Thursday, January 19, 2017

Learning from our past and building on our achievements

By Bob Aston
This is an exciting third year for Sokopepe. We have 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.
Last year we showed that farm records are a powerful resource for Agribusiness. We have learned a lot during this period. Our conviction that farm records are key in agribusiness has only increased. We know that farmers want better lives for their families and brighter future for their children.
We will do our best to ensure that farmers achieve this by ensuring that by the end of the year we help 20,000 farmers realise increased productivity and profitability.
A farmer in Meru County being shown how to fill a farm book

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 dream is to make FARMIS the planning tool for devolved government structures in Kenya and working with partners to create a regional “food map” as part of the agricultural transformation.
Our focus in 2017
This year we will launch the second Agricultural Production Report (APR) for 9 sub counties in Meru using data from FARMIS. This year’s report will focus on more food enterprises compared to the initial report. 
Data from last year's report indicated that only 0.02 percent of small-scale farmers get loans from financial institutions to finance their farming enterprises.
The report indicated that farmers do not seek extra financing as they are unable to access optimal and timely inputs needed to maximise their farms potential. This made financial inclusion to be a key element in our commitment to increase the income of smallholder farmers.
We will continue to leverage on existing relationships within the value chains to ensure farmers access services sustainably while increasing the number of banked farmers. We know that financial inclusion is a powerful tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in promoting economic growth and ending poverty.
Sokopepe staff digitizing farmers records
Last year we partnered with 7 agricultural service/product providers to enhance good agricultural practices and to provide economical, effective and sustainable agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers. We expect to do more in 2017.
Youth unemployment has remained one of the most daunting challenges in Kenya’s socio-economic development. This year we want to make agriculture attractive to young farmers. Our FARMIS service provides the evidence base that youth farmers need to make an informed decision. We hope that we will convince many youth that they can make it through agriculture.
Women will continue to play a critical role in our work. Last year we worked with close to 8,000 women farmers. We expect the number to increase this year. We want to help women farmers to pull down the barriers that they face. We believe that women play a critical role in food production and in achieving greater food security.
We know that it is always difficult for farmers to reach and exploit a fair market for their produce. The lack of pricing transparency means that most farmers do not always get the best deal. We will continue to use SOKO+ to increase farmer’s access to market information. We are also exploring how to form partnerships that would help link farmers to markets.
We are always keen on knowledge sharing. We will continue sharing information using videos documentation, open learning days, farmer to farmer visits and articles aimed at farmers. We will also encourage more actors to join the agriculture transformation through our blog, newsletter and other channels.
Our phenomenal team in Meru County has already 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.
We know what we believe in. 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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kenya prepares to expand solar mini-grids into poorest rural areas

By Maina Waruru
NAIROBI – Kenya plans to launch a $150 million project this year to bring solar electricity to markets, schools, shops and homes in poor, off-grid areas without existing power access, officials say.
The effort, expected to receive World Bank funding in March, would bring mini-grid solar plants to areas of 14 counties categorised by Kenya’s government as marginalised, according to World Bank documents.
Such off-grid systems are the cleanest and most cost effective way to bring electrical power to poor areas, particularly those sparsely populated, Kenyan officials said.
Motorcyclist fuels his bike at Kogelo trading centre,Kenya.REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
“Solar photovoltaics and mini-grids are the most effective way of supplying power to settlements with 300-400 inhabitants, and Kenya is one of the best prepared countries in Africa in providing such solutions,” said Pavel Oimeke, the director of renewable energy at Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission.
The country has more than 400 registered companies that can fulfil solar energy contracts, and more than 300 technicians trained and approved by the government to support the systems, Oimeke said.
Under the new project, solar mini-grids would be used to supply market centres, community facilities, and some households, according to planning documents.  In more isolated areas, households would be equipped with home solar systems. New solar power capacity also would be used to pump water to supply homes and fields.
“Evidence suggests that PV (photovoltaic) powered water pumping significantly reduces the cost of water extraction through lower operational and maintenance costs,” a World Bank project document noted.
As part of the planned project, schools would get new solar-powered borehole wells while some communities would be equipped with water systems powered by solar pumps. Existing diesel-powered pumping systems would be retrofitted with hybrid solar systems, according to planning documents.
The plan also provides for technical assistance and training to help make the scheme more sustainable.
Rabia Ferroukhi, head of policy at the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation based in Abu Dhabi, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she believes the time has come for a paradigm shift in how off-grid systems are deployed, focusing less on power generation and more on using them to support jobs and incomes.
That would help them make a greater contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development goals, she said.
Using solar electricity to power irrigation pumps, process harvests and create cold storage could transform rural lives by providing better crop yields, higher incomes and a reduction in drudge work, she said.
“By linking mini-grid supply with productive uses such as agriculture, rural industries, market centres (and) schools, the socio-economic impacts can be maximised which in turn improves the ability of consumers to afford energy supply,” Ferroukhi said.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Kenyan farmers develop taste for insects as drought hurts crops

By Kagondu Njagi
WERU, Kenya - The knee-high dome on Ikung'u Kathimbu's farm in Weru village, eastern Kenya, shelters an unusual crop: a termite swarm.
Kathimbu walks around the structure covered with banana leaves, drumming on a tin-like vessel and stamping his feet on the ground.
"The noise is to make it sound like rainfall, so that the termites are tricked into coming out of the ground," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Farmers' traditional crops have suffered here in recent years due to long periods of drought. Some are taking up construction work to supplement their income, while others like Kathimbu are harvesting insects whenever the rainy season is delayed.
A lab technician scoops black soldier fly larvae at ICIPE,Nairobi.TRF/Kagondu Njagi
At this time of year, Kathimbu's farm should be sprouting with a waist-high maize crop. But only wilting cassava stems populate the parched terrain.
"Five years ago I could store enough maize and beans in my granary to feed my family for seven months," said the father of six. "But now all my grain is depleted three months after the harvest, and only cassava is left."
Kathimbu and his family are not alone in grappling with this situation. Willy Bett, Kenya's cabinet secretary for agriculture, livestock and fisheries, declared in November that the country was facing severe drought.
"The intensity of drought varies from one area to another," he told a congress of the Seed Trade Association of Kenya. By his estimation, Kathimbu's village lies in one of the most affected areas.
According to the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), a growing number of farmers in eastern and western Kenya are now harvesting and eating insects like termites to cope with prolonged drought.
TASTE FOR TERMITES
Termites now supplement Kathimbu's family's meal of boiled cassava - as well as its income.
"When I have picked up enough termites, I take some to the nearby Kambandi open-air market and sell them to other families," Kathimbu explained. A cup of insects fetches KES 10 (almost $0.10).
The most he has ever made in a day selling termites is KES 500 - which is "still far less than I used to make selling maize", he said.
On good days, though, Kathimbu uses the extra money to buy maize flour to make ugali, a popular white bun-like dish and a treat for the family.
Another advantage of termites is that they are rich in protein, according to ICIPE scientist Komi K.M. Fiaboe.
ENVIRONMENTAL THREAT
But farmers like Kathimbu need to establish proper insect farms to prevent damage to other crops, said Fiaboe.
"While termites help decompose the soil, they can also attack crops when the soil lacks humidity and minerals," he explained.
He suggested breeding insects that multiply quickly and can be harvested easily, like termites, crickets and grasshoppers, which do less damage to crops than some other species like locusts.
A recent study published by the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development found that people still see insects as ugly, smelly and poisonous creatures that cause allergic reactions.
"This is because people harvest wild insects and consume them raw, leading to negative effects on their health," explained co-author Kennedy Pambo, a researcher at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Cutting down trees and digging up the ground to make traps like Kathimbu's termite mound also damages the environment, he said.
"This can be solved by rearing insects in a controlled manner, instead of harvesting them at random," said Pambo.
"When harvested, they should be mixed with other foods like maize, and milled into flour. The resulting porridge is nutritious because it has high levels of starch and protein," he added.
($1 = 103.6000 Kenyan shillings)
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The six most read Sokopepe articles in 2016

By Bob Aston
Hello friends! Happy 2017!
From Sokopepe fraternity we wish you a Happy New Year and a fantastic 2017. This is an exciting third year for Sokopepe. We are facing so many wonderful opportunities as well as challenges. 
Farmers learning about Sokopepe during a field day in Meru,Kenya
In 2016, Sokopepe showed how farm records are a powerful resource for Agribusiness.  Last year we shared 29 articles through our blog. It was quite a year. 
We have compiled a list of 6 of our most read articles in 2016 based on page views. A big thank you to all those who come here to read and share our blog articles.
Top 6 articles at Sokopepe blog
Increasing smallholder farmers’ access to financial and insurance services would ensure improved food security and increased incomes. Smallholder farmers need access to financial services to generate income from their agricultural enterprises, build assets, and manage risks. Read more here
“Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too,” is the theme of 2016 World Food Day. Msumarini in Kilifi County is today hosting this year’s celebration, which is usually marked on October 16. Read more here
The 6th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which concluded on September 9, 2016 at the United Nations (UN) complex in Nairobi, Kenya, featured Sokopepe among 15 Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture (ICT4Ag) innovations. Read more here
Three years ago Mr. Eliud Kirema’s fascination with agribusiness made him leave Nairobi. He returned to Meru to start farming in his 6-acre piece of land. He expected to make huge profits but that has never been the case. Read more here
The Sooretul Solution from Senegal emerged the winner in the advanced stage category of the Pitch AgriHack competition. The unveiling of the winners took place during a cocktail award ceremony at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya on November 24, 2016. Pitch AgriHack aims to accelerate e –agriculture entrepreneurship for improved food security and livelihood competition. Read more here
Sokopepe held a two-day training on conservation agriculture on August 9-10, 2016 for Production Information Agents (PIA) at Methodist Bio-Intensive Agricultural Training Centre in Meru County.  Read more here
Connect with us
We are excited to see what 2017 has in store for Sokopepe. Follow us on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Youtube to get insights and news about Sokopepe. Subscribe to get our monthly newsletters through info@sokopepe.co.ke.
As Sokopepe team we look forward to a beautiful year full of favour, blessing and success. Happy New Year.

Building resilience through financial inclusion

By Getrude Lung’ahi
Vulnerable communities tend to have little to no access to affordable credit to anticipate and cope with shocks. Pre and post-disaster liquidity is critical for them to protect livelihoods in times of weather shocks.
In Wajir County, Kenya, the problem is compounded by the fact that the predominantly Muslim population lacks access to Shariah-compliant financial services – such as services that prohibit the payment of interest or that aren't related to businesses like gambling or alcohol that go against Muslim beliefs.
As part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme, Mercy Corps supported private sector micro-finance institution Crescent Takaful SACCO (CTS) in opening a branch in Wajir on November 17.
Women at the launch of the CTS Sacco in Wajir, Kenya @Getrude Lungahi
Through this branch, CTS is able to offer customers Sharia-compliant financial services - the first time this has been made available in northern Kenya. In recognition of this important step forward, the launch was officiated by the Deputy Governor of Wajir, Hon. Abdihafid Yarow.
A SACCO is a member-owned financial cooperative whose primary objective is to mobilise savings and give members access to loans on competitive terms as a way of enhancing their well-being.
The SACCO offers savings, lending and investment services based on Islamic principles such as profit sharing in collective ventures.
It provides a range of products that will help the community adapt to shocks such as prolonged drought, that often result in extreme poverty. The products include Ayuta Sokoni, which pools funds from entrepreneurs to support them in various aspects of trade such as re-stocking their products.
Ayuta Al-Rafiq, another product, gets groups of friends to define common economic objectives such as co-investments into businesses and pool resources.
‘‘To date there have been no appropriate Sharia-compliant financial services that serve pastoralists,” said Deputy Governor Hon.Yarow. “CTS brings a new hope, as we now have a SACCO that serves our faith.”
In addition to providing financial services that meet community needs in Wajir, the SACCO will aim to strengthen savings groups and eventually link them to other providers of financial services like banks. Over 3,000 households in Wajir will benefit from the products through the Mercy Corps BRACED programme.
‘‘My dream has always been to see pastoralist communities access loans in villages to build their resilience – I am glad to be part of the process,’’ said Diyad Hujale, Mercy Corps programme coordinator and learning manager for BRACED.
CTS SACCO are providing relevant financial services to communities and have designed products like Mifugo Kash Kash, that financially empowers small-scale traders to purchase livestock from farmers.
This gives them access to markets outside Wajir County and boosts their income, while mitigating the impact of weather shocks on livestock.
Fatuma Kosar, a pastoralist from Wajir, added that ‘‘CTS SACCO will enable women to access more funds beyond their existing savings groups.”
“It gives us an opportunity as women to start small businesses since we can now access more funds. We will become independent.”
The next challenge for financial institutions will be to devise innovative financial products to suit women’s needs. This effort ranges from providing women with valid ID cards and enabling them to independently open a bank account, to start new activities that will boost their income.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lead farmers proving important in innovations adoptions

By Bob Aston
The t-shirt attracted his attention. He wondered what the inscribed word ‘Sokopepe’ meant. He read the word ‘Farm records, Profitable and Agribusiness’ at the back of the t-shirt and his curiosity rose.
He approached the person wearing the t-shirt, introduced himself as Mr. Joseph Kaaria Mberia and asked:” What is Sokopepe all about?”
Over a glass of milk at Meru Dairy Milk Bar at Nyaki East Ward in Meru County, Mr. Meshack Kirimi Magiri, a lead farmer at Gaitu Farmer Group took Mr. Mberia through what Sokopepe does.
Mr. Magiri narrated to Mr. Mberia how he came to associate with Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) and how it has enabled him to increase his production and profit from his agricultural enterprises.
“Sokopepe has trained and mentored me on conservation agriculture. I now train farmers who are working with Sokopepe and Food and Agriculture Organization,” said Mr. Magiri.
Mr. Joseph Mberia (L) looking on during a conservation agriculture training
Mr. Magiri then linked him to Mr. Josphat Musenze, a Sales and Marketing officer at Sokopepe
The following day he travelled to Meru town to hold talks with Mr. Musenze at Sokopepe's office. An hour later, he had paid the Kshs. 500 subscription fee and received a Farm Book. He embarked on mobilizing farmers around Nyaki to receive training on conservation agriculture and record keeping from Sokopepe.
Learning that he will be able to realize higher yields and also reverse the effects of soil degradation caused by mechanical tillage made him set aside a quarter of an acre as a demonstration plot for conservation agriculture.
He decided to form a farmer group, which now acts as an entry point to Ntani village and Nyaki East Ward farmers.
“I believe in learning through asking. FARMIS will help us in crop selection, adoption of agricultural innovations and good management practices. We will be using the record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable,” said Mr. Mberia.
Mr. Mberia retired from the Kenya military as a medical officer in July 2016. He decided to concentrate on dairy, poultry and crop farming in his 2 acre farm.
He said that Sokopepe has enabled him to know how much he is investing in each enterprise and projected income from each crop. Every Thursday Ms. Alice Mukami, a Production Information Agent (PIA) at Sokopepe visits his farm to check the progress of his agribusiness and to assist him fill his farm book.
Mr. Mberia has been a staunch advocate of Sokopepe amongst farmers. His conviction that empowering farmers would enhance food security has seen him elected as a coordinator of Sokopepe lead farmers group.
Sokopepe is planning to use close to 2000 lead farmers in Meru County to help increase agricultural production. The social enterprise believes that farmer-to farmer approach to agricultural extension enhances innovations adoption.

Access to finance enables farmers to enjoy new opportunities

By Bob Aston
She used to abhor planting seasons, as she had to contend with high input costs.  Difficulties in accessing affordable credit have always been a strain on her small farm. This season, she was fortunate to get a Kilimo Bora loan after Sokopepe linked her to a micro finance institution.
Mrs. Emery Kawira, a smallholder farmer from Kiirua area of Buuri Sub County in Meru County was among the financially excluded farmers until three months ago when Sokopepe convinced her to start saving through Times U Sacco Society Ltd. Initially, she was unable to receive credit facilities as financial institutions cited her lack of proper book keeping as a barrier to receiving credit when evaluating her viability for loan.
She says that the training organised by Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) has empowered and enabled her to utilize the Kshs 20,000 Kilimo Bora loan to improve her agribusiness.
“The beauty of FARMIS is that financial institutions can review our records over a period of time to determine whether we are capable of managing credit,” says Mrs. Kawira.
She has planted maize, beans and potatoes on her 2-acre farm and recorded all the expenses in her farm book to ensure accountability. She is planning to apply for a bigger loan to invest in her farm to increase her productivity and profitability.
Koongo Ka Nyumba Women Group members learning about FARMIS
On her part, Mrs. Mary Kirima has also used her Kshs. 20,000 Kilimo Bora loan to cultivate beans, maize and potatoes in her 3 acre farm. She almost quit farming last year after crop failure but Sokopepe’s Production Information Agents (PIAs) convinced her not to give up on farming.
 “I am able to track all my agribusiness enterprises and expenses incurred. This has ensured proper use of the Kilimo Bora loans,” said Mrs. Kirima.
After saving for some time, she was able to apply and receive a Kilimo Bora loan from Times U Sacco. She used the loan to buy farm inputs and to improve her farm.
The Sacco charges Kshs 600 as registration fee and a farmer can borrow up to three times the amount saved. Times U Sacco will also train the farmers on financial literacy. The Kilimo Bora loan attracts a 9 percent interest rate. The repayment is after four months when the farmers have harvested.
Mrs. Jedida Karamuta notes that this year she has not struggled to get money for farm inputs and other expenses, unlike previous years, as she was able to receive the Kilimo Bora loan. She received Kshs. 20,000, which she has invested in her farm. Sokopepe has trained her on record keeping. She has also increased the acreage under potatoes, beans and maize to 3 acres unlike before when she used to cultivate only on an acre.
She says that most financial institutions are usually reluctant to lend to farmers but this has changed after training on record keeping and financial literacy.
“FARMIS has enabled me to track my expenditure for each farm enterprise. I have used the loan prudently as I have kept good farm records,” says Mrs. Karamuta.
Mr. Josphat Musenze, Sales and Marketing Officer at Sokopepe  says that difficulty in accessing credit facilities has hindered the productivity of most smallholder farmers as they lack enough financing for purchasing farm inputs.
“We are leveraging on existing relationships within the value chains to ensure farmers access financial services sustainably while the financially excluded enjoy new possibilities,”  says Mr. Musenze.
He reiterates that financial inclusion will ensure that there are more banked farmers. This will enable smallholder farmers to make informed decisions on financial products and services.
Sokopepe has been linking Meru farmers with financial institutions. This has enabled most of the farmers to reach their potential, as they are able to deal with high costs of inputs. The social enterprise is also working with financial service providers to build financial literacy for smallholder farmers as well as their financial capabilities.
Financial inclusion is a powerful tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in promoting economic growth and ending poverty. Smallholder farmers need access to financial services to generate income from their agricultural enterprises, build assets, and manage risks.

Friday, November 11, 2016

More than just a demonstration farm, a place farmers call home

By Bob Aston
The soothing rays of the sun seemed to energize the women as they worked tirelessly in the half an acre potato demonstration plot at Kiboko Farm in Kiolo village, Mikinduri East in Meru County.  They animatedly chat as they weed and admire the beauty of the flowering crop. Most of them concur that they will realize a good harvest through the demonstration farm.
I joined the women together with Mr. Martin Murangiri, Field Coordinator and Liaison Officer at Sokopepe in taking stock of the progress of the farm. They inform us that the potatoes looked ‘beautiful’ as they had sprayed them with plantmate bio-organic fertilizer from Wanda Organic.
We finish weeding and then converge under a banana tree. The women have been meeting every Monday at the demonstration farm to learn good agricultural practices and record keeping from Sokopepe’s Production Information Agents (PIAs).
Farmers working at the demonstration plot
Their leader, Mrs. Margaret Wangari started by reminding them of their decision to plant the Sherekea potato variety  which is disease resistant, high yielding and drought tolerant. She said that not many farmers in the area cultivate potatoes but Sokopepe convinced them to diversify to potatoes and other high value crops.
The passion and enthusiasm exhibited by the women was eminent as they recollected how Sokopepe is enabling them to increase their income through Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS). Out of curiosity, I asked one of the women what she felt about FARMIS.
Mrs. Paulina Nkoroi narrated how she only realised that the cause of her dwindling potato production was the use of previous harvests as tubers for planting. The training conducted by Sokopepe at the demonstration farm enabled her to appreciate the importance of using certified seeds and embracing good farm management practices.
“Sokopepe has changed my perception on agriculture and the importance of record keeping in agribusiness,” said Mrs. Nkoroi.
She reiterates that she has learned how to fill her farm book and at the end of this season, she will be able to determine whether she is engaging in profitable enterprises or not. This will enable her to opt to growing other lucrative crops and therefore enhance her household income.
“I now know that good land preparation, use of high quality seeds and appropriate fertilizer is paramount in potato farming,” noted Mrs. Florence Munjaro.
Mrs. Munjaro said she has been diligently filling in her farm book and she hopes that at the end of this season she will be able to extract a profit and loss statement. Previously, she did not know whether she was making a profit or loss from her agricultural enterprises. Receiving extension services from Sokopepe’s PIAs has motivated and given her hope that she can succeed as a farmer.
“I want to make money and I believe that the knowledge that I am gaining will help me become a better farmer,” said Mrs. Munjaro.
Mr. Murangiri said that Sokopepe decided to establish the demonstration plot to help farmers learn how to improve their farming practices, adopt new technologies and practice climate smart agriculture.
“On-farm demonstrations serve as one of the most effective extension education tools. We hope that farmers are replicating what they are learning,” said Mr. Murangiri.
On-farm demonstrations are effective means of reducing the risks farmers anticipate.  The demonstrations allow farmers to see, hear, discuss, participate and learn by doing, as most farmers believe that ‘seeing is believing.’

Monday, October 31, 2016

Embracing agribusiness: A catalyst for smallholder farmer’s empowerment

By Bob Aston
Three years ago Mr. Eliud Kirema's fascination with agribusiness made him to leave Nairobi. He returned to Meru to start farming in his 6-acre piece of land. He expected to make huge profits but that has never been the case.
Low farm incomes made him to deliberate on how he would seek for agribusiness training.  An opportunity soon arose when he heard from a friend about an agribusiness training organized by Sokopepe on October 28, 2016 at M.C.K Kalithiria Church in Tigania West. He decided to attend the training to see if he could learn more about agribusiness.
Mr. Gachara Gikungu training farmers on agribusiness

Armed with a notebook and a pen, he took a vintage position and waited for Mr. Gachara Gikungu from Kilimo Biashara Promoters to begin the training. 

Attending his first agribusiness lesson proved an eye opener for him. He looked solemn and occasionally shook his head in agreement as Mr. Gachara narrated how most farmers sell green maize at Kshs 3 each yet they had labored for close to 4 months. He equated the price of 3 green maize to one lollipop.
His facial expression kept changing depending on the topic of discussion. He laughed nervously when Mr. Gachara remarked that traders who roast maize earn more in a few minutes than what farmers earn from the same crop in 4 months as the traders buy the green maize at Kshs 3 and then sell at Kshs 20 after roasting.
He nodded in agreement as Mr. Gachara narrated how some maize farmers would celebrate at the end of the season when they make kshs. 20,000 yet they did not track their costs and revenues from farming and could as well have made a loss without knowing.
After the training he approached Ms. Dorcas Gachui, Sokopepe’s Production Information Agent (PIA) and inquired how he could join Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS).
He paid the Kshs 500 subscription fee after Ms. Gachui had shown him how to adopt the service. Ms. Gachui informed him that FARMIS would enable him to appreciate farming as a business. The service would enable him to track the performance of his farm enterprises thus enabling him to make informed decision at the end of the season.
Women farmers reading about FARMIS
“I hope through Sokopepe my agribusiness will become more productive and profitable. I now know that I have to be an entrepreneur,” said Mr. Kirema.
Like any other smallholder farmer, Mr. Kirema has been having difficulties accessing various services for his farm enterprises such as adequate finance, functional markets, relevant and timely market information and high quality inputs.
 “I could relate with most of the things that Mr. Gachara taught. It is clear that I have not realized the agribusiness potential of my farm,” said Mr. Kirema.
He has a vague sense of the direction his farm is taking as he has not kept proper records of his beans, maize and soya beans enterprises. He hopes that embracing agribusiness will increase his income and allow him to diversify to livestock farming.
His parting shot is that Sokopepe should continue organizing agribusiness training for smallholder farmers. He reckons that such trainings would enable more farmers to inculcate a culture of record keeping and practice agribusiness.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too

By Bob Aston
"Climate is changing, food and agriculture must too," is the theme of 2016 World Food Day. Msumarini in Kilifi County is today hosting this year’s celebration, which is usually marked on October 16.
This year’s theme looks at how agriculture and food systems need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive, and sustainable. 
The day also focuses on raising awareness about the actions people around the world can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Farmers being trained on Conservation Agriculture
Sokopepe Partnerships and Linkages officer Ms. Judith Nkatha noted that strengthening resilience of smallholder farmers through conservation agriculture could play a transformative role in addressing the impacts of climate change.
"We are helping to enhance food security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reverse the effects of soil degradation caused by mechanical tillage in Meru County,” said Ms. Nkatha.
She said that the pace and severity of climate change risks overwhelming smallholder farmers hence the social enterprise is helping farmers adopt conservation agriculture as a way of combining profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability.
Growing food in a sustainable way means adopting practices that produce more with less in the same area of land and wise use of natural resources. 
It also means reducing food losses before the final product or retail stage through better harvesting, storage, packing, transport, infrastructure, market mechanisms, as well as institutional and legal frameworks.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), higher temperatures and increase in weather related disasters are affecting the worlds poorest more than others.
FAO estimates that agricultural production must rise by about 60 percent by 2050 to feed a larger population. 
Ms. Nkatha said that Sokopepe is training farmers on best agricultural practices to enable them produce more with less as well as reduce post-harvest losses.
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared 16th October as World Food Day to honor the date of the founding of FAO in 1945. 
The day aims to heighten public awareness of world food security and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Increasing opportunities for women farmers

Women play an important role in food production and in achieving greater food security. However, few women have access to land tenure, extension services, finance, education, market, and control of family funds.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), providing female farmers access to the same resources as men could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.

In Meru County, Sokopepe through its Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) is helping women farmers pull down the barriers that they face. 
Lucy Karimi preparing to take her tomatoes to the market

The innovation is helping women farmers move from subsistence to commercial farming. It is also helping women make right farming decisions for increased production and productivity.
FARMIS is helping women to track their agribusinesses as they perform other household duties. Three women based in Kariene Ward in Imenti Central shared their views on how Sokopepe is helping them reach their potential in farming.
Mrs. Peninah Kinanu said that Sokopepe has enabled her to venture into horticulture farming. She decided to cultivate tomatoes and cabbages in her one-acre piece of land. She said that it is now easier to know whether she is making a profit or loss at the end of each season.
 “Sokopepe has built my confidence as a farmer. I can I now take care of my family from the proceeds that I receive from the farm,” said Mrs. Kinanu.
On her part, Agnes Mwaki almost gave up on farming before a Sokopepe Production Information Agent (PIA) convinced her that FARMIS would help her track all her agribusiness enterprises, schedule different farm events and track all her expenses. She then started cultivating onions, kales, and beetroot.
She said that a PIA visits her farm once a week to check the progress of her crops as well as assist her fill the farm book. She said that when women farmers flourish, families and communities do too.
“I now know how much I am investing in each enterprise and projected income from each crop. I also carry out market survey in order to determine crop prices before planting,” said Mwaki.
On her part, Lucy Karimi said that embracing record keeping through FARMIS enabled her to determine profitable crops and enterprises that were “eating” into her profits.
Last season she planted tomatoes of which she has already harvested 1,000 kgs.  She is selling the tomatoes to her neighbours and other traders.
Sokopepe PIAs training farmers on FARMIS
She said that the extension service provided by PIAs has enabled her to learn about pests and disease control. She is now able to control white flies and aphids in her one-acre farm leading to increased quality yields.
According to a World Bank report titled Levelling the field: improving opportunities for women farmers in Africa, a key hindrance to agricultural development and broader growth is a wide and pervasive gender gap in agricultural productivity. The report argues that tackling the barriers that hold back the productivity of female farmers could both enhance gender equality and usher in broader economic growth.
Sokopepe’s Agribusiness Manager Ms. Hildah Nkirote noted that closing the gender gap in agriculture is important in increasing production and enhancing food security.
She said Sokopepe has increased women participation in crops selection, adoption of agricultural innovations and good management practices, as families are increasingly using the record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable.
She said that Sokopepe is working with more than 5,000 women farmers in Meru County through trainings in record keeping, best agricultural practices, market information and linkages, conservation agriculture as well as promotion cultivation of high value crops among women.
“We are now building partnerships with agro-suppliers, agro financiers, extension service providers, and farmers groups to increase opportunities for women farmers,” said Ms. Nkirote.
Ensuring that women have equal access to productive resources is not only increasing agricultural productivity but has also ensured that more women have better control of their economic destinies. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Joto Afrika Edition 18 is out

By Bob Aston
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) is pleased to present edition 18 of Joto Afrika newsletter.  The edition is a joint effort between ALIN and the Ministry of Environment Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities (MENRRDA) through the Low Emission and Climate Resilient Development (LECRD) Project.
Funding for the LECRD Project is by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), this is within the framework of the US Government led effort on Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategy (EC-LEDS).
Joto Afrika edition 18

Joto Afrika, meaning “Africa is feeling the heat’ in Kiswahili is a series of printed briefings and online resources about climate change mitigation and adaptation actions in sub- Saharan Africa. The series helps people understand the issues, constraints, and opportunities that people face in adapting to climate change and escaping poverty.  
Edition 18 seeks to look into the role and involvement of youth in addressing climate change and further, highlight opportunities that need to be leveraged to consolidate ongoing engagements and build to scale successful youth led interventions.
Most evident, is the leading role youth in Kenya have played in championing for climate justice in global climate negotiations, their proven actions in conservation, afforestation, green energy, and smart agriculture. Of significance are their recent pilot actions to secure domestication of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) in specific counties in Kenya.
It is in enabling transition to community level actions that we see a clear role for youth in Kenya. Considering that close to 50% of the Sub-Saharan population is under the age of 30 years and given the high levels of unemployment in the region, youth remain particularly vulnerable to climate threats and the impacts thereof.
Climate Change has remained one of the greatest threats to civilization. Its impacts continue to threaten lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable groups living in the global south.
It is our hope that readers will find the 18th edition of Joto Afrika as informative and that it would add value to their work in addressing the challenges and opportunities faced by youth regarding climate change as well as enable them learn about smart farming technologies that youth can adapt. You can download a copy of Joto Afrika issue here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Increasing opportunities for smallholder farmers through partnerships

By Bob Aston
On September 24, 2016, Sokopepe convened a day’s meeting at Incredible Hotel in Meru County where Wanda Organic trained the social enterprise team on the importance of soil health and the role of bio-organic fertilizer.
Sokopepe is partnering with Wanda Organic to enhance good agricultural practices by promoting use of plantmate bio-organic fertilizer for enhanced soil fertility. 
The organic fertilizer is a mixture of plant and animal wastes through an advanced bio-fermentation process using BIO-PLUS activator. It is a result of over 40 years of biotechnology research in Southeast Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
Ms. Roseline Ngusa, Sokopepe Operations Director addressing the participants
Wanda Organic Director Ms. Marion Moon stressed on the importance of improving soil fertility. She noted that food crop yields per acre are on the decline partly due to continuous cropping without adequate soil nutrients replenishment. She said that plantmate bio-organic fertilizer works on the soils physical, biological, and chemical properties thus making it a unique product.
Further Ms. Moon stated that Wanda organic fertilizer contains beneficial microorganism and organic material, and is non-toxic and eco-friendly. In addition, they replenish soil nutrients, helps to increase yields, shorten crop cycles, and reduce crop diseases.
She noted that farmers could maximize their yields when they use it with a little chemical fertilizer. The organic fertilizer contains over 20 naturally occurring beneficial micro-organisms growing in a scientifically blended food base made of chelated trace elements, enzymes, amino acids, growth promotants and functional compounds.
“We want to improve productivity and profitability of smallholder farmers by providing economical, effective, and sustainable agricultural inputs,” said Ms. Moon.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, healthy soils are the foundation for food, fuel, fibre, and even medicine. FAO approximates that 33 percent of the global soil resources are degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, soil organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification and chemical pollution.
Ms. Roseline Ngusa, Sokopepe operations director said that the social enterprise is leveraging on partnerships in order to develop stronger value chains and systems that lead to improved income for smallholder farmers.
She said that the social enterprise, which is supporting the agricultural sector in Kenya by offering market information and farm records management services is partnering with agro-suppliers, agro-financiers, public-private extension services providers, knowledge partners, market access actors and farmer groups.
She noted that Wanda Organic partnership would enable farmers easily access bio-organic fertilizer through its agencies in Meru County.
Achieving and maintaining appropriate levels of soil fertility, especially plant nutrient availability, is of paramount importance if agricultural land is to remain capable of sustaining crop production at an acceptable level.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sokopepe at 6th African Green Revolution Forum

By Bob Aston
The 6th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which concluded on September 9, 2016 at the United Nations (UN) complex in Nairobi, Kenya, featured Sokopepe among 15 Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture (ICT4Ag) innovations.
The landmark forum themed: ‘Seize the Moment: Securing Africa’s Rise through Agricultural Transformation’ aimed to advance the policies and secure the investments that will ensure a better life for millions of Africa’s farmers and families.
The open session on “the digital harvest: How to grow and sustain ICT4Ag solution” reviewed though a video documentary ICT4Ag Innovations, consumer feedback and steps made towards sustainability.
Dr. Agnes Kalibata,AGRA president addressing delegates.PHOTO/AGRF
Sokopepe director Mr. James Nguo, was a panelist in the session moderated by Ms. Carol Kyazze Kakooza, Chief Technical Advisor, and Chief of Party for Geodata for Agriculture and Water (G4AW)-Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag Enabled Information Service (MUIIS), Uganda.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) supported an assessment of the business models of fifteen ICT4Ag solution providers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. The fifteen solution providers volunteered to share their successes and challenges in making ICT work for smallholder farmers during the forum.
The review of Sokopepe business model by Advantech Ltd indicated that the two year old company is already 25 percent towards sustainability.
During the session, policy makers, farmers, private agribusiness firms, financial institutions, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, scientists, and other stakeholders watched a video of Sokopepe highlighting testimonies from farmers and value preposition offered by Sokopepe through its Farm Record Management Information System (FARMIS) innovation.
Mr. Nguo shared the successes and challenges faced by Sokopepe. He noted that data obtained through FARMIS would enable agriculture stakeholders such as County governments and central government, agro-input providers, providers of agriculture credit and development partners to get evidence of the status of agriculture.
 “FARMIS gives farmers holistic year-round monitoring, data collection, entry, storage, and mid-season analysis to enable appropriate farm planning and sustainable market linkages,” said Mr. Nguo.
The participants appreciated the efforts made by Sokopepe in Meru County, Kenya in addressing lack of accurate production, marketing and operational data in agriculture as well as limited access to finance by smallholder farmers.
The session reviewed examples of successful business models as well as how to improve uptake and usage of ICT4Ag.  The panelists also deliberated on what is hampering ICT4Ag solutions to grow and sustain.
The panelists agreed that challenges in business models such as lack of clear and unfavourable revenue models, limited view on cost drivers, and unwillingness by farmers to pay for services coupled with lack of clear business case for users usually lead to solutions that do not have robust revenue models.
The delegates concurred that sustainable ICT4Ag solutions have revenue models, diversified sources of income, organize regular customer feedback, have copyright protected technology and key performance indicators to monitor the business among others.
The forum realized a pledge of more than US $30 billion in investments to increase production, income, and employment for smallholder farmers and local African agriculture businesses.
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