the country; Information about Kenya’s key crops including how much carbon is stored by different crops; and Land cover maps of Kenya showing how land-use has changed.
Potential impact
While these data sets are primarily captured for emissions estimation, they can also be used to address issues ranging from food security, agricultural productivity to land-management. Kenya has already identified a wide range of applications that could be developed using SLEEK data. For example, the SLEEK data on Kenya’s climate data, crop growth information, and maps of Kenya’s soils can be used to estimate the best crop to grow in a particular area.
This information can be disseminated to farmers and land-managers through SMS, programs or mobile applications. As the climate changes, SLEEK will help farmers and land-managers adapt by giving them access to up-to-date information. By continuously providing cutting-edge advice on climate data, soils information and crops, SLEEK will help farmers land managers and communities to access innovative data that is key to adapting to climate change.
SLEEK can also help connect local databases with national infrastructure. For example, a forest tracker could help Kenya’s forest managers track deforestation. Communities will also be able to use this data to help plan their own reforestation projects, allowing them to estimate the income they could generate by selling carbon credits to people wanting to offset their environmental impact.
These applications show the possibilities of harnessing big data by the SLEEK program. Continuing to identify and capitalize on these datasets will be a key opportunity for all ministries within the Government of Kenya.
SLEEK is a program that has potential to an enormous difference it Kenya. The program will harness data to help the country tackle climate change and support sustainable development. This will help Kenya understand both its emissions and its land – which is so important to its future prosperity and sustainability.
Source: Joto Afrika Newsletter
Winfred Musila (PhD) is the Program Coordinator SLEEK, Government of Kenya Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities. He can be reached through

Monday, 18 January 2016

Climate Smart Manyatta

By Isaiah Esipisu
In a tiny village called Eluai, in the heart of Maasai land in Kenya’s Narok County, Nkika Ole Mututua and his family of ten children are living a city life in a Manyatta (Maasai or Samburu traditional house).
Ole Mututua’s Manyatta the traditional version, but it has been crafted to be climate friendly. The typical manyattas are made of a particular type of sticks that bend when fresh and harden as they dry without snapping.
The roof and walls are made of a mixture of cow dung, ash, and earth found at the base of termite hills. A traditional Manyatta has very poor ventilation with two or three small holes serving as windows. The windows are made small to keep out wild animals.
This makes the inside dark even during daytime forcing occupants to use kerosene tin lamps throughout the day and night. The smoke from the lamps mixes with that which is produced during cooking using firewood worsening the air inside the Manyatta.
Benefits of the climate-smart Manyatta
From a distance, Ole Mututua’s Manyatta, looks exactly like a typical Manyatta, the climate smart Manyatta also known as Eco-Manyatta is a permanent structure constructed using interlocking brick blocks.
It is fitted with a solar panel to produce electricity that illuminates the Manyatta at night while serving other power needs such as charging of mobile phones. Children can therefore study using solar energy instead of carbon emitting tin lamps.
Eco-Manyatta fitted with tank to harvest rain water.PHOTO:Isaiah Isipisu
The structure is well ventilated and connected to a biogas digester that produces cooking gas from cow dung. It is also is fitted with a 2000-litre water tank that harvests rainwater.
The Eco Manyatta is climate-friendly because no trees were used to construct it. In addition, if millions of people in Africa who use trees to construct their houses would turn to using the interlocking blocks, then billions of trees will be saved.
“We are also looking at a bigger picture in terms of climate change mitigation,” said Sheila Boit, the Project Manager for Eco Manyatta Housing Limited, which built Ole Mututua’s house.
“If at all millions of households in Africa, which currently use kerosene for lighting and firewood for cooking would turn to solar for lighting and biogas for cooking, then we will save the world of millions of litres of kerosene burned each year for lighting, and save several tons of tree biomass used for cooking,” she said.
Kerosene produces black carbon, which is known to be a very powerful absorber of sunlight, thus a contributor to global warming. “It is a blessing for a Maasai woman like me,” said Joyce Mututua’s wife. Under normal circumstances, it is the sole responsibility of a Maasai wife to construct and maintain the Manyatta.
“Before this new Manyatta was constructed, I used to wake up at night whenever it rained to ensure that my husband did not get rained on as he slept,” said Joyce.
It has also saved her from trekking several kilometers in search of water and firewood.
“I find it more comfortable to do my evening studies using solar lamps,” said John Keko, Ole Mututua’s nephew, a secondary school student at Olasiti Secondary School in Narok.
Origin of the innovation
The Eco-Manyatta was a dream of Sarah Tunai, the First Lady for Narok County, and her friends. The initiative is supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) in collaboration of the County Government of Narok together with the International Labour organisation. The project is implemented by a company known as Eco Manyatta Housing Limited.
According to Boit, Ole Mututua’s Manyatta is a learning platform, now helping the company to better understand how such structures can be improved at an affordable cost.
“We are working closely with different architects with a view of making construction cost effective. We are also working with financial institutions so that we can find a way where locals can finance the construction by installments after selling livestock,” said Ms. Boit.
Community members from many parts of Narok stream to Ole Mututua’s compound to learn about the Eco Manyatta.
“I think it is a very good idea. Even though construction of Manyattas in our community is the duty of a woman, I have been challenged and am willing to sell some goats to have my Manyatta turned into an Eco Manyatta,” said Daudi Koekae, a friend to Ole Mututua’s.
Source: Joto Afrika Newsletter
Isaiah Esipisu is a science writer based in Nairobi; he can be reached through

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The International Year of Pulses

By Bob Aston
Pulses are important food crops as they contribute to food security at all levels, have high nutritional value, have important health benefits as they prevent chronic diseases and obesity, they foster sustainable agriculture and contribute to climate change mitigation.
Despite the various benefits of pulses, their consumption remains low. Communities have little knowledge of the nutritional value of pulses and their ability to contribute to food security.
In recognition of the importance of pulses, the 68th United Nations (UN) general Assembly declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. The aim of this is to position pulses as a primary source of protein and other essential nutrients.
The Year will create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, and better utilize crop rotations.
International Year of Pulses logo
International Year of Pulses will promote broad discussion and cooperation at the national, regional, and global levels to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by pulse farmers.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), pulses are a type of leguminous crop that are harvested solely for the dry seed. They include all kinds of dried beans such as kidney beans, lima beans, butter beans and broad beans as well as chickpeas, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas and lentils.
Some of the key objectives of the International Year of Pulses include: promoting the value and utilization of pulses throughout the food system; and raising awareness about the benefits of pulses including sustainable agriculture and nutrition.
Others include: encouraging connections to further global production; fostering enhanced research; advocating for better utilization of pulses in crop rotations; and addressing the challenges in the trade of pulses.
The International Year of Pulses provides an opportunity for communities to learn about nitrogen fixing properties of pulses, their high fibre content and protein content, high vitamins, minerals and amino acid content.
Ng’arua Maarifa Centre through Laikipia Rural Voices will take an active role in increasing awareness of the nutritional value of pulses demand, utilization, and production throughout the year.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Mercy Corps turns to WhatsApp to link sustainable agriculture group

By Getrude Lung'ahi, BRACED
Social media is forming an increasingly central part of how we communicate. The available social media tools have made communication easier, enjoyable and faster.
Mercy Corps Kenya is innovatively using WhatsApp and Facebook to communicate to its staff and consortium members. This has proven to be an effective and efficient way of organizing workshops, getting feedback and learning from each other.
‘‘I created the WhatsApp group named BRACED Premies because of logistics of a permaculture workshop which was held in Laikipia, Kenya. I needed to get updates from participants on logistics since I was coordinating different groups from Karamoja (Uganda) and Wajir (Kenya),” said Natalie Topa, programme director, Mercy Corps.
Participants of the workshop who are active users of the WhatsApp group include government officials from Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities (MENRRDA) in Kenya, representatives from the Ugandan local government, universities, and consortium partners.
Photos of the training and interesting ideas have been shared on the platform which provided opportunities for knowledge sharing and exchanges among the participants from the two countries.
“The WhatsApp group has been very useful. It has stirred interesting discussions (and) built relations, trust and bonding among the group. People feel more relaxed and chat freely. Interesting layers to partnerships have been formed, feedback on food and accommodation during the workshop was shared and made me feel part of the experience,’’ explained Topa.
Social media tends to build ties and trust. Relations created by the interaction have encouraged the group to continue to use the platform even after the workshop. 

Follow-ups on travel logistics and the progress made by each of the members were carried out using the platform. It was evident that social media communication has no protocol and the members were freely chatting with government officials as opposed to face-to-face communication.
So far, key discussions and experiences on the practical application of permaculture interventions in both sites (Karamoja and Wajir) are being shared on WhatsApp.