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demonstration farm of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Nairobi | Coastweek

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Farmers are seen while being educated on modern farming methods during a visit to a demonstration farm of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Nairobi. Isaya Sijali, an engineer with KARI, has asked Kenyans to practise drip irrigation to help produce more crops with the aim of fighting hunger and poverty. XINHUA PHOTO - JOSEPHINE WARETA

Modern farming methods drive increase of crop yields in Kenya

by Robert Manyara NAKURU (Xinhua) -- Until 2008, Joseph Njuguna, a farmer in Nyandarua County, about 170 km northeast of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi, harvested nearly nothing from his 15-acre land.

His farm is adjacent to the slopes of Aberdare forest, and his crops were washed away during the heavy rainfall.

For him growing crops and waiting for them to grow was the order of his farming regardless of whether it was done right or wrong. Not until he realized that farming is a serious business venture that involved counting the profits and avoiding the losses.

Now Njuguna’s farm is a blend of a variety of crops including grass, napier grass, fruit trees, vegetables and potatoes.

"I met officials from the ministry of agriculture who taught me the need to have grass planted along the edges of the farm because they reduced the soil run-off. The same with trees," Njuguna told Xinhua on Tuesday.

In his farm, he has grass strips cropped horizontally and fruit trees along the edges, which,he said, has saved him from the massive loss of his crops.

"Now I harvest 20 bags of potatoes from each acre and have comfortably grown fodder crops on some acres to feed my three cows. Before, I just had one cow and struggled to feed due to lack of grass," he said.

Njuguna is among many farmers in Kenya who have improved their food security following access to information on better farming methods from the ministry of agriculture.

Continued use of the poor agricultural practices is among the factors resulting to low harvests among the rural small scale farmers in Kenya, according to the country’s agriculture ministry.

The small scale farmers in the East African nation make up 98 percent of the total food production, some of which is consumed locally while the rest is exported.

"Without encouraging small scale farmers to adopt better ways of farming like agro-forestry which includes growing crops and trees, we will not be able to be food secure,"said Peter Ng’ang’a, an agricultural official based in Nyandarua County.

He said when farmers leave their pieces of land bare, they expose it to soil erosion which erodes the fertility needed for successful growth of crops.

"Take an example of Njuguna, if he did not start growing grass covering the soil, thereby controlling the velocity of run-off, he could not be harvesting anything," noted the agricultural official.

Njuguna is among the farmers who have gained from the advice of the agricultural official, who visited his farm and guided him on ways to bear rich benefits from his 15-acre agricultural land.

Among the initiatives the country’s ministry of agriculture is effecting is enlightening farmers on modern technologies effective in reducing soil erosion while increasing crop yields.

This is done through the farmers’ field days, on which they meet the agricultural officials, and visit regional agricultural exhibitions where successful farming ventures are exhibited.

"However farmers are encouraged to be very aggressive and visit the Ministry of Agriculture offices in their respective locations for information on variety of crops to grow at a certain area and period," Ng’ang’a noted.

According to the Soil Atlas of Africa, a publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization in collaboration with EU and African Union; increased pressure on existing agricultural areas, mono-cropping, overstocking and ploughing of the of marginal lands unsuitable for cultivation are some of the factors causing rapid soil degradation in Africa.

Farmers are therefore advised to shift from the traditional methods of farming to the productive means of agriculture that focus on maximizing soil fertility and minimizing its degradation.

With the growing population in Kenya, Peter Kimani, a specialist in crop production, noted the need for educating small scale farmers on farming systems that allow the soil to recover its nutrients.

"Farmers are using the wrong kind of fertilizer not recommended for in acidic or alkaline soils.

"The more they use them the more they dwindle their harvests. They need information,"said Kimani.

He said farmers should be encouraged to practice strip cultivation to prevent soil erosion in their farming lands.

Under this farming system, farmers are expected to leave unploughed vegetated strips between tilled land and allowing buffer zones of indigenous plants to grow along the river banks

However, he added that can happen if more extension officials are deployed in each location to reach out to remote farmers who are unable to access the agriculture offices.

New seed program to benefit Millions of African smallholders

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Millions of African smallholders will benefit from a two-year project launched to transform the seed industry in the continent.

Partners from research institutions, private sector and foundations launched the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) program in Nairobi to enhance access to quality seeds among African smallholders.

"A vibrant seed industry underpins food security and better incomes for small-scale farmers in Africa. Development of a market- oriented, pluralistic and vibrant seed sector is critical to achieve those goals," Principal Secretary for Agriculture Sicily Kariuki told journalists.

Funded by Dutch government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the ISSD program will ensure that small-scale farmers have access to affordable and quality seeds. Policymakers said the project will address challenges in the seed value chain including high cost, counterfeit products and distorted supply networks.

"The seed sector in Africa faces serious challenges related to pricing, inadequate access, distribution and adulteration. Local industries must adapt to changing environment to remain competitive," Kariuki said.

During its pilot phase, the program will establish an African embedded structure to address bottlenecks in the seed industry.

Stakeholders from governments, research bodies, private sector and funding agencies will explore policy, legislative and funding interventions to promote access to high quality seeds among smallholders.

Walter de Boef, senior program officer with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed that food security and economic transformation in Africa hinges on the establishment of a robust seed industry.

"There is need to create a continental platform to address challenges blighting the seed sector.

Countries must invest in the infrastructure, technologies and human resources needed to revamp the seed value chains," he said, urging governments to invest in seed varieties that are tolerant to climatic shocks, pests and diseases.


IFAD donates US one million dollars to boost food security in Burundi

BUJUMBURA (Xinhua) -- The United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has donated one million U.S. dollars to create jobs for women and young people in Burundi in an effort to boost food security and rural development in the east African nation, a press release from the IFAD office said here.

"The one million U.S. dollars grant is meant to strengthen food security and rural development in Imbo (west) and Moso (east) regions," said the press release.

The Burundian National Food Security Program is using some 57.9 million dollars and is funded through a 30 million dollars grant from the IFAD, a 20 million dollars loan from the OPEC Fund for International Development and a contribution from the Burundian government.

The new program is targeting to help 225,000 rural people by reinforcing hydro-agricultural infrastructure and opening up access to production areas, said the press release.

The program will also develop and organize rice and dairy value chains; support the diversification of production and improve nutritional condition of the communities; and build the institutional capacity among those in the agricultural sector who are engaged in value chains.

It is estimated that at least 50 percent of the beneficiaries will be women and 30 percent will be young people, especially orphans.

Despite economic growth during the last couple of years in the east African nation, poverty still persists in some regions.

Chronic malnutrition affects 58 percent of children under five years old and the hunger index was 38.8 percent in 2013.

More than 90 percent of Burundian citizens live on agriculture.

China aid agricultural demonstration center in Morogoro | Coastweek

MOROGORO (Xinhua) -- Tanzanian builders work at the site of a China aid agricultural demonstration center in Morogoro, some 240 kilometers from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. XINHUA PHOTO - GUO CHUNJU


Tanzania’s youth brace for booming vegetable farming

ARUSHA, Tanzania (Xinhua) -- Stella Ezekiel, 23, is one of young women, who are doing vegetable farming in Maweni village located in the foothills of Mount Meru—Tanzania’s second tallest mountain after the Africa’s highest roof of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Despite of the challenges she had been experiencing, Ezekiel who is a mother of three, never regret on her decision of being a vegetable grower in the volcanic-rich soil area.

In her two acre farm, Ezekiel and his husband started doing the farming project five years ago.

But, changes were not realized as they were expected.

The main challenge, Ezekiel cites lack of technical-know-how particularly on doing agribusiness farming as well as lack of reliable market for vegetable produces.

She says "in those years, we used to grow different types of vegetables without having proper farming skills," adding that "we ended-up with poor harvests that never bring in good money to meet our daily needs."

Other vegetables grown in the area include spinach, amaranthus, chinese, African eggplant, tomatoes and among others.

He thanks the Eastern and Southern Africa’s peri-urban horticulture initiative (VINESA) -- a project that fosters entrepreneurship among young farmers in the area.

The four-year project came after realizing that most smallholder farmers in Africa and Tanzania in particular produce vegetables during the rains when every other farmer does the same.

The result is an oversupply of vegetables in the wet season and scarcity in the dry season, leading to low income for farmers and high prices for consumers.

To encourage farmers to change their mindset and behavior, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research-funded project "Improving income and nutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa by enhancing vegetable-based farming and food systems in peri-urban corridors".

The four-year VINESA project organized a series of training courses for young farmers in Tanzania, whereby HORTI-Tengeru and the World Vegetable Center-Eastern and Southern Africa (AVRDC-ESA) equip farmers with knowledge and skills on value chain thinking.

Stella is one of the first batch of twenty female and male farmers age 18 – 35 from Maweni Village in Arumeru district who have benefited from the project, which are currently implemented in four African countries of Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

The project, which is enchored on reducing malnutrition and poverty, increasing employment, started in June 24, 2013 and is to end by July 31, 2017.

Andrew Pallangyo is another beneficiary of the project, who says:

"Before the training I used to sell my vegetable in the market, where I used to get little profit compared to the new system of the market we have been linked with."

He says the move has changed the entire perception of farming "as we have been linked with buyers and even seed breeders, in the past I used to grow vegetables for food only, but now we are growing for producing seeds, where we enter into contracts with seed companies and we get good money compared to what we used to do in those days."

Neema Kaaya, a vegetable seller in Usa River area observes:

"It is wrong for farmers to assume they will get similar prices for their produce as those being offered by traders for premium produce."

She expresses interest in buying vegetables from the trainees once they graduate from the Best Practice Hub—provided their vegetables that meet required standards for type, quality and quantity.

Trained vegetable growers have started securing contracts of supplying vegetables to nearby boarding and day schools, hotels and other institutions.

Agatha Aloyce VINESA’s Tanzania Country Coordinator, explains the need to produce vegetables for a given market opportunity.

According to her, value chain thinking places the needs of consumers and customers first, and aims to build lasting relationships among chain actors to meet those needs.

Radegunda Kessy, vegetable research associate suggests the urgent need for chain actors to understand the needs of consumers and customers.

"They must learn which actions cause waste and which add value to appropriately allocate available resources."

She encourages vegetable growers to produce what they can sell rather selling what they have produced—a strategy that shifts emphasis from trying to push vegetables produced through the chain to pulling these vegetables from the demand of consumers at the end of the chain.

Florence Ghamunga, VINESA’s Gender Expert, says maximum returns to households often depend on gender relations in value chains.

She emphasizes the need to address gender diversity to strengthen equity among individuals, families, households, and societies. More equitable access to resources (land, money, transport); greater roles in decision making; a fairer division of labor; and more sustainable partnerships make stronger chains that support more stakeholders.

Dr. Thomas Dubois, Director of AVRDC- ESA said:

"What we real aim to do is to get more money in the pockets of smallholder farmers, particularly on small plots located in areas around cities."

The official describes the role of VINESA in improving community nutrition in Tanzania by encouraging vegetable consumption as the most affordable source of protein, vitamins and micronutrients.

The project is focusing on developing improved traditional and global vegetable varieties, strengthening local seed supply systems introducing sound crop management practices and establishing effective value chains.

Nyerembe Munasa, district commissioner for Arumeru urges to wake-up and hurriedly embark into vegetable farming—an activity, which has proved to be ideal for creating, jobs to the important segment in the society.

"We’re living in a very competitive world, whereby employment opportunities are very limited.

"But, for Tanzania, this is a different story as we’re endowed with a wide-range of natural resources and among them is fertile land, where we can grow a number of crops.

So, it is time for the youth to chip-in and embark into farming, particularly vegetable farming," he says.

He says it’s time for youth to shift their thinking from white- collar jobs and actively get into vegetable farming, which is a quick wing projects as a farmer waits few days before start getting the returns.

It is estimated that more than 6,000 smallholder farmers in those countries will have access to and adopt improved practices and technologies for more, safer and nutritious vegetable for sale and household consumption by 2017.


Zambia has highest undernourishment rate in Africa: FAO report

LUSAKA (Xinhua) -- A new report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) obtained by Xinhua on Thursday has shown that Zambia has the highest prevalence rate of undernourishment in Africa.

The latest State of Food and World Insecurity Report Zambia has the highest number of citizens undernourished on the continent with 48.3 per cent of its population being undernourished and is followed by Namibia with 37.2 per cent.

In the world, Zambia was ranked the second worst country after Haiti which has 51.8 per cent of its population undernourished.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world’s most populous region, is also home to the majority of the hungry – 526 million," the report said.

"Very slow progress was recorded in several African countries, including Botswana, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, where the number as well as prevalence of undernourished people in the population increased," the report added.

While acknowledging that global hunger has continued to reduce with about 805 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012-14, down more than 100 million over the last decade, the report said sustained political commitment at the highest level was a prerequisite for hunger and nutrition eradication.

"It entails placing food security and nutrition at the top of the political agenda and creating an enabling environment for improving food security and nutrition through adequate investments, better policies, legal frameworks, stakeholder participation and a strong evidence base.

Institutional reforms are also needed to promote and sustain progress," the report added.

William Chilufya, coordinator of the Zambia Civil Society Scaling up Nutrition Alliance said it was unfortunate that the country was ranked as one of the worst in terms of nutrition in the world considering the development potential that it possesses.

"This is a wakeup call to Zambia and it shows that we are not doing enough to address issues to do with nutrition in the country.

"This is shocking considering our development potential as a country.

"When one examines the report, you realize that the statistics referred to were drawn from the 2007 Zambia Demographic Health Survey," he said.

According to him, the country needed to put issues of nutrition on top of its development agenda in order to address the problem of under nutrition.

UN, IGAD appeal for humanitarian aid for drought-hit Horn of Africa

by Njoroge Kaburo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The UN and East Africa’s regional bloc on Monday appealed to the international community to move swiftly and avert a looming humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa region.

In a joint statement issued in Nairobi, UN Assistant Secretary- General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-Wha Kang, and Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), appealed for immediate funds to help 14 million people who are food insecure in the region.

"Displacement in Horn of Africa stand at an estimated 6.8 million people and 14 million people are food insecure, yet funding has remained at half of the appeal," Kang said.

The number of hungry people in the Horn of Africa has risen as drought, rising food and fuel prices and conflict take their toll.

The drought began with the failure of the short rains last year in eastern parts of the Horn of Africa, pushing millions of people into hunger.

According to UN and IGAD, the food shortage in Somalia and South Sudan,as a result of drought and violence and conflict, has had serious consequences for food and nutrition situation for large sections of the population.

"This coupled with an on-going conflict in both countries, lower than usual rains in Somalia, poor vegetation cover and poor animal health, and hiking of prices and limited access by humanitarian agencies, is pushing these countries to closer to an impending worrisome food security and malnutrition situation," it said.

The move comes after UN agencies called for more donor support to help scale up humanitarian assistance in Somalia.

A latest food security report released early September says more than 1 million people in Somalia face acute food insecurity, and 218,000 children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, as food crisis worsens in the Horn of Africa nation.

The joint assessment by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU), a project managed by UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and other partners warned that the situation is likely to deteriorate further until October.

The statement said out of the 933 million U.S. dollar appeal, less than one third has been raised. Both IGAD and the UN are urging the donor community and governments of the region to urgently scale up response to avert a humanitarian disaster.

"Despite early warning indicators, there appears to be inadequate to potential impact of these on lives and livelihoods, and this could impact negatively on the fragile peace in Somalia and South Sudan," the statement said.

IGAD fact-finding mission reports indicate that 7 million out of 12.9 million people in South Sudan are food insecure, 3.9 million are severely food insecure, with 1.2 million already at the risk of famine (if violence continues), and 50,000 children at a risk of dying from starvation.



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