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Kenya farming: Mr. Raphael Owaka from Kisumu County is able to generate income and provide decent life to his family

Posted by African Press International on September 29, 2013

  • By Maurice Alal

Most farmers in Nyanza region usually pay no heed to cassava farming activities but for Mr. Raphael Owaka from Kisumu County things are different because he is able to generate income and provide decent life to his family out of it.

Owaka, 56, a cassava farmer in Nyakach (formerly Nyando) District, states that he could have ventured into farming much earlier because of the sweet fruits that he has enjoyed since he ventured into cassava farming and stayed focused on the goal.

He says cassava farming especially the improved variety (MH95/0183) have provided him with self employment and a high reliable income to his family that has completely transformed his lifestyle together with that of his family.

Cassava farming can give you everything that you ever dreams to have in your life. I can now provide for my family whatever I desire,” says Owaka.

Owaka started cassava farming way back in 2004 soon after he resigned from his work to embark on Agricultural activities using modern farming technology which most farmers have all along been reluctant to embrace.

He lamented that cassava has different by-products such as starch, flour and cassava chips that are chopped using the cassava chip, starch extractor and miller for the flour. “Starch is used in secondary school to conduct practical and also as the libido activator especially for the old people,” he said.

Nyakach district has favorable climate for horticultural farming activities alongside Cassava but urged the farmers to diversify their Agricultural activities to enable the region produce enough crops for domestic use and excess for exportation now that Kisumu Airport has
been elevated to International status.

Owaka has prospered from his initial investment of only one tree of cassava which has the capacity to produce over 30 tubers compared to the present plot of an acre piece of land which has 4000 cassava trees. From this, he makes a profit of over shs.500, 000 every two

He sells a bag of cassava shs.1,000 and the produce from 1 acre piece of land fetches him not less than shs.1 million collectively annually. Cassava is a perennial crop that one is able to harvest for about 1 year before it may no longer bear tubers as expected.

The crop takes about 6 -8 months to bear tubers while in some parts of the country it takes a much shorter period depending on the climatic conditions of an area and how well the crop has been tendered.

Mr. Owaka is challenged farmers in Kisumu County and its environs to diversify farming activities and stop the traditional preference for maize, sorghum, beans and peas farming only but embrace cassava farming which has the potential to ensure Nyanza attains food

He, however, conducts various training on cassava husbandry to farmers within the Counties where the residents have shown interest in the hope of generating adequate income that could tremendously transform their lifestyle for the better.

“We should focus on farming instead of idling around waiting for famine relief from the Government. Kisumu County does not need relief food if local farmers redouble their efforts by engaging in serious Agricultural ventures using modern farming methods and irrigation,”
Owaka said.

He urged farmers to take advantage of the lake and river waters to irrigate their farms especially during the short rainy seasons. The training program has boosted his source of income, Owaka says, considering that he charges Shs 8,000 for every training he undertakes
which lasts for 2 months.

“We have also conducted farmers’ field school on cassava husbandry where participants are sensitized on the crop production,”Owaka revealed.

He further stated that so far over 1,000 beneficiaries have been trained and joined the cassava farmers associations, including Community Rehabilitation Environmental Protection (CREP) for which he is the coordinator.

In comparison with other types of farming, Owaka says cassava is cost-effective, not arduous and requires simple farm inputs than other crops.

Audrey Rolyne, a farmer trained by Owaka undertakes cassava growing of different varieties alongside bee keeping and concurred with his trainer that the cash crop has greatly helped him lower the cost of production while reaping maximum profit compared to dairy-farming for cattle and goats combined.

Rolyne says she quit her job as a cleaner to venture into farming activities where she grows cassava and now is the proud owner of one and a half-acre fully put under cassava farming that generates income which has comfortably sustained the family.

Mr. Owaka, however, pointed out that cassava farming can cost more than Shs. 50,000 but he has the advantage since it requires less farm inputs to kick-start it.

“For instance if you plant an acre piece of land you will require a total of 4,000 cassava cuttings with one cassava tree bearing over 30 tubers depending on the variety,” Owaka explained.

He says market for the cassava is readily available and during the harvesting days, vendors and local residents compete for his produce due to high quality of the crop.

Owaka says Government efforts to reduce poverty especially in rural areas could be given a major boost if cassava farming is adequately promoted and funded.

Many young people in Nyanza are facing a major challenge of unemployment yet many owned inherited land that lies idle. “If youths are empowered with skills and funded on the cassava, unemployment related challenges like high rate of crime can be reduced significantly,” he says.

Farming is the best investment that one can have in the region, he says, stating that you only need a piece of land where you grow the crop as it does not require a lot of capital like coffee or tea plantations.

Owaka urged the youth to acquire technical and vocational skills rather than idling around and be used by politicians to fight their wars. He hopes to provide employment opportunities to young people in the County by planting pawpaw, vegetables, passion fruits and water melon in another 2.5 acre piece of land.

Kisumu County Director of Agriculture, Joash Owiro pledged to give all the necessary support but challenged more farmers to help satisfy the growing population. According to the last year’s census results most locals are accustomed to dairy, maize, beans, groundnuts and sorghum farming.

The major concern raised by Owaka and Owiro is the low uptake of cassava farming but they remained optimistic that farmers in the area will steadily pick up by joining the production process.

Kisumu County can make major strides in terms of farming to curb the perennial food shortage in the area and particularly in Nyakach district apart from improving the region’s economy.

Farmers should stop politicking and seek assistance from the Government which is always ready to fund such farming initiatives to promote full exploitation of available potential and utilization of Kisumu International Airport.

“Why can’t horticultural farmers alongside those who undertake cassava farming work together to improve their socio-economic development and curb perennial food shortage in the County,” Owiro posed.


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Zimbabwe: Hunger looms

Posted by African Press International on September 7, 2013

MASVINGO,  – Revesai Moyo, 80, a smallholder farmer in Zimbabwe’s Zimuto District, is one of the 2.2 million people – a quarter of the rural population – expected t o lack sufficient food between October and the next harvest in March 2014, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Year after year, Moyo plants maize, groundnuts and beans, and does “not harvest much even when the rains are good”.

“This last season was a total write-off as the rains stopped just before the maize was to mature,” she told IRIN. She lives in a region considered “unsuitable for crop production” due to poor soils and “highly erratic” rainfall.

In a 3 September statement, WFP Country Director Sory Ouane said, “Many districts, particularly in the south, harvested very little and people are already trying to stretch out their dwindling food stocks.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the aggregate cereal harvest in 2013 was about 27 percent below the average of the previous five years.

The WFP statement attributed the current high levels of food insecurity “to various factors including adverse weather conditions, the unavailability and high cost of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and projected high cereal prices due to the poor maize harvest.”

The reasons widespread hunger continues to be an almost annual problem in Zimbabwe are more complex.

Poverty, growing conditions

Zimbabwe has five natural regions, each with varying suitability for growing crops. The drought-prone provinces of the south and west, such as Masvingo and the South and North Matabeleland provinces, are ranked as the most unsuitable areas for crop production.

Matebeleland South and parts of Masvingo provinces experience food deficits on an almost annual basis and are among the poorest in the country.

But a May report by the University of Zimbabwe’s Institute of Environmental Studies – Understanding Poverty, Promoting Wellbeing and Sustainable Development – found that across the country 95 percent of the rural population was poor and, of that number, more than two-thirds were “very poor”.

Zimbabwe’s rural impoverishment was not helped by cuts in support to black farmers starting in the 1990s after the government agreed to rein in spending and introduced market-oriented reforms in line with the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes. According to the University of Zimbabwe report, poverty was further exacerbated by drought, food shortages, hyperinflation and the HIV epidemic, and then by a loss of donor support in the wake of the country’s 2000 fast-track land redistribution programme.

The land reform programme saw 11 million hectares of white-owned farmland – in prime agricultural regions – acquired for redistribution to the landless. A recent book, Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, argues this redistribution improved the lives of thousands of smallholder farmers and their families, but those working redistributed land still lack title deeds and face a variety of challenges.

In areas such as Beit Bridge in Matabeleland South, which is prone to dry spells and drought, conditions remain grim. District Administrator Simon Muleya told IRIN rain-fed agriculture in the area “just won’t work.” He said the water table was high, which meant irrigation could potentially help farmers, but this required investment and the “money is just not there”.

On a national level, the amount of irrigated lands has fallen since the fast-track land reform programme, Conrade Zawe, of the Department of Irrigation, told The Herald, a state-owned daily. “Around 2000, we had 250,000 hectares of land under irrigation, and hectarage fell down drastically over the years, but through the rehabilitation processes that the government has introduced, about 135,000 hectares is [currently] being irrigated.”

Tastes dictate crops

Crops continue to fail in areas like Beit Bridge partly because of local people’s attachment to maize, despite its unsuitability to the climate. The government and donors have tried to change diets in marginal areas such as Beit Bridge, but have not made much headway.

Muleya said, “The Ministry of Agriculture has tried to encourage people to grow small grains [such as sorghum and millet] because we do not get enough rain, but there is resistance. People prefer maize meal over the traditional sorghum and millet and other small grains.”

FAO assistant representative David Mfote told IRIN that people had acquired a taste for maize – introduced to by Europeans in the 16th century – which is fashioned into ‘sadza’, a thick porridge. “They say it tastes better,” he said.

During the 2010/2011 season, the government and FAO launched a small grains pilot project in marginal areas, including Matabeleland South, that helped farmers grow the grains and linked them to the markets, but it was brought to an end in 2012 because of lack of donor support.

Grains such as sorghum were also favourites of quelea birds, which, according to Mfote, forced farmers to guard their fields the whole day.

A senior agricultural department official, who declined to be named, told IRIN that, in the absence of irrigation, the solution in the Beit Bridge region would be livestock farming. “Even if they [the local communities] change to sorghum or millet, rainfall is so erratic in places like Beit Bridge that even those small grains may not survive the heat, so they should focus on their cattle and goats which they can sell to buy food,” he said.

im/go/rz source http://www.irinnews,org


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Cashew price dips

Posted by African Press International on July 20, 2013

Around 40 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s cashews remain unsold due to poor prices this year

DAKAR,  – A slump in cashew nut prices in Guinea-Bissau has left nearly half of the population eking out food, with families skipping meals or selling livestock to survive until the next harvest in September, aid groups say.

The average price per kg of cashews is 112 CFA francs (two US cents) – the lowest yet – down from an average of 300 CFA in 2012. The 63 percent drop is due to plummeting international prices, reduced demand from Guinea-Bissau’s main cashew importer (India), the April 2012 coup, disagreements between the government and traders on benchmark price as well as banks’ decision to reduce loans to traders.

“The result is a significant decrease of [people’s] food security which obliges them to revert to coping mechanisms such as skipping meals, reducing food intake, selling animals and so on,” Ussama Osman, the World Food Programme (WFP) country director in Guinea-Bissau, told IRIN.

This year marks a second consecutive year of falling cashew nut prices. InJuly 2012 the country exported 60,000 tons of cashew nuts compared to more than 100,000 tons by the same time in 2011.

Eighty percent of Guinea-Bissau’s 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production. Farmers sell their produce basically to buy food, or they barter cashew nuts for food. The terms of exchange have also worsened. One kilo of rice now “costs” 3kg of cashew nuts, up from an exchange rate of 1:1, Osman explained.

“People’s diet is becoming very poor. They stick to the basic food [rice] but the terms of exchange affect the quality and quantity of their food intake,” he said. “Forty-eight percent of the entire population faces a huge food gap during this lean period that requires an emergency intervention.”

A June rapid food security assessment conducted by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Agriculture, the National Cashew Nut Agency and the National Institute of Statistics in seven of the country’s nine regions found that only 8 percent of those interviewed had cereal stocks to last one and a half months.

Some 38 percent of this year’s harvest has not been sold due to the poor prices. Rice imports, which depend on cashew revenue, are expected to be low, “thus combining lack of access and availability of the main source of food during the lean season,” said Patrick David, FAO’s regional food security analyst based in Dakar.

Over-reliance on cashews

Cashews account for 90 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s exports and 45 percent of its GDP. With the withdrawal of budgetary support by key lenders following the 2012 coup, the government will face difficulty in paying public service salaries after the cashew harvesting season ends in September, theInternational Monetary Fund foresees.

Over the years, farmers have converted swathes of forest into cashew orchards and increasingly rely on the land-extensive and low-labour- intensive crop, thus drastically reducing cereal production. Cashew revenue funds tin roofing for houses, marriages, feasts, funerals, bicycles and buying rice among other things, explained Marina Temudo, an agronomist at the Portugal-based Tropical Research Institute (IICT).

“The country has been transformed into a huge cashew tree plantation. This has both economic and environmental hazards. While farmers are now aware of the economic perils of being exclusively dependent upon one cash crop whose market is highly unstable, they have still no idea of the risks of mono-cropping in terms of pests and diseases,” Temudo told IRIN.

“The change from a relatively broad-based food provisioning to almost full dependence on one cash crop is not without shortcomings for farmers’ livelihoods. Food insecurity and indebtedness are growing as a result of the combined effects of a reorientation of the farming systems towards cashew production and dependence upon the market for food supply, as well as the consequences of climate change and the increased use of credit to solve pre-harvest food shortages.”

Farmers should diversify, said Temudo, noting that some farmers have begun switching to food production. “This process should be supported by external agents and donors with incentives for food production and processing facilities,” she said.

The current crisis is forcing some farmers to sell their yet-to-be-harvested food crops at half price in order to buy staples, WFP’s Osman explained. The organization has seen funding for basic nutrition and food security programmes frozen since the coup.

“There is need for immediate financial support from the donors. They have to realize that political pressure, sanctions and boycott are punishing the most vulnerable. A gesture to these people is needed immediately,” he said.

ob/cb source

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Locking horns with Kenya’s pastoralists

Posted by African Press International on July 12, 2013

Experts say large-scale irrigation schemes could undermine pastoralists access to land

NAIROBI,  – The Kenyan government is planning to introduce large-scale irrigation in the country’s dry lands to improve food security and unlock agricultural potential – but critics have blasted the US$170 million scheme as unviable, and a threat to the pastoralist economy.

The government has set aside one million acres of land for irrigated agriculture over the next five years in the historically underdeveloped northeast. Half a million acres of this land will be used to grow cereals and 300,000 acres to grow sugarcane. The remainder will be used for horticultural crops.

“The government… [aims] to exploit the agricultural potential in ASAL [arid and semi-arid lands],” Daniel Barasa, head of the National Irrigation Board, told IRIN.

According to Vision 2030, Kenya’s economic blueprint for the next 17 years, the country’s chronically food insecure arid and semi-arid regions need special attention to help them develop.

Vision 2030 calls for the provision of water, infrastructure, pasture, fodder and veterinary services; establishing strategically located disease-free zones to increase livestock productivity and quality; unifying the efforts of different ministries and other stakeholders to coordinate development of the region; and putting more land under cultivation.

But experts are calling for caution in rolling out large-scale irrigation schemes in the ecologically fragile pastoralist areas.

“Such schemes usually incur high costs, are technically complex, and dependent on heavy machinery. This means that the sustainability of the schemes is ultimately dependent on external commitment and expertise to succeed,” Jeremy Lind, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and member of the Future Agricultures Consortium, told IRIN.

Undermining pastoralism?

Ced Hesse, a senior researcher on dry lands at the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said that such schemes are not only “economically, environmentally or socially unviable,” but can also be destructive, adding that large scale irrigation schemes have the potential to “severely undermine pastoralism.”

“As population levels rise and natural resources are perceived to decline, many governments believe [large-scale] irrigation is the answer. But this fails to recognize that investments in developing, and then maintaining, the highly capital-intensive inputs that irrigation requires is extremely expensive, especially for food production,” IIED’s Hesse said.

“Large-scale irrigation and pastoralism are diametrically opposed. One of the key pillars of pastoralism is the availability of space and access to grazing land. I fear this might be undermined in the process”

“It also ignores the greater benefits in food production that can be had by investing in pastoralism, a highly specialized production system that, if allowed to function properly, can bring greater net returns per hectare than irrigated farming without destroying the environment.”

In Kenya, pastoralism accounts for 13 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

A 2013 study examining grazing lands along the Awash River in Ethiopia revealed the shortcomings of large-scale irrigation. Beginning in the 1960s, these traditional pastoral grazing areas were converted into large-scale cotton and sugar plantations, which contributed to significant environmental degradation and very low economic returns despite high subsidies, while undermining the pastoral livestock economy.

“Irrigation projects have not improved the economic returns from agriculture in the Awash Valley, but they have transferred the control of valuable natural resources from Ethiopian pastoralists and farmers to government officials,” said the study authors, noting that there is more community support for pastoralism than irrigation.

“Despite considerable investment by government, pastoralism is consistently more profitable than either cotton or sugarcane farming while avoiding many of the environmental costs associated with large-scale irrigation projects. As we enter an increasingly climate-constrained world, our findings suggest that pastoralism is a surer investment in the longer-term resilience and economic stability of Ethiopia’s dry lowlands.”

Michael ole Tiampati, the coordinator of Pastoralists Development Network of Kenya, a local pastoralist rights group, told IRIN he feared large-scale irrigation could undermine pastoralists’ access to land.

“Large-scale irrigation and pastoralism are diametrically opposed. One of the key pillars of pastoralism is the availability of space and access to grazing land. I fear this might be undermined in the process,” Tiampati said.

An evaluation of government-supported irrigation schemes carried out along Kenya’s Turkwel River in 1960s and 1970s revealed that it increased the vulnerability of the local population to drought and famine.

In April 2013, leaders from Tana Delta called on the Kenyan government to disband a 10-year-old irrigation project in the area, saying it had contributed to flooding in the region.

A matter of scale

Experts like IDS’s Lind believe smaller schemes “designed to complement traditional flood-retreat farming along rivers, which include points of access and rights for pastoralists to take livestock to the river, are more likely to succeed.”

The government is planning to roll out irrigated agriculture over the next five years to boost food security

IIED’S Hesse concurred, so long as these schemes “reinforce the existing production strategies of the family farmer and the pastoralists, who have learned over hundreds of years of how best to manage the unpredictable climate in the ASALs,” he said.

Reinforcing existing production strategies “involves strengthening the production strategies of family farmers who use a variety of soil- and water-conservation techniques to capture and conserve rainfall through contour banding, the preparation of planting pits with manure and the planting of trees. Success [in improving food security and livelihoods] depends on scale – if you focus on family farmers rather than large-scale plantation approaches, there is a good chance of success,” he added.

Officials told IRIN the local communities will benefit from the irrigation projects.

“The communities are the major beneficiaries of the irrigation projects. Some of the benefits that come with implementation of the projects include: food security; employment opportunities within the project; [and] infrastructure development within the project,” the National Irrigation Board’s Barasa said.

Barasa says the government will provide alternative pasture lands to those affected.

Enoch Mwani, an agricultural economist, told IRIN about the need to tackle insecurity in arid and semi-arid regions – exacerbated in part by conflict over natural resources – and sensitize communities on natural resource management.

“The focus should not be much on taking resources there, because that is long-term, but rather on educating communities in these regions to manage the resources and stem insecurity, which disrupts their livelihoods,” Mwani said.

These approaches, coupled with infrastructure development, Mwani said, could help unlock the regions’ development potential.

ko/rz source

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Fungi offer non-GM way to enhance food crops

Posted by African Press International on November 9, 2012

JOHANNESBURG,  – As temperatures soar and droughts increase in frequency, scientists around the world are working to create food crops tolerant of e xtreme temperatures – often an expensive and laborious process. But a cheaper and quicker alternative could be in sight, new research suggests.
Fungi and other microbes could enable food crops like maize, wheat and rice to grow in high temperatures and salty soils, and even withstand erratic rainfall, say microbiologists, who have begun to look at the relationship between plants and micro-organisms for clues to their mutual survival through thousands of years of climate change.
Making food crops tolerant to climatic stresses could be as simple as coating seeds with micro-organisms that can confer desired traits.

  • A matter of urgency

Helping food crops weather climate change is a matter of urgency, said experts from 15 research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. The programme had been asked by the UN to summarize the effects of climate change on 22 of the most important agriculture crops, from staple cereals to potatoes, lentils and commercial fruit crops like bananas.
Time is of the essence, as droughts have already become more frequent and rainfall more erratic in various parts of the world. By 2050, climate change could cause irrigated wheat yields in developing countries to fall by 13 percent, says a CGIAR review by senior scientist Philip Thornton. Irrigated rice yield could fall by as much as 15 percent. In Africa, many farmers of maize could lose 10 to 20 percent of their yields. Some temperature-tolerant new crops are already being grown in Asia, developed by subjecting grain plants to stresses such as drought conditions, then isolating genes from those that survive. But this kind of conventional breeding is long-drawn process, often taking 10 to 15 years to develop a successful crop variant. It is widely used because many Asian and African countries do not accept genetically modified (GM) products.
Micro-organisms could provide a faster option.
Microbiomes aid survival “We have always thought that plants had learned to adapt to climatic stresses like high temperatures and drought, but now we find that microbiomes [communities of microbes] within plants have conferred traits on them to be able to withstand the stress,” said Rusty Rodriguez, a microbiologist affiliated with the University of Washington, who recently established his own non-profit organization (Symbiogenics) to conduct more research into the plant-microbe symbiosis.
Human and plant life is intertwined with that of micro-organisms. A human body contains more bacteria than human cells; in several studies published this year, members of the Human Microbiome Project reported that microbes “contribute more genes responsible for human survival” than humans themselves.
The new plant studies show that microbiomes are similarly crucial in the plant world.
Scientific American reported in 2010 that Mary Lucero, a molecular biologist at the US Department of Agriculture, had found fungi could help plants capture more nitrogen from the atmosphere, reducing the need to apply chemical fertilizers.
More recently, Rodriguez and his team have shown how a certain fungus, when introduced to the seeds of maize, wheat, tomatoes, watermelons and other plants, enabled those plants to withstand more than 50-degree Celsius temperatures.
‘Results within a year’ Rodriguez says he took fungi from plants near the hot springs in the US’s Yellowstone National Park. The stress tolerance traits are only found in microbes found in those conditions; the same fungus isolated from a non-stressed condition do not have those traits. His teams have also undertaken missions to collect fungi from extreme conditions in the Antarctic, Mount Everest in the Himalayas and the Great Basin Desert in the US.
Rodriguez said he and his team could likely find similar microbes in any part of the world – for instance, in the Sahel – and conduct trials within the region to isolate the useful microbes. “We could have results within a year,” he said.
He has already conducted trials in the US with maize and rice, and found that yields can grow up to 10 percent in the case of rice in cold temperatures, and up to 80 percent in the case of maize in high temperatures. The team is awaiting the results of a trial in which maize was grown during the worst drought to hit the US in decades.
He has also isolated a virus in the fungus that makes plants even more resilient to heat.
The plan is to keep the costs of providing the technology to farmers very low. “Corn in the US is sold in 42lbs [about 20 kg] bags. We want to keep the cost of coating the seeds with microbes to under US$20 [per bag],” said Rodriguez
Another peer-reviewed studyhas shown that certain fungi can make rice plants more tolerant to drought, salt and even cold while reducing water consumption by 20 to 30 percent. Salt tolerance is a sought-after trait in regions affected by rising sea-levels and storm surges that cause saltwater intrusion, such as the rice-growing regions of Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Research for developing world Rodriguez said he and others are looking for opportunities and funding to conduct trials in Africa, where this technology is desperately needed.
This point was also made by CGIAR’s Thornton in his paper Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World: Global Warming Will Change More Than Just the Climate, which explores the complexities of climate change’s impact on crops. Some crops might be able to withstand high temperature but could be sensitive to changes in rainfall. “Other crops can tolerate seasonal flooding but are susceptible to new or increased levels of pests and diseases brought on by high temperatures.”
A variety of changes must take place, including changes to the mix of crops being grown, Thornton said in an email to IRIN. Research can help by “showing farmers not only how to grow new crops but also how to utilize them in different ways (e.g., different ways of preparing and cooking cassava). The socio-cultural aspects may be difficult to deal with, but through a combination of market forces (changes in relative prices of staples) and time, diets may change slowly,” he said.
Circumventing controversy? Meanwhile, other researchers are exploring the use of GM to increase crop resilience. But the safety of GM has been heatedly debated, with many activist groups, governments and regulatory bodies calling for products containing GM ingredients to carry special labels.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has recently come out against labelling requirements. “These efforts are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”
The microbiome studies might offer a way to circumvent these controversies, offering faster and cheaper solutions without the patina of “mad science” often attributed to GM products. The journal New Scientist reported this year that, unlike genetic engineering, which takes years to induce plants to switch various metabolic pathways to become more drought-tolerant, fungi can activate “them all in one go.”



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Kenya: Sustainable organic farming and development in the swing

Posted by African Press International on November 8, 2012

  •  By Maurice Alal, reporting from Kisumu Kenya

Sustainable Organic Farming & Development Initiatives (SOFDI), a charitable organization based in Western Kenya region by a Switzerland woman has largely been praised by the Kenyan government and area residents who are the beneficiaries of the undertaken development activities.

SOFDI which was started way back in 2002 as a Community Based Organization (CBO) is purely based on improving the lives of communities through various farming methods and trainings on how to improve their daily earning and food production.

Mrs Brigitte Frey, the Founder of SOFDI from Switzerland told African Press International (API) that she had a dream and passion to transform the livelihood of poor communities who have difficulties in accessing food, clean water, health facilities and schools among others.

According to Mrs Frey the  organization does this through the development of essential facilities such as organic farming, water conservation and protection of streams, agro- forestry, goat rearing, promotion of additional traditional food, schools programs and student sponsorship & internship as well as environmental conservation.

The Founder attest that she also has a lot of passion in changing the lives of women, youths and vulnerable children who usually bears the greatest challenges in their daily lives especially some of the African countries.

To start with, SOFDI supports the training of farmers on various farming methods such as organic farming techniques to increase their food production. This has enabled farmers to produce various indigenous vegetables, soya beans, potatoes, cassava and millet among others.

This is said to have greatly reduced the cases of food insecurity in the regions especially where the programs are being undertaken.

As you take a walk to testify the development activities supported by the organization, the evidence is clearly visible in various farms of Emuhaya, Vihiga and Khwishero district in Vihiga and Kakamega County respectively, Western Province.

A farmer, Florence Jandi testified saying that they no longer purchase vegetables after undergoing organic farming trainings which has also improved their earnings. She also said that SOFDI programs have enabled them to educate and provide efficiently for the families in terms food with some being sold.

Jandi who is practicing organic farming, soya production and goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety revealed that her monthly earning has drastically increased from 15% to 60%. She is one of the most successful farmers who underwent the organization trainings.

She is also one of the most recognized hardworking farmers in their group currently headed by Chariet Mugasia as the team leader. The farmers trained by SOFDI are constituted in various demo groups before they embark on farming activities on their own.

The other farmer who has also made the organization proud is Shaban Otweche who is undertaking organic farming, African leafy vegetables, soya production and tissue culture bananas.

According to Otweche, he now has the capacity to pay school fees and provide enough food to the family, a thing he could not afford before the coming of the charitable organization.

Soya Beans: The charitable organization are seriously undertaking farming of soya beans which is rich in protein just like eggs, beans, milk, meat and fish among others which doctors now recommend resident to consume in their daily diets.

Mrs Frey told the API that SOFDI supports largely, the growing of soya beans with 600 farmers trained on soya farming to increase its production in the Western Kenya. Farmers are also practicing Mandela gardening where varieties of crops are grown in a circle kind of farm that reduces chances of soil erosion in sloppy areas.

This is because soya beans have high content of proteins which medics recommend that residents need to eat as it helps in building and repair of body muscle and tissues as well as the production of amino acids.

“We want to produce soya beans in large-scale for domestic use and export as a long-term project. SOFDI is currently planning to train another 600 farmers on various modern methods to oversee high productions of the beans,” Mrs Frey said.

Farmers are also being provided with farm inputs to facilitate early preparation of their farms mostly during the long rains. Over 970 kilograms of soya seeds were distributed to farmers in the month of January with a total of 9700 kgs bags of soya beans harvested.

The organization is also keen in value addition of the beans. It has put in place a soya processing machine plant in Emuhaya district enabling farmers to process their produce thereby increasing the rate of profit from the readily available market.

Some of the products that are produced out of soya include yoghurt, milk, chapati, mandazi, nuts and variety of floors which has high protein content. “Soya products are very nice that one needs to have a taste,” says one of the farmers adding that the floor is used in preparing porridge that is very healthy to babies.

“We have 34 people working in the processing plants. This has increased the income to farmers,” said Mrs Frey adding that farmers are provided with four types of soya varieties with huge tract of yields according to agricultural experts.

However, among the 600 farmers trained so far, 229 are planting soya beans with others involved in various farming activities in a bid to enhance food security and have money in their pockets.

But according to Ben Mwasamu an agricultural expert, farmers have to demonstrate the skills gained during the training in various groups of between 19 -25 people each headed by an expert after which they then embark on soya farming on their own.

Mwasamu and Mrs Frey also revealed that currently SOFDI is working on ways with the Ministry of Cooperatives and Marketing to have a Soya Beans Cooperatives that will enhance its production in the Western Kenya region. This will also ease the marketing of the products that is currently a challenge to the farmers.

Another area that SOFDI has put a lot of effort is to ensure farmers are well equipped with vast knowledge and skills. To achieve this, it collaborate with various ministries such Livestock, Agriculture and Forestry among other stakeholders.

The organization is also partnering with Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and other stakeholders to advice on various farm inputs that increased the production.

Goats project: Production of milk is not left to chance by SOFDI, the farmers have embraced goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety from Switzerland. The goats are currently purchased from Meru Breeding Center, Central region and given to farmers of Ebunagwe in Emuhaya district.

“The goats are rich in milk production which is good for children consumption due to nutrients. The goats also provide organic manure used in farming as most farmers barely afford fertilizer,” Mrs Frey revealed.

So far there are 5 groups of farmers rearing goats availed to them by SOFDI. The goat projects are meant to establish a breeding center for the Togenburg varieties that is highly demanded in Western Kenya. They were also awarded certificate by Mrs Frey during her tour of the farmers’ demo.

“The goats are very profitable in milk production. A goat goes for Shs. 25,000 to Shs.30, 000 depending with the market demand,” Mrs Frey revealed saying that in future farmers will no longer travel to Meru to purchase of goats.

Currently there are 16 goats in three groups-12 does and 4 bucks aiming to upgrade the local goats to increase milk production. There is further plan to establish 3 more breeding does in each breeding units in every districts.

Loans advanced to farmers Farmers also have access to loans which is not in cash but farm inputs to enhance agricultural activities in the region. So far they have been loaned soya beans, millet, sorghum, tissue culture bananas, cassava and sweet potato’ vines all costing Shs. 118,280. The farmers are also given Shs 1,200 to pay monthly rent for their offices.

School programs: The organization also targets schools in partnership with the Ministry of Education in undertaking growing of soya beans, organic farming and agro-forestry to improve the environment conservation.

Under the school programs, the students are taken through organic farming courses among others to compliment school teachings through practical activities.

It is aimed at having young people’s audience to change their lives in and out of the schools. Mrs. Frey said currently the programs are carried in 7 schools. She said that 6 are in primary and secondary with one in Polytechnic College with hopes to expand the exercise.

SOFDI have also given cookies and solar dryer to schools to train the students in various ways of preparing meals and plans to undertake lighting programs in various schools in Vihiga and Kakamega Counties will soon kick off.

Another institution that has benefited from the program includes Tigoi Girls Secondary School with 750 students who have embraced organic farming, soya processing and farming of African vegetables.

“Kudos for the sacrifice of Mrs Frey in giving the disadvantaged children and community access to food, improved living condition and learning conditions,” said the farmers who have benefited from the SOFDI projects.

Water conservation and springs However, construction of the springs, conservation of water and protection of the streams have also been the crucial flagship of SOFDI Founder in ensuring the availability of clean water, improved hygiene and reduction of water bone diseases which was rampant in the region.

A total of 147 water springs have been constructed in Emuhaya, Khwishero and Vihiga districts a move that has seen the availability of water to the community whose face are now bright because of the generosity from Mrs. Frey.

The springs are constructed along the water streams especially in the identified sites to conserve the water source. According to Simon Kikanga, who is in charge of the springs and Mrs. Frey the springs are only being constructed in areas identified by the local administrative such as Chiefs and Districts Commissioners who understands the areas well.

They further stated that 360 sites were identified and SOFDI are yet to put in place more springs along the streams within the communities.

A spring is constructed at a cost of between Shs. 25,000 to 40,000 with community participation in mobilizing the available resources and offering of the unskilled labour which they duo said contributes to the success of the projects implementation.

Mrs Frey further revealed that the development activities is done in collaboration with area residents and other partners that oversaw implementation of the projects while local community mobilized resources such as ballast, sand and unskilled labour as part of sharing arrangement to enable them own the springs.

One of such springs is currently providing clean water for over 70 households and 600 pupils.  This has reduced time that the community used to take before the construction of the springs.

“Over 200 people used to line up to fetch the untreated water for up to 2 hours. But this has since reduced drastically. With the springs in place, it take 20 litres of jerican 20 seconds to get filled up, meaning two people are able to fetch water in 2 minutes,” says the duo.

They said that the springs have also reduces chances of communities from contracting diseases such as bilharzia, typhoid and cholera as compared to those days that they were using untreated water.

It has also given pupils enough time to study. This is because parents use to send them to fetch water from the streams, at times over a long walking distance making them skip classes.

Food Security: The organization has managed to improve food security in western region by about 60 % with over 600 people trained on various farming activities. This is due to the introduction of soya beans, indigenous vegetables with the community no longer purchasing but simply get from their farms both for sale and consumption.

“My family no longer spend money to buy vegetables from the market,” says one of the farmers adding that they harvest their produce for consumption and sell some to customers from other regions with some dried using solar drier for future use especially during the drought.

SOFDI have too ensured the availability of food provision by providing farmers with seeds of various crops such as bananas, cassava, millet, sorghum, soya beans and  variety of vegetables such sukuma-wiki, kales and spinach.

However, after the harvest the organization buys seeds from farmers to distribute to other newly trained farmers. According to SOFDI Team Leader, Rodgers Namasaka, 30 farmers are trained monthly on indigenous vegetables among other crops that have increased food production in the region.

There are also additional traditional foods which have been embraced seriously by the organization to curb the usual food insecurity especially in areas that bears high poverty index.

A total of 200 bananas suckers were given out to the farmers some even used in making wine. SOFDI work in collaboration with KARI to ensure farmers get the right seeds depending with their soil texture and additional required expertise.

Some of the traditional crops being promoted by Mrs. Frey include tissue cultured bananas, finger millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes with 100kgs of sorghum, 10 sacks of potatoes vine and 60 kgs of millet with cassava and sweet potatoes distributed to farmers and are being planted on demo plot for multiplication before members’ plant in their fields.

Argo-forestry and environmental conservation : The non governmental organization is also promoting tree planting within the communities by engaging them and schools in tree nursery projects. In facilitating this, SOFDI provides farmers with agro-forestry kits such as seeds, wheelbarrows, jembes (Hoes) and poly tubes that enhanced the community involvement.

“So far more than 20,000 seedlings have been distributed to revamp the encroached hill of Ekwe that is over 24 hectors in the region,” said Mrs Frey adding that another 20,000 seedlings have been produced between the months of January and November, 2012 which are yet to be distributed to schools.

Another reforestation of Misango hill is also in progress by establishing Grevilla nurseries at Emukunzi polytechnic with 1500 seedlings and other 10 nurseries of different agroforestry tree species.

The organization has further set up a commercial tree nursery at Eshikwata farmers demo site to be used for reforestation of various encroached hills in the regions. They have also introduced more tree medicinal plants in various nurseries in most of the homesteads.

A total of 9 nine trees and fruits species have been set up in nurseries. This include Kei apples 42,316, Avocado 5,932, pawpaw 128, Loguards 432, Mangoes 543,Grevillia 5,318, Calliandra 14,890,Eucalyptus 32,089,Passion fruits and Markhamia lutea 2,345. The species are grouped according to the type, number of fruits trees nurseries established in various districts in a bid to conserve the environment.

Education: However, the Founder revealed that SOFDI is dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty and improve the lives of the community in the world’s poorest countries through education.

“We want activities that impact positively on the community through education, hygiene, food security, clean provision of water and health facilities,” said Mrs. Frey.

She said that the organization also engages the communities to participate, dialogue and address poor education outcomes in their districts. The involvement of communities has enabled residents to appreciate developments and embrace child protection initiatives.

This has seen improvement of education among the community as they say “education is power”. SOFDI is currently promoting learning activities through student sponsorships programs especially to the needy children.

However, she revealed that 4 students are in college undertaking organic farming courses at Diploma level with another one doing masters with hopes that more will join the various institutions.

SOFDI also give room for internship programs to college students to enhance their field experience for 3 months with a monthly incentive of Shs. 3,000 for sustainability.

The move has drastically reduced criminal activities. This is according to one of the area chiefs due to youths being engaged since the inception of SOFDI development activities.

Talk of Moses Ochieng’ who is currently undertaking soya beans farming and processing. He said before the coming of the organization he was idle, a thing he said forced youths to engage in various criminal activities.

“I am now able to earn money out of the farming to sustain myself and provide for my family,” Ochieng’ said.

The development activities supported by the organization have greatly improved the living standard of the communities with basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter among others. This is because they are now able to provide for their families with ease.

“When you compare the community before the inception of SOFDI and now there is 90% improvement in living standard than it used to be. This can easily be told by the community themselves,” said Mrs. Frey during her to various farmers demo’s day.

She said that people’s earning have doubled making them have money in their pockets. Food insecurity is no more worrying the community which is also blessed with rains.

Health facilities is not left behind amongst the  improved sectors due to reduction of water bone diseases that was rampant following usage of direct water from the streams. Even the lives of HIV and AIDS patients have changed since they are busy tilling their farm making the relieved of the stigmatization.

Mrs. Frey further recommended the youth for embarking on agricultural activities contrary to the believes that farming practices was only left to old people of about 65 years old, a move that have engaged and increased their earnings.

She further urged the government to focus on agricultural activities to reduce cases of food insecurity. Mrs Frey further promised the communities that more development will soon be witnessed in future to change more lives.

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