In a new move to reinvigorate wheat production, which has fallen drastically in recent years impacting food prices and GDP growth, scientists have released two wheat varieties that are resistant to a catastrophic wheat stem rust originating from Uganda and responsible for 50-70 per cent of yield losses.
The deadly mutant fungus, Ug99, named after its discovery in Uganda in 1999, is spread by wind-borne spores. By 2003, most of Kenyan's wheat varieties had been identified as susceptible to the fungus which turns fields of wheat into black stubble, with empty spikes that hold little or no grain.
A new insurance scheme for farmers, called ‘Kilimo Salama’, offering compensation for crop failure for the payment of an extra 5 per cent on the cost of seeds, fertilisers and inputs, has seen 11,000 farmers join up in its first 12 months, and 100 fully or partially compensated for crop failure caused by extreme drought or rain.
The micro insurance scheme which currently covers the grains like maize and wheat is an inititiatave by UAP Insurance, Sygenta East Africa, Safaricom, MEA Fertilisers and Kilimo Salama who facilitate it at the grassroots.
According to Veronica Njuguna of Kilimo Salama they first rolled out the micro insurance scheme in largely lowland regions as those have two harvesting seasons. So far in Kenya it’s in five regions of Embu, Busia, Nanyuki, Eldoret and Kisii though, Embu and Eldoret are classified as highlands.
The farmers in these regions are clustered in a 20km area covered by ‘Kilimo Salama’ weather stations that monitor the weather over a full season. The data collected is used to help compute compensation claims due to farmers, which can be partial or full. In these regions ‘Kilimo Salama’ has 27 weather stations.
Compensation can be monetary or by replacing farm inputs or seeds.
The five regions covered in the country have ‘Kilimo Salama’ branded stockists who sell seeds from Sygenta East Africa and farm inputs from MEA Fertilisers. When a farmer buys farming products affiliated to MEA or Sygenta, at ‘Kilimo Salama’ branded stockists, he is given an option to register for the micro insurance scheme.
Personal details are taken down plus the phone number from which the farmer receives a registration confirmation alert from ‘Kilimo Salama’ with a policy number. After registration, a farmer gets charged 5 percent extra on every product he or she buys. If a product costs Sh400 a farmer pays Sh420. The extra Sh20 acts as a premium that goes to UAP.
In the stockists’ outlets, farmers are also advised by trained stockists on the seeds suited for their climatic region.
According to Wairimu Muthike of UAP Insurance, farmers are entitled to total compensation if expected rains fail. The total compensation can include full financial refund for the seeds and inputs initially purchased or an equivalent packet of inputs.
It doesn’t include the earnings that would have been made from a productive crop..
But in instances where rains expected to grow maize or wheat fail by half farmers in the region get 50 percent compensation on their input costs. The rest it’s assumed can be gotten from the harvests that can be salvaged. “There can’t be total crop failure, especially in maize,” adds Wairimu.
To reduce the likelihood of crop failure as a result of poor farming management, once farmers register for the insurance they get free farming advice, relevant to their region and for the particular season, via phone text messages.
The scheme doesn’t cover crop losses to pests, floods or low crops due to poor farm management.
However, in covering against poor weather, it’s open to farms of all sizes, including small acreage of land.
Kilimo Salama is currently performing feasibility studies to extend the scheme to other regions, including Machakos and Kapenguria.
Of the partners in the scheme, Sygenta provides seeds, MEA provides fertilizers and farming chemicals, and Safaricom provides the text platform for communication.
For more details and contacts on the micro insurance Kilimo Salama visit http://kilimosalama.wordpress.com
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
A farmer in Kieni East Division has domesticated a plant traditionally loathed by farmers and is now leading other enterprising farmers in supplying vegetable oil made from the plant to hundreds of farmers in the area, with impressive returns.
Poultry farmers countrywide are scaling back chicken production, driven by the soaring costs of poultry feed made principally from maize, which is now at all-time high prices. But for some, the soaring prices have forced a search for alternative feeds that scientists claim are cheaper and more nutritious for poultry, and end competition for mainstream human food.
Since the end of last year, maize prices have risen more than three-fold, triggering a 40 per cent increase in the price of chick mash, from Sh2700 for a 70kg bag to Sh3,500.
Yet maize has long been a problematic staple for the poultry industry. The amount of maize required for human consumption in Kenya is estimated at 3m tonnes. But the country produces less than that, meeting some 10 per cent of needs through imports. This sets up competition for maize in animal feeds and means Kenya is deficient in oil seed cakes and meals important as protein sources in chicken feeds.
On recent report on the feed industry showed substantial importing of wheat milling by-products from Uganda to try and replace the maize supply shortfall for feeds. But other initiatives are now seeking to find whole new sources of poultry feed.
At local levels, some farmers are resolving the problem by moving to alternative feeds made from traditional and more nutritious crops, such as amaranth, millet and sorghum, and even to worms as chicken feed. That change is cutting their feed costs by up to 40 per cent.
Meanwhile, researchers are looking at nonconventional sources, such as pigeon peas, leaf meals, and agricultural by-products for protein supplements. Recent research found bulrush millet to be a good replacement for maize due to its higher protein content, which could be improved further with lysine supplementation.
The research also found raw pigeon peas were a suitable source of protein at levels up to 15 per cent in chicken feed rations.
Bulrush millet and pigeon peas combined were able to replace up to 40 per cent of the conventional energy and protein sources in poultry feedstuffs, concluded the research.
Bulrush millet, which withstands hot temperatures, is a common livestock feed among poultry farmers in the semi-arid Mbooni area of Ukambani, with farmers reporting big savings through these feeds, which they only grind manually to feed to their chickens.
The same farmers are also using cassava as an alternative poultry feed. They first dry it to rid it of cyanide, which would otherwise poison the poultry.
But the shift is being championed by Bridgenet, an NGO assisting farmers in poultry keeping, which has borrowed the model from European countries like Holland and UK, which import cassava from South East Asia for poultry and pig feeds.
“It is possible to change all this cry about expensive chicken feed. If you look around and see for example how much cassava is rotting in the farms due to oversupply. That cassava has been proven to be nutritious feed for chicken, and is readily available,” said Dorothy Mwende, a programme officer with Bridgenet.
Nor do the alternatives end there. Mary Gikuni, an agroproneur from Limuru ventured into farming fodder shrubs that have been known to increase milk production in cattle by 20 per cent. But she later learnt from scientists that the same fodder shrubs, known as Caliandra, are very effective in feeding chicken once they are cut into small quantities and even mixed with feeds that may be low in protein.
The shrubs – which are easy to grow and mature in about 12 months after which they can be regularly pruned and fed to livestock for up to 20 years - have been shown to harden the shells of the egg and improve the quality of the egg yolk.
Mrs Gikuni, who was previously recording losses on the back of the rising cost of chicken feed, was told about the fodder shrubs by a fellow farmer. Within one year she managed to harvest her first leaves, which she mixed with feeds of lower quality, with the fodder shrubs providing the Caliandra seedlings, Mrs Gikuni now earns Sh6,000 to Sh10,000 a month after expenses. She is among the few suppliers of chicken products in schools and hotels in the Limuru area. “I always tell my customers to compare my eggs with those of chicken that has been fed on commercial feeds. The difference is glaring. The egg shell is harder and the egg york more yellow,” she said.
However experts warn that farmers should take care in the kind of feed they give their poultry and should discuss changes with the veterinary officers or experts in feeds, because some of the alternative feeds might be poisonous or might affect the quality of the end product.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Scientists from KARI and across the world have been hunting for ways to provide a superior variety, which has culminated in the unveiling of the two new wheat varieties, dubbed Eagle10 and Robin.
Since 2005, KARI has screened over 200,000 wheat germplasms, of which only 10 per cent were found to have some resistance to Ug99. Of the 10 percent, only a handful could adapt to the Kenyan environment.
The selected varieties then underwent advanced trials in wheat growing areas and at the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS).
"The first step of screening involved identifying some wheat germplasm which were resistant," he explained,” said Tom Kibe a breeder from KARI
Then, the experts evaluated these lines, checking if they would be suitable for commercial production in Kenya. Those which looked like a good bet were then developed further for the Kenyan farmer.
"That was how Eagle10 and Robin wheat varieties were born," explained Kibe at the KARI centre in Njoro, Rift Valley. "Both varieties have very good baking and bread-making qualities."
Eagle10 was selected for lower altitude regions such as lower Narok, Naivasha and Laikipia in Rift Valley, while Robin is for the medium to high altitude areas like Njoro, Mau Narok and Timau.
KARI is now working with the Kenya Seeds Company to multiply the seeds with a hope of producing more than 10 tons of the new seed variety in the course of the year. KARI has also set aside 12 hectares in Njoro exclusively for wheat breeding. KARI in Njoro is one of only a handful of screening centres for stem rust resistance around the world.
Koome Kotu is among the thousand farmers in Narok now willing to try wheat again with the new varieties, albeit cautiously, after Ug99 previously wiped out an entire two acres of his wheat. “It's a moment painful enough for me to relive. I spent close to Sh100,000 in one season on fungicides alone. It was trying this one on one day then waking up to realize the disease had spread further then getting advice from the agrovets to try another fungicide.
“I was preparing to harvest and had actually secured a lucrative deal with a regional company together with fellow farmers to sell them our wheat. Within a week I had lost yields worth Sh2million and the disease migrated to my neighbours. It has taken a lot of convincing me to go back to wheat, and even if I am going, I need time to actually see that these varieties are superior. I will only plant the varieties on half an acre,” said the 50-year-old former traffic police officer.
Narok is one of the leading wheat producing regions in the country, but was among the hardest hit regions by the Ug99 fungus, drastically affecting wheat supply in the country and pushing wheat flour prices up by 100% in 2008. The drop in wheat production and in Narok output again last year was recently flagged by the Ministry of Planning as one of the factors that slowed Kenya's economic growth in 2011.
The national demand for wheat has increased to 900 tonnes against national production of 300 tonnes, with demand rising by some 5 per cent each year on rural urban migration and changing dietary habits.
This has seen Kenya import about 60 percent of its wheat needs, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
But while it is not nearly as widely grown as maize or rice, wheat nevertheless is an important component of the country’s domestic food production - being grown on about 4 per cent of the country’s arable land, as 160,000 hectares out of 4,000,000 hectares of arable land.
“The demand for wheat also now means that we have to get it right with wheat. We are blessed to have one of the best research institutions in the country that even leading scientists in the world use for their research. We need to tap into that. This disease resistant varieties are our best bet to encourage farmers back to wheat farming. We are glad farmer field schools have been very integral in pushing for this varieties among the farmers,” said Mweka Nzomo an officer at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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