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Kenyan farmers take up climate-smart chickens in hunt for profits

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- At his home in Athi River, south of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, farmer Herman Kimeu keeps 300 improved Kienyeji breed chickens.

From the birds, the farmer gets fertilized eggs that he sells at 20 Kenyan shillings (0.18 U.S. dollars) each and further hatches some into chicks in an artificial incubator.

While selling of eggs is a good money-maker for him, his biggest business is the sale of the Kienyeji chicks that go from 1 dollar to 5 dollars depending on the age.

Kimeu sells a day-old chick at a dollar while a four-month goes for 5 dollars. Demand for the birds has risen tremendously in the east African nation as farmers seek climate-resilient chicken breeds.

The birds are not only fast-maturing but are also resistant to diseases and feed less, giving Kenyan farmers brisk business.

Moreover, they produce as much eggs as hybrid birds and have tender meat loved by consumers.

"I don’t regret starting to rear the Kienyeji birds after ditching the layers hybrids.

"They have more profit because they are rarely disturbed by diseases and their eggs are fertilized enabling me to sell them at higher price than the unfertilized ones," said Kimeu.

The farmer hatches 300 eggs after every 21 days, with most of the chicks bought on order way before he hatches them.

"Right now I am processing two orders that I hope to complete by mid next month," he said.

Kenya is experiencing rapid change in climate, where temperatures are oscillating from one extreme to another as rains become scarce thanks to climate change.

The situation has led to increase in poultry diseases, mainly coccidiosis and Newcastle, both that kill birds in days if not treated, according to experts.

"The Kienyeji birds are resistant to some of these diseases, which are one of the things that have them popular," said Bernard Kariuki, a farmer in Kiambu County who also hatches and sells Kuroiler birds, another improved breed.

Before selling the chicks, he vaccinates them against various diseases including Newcastle, Marek’s disease and fowl typhoid.

Besides the Kienyeji and Kuroiler birds, Kenyan farmers are also going for Kuchi and Kenbrow, other improved breeds.

The Kienyeji chicken has solved the challenge of low production, slow maturity and diseases, according to Fred Odour, a poultry specialist at agro consultancy Growth Point.

He noted that unlike the traditional or hybrid breeds, the improved breeds perform better than the two in terms of growth rate, attaining 3 kg at five months for the cocks.

The cocks go for between 10 dollars and 15 dollars depending on the size, premium prices as compared to broilers, which fetch an average of 5 dollars, and are prone to diseases.

"The hens lay between 220 eggs to 280 eggs per year, which is much higher than the traditional breeds but slightly lower than the hybrid.

"But if you do the math, the climate-smart birds are the best," he said.

According to Kenya Poultry Farmers Association, there are over 32 million chickens in the East African nation, of which 6 million are commercial hybrids.


Chinese-made incubators offer Kenyan poultry keepers business

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The beautiful and silver-colored machine in a room at a corner in Calvin Githae’s house in Kitengela, south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, resembles a small refrigerator.

But it is until Githae opens it that one realizes what it is an incubator he uses to hatch chicks for sale.

On the machine’s four shelves, Githae has neatly lined up some 250 fertilized eggs for hatching.

The made-in-China gadget, which he bought from a dealer in Nairobi, has enabled him to venture into chicks selling business.

"Its capacity is 300 eggs but I hardly put in all those eggs.

"I hatch between 200 and 250 eggs at a go," said the farmer in a recent interview.

He sells the chicks from 100 Kenyan shillings (0.96 U.S. dollars) to 4.6 dollars, with day-olds going for the lowest price and four-months-old the highest, earning in a good month over 400 dollars from the business.

Initially, the farmer kept layers for eggs or broilers for meat but acquisition of the Chinese-made incubator has enabled him to expand into the chicks’ business, selling Kienyeji and Kuroiler birds, which are improved chicken breeds.

"I shopped around for various incubators and came across the ones made in China.

"There were several others, for instance, those made in Britain but they were sold on order," he said.

Before buying the gadgets sourced from China, Githae had two options, that is either to import directly from the Asian nation or buy locally.

"I settled on the later because the seller offered a one-year warranty, the price was affordable and there was after-sale service and training," he said, noting he bought the incubator at 576 dollars.

A survey in Nairobi showed dealers are selling the gadgets from the smallest capacity of 48 eggs that go for 200 dollars to larger ones of 2,000 eggs at 1,500 dollars.

Engoho Kuku Farmer, one of the distributors of the Chinese-made incubators, sells them across the east African nation.

According to the firm, which has a branch in Nairobi and Bungoma in western Kenya, the incubators are automatic, thus making it easier for farmers to control temperature, humidity and turn eggs.

The firm guarantees farmers a 98 percent hatch rate and a warranty of one-year, an indication of confidence in the gadgets, with an official saying they have had a relationship with the Chinese firm supplying them the gadgets from 2013.

"I have used the Chinese-made incubator and so far, so good," said farmer Bernard Kariuki.

He has a 500-egg capacity gadget that he uses to hatch chicks and sell as demand for improved chicken breeds that are hardy, fast-maturing and disease-resistant surges in Kenya amid climate change.

Fred Odour, a poultry specialist at agro consultancy Growth Point, noted that the Chinese-made incubators have dominated the market due to affordability and they are readily available.

"But a good incubator must be complemented by good quality eggs.

"The eggs must be fertilized and be not more than 10-days-old to increase hatchability rate," he said.

Kenyans adopt small gardening technologies as land sizes shrink

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Oasis, sunken, conical and terrace gardens are some of the latest farming technologies sweeping across Kenya as land sizes shrink amid unreliable rains.

The technologies, among others, are helping the east African nation’s residents to grow food amid constrained spaces, especially in urban areas.

Kenya has experienced a rapid development of real estate in the past years, with concrete buildings taking over spaces where crops once flourished.

In suburbs bordering the capital Nairobi, land that was initially used for farming is now teaming with high-rise buildings hosting thousands of people as the regions are converted into the city’s bedrooms.

Kenyans, therefore, have no choice but to adapt to changing times to farm amid rapid rise in population that has doubled demand for food.

At the back of his three-bedroom bungalow in Katani, south of Nairobi, Moses Korir has made a sunken garden where he grows two vegetable varieties, namely spinach and collard greens, popularly known in Kenya as sukuma wiki.

To make the garden, the banker dug a two-feet deep and 3m by 2m pit, mixed part of the soil he excavated with manure and returned it there. He then planted 15 sukuma wiki and 10 spinach plants inside the sunken garden.

"I, thereafter, dug a trench from the laundry area to the garden ensuring that we recycle the water that we use to wash our clothes.

"It is the best thing that I have ever done in a long time because the crops flourished," he said in a recent interview.

Using the technology, Korir’s family of four and tens of others in towns in Kenya, have not only been assured of quality vegetables but has also saved money.

"At the height of a dry spell in February to April, we had no challenges getting vegetables," said Korir, who lives on a 50ft by 80ft land.

Unlike sunken or oasis gardens where crops are grown on the ground, for conical and terrace gardens, families grow crops off the ground, thus even those living in apartments can farm.

For conical gardens, one uses used motor vehicle tyres where they place the soil, a thing that enables urban families to utilize the rubber tyres that are normally disposed of haphazardly in estates when they wear out.

On the other hand, for terrace gardens, one can also use old tyres or plastic containers, which are cut into half.

In all the gardens, the soil where the crops are grown is mixed with manure, making the farmers use the technologies to produce purely organic food.

"People in urban areas have used the old tyres and plastic containers to grow mainly flowers for many years but with food becoming scarce, using them to grow crops makes sense because one ends up with food and at the same time beautify their homes," said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro consultancy.

The gardens, according to her, offer solutions to urban food insecurity as well as protect the environment because things like old tyres, iron sheets, gunny bags and plastic containers are used.

She noted that the gardens come with many benefits, including the minimal use of water.

"The fact that one recycles water from the bathroom, kitchen or laundry area to grow crops makes them so economical," she said.

Besides vegetables, families can also grow in the gardens fruits like strawberries, onions and tomatoes.

Kenyan small scale farmers find gateway to export market

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Moses Irungu, a pigeon pea farmer in Nyandarua, northwestern Kenyan, recently harvested and sold his produce to the export market.

It is the third time the farmer is selling the produce that ends up in the European Union and he is ecstatic about it.

"It seemed a distant dream for a small farmer like myself with three-quarter of an acre to export my produce at the beginning but this is now reality.

"I am living it," he said on Wednesday.

Irungu is a member of a cooperative society in the county and it is through the outfit that him and dozens of other farmers sell their produce to the export market.

The cooperatives have become the gateway through which smallholder farmers in the east African nation are accessing the export market.

The farmers are forming the outfits depending on the crops they grow and their needs.

They then use them to plan how to grow export crops, approach exporters, access extension services and aggregate their produce for sale.

"These cooperatives have helped us a lot. Even people with quarter acres are now able to export their produce like garden peas, which they struggled to find local market for," said Irungu.

There are dozens of cooperative societies in the county and others, with most of them serving exporters of different crops.

Some grow French beans, others pigeon peas, snow peas, garden peas, potatoes or chick peas depending on market needs as advised by the exporters.

As a group, members of the societies ensure each one of them adheres to set rules so that their entire produce, which is normally bulked as one, does not get rejected.

"In this case, farmers act as prefects to each other so that one person does not spoil the marker.

"This has made work easier for the exporters unlike if they were dealing with individual farmers," said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

Once they harvest, the farmers sort the produce according to sizes and quality before handing it to the exporter who stores it in cold storage facilities before exporting.

"Through this system, traceability has become easier because it is at two levels - by the cooperative members and by the exporter who deals with several outfits," said Macharia.

VegPro, Everfresh Produce Ltd, Jade Fresh Limited, Greenblade Growers Ltd and Reap Horticultural Exporters are some of the exporting companies in Kenya, with the firms dealing with cooperative societies as well as groups.

Tugumo Group in western Kenya grows French beans for the export market, with the youths’ leader Joshua Etyang’ noting they were contracted to farm the crop for export on the virtue that they were in the outfit.

According to VegPro, it works with over 1,700 smallholder farmers in different parts of Kenya who grow in groups, with each farming French beans or pigeon peas on as little as 0.2 acres.

Collins Muthuri, a farmer in Meru, who grows chicken peas for export, notes that through cooperatives, it become easier for farmers to understand the stringent export conditions and adhere to stick.

"Through cooperatives, the buyer can extend to us loans that we use for production or get loans from financial institutions because we have the numbers," said Muthuri, noting a kilo of garden peas goes for an average of 100 Kenyan shillings (96 U.S. cents) and sugar snap and snow peas for a dollar.

According to Fresh Produce Exporters Association, in 2018, Kenya exported 3034 million kilos of flowers, vegetables and fruits, with the last comprising of 26 percent and 8 percent of value of exports respectively.

The total value of exports during the period stood at 1.5 billion dollars.

Simple solar drying technology helps Kenyan farmers conserve produce

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- For many years, Kenyan farmers have been drying their produce that include maize, beans and cassavas using the sun.

The crops would be spread on polythene sheet and dried openly under the sun.

This method, however, came with many challenges that included contamination and loss of grains to birds.

The outmoded drying method is currently being replaced by simple home-made solar drying technology that is not only effective in ensuring that produce has low moisture content but it also extends its shelf-life.

The solar dryers are made using ordinary timber and poles and covered with a black polythene liner, making it look like a greenhouse.

Inside the dryer, one then makes shelves preferably from small-holed wire mesh where the produce is placed for drying.

"The black liner helps to attract the heat from the sun enabling the produce to dry faster, in about two to four days but maximum a week if the intensity of the sun is little especially when it rains," Vincent Kinyua, a farmer in Nyeri County, said Tuesday.

On the other hand, a wire-mesh is used as shelf to ensure that heat penetrates the produce well and from the different directions to allow thorough drying.

The dryers have helped farmers across the east African nation to conserve their produce and add value to it.

Away from maize, beans, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes, the farmers are using the structures to dry fruits like bananas, pineapples and pumpkins, mushrooms, fish and traditional vegetables.

"It’s close to two years since I started using the solar dryer after learning about the technology from a non-state organization.

"It has enabled me process bananas that I grow into flour," said Kinyua, noting before drying the bananas, they are peeled and chopped into smaller pieces.

Thanks to the solar dryer, the farmer now has his own flour brand that he sells in churches, field days and local markets at 60 Kenyan shillings (0.58 U.S. dollars) a kilo.

Benson Aparo, who grows mushrooms and uses a simple dryer to dry them, noted that the technology has helped him extend the shelf-life of his produce.

"Once I harvest the mushroom, I dry them in my solar dryer which gives me time to sell for a longer period," he said.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro consultancy, noted that solar drying is a cost-effective and greener way of drying produce.

"Unlike electricity or firewood, solar drying comes with very little costs since one depends on the sun," she noted, adding that the fact that the produce is put in the greenhouse-like structures ensures that they are free from contamination.

"This is what the small farmer needs in Kenya to curb post-harvest losses and make more cash," she said, adding that the fact that one makes the dryer using materials readily available on the farm makes the technology suitable.

According to Macharia, a good solar dryer should have an air inlet, drying chamber fitted and a chimney.

"The inlet allows air to flow through the structure but most farmers don’t consider it perhaps because theirs are simple structures.

"Wire mesh is recommended for use because it allows free flow of hot air which hastens the drying of farm produce," she said.

Kenya government e-extension services reach more farmers

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenyan government has turned to mobile agriculture extension services to reach more farmers as producers in the east African nation grapple with a myriad of challenges like erratic rainfall amid climate change.

Lack of government extension services in many parts of the country has over the years been blamed for poor production in both livestock and crops sectors.

The e-extension services have been the domain of the private sector, with many institutions monetizing them.

The government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, is, however, now keen to fill the extension gap using a free SMS-based service introduced months ago.

Through the service, farmers are learning how to eradicate climate change-related pests like armyworms and diseases like lethal necrosis, the crops to grow in each season and prices of various produce.

The free service is turning out to be a game changer as thousands of farmers’ access e-extension services in real time.

"Do you have maize in the field right now?

"Send the word check and the ministry will help you scout your crop for fall armyworms," the ministry says in one of the messages.

"If you find fall armyworms, pick and drown them in soap water.

"Crush all egg masses.

"Mix ash, sand and pepper and apply to the tunnel," the ministry advises in another message to farmers send on Friday as it advocates for organic methods of fighting the pest.

As Kenyan farmers prepare to start harvesting their maize from late this month, the ministry is already sending out to farmers’ messages with various crops that they can plant in the second season.

"This season you can plant pigeon peas, sweet potatoes, maize or beans," it says in an SMS.

Hamadi Boga, principal secretary for agricultural research at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, in a recent interview noted that the SMS service leverages on use of mobile phones to reach farmers across the east African nation with correct agricultural messages.

Farmer John Otiato, who is based in Busia County, western Kenya, is among those who are ecstatic about the e-extension service that he accesses on his feature phone for free.

"This time round I did not buy chemicals to spray on my maize crop that was attacked by armyworms.

"I followed the ministry’s organic way of eliminating the pest and it worked," said Otiato on Friday, capturing sentiments of tens of farmers.

A recent study by the University of Nairobi’s agriculture faculty shows that farmers using e-extension services in Kenya are interested in both livestock and crop production advise almost in equal measure.

Topping the list of information sought is on plant production, marketing, animal production, farm equipment and food processing.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro consultancy, notes that the use of e-extension services helps to avail agricultural information to nearly the entire population of farmers in the country faster and reliably.

"The fact that most farmers in Kenya now have mobile phones is an opportunity to provide mobile-based extension services that address the day-to-day issues they face.

"The good thing is that farmers can also take photos of their crops or animals and send to specific numbers and get advice," she said.

Macharia noted that with the e-extension services, Kenya’s agriculture ministry can survey what farmers are growing and know their problems from questions asked.

According to Gabriel Rugalema, Food and Agriculture Organization representative to Kenya, Kenya has been lagging behind in use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to offer extension services to farmers.

Use of ICT, he notes, helps sustain communication with farmers and they get instant and reliable support, besides using an array of apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter.

Kenya has close to 50 million mobile phone subscribers, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya, and with most of the citizens engaging in smallholder farming, use of the e-extension services is coming in handy.



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