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Scientists calling for integrated management
of threat from Prosopis weed in East Africa

by Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Scientists on Thursday called for an integrated management approach to help reduce the effects of Prosopis woody weed in East Africa.

Led by scientist Purity Mbaabu, the scientists noted that while Prosopis species provide wood for local use and for charcoal production in Baringo County in northwest Kenya and other parts of East Africa, they are a major threat to the environment and to rural people’s livelihoods.

"It’s time chemical, biological and mechanical control measures be applied to reduce density of a weed in the invaded range and to slow down or stop its spread into uninvaded areas," Mbaabu told journalists in Nairobi.

She warned that if left unchecked, the invasive woody weeds will continue to suppresses and at times replace native biodiversity and alter ecosystem functions.

Mbaabu noted that the weed severely limits livestock production, increase costs of crop production and consume a lot of water, thereby causing significant economic damage.

Prosopis, which was introduced in Baringo in 1982 as part of the fuel wood afforestation extension project to help reduce soil erosion has increased in coverage by 2,031 percent in just 28 years.

"Building on the long-term management experience gained in Australia, we propose that a combination of management options is required to achieve the sustainable and effective control of Prosopis in Baringo and other areas where it has spread," Mbaabu added.

Urs Schaffner, head of ecosystem management at Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International observed that many exotic trees and shrubs have been introduced into Africa, but a few have escaped cultivation and have become destructive alien invasive species, reducing native biodiversity and limiting the livelihoods of those that live in rural communities.

He decried lack of coordinated and effective sustainable management of woody alien invasive species in eastern Africa, where people living in rural communities are more vulnerable to the impacts of invading species.

"This latest research will help form sustainable land management’ strategies that will help the countries to mitigate the impacts of the species," Schaffner said.


Scientist says forest cover in East Africa declines due to lack of tree breeders

by Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Forest cover in east Africa is declining rapidly due to lack of tree breeders and seed technologists, a scientist said on Thursday.

Heriel Msanga, lecturer and head of department of nature conservation and eco-tourism at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University in Tanzania, said that apart from Kenya that has eight tree breeders, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi do not have qualified breeders.

"There is need to award scholarships to at least two tree breeders with Philosophy Degree (PhD) in each country to help tree improvement programs in the region," Msanga told delegates attending a regional workshop on sharing of information, knowledge and experiences in African forestry.

Msanga said that the state of tree breeding is getting worse in the region as people who are currently selling seedlings simply collect seeds from the old trees.

He decried lack of seed orchards in the region with exception of Kenya whose seed orchard produces 5 percent of improved orchards in the region.

Besides offering scholarships to upcoming scientists, Msanga suggested that countries embark on short courses on tree breeding and seed handling for technical staff.

Msanga noted that the region is characterized by high rates of deforestation which are not matched with tree planting, hence there is a net decline in availability of forest products including timber.

Msanga observed that the only solution to the problem is for the regional governments to establish standard tree breeding grounds for quality seeds equipped with trained personnel to solve the regional demand.

He hailed the introduction of biotechnology production of planting materials in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to support clonal forestry as a decision that could help improve seed availability in the region.

"When genetically modified superior imported seeds were used trees with better quality phenotypes were produced as evidenced in the young plantations," he said.

The scientist, however, noted that the region shares a number of common seed species that should be exchanged for research and commercial trade.

According to the scientist, Tanzania demands 40 tonnes of seeds, but has a supply of 13 tonnes, Kenya demands 30 tonnes, but has a supply of 8 tonnes while Uganda demands 30 tonnes and has a supply of 16 tonnes.

Kenyan small farmers embrace export crops

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Baby corn, French beans, snow peas, pigeon peas and bullet chilli were once unfamiliar crops among Kenyan small-scale farmers because they were mainly grown by large growers for export.

The crops are grown under stringent conditions that the export market demands and thus, only the large growers had the capacity to do so and export directly in the past.

But this is not the case anymore as over the years, an increasing number of small-scale Kenyan farmers, including those in villages, have embraced the crops and are exporting them through agents.

It is lucrative business that is picking up fast among smallholder farmers in the east African nation, after many of them were frustrated by crops like maize.

In Meru County, central Kenya, Joseph Majau is one of the farmers growing a variety of peas that include snow, garden and pigeon peas for export.

"I have been doing it for over seven years and it is a profitable business compared to growing crops for the local market," he said.

The peas mature in 60 days to 80 days, after which Majau harvests, sorts and sells them to a horticulture exporting company which has contracted him.

The price of the peas ranges between 60 shillings (0.6 U.S. dollars) a kilo and 1 dollar a kilo, with the farmer growing the crops on two acres and at any time taking home up to 6,000 dollars in a good season.

Tugumo Group in Cherangany in western Kenya, on the other hand, grows French beans for the export market. Leader Joshua Etyang’ said they started the venture in 2017 after being trained and contracted by exporting firm VegPro.

The training was done in late 2016 and soon after, they leased a one-acre farm and they started the business, which they are engaged in to date.

To farm the crop, one ploughs, then harrows the land and makes beds before sowing directly the seeds.

The crop matures in about three months, then it is harvested, sorted and graded, packed and taken to a collection center.

According to VegPro, which is one of the exporting firms in Kenya, it works with over 1,700 smallholder farmers in different parts of the country, who grow crops like French beans and pigeon peas.

To be contracted, one must have at least 0.2 acres, a smaller piece of land that most small farmers have in Kenya.

Beatrice Macharia, an analyst at agro consultancy Growth Point, noted that for anyone to grow export crops, they need good training on disease and pest control, fertilizer use and general husbandry.

"There are many phytosanitary conditions buyers give for growers to meet.

"There are no two ways about it, the reason why training is key," she said.

She noted that the export market is strict and produce that does not meet set conditions is rejected.

"No exporter would want to ship produce abroad then it is rejected.

"This is the reason why the agents train farmers and monitor the crops," she said.

Macharia, who works in Kajiado County, noted that the number of small farmers growing the crops has risen, with many of them doing it under irrigation.

"Bullet chilli, baby corn and French beans are among the popular crops grown for export by small farmers contracted by exporters," she said.

Kenya’s fresh produce is exported across the world, especially to major markets such as the European Union, Middle East, Russia, and China.

The major exports include fresh vegetables, cut flowers, and different kinds of fruits, including mangoes and avocados.

The east African nation earned 1.5 billion dollars from horticulture exports in 2018, a 33 percent rise from 2017, according to the ministry of agriculture.

Of the figure, vegetables contributed 280 million dollars.

Kenyan county avocado farmers get free hybrid
seedlings while eyeing vast China market

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Avocado farmers in Muranga county in central Kenya have received 500,000 avocado seedlings of the Hass hybrid variety to boost trade in the commodity with China.

Mwangi wa Iria, governor of Muranga county, said Thursday his administration distributed the seedlings free of charge as a way of enhancing food security as well as preparing for the launch of the produce in the Chinese market.

"My aim is to have every home own at least one avocado tree as the minimum," wa Iria told Xinhua. "Today we issued 500,000 seedlings and the other half will follow in October during the short rains."

"I laud President Uhuru Kenyatta for taking a leading role in marketing avocados by securing the Chinese market which is extremely crucial to the millions of our farmers, and he shall be our ambassador wherever he goes because he can do many international deals," the governor said.

In April, Kenya reached a deal to export avocado to China.

The Hass avocado is the most popular Kenyan avocado variety for export.

United Nations to support gums and resins production in Africa

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Thursday it plans to support gums and resins production in Africa.

Edward Kilawe, forestry officer with FAO, said that the organization is channeling its support through the African Union Commission (AUC).

"We have supported the AUC and the Network for Natural Gums and Resins in Africa (NGARA) for developing and adopting its strategic framework (2017-2030) and intend to support its implementation," Kilawe said during a regional workshop on sharing of information, knowledge and experiences in African forestry.

Kilawe noted that the support will be geared towards exchange of information on production and trade, training and technology transfer.

Currently there are 16 member countries in sub-Saharan Africa producing gums and resins, namely Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

United Nations backs creation of 'green jobs' in East
Africa to promote environmental sustainability

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The United Nations labor agency said Thursday it will support creation of green jobs in East Africa in order to promote environmental sustainability.

Wellington Chibebe, director for country office for Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda at International Labour Organization (ILO) told Xinhua in Nairobi that green jobs will enable the region to play a prominent role in tackling the climate change phenomenon.

"We will assist East African nations to reform their industrial, climate change and green job promotion policies arising out of recommendations of ILO to ensure they achieve environmental sustainability," Chibebe said during the 60th annual general meeting of the Federation of Kenya Employers.

Chibebe said that with the right policies, East Africa can make a transition to a green economy with minimal disruption to livelihoods.

He noted that the region is susceptible to the effects of climate change as a significant proportion of their workforce depends on nature to eke out a living.

Chibebe noted that climate change is real and therefore organizations must change the way their conduct their business.

"All business processes should ensure that environmental sustainability is prioritized," he added.

The ILO official said that it is possible to achieve economic development without polluting the environment.

He said that East Africa has a chance to adopt low carbon pathways even as it seeks to expand its industrial base.



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