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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Kenyan irrigation app aims to cut water waste, crop losses

By Caroline Wambui
KUNENE - Dressed in brown overalls, gumboots and a hat, John Njeru kneels and scoops up a handful of soil at his small farm in central Kenya, where he grows tomatoes, spinach and carrots.
"Not only has there not been enough rain in the past few months, it's also been unevenly distributed," he said, picking through the earth in his hand. "This destroys our crops."
Dealing with more unpredictable and irregular rainfall associated with climate change is a challenge for many farmers, and one made worse by water-wasting, inefficient irrigation systems, experts say.
But scientists from Kenya's Meru University of Science and Technology have come up with one way to deal with the problem: a mobile app that monitors the need for water in fields and controls irrigation equipment to deliver just what is needed.
"Farmers in the region traditionally water crops with cans or buckets", an inefficient way of getting water to plants, said Daniel Maitethia, an electronics lecturer at Meru University.
"The lack of measuring also means they water crops unevenly - so some may get too much water, and others not enough," he said.

Daniel Maitethia (L) with students at Meru University’s farm, Kenya. TRF/Caroline Wambui
The "sensor-based automatic irrigation system" app, launched last year, uses senors placed throughout a field to determine if soil is moist enough.
If it's too dry, a control unit uses solar panels to open the valve of a water tank, then close it again when the soil is damp enough.
Initially tested at the university's own farm, the irrigation system is now being rolled out to the public - including farmers like Njeru.
"We can't yet quantify how many farmers are using the app, but hope to expand it to thousands across Meru County - and potentially the rest of the country if the system proves successful," Maitethia said.
The combined app and irrigation system cost 50,000 Kenyan shillings ($480) per quarter of an acre, including solar panels and two drip irrigation lines. The system can be expanded to an additional quarter acre for 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($48).
While Maitethia acknowledges the upfront cost of the system is high, he believes it will not only curb water waste but save labour costs as it does not require farmers to physically monitor it.
"If there is a glitch in the system, the farmer receives a text message notifying him of the problem," he explained. "A technician employed by the university will then help the farmer remotely with instructions, or physically come to the farm if needed."
Depending on the severity of the problem, a consultation with a technician can cost the farmer up to 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5).
Njeru, who paid 75,000 Kenyan shillings ($721) to install the app and irrigation system on his 1.5-acre farm, said that "although the app is expensive, it's a cost worth paying when I compare my current harvest to previous years."
"I used to lose up to 70 percent of my produce as a result of dry weather and inefficient irrigation, compared to only 10 percent now," he said.
Njeru used to occasionally hire other farmers to help water his farm on a day-to-day basis. Now he no longer needs to do so, he said.
"That saves me 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($192) per month," he said.
Maitethia thinks that as more people buy the app, its cost could reduce by more than half.
The project was awarded 1 million Kenyan shillings ($9,600) by the Water Services Trust Fund in November as the best innovation in water management, he said.
"This prize - and hopefully partnerships with other organisations - should make the technology available to small as well as large-scale farmers."
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Learning from our past and building on our achievements

By Bob Aston
This is an exciting third year for Sokopepe. We have welcomed 2017 with a strong commitment and enthusiasm. This year promises to bring a lot of success for Sokopepe owing to the magnificent work that we did in 2016.
Last year we showed that farm records are a powerful resource for Agribusiness. We have learned a lot during this period. Our conviction that farm records are key in agribusiness has only increased. We know that farmers want better lives for their families and brighter future for their children.
We will do our best to ensure that farmers achieve this by ensuring that by the end of the year we help 20,000 farmers realise increased productivity and profitability.
A farmer in Meru County being shown how to fill a farm book
For close to 2 years, Sokopepe with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine (KIE) has been piloting the Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) innovation to 5 and then 9 Sub-counties in Meru County.

Our dream is to make FARMIS the planning tool for devolved government structures in Kenya and working with partners to create a regional “food map” as part of the agricultural transformation.
Our focus in 2017
This year we will launch the second Agricultural Production Report (APR) for 9 sub counties in Meru using data from FARMIS. This year’s report will focus on more food enterprises compared to the initial report. 
Data from last year's report indicated that only 0.02 percent of small-scale farmers get loans from financial institutions to finance their farming enterprises.
The report indicated that farmers do not seek extra financing as they are unable to access optimal and timely inputs needed to maximise their farms potential. This made financial inclusion to be a key element in our commitment to increase the income of smallholder farmers.
We will continue to leverage on existing relationships within the value chains to ensure farmers access services sustainably while increasing the number of banked farmers. We know that financial inclusion is a powerful tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in promoting economic growth and ending poverty.
Sokopepe staff digitizing farmers records
Last year we partnered with 7 agricultural service/product providers to enhance good agricultural practices and to provide economical, effective and sustainable agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers. We expect to do more in 2017.
Youth unemployment has remained one of the most daunting challenges in Kenya’s socio-economic development. This year we want to make agriculture attractive to young farmers. Our FARMIS service provides the evidence base that youth farmers need to make an informed decision. We hope that we will convince many youth that they can make it through agriculture.
Women will continue to play a critical role in our work. Last year we worked with close to 8,000 women farmers. We expect the number to increase this year. We want to help women farmers to pull down the barriers that they face. We believe that women play a critical role in food production and in achieving greater food security.
We know that it is always difficult for farmers to reach and exploit a fair market for their produce. The lack of pricing transparency means that most farmers do not always get the best deal. We will continue to use SOKO+ to increase farmer’s access to market information. We are also exploring how to form partnerships that would help link farmers to markets.
We are always keen on knowledge sharing. We will continue sharing information using videos documentation, open learning days, farmer to farmer visits and articles aimed at farmers. We will also encourage more actors to join the agriculture transformation through our blog, newsletter and other channels.
Our phenomenal team in Meru County has already started the year on a high note. It is an incredible feeling to know that our team is still eager to work with farmers and ensure that they use farm records to increase productivity and profitability.
We know what we believe in. We believe that improving food security requires us all to join forces. We want partners and farmers to believe with us. Join us and let us work together to make a difference in farmers lives.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Kenyan farmers develop taste for insects as drought hurts crops

By Kagondu Njagi
WERU, Kenya - The knee-high dome on Ikung'u Kathimbu's farm in Weru village, eastern Kenya, shelters an unusual crop: a termite swarm.
Kathimbu walks around the structure covered with banana leaves, drumming on a tin-like vessel and stamping his feet on the ground.
"The noise is to make it sound like rainfall, so that the termites are tricked into coming out of the ground," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Farmers' traditional crops have suffered here in recent years due to long periods of drought. Some are taking up construction work to supplement their income, while others like Kathimbu are harvesting insects whenever the rainy season is delayed.
A lab technician scoops black soldier fly larvae at ICIPE,Nairobi.TRF/Kagondu Njagi
At this time of year, Kathimbu's farm should be sprouting with a waist-high maize crop. But only wilting cassava stems populate the parched terrain.
"Five years ago I could store enough maize and beans in my granary to feed my family for seven months," said the father of six. "But now all my grain is depleted three months after the harvest, and only cassava is left."
Kathimbu and his family are not alone in grappling with this situation. Willy Bett, Kenya's cabinet secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries, declared in November that the country was facing severe drought.
"The intensity of drought varies from one area to another," he told a congress of the Seed Trade Association of Kenya. By his estimation, Kathimbu's village lies in one of the most affected areas.
According to the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), a growing number of farmers in eastern and western Kenya are now harvesting and eating insects like termites to cope with prolonged drought.
Termites now supplement Kathimbu's family's meal of boiled cassava - as well as its income.
"When I have picked up enough termites, I take some to the nearby Kambandi open-air market and sell them to other families," Kathimbu explained. A cup of insects fetches KES 10 (almost $0.10).
The most he has ever made in a day selling termites is KES 500 - which is "still far less than I used to make selling maize", he said.
On good days, though, Kathimbu uses the extra money to buy maize flour to make ugali, a popular white bun-like dish and a treat for the family.
Another advantage of termites is that they are rich in protein, according to ICIPE scientist Komi K.M. Fiaboe.
But farmers like Kathimbu need to establish proper insect farms to prevent damage to other crops, said Fiaboe.
"While termites help decompose the soil, they can also attack crops when the soil lacks humidity and minerals," he explained.
He suggested breeding insects that multiply quickly and can be harvested easily, like termites, crickets and grasshoppers, which do less damage to crops than some other species like locusts.
A recent study published by the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development found that people still see insects as ugly, smelly and poisonous creatures that cause allergic reactions.
"This is because people harvest wild insects and consume them raw, leading to negative effects on their health," explained co-author Kennedy Pambo, a researcher at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Cutting down trees and digging up the ground to make traps like Kathimbu's termite mound also damages the environment, he said.
"This can be solved by rearing insects in a controlled manner, instead of harvesting them at random," said Pambo.
"When harvested, they should be mixed with other foods like maize, and milled into flour. The resulting porridge is nutritious because it has high levels of starch and protein," he added.
($1 = 103.6000 Kenyan shillings)
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Kenya prepares to expand solar mini-grids into poorest rural areas

By Maina Waruru
NAIROBI – Kenya plans to launch a $150 million project this year to bring solar electricity to markets, schools, shops and homes in poor, off-grid areas without existing power access, officials say.
The effort, expected to receive World Bank funding in March, would bring mini-grid solar plants to areas of 14 counties categorised by Kenya’s government as marginalised, according to World Bank documents.
Such off-grid systems are the cleanest and most cost effective way to bring electrical power to poor areas, particularly those sparsely populated, Kenyan officials said.
“Solar photovoltaics and mini-grids are the most effective way of supplying power to settlements with 300-400 inhabitants, and Kenya is one of the best prepared countries in Africa in providing such solutions,” said Pavel Oimeke, the director of renewable energy at Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission.
Motorcyclist fuels his bike at Kogelo trading centre,Kenya.REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
The country has more than 400 registered companies that can fulfil solar energy contracts, and more than 300 technicians trained and approved by the government to support the systems, Oimeke said.
Under the new project, solar mini-grids would be used to supply market centres, community facilities, and some households, according to planning documents.  In more isolated areas, households would be equipped with home solar systems. New solar power capacity also would be used to pump water to supply homes and fields.
“Evidence suggests that PV (photovoltaic) powered water pumping significantly reduces the cost of water extraction through lower operational and maintenance costs,” a World Bank project document noted.
As part of the planned project, schools would get new solar-powered borehole wells while some communities would be equipped with water systems powered by solar pumps. Existing diesel-powered pumping systems would be retrofitted with hybrid solar systems, according to planning documents.
The plan also provides for technical assistance and training to help make the scheme more sustainable.
Rabia Ferroukhi, head of policy at the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation based in Abu Dhabi, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she believes the time has come for a paradigm shift in how off-grid systems are deployed, focusing less on power generation and more on using them to support jobs and incomes.
That would help them make a greater contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development goals, she said.
Using solar electricity to power irrigation pumps, process harvests and create cold storage could transform rural lives by providing better crop yields, higher incomes and a reduction in drudge work, she said.
“By linking mini-grid supply with productive uses such as agriculture, rural industries, market centres (and) schools, the socio-economic impacts can be maximised which in turn improves the ability of consumers to afford energy supply,” Ferroukhi said.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Building resilience through financial inclusion

By Getrude Lung’ahi
Vulnerable communities tend to have little to no access to affordable credit to anticipate and cope with shocks. Pre and post-disaster liquidity is critical for them to protect livelihoods in times of weather shocks.
In Wajir County, Kenya, the problem is compounded by the fact that the predominantly Muslim population lacks access to Shariah-compliant financial services – such as services that prohibit the payment of interest or that aren't related to businesses like gambling or alcohol that go against Muslim beliefs.
As part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme, Mercy Corps supported private sector micro-finance institution Crescent Takaful SACCO (CTS) in opening a branch in Wajir on November 17.
Women at the launch of the Sacco in Wajir Kenya +Getrude Lungahi 
Through this branch, CTS is able to offer customers Sharia-compliant financial services - the first time this has been made available in northern Kenya. In recognition of this important step forward, the launch was officiated by the Deputy Governor of Wajir, Hon. Abdihafid Yarow.
A SACCO is a member-owned financial cooperative whose primary objective is to mobilise savings and give members access to loans on competitive terms as a way of enhancing their well-being.
The SACCO offers savings, lending and investment services based on Islamic principles such as profit sharing in collective ventures.
It provides a range of products that will help the community adapt to shocks such as prolonged drought, that often result in extreme poverty. The products include Ayuta Sokoni, which pools funds from entrepreneurs to support them in various aspects of trade such as re-stocking their products.
Ayuta Al-Rafiq, another product, gets groups of friends to define common economic objectives such as co-investments into businesses and pool resources.
‘‘To date there have been no appropriate Sharia-compliant financial services that serve pastoralists,” said Deputy Governor Hon.Yarow. “CTS brings a new hope, as we now have a SACCO that serves our faith.”
In addition to providing financial services that meet community needs in Wajir, the SACCO will aim to strengthen savings groups and eventually link them to other providers of financial services like banks. Over 3,000 households in Wajir will benefit from the products through the Mercy Corps BRACED programme.
‘‘My dream has always been to see pastoralist communities access loans in villages to build their resilience – I am glad to be part of the process,’’ said Diyad Hujale, Mercy Corps programme coordinator and learning manager for BRACED.
CTS SACCO are providing relevant financial services to communities and have designed products like Mifugo Kash Kash, that financially empowers small-scale traders to purchase livestock from farmers.
This gives them access to markets outside Wajir County and boosts their income, while mitigating the impact of weather shocks on livestock.
Fatuma Kosar, a pastoralist from Wajir, added that ‘‘CTS SACCO will enable women to access more funds beyond their existing savings groups.”
“It gives us an opportunity as women to start small businesses since we can now access more funds. We will become independent.”
The next challenge for financial institutions will be to devise innovative financial products to suit women’s needs. This effort ranges from providing women with valid ID cards and enabling them to independently open a bank account, to start new activities that will boost their income.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

The six most read Sokopepe articles in 2016

By Bob Aston
Hello friends! Happy 2017!
From Sokopepe fraternity we wish you a Happy New Year and a fantastic 2017. This is an exciting third year for Sokopepe. We are facing so many wonderful opportunities as well as challenges. 
Farmers learning about Sokopepe during a field day in Meru County
In 2016, Sokopepe showed how farm records are a powerful resource for Agribusiness.  Last year we shared 29 articles through our blog. It was quite a year. 
We have compiled a list of 6 of our most read articles in 2016 based on page views. A big thank you to all those who come here to read and share our blog articles.
Top 6 articles at Sokopepe blog
Increasing smallholder farmers’ access to financial and insurance services would ensure improved food security and increased incomes. Smallholder farmers need access to financial services to generate income from their agricultural enterprises, build assets, and manage risks. Read more here
“Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too,” is the theme of 2016 World Food Day. Msumarini in Kilifi County is today hosting this year’s celebration, which is usually marked on October 16. Read more here
The 6th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which concluded on September 9, 2016 at the United Nations (UN) complex in Nairobi, Kenya, featured Sokopepe among 15 Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture (ICT4Ag) innovations. Read more here
    Three years ago Mr. Eliud Kirema’s fascination with agribusiness made him leave Nairobi. He returned to Meru to start farming in his 6-acre piece of land. He expected to make huge profits but that has never been the case. Read more here 

5.  Women led e-agriculture solution wins Pitch AgriHack competition
The Sooretul Solution from Senegal emerged the winner in the advanced stage category of the Pitch AgriHack competition. The unveiling of the winners took place during a cocktail award ceremony at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya on November 24, 2016. Pitch AgriHack aims to accelerate e –agriculture entrepreneurship for improved food security and livelihood competition. Read more here
Sokopepe held a two-day training on conservation agriculture on August 9-10, 2016 for Production Information Agents (PIA) at Methodist Bio-Intensive Agricultural Training Centre in Meru County.  Read more here
Connect with us
We are excited to see what 2017 has in store for Sokopepe. Follow us on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Youtube to get insights and news about Sokopepe. Subscribe to get our monthly newsletters through
As Sokopepe team we look forward to a beautiful year full of favour, blessing and success. Happy New Year.