Thursday, February 16, 2017

Leveraging on partnerships that helps farmers access biological pest control

By Bob Aston
Sokopepe and Kenya Biologics Ltd on February 10, 2017, at Methodist Bio-Intensive Agriculture Training Centre in Meru County strengthened their partnership when the Kenya Biologics Ltd took the Sokopepe team through Trainer of Trainers (TOT) on innovative natural solutions for pest control.
The two companies signed a partnership agreement in December 2016 to help in adoptions of Tuta Absoluta kit and farm records management information System (FARMIS).In addition, the partnership is helping farmers in Meru County to increase productivity and profitability.
Mr. Willis Okwacho, Mount Kenya Region Sales, and Marketing Manager at Kenya Biologics Ltd said that the Bio-Pesticide producing Company supports sustainable food production by providing green, safe, and cost effective farm inputs.
Sokopepe staff being shown how to use TUTRACK lure

He trained the Sokopepe team on use of TUTRACK innovation, which monitors and controls Tuta Absoluta (Tomato leafminer). Tuta absoluta is a tomato moth that can cause 100 percent loss in tomatoes. The moth hides inside leaves and develops fast resistance in hot climates. It has proven challenging to control.
The pest usually affects both tomatoes in green houses and open fields. Without proper care, a farmer can experience 100 percent yield loss due to Tuta absoluta.
Willis mentioned that the TUTRACK lure contains pheromones, which attract the male Tuta absoluta moth. Once the male is exposed to the pheromone, it follows the source and is led into a sticky trap. This helps to control the pest’s ability to continue multiplying. The mass trapping system consists of TUTRACK lure and a trap. The innovation is unique as the lure is designed for the Kenyan market.
He said that an acre requires 10 TUTRACK traps. The traps are placed not more than 40 cm above ground level as the Tuta Absoluta moth flies low. Farmers can opt for the delta-shaped TUTRACK or its water trap version or a combination of both.
“Effectiveness of chemical control is limited due to insect's nature of damage as well as its rapid capability of development of insecticide resistant strains,” said Mr. Okwacho.
He said that Tuta absoluta eggs are just 0.5 mm long. They live on the underside of young leaves or on the stems. A female can lay 260 eggs. The larvae usually feed upon tomato plants. They produce large galleries in leaves. They burrow in stalks and consume apical buds and green and ripe fruits. They are most destructive at larvae stage.
Sokopepe staff being shown how to manage white flies using yellow sticky trap
Symptoms of Tuta Absoluta include puncture marks on the surface where the larvae have entered, abnormal shape, exit holes, rot due to secondary infective agents and frass produced at stem nodes where larvae have bored into the stem.
Mr. Okwacho also took the Sokopepe team through use of yellow traps that manage white flies and blue traps for thrips.
Ms. Judith Nkatha, Partnership, and Linkages Officer at Sokopepe said that through the partnership farmers are able to access affordable and efficacious pesticides that do not harm the environment or leave any residue on crops.
She said that Sokopepe is leveraging on partnerships to develop stronger value chains and systems that lead to improved productivity and increased income for smallholder farmers.
She noted that through this partnership farmers are reducing chemical residues on crops, improve pest control, and improve on their farm record keeping data. She said that Sokopepe is happy with the increased extension support by the Kenya Biologics Ltd in urging more farmers to adopt biological pest control.
“We will always embrace partners who bring biological solutions to farmers. We hope this will reduce levels of chemical residues in farm produce,” said Ms. Nkatha.
On his part, Mr Okwacho said that the partnership has helped to increase adoptions of the Tuta Absoluta kit, yellow and the blue traps.
Support for the two companies is by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine (KIE).
Biological controls are ecologically sustainable and safe crop protection solutions. They are selective to the pest problem and provide a safer environment for farmers, consumers and the environment
According to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the government of Kenya has put in place elaborate trapping program and pest management that includes integrated pest management, use of traps, introduction of biological control agents and imposition of quarantine in affected areas.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sokopepe Newsletter: Enhancing informed farmer decision making

By Bob Aston
We are pleased to present issue 2 of Sokopepe Newsletter. The issue is a joint effort between Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) and Sokopepe Ltd.
This is an exciting third year for Sokopepe. We welcomed 2017 with a strong commitment and enthusiasm. This year promises to bring a lot of success for Sokopepe owing to the magnificent work that we did in 2016.
Sokopepe Newsletter issue 2
For close to 2 years, Sokopepe with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine (KIE) has been piloting the Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) innovation to 5 and then 9 Sub-counties in Meru County.
Our FARMIS innovation provides the evidence base that farmers need to make an informed decision. Our dream is to make FARMIS the planning tool for county governments in Kenya and work with partners to create a regional ‘ food map’ as part of the agriculture transformation.
We believe that improving food security requires us all to join forces. We want partners and farmers to believe with us. Join us and let us work together to make a difference in farmers lives.
We believe that FARMIS data when aggregated overtime and wider usage offers potential of growing a big database which will aid the Government and value chain actors in designing interventions that would improve crop production as well as develop appropriate solutions to meet the peripheral challenges that hamper food production.
The change of farmer attitude and in embracing record keeping is what motivates us. We are glad that farmers are realizing the importance of record keeping in agribusiness.
Our phenomenal team in Meru County has started the year on a high note. It is an incredible feeling to know that our team is still eager to work with farmers and ensure that they use farm records to increase productivity and profitability.
It is our hope that readers will find the 2nd issue of Sokopepe Newsletter as informative and that it would give them a deeper understanding of what we are doing. You can download a copy of the newsletter here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Home-grown Kenyan solar farm powers computers - and protects girls

By Benson Rioba
OLOSHO-OIBOR, Kenya - When the first few residents of this village in the Ngong hills installed solar panels, nearly a decade ago, the only aim was to power their own homes, as their town had no connection to the national power grid.
But today the community, south of Nairobi in the Rift Valley, is buzzing with solar and wind energy, which powers everything from the dispensary and church to shops, homes and even a rescue centre for girls fleeing child marriage and the threat of female genital mutilation.
Residents say they banded together to buy the shared energy system themselves, recognising that the substantial upfront cost would create benefits for years to come. Those now include everything from vaccines that can now be kept cold at the dispensary to solar-powered pumping of water.
"Before we started this solar farm, people from this village used to travel to Ngong town, which is 17 kilometers away, to get basic services and goods such as a photocopy or a haircut. This used to inconvenience us greatly since you had to part with a tidy sum," said Simon Parkesian, the manager of the community's solar farm.

Wind turbines and solar panels provide power in Olosho-Oibor,Kenya. TRF/Benson Rioba
In 2009, some residents of Olosho-Oibor, impressed with a first couple of private solar panels installed in the community, decided they wanted panels of their own - but many people could not afford them.
So a group of community members began contributing cash - 10 dollars a month - until they had enough to buy a set of larger solar panels that could serve many nearby homes.
They then approached the U.N. Industrial Development Organization for technical help in installing their system. Today the 125-member energy cooperative has raised $4,900 for panels - installed on poles around the community and on rooftops - and installed two small wind turbines as well.
The community also has a 10-kilowatt diesel generator as a backup in periods when both sunshine and wind fall short, but that is used only occasionally, Parkesian said.
POWER TO THE GIRLS - AND THE COMPUTERS
Lydia Mboyo, one of those receiving power from the community energy farm, said having lights in the evening has helped her children study and allowed her to run her small retail shop at night.
She now is making plans to expand her shop and purchase a refrigerator to store perishable food and drinks.
"I am also a member of a women's group that makes and sells beaded ornaments abroad, and with lighting we have been able to store our business records in computers. We also listen to the radio for entertainment while beading," Mboyo said.
Parkesian said access to power also has spurred creation of a community information and communications technology (ICT) centre that has trained more than 40 people in basic computer skills, and that now offers photocopying and printing services.
The centre also allows people to charge their mobile phones, which once had to be switched off to save power when not being used to make calls.
As well, the renewable energy network is powering a centre for vulnerable girls fleeing early marriage and female genital mutilation - both problems common in the area, Parkesian said.
"The power grid has initiated many projects in the community but the most important project is the girls' rescue center that houses close to 80 vulnerable girls," he said. The centre, opened in 2012, uses renewable energy to light its dormitories and classrooms.
Jackline Mwendo, a nurse at Olosho-Olbor dispensary, said her facility has been able to offer vaccine services since it got power to provide refrigeration.
The dispensary's water supply has also improved as a result of using solar-powered pumps, she said, though she is still hoping for additional power to light maternal delivery rooms at night.
A SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM?
Parkesian said the cost of maintaining the renewable mini-grid has been significant, and community members have needed to contribute $5 a month for continuing access to power to help pay those costs.
Members of the energy cooperative have been trained to repair and replace worn-out parts of wind turbines and solar panels, he said. But many repairs require technical knowledge not available in the village, which increases costs and can lead to the system not working for short periods.
Running the community's diesel generator to provide back-up lighting at night costs $10 per day, he said.
Leah Kaguara, the Africa director for Energy 4 Impact, a non-governmental organisation that supports energy access in off-grid communities, said Olosh-Oibor's model of communities pulling together to invest in renewable energy should be encouraged, in part to overcome the technology's high upfront costs.
Access to energy is key to eradicating extreme poverty in areas where people still rely on firewood or kerosene for energy, she said.
One key to making community renewable energy systems work, she added, is that people should continue to pay at least a small amount for the power they receive, including to support maintenance costs.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Kenyan irrigation app aims to cut water waste, crop losses

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

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