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.
Over 10,000 maize farmers in Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi are earning more than twice what they used to, after gaining a direct market to industrial processors. The farmers, who used to sell maize individually to brokers at low farm-gate prices, are now selling their maize collectively to processing heavyweights like Unga and Afya Millers.
According to Mate Muriithi, the coordinator from Farm Concern, the farmers are now clustered into groups of around 500 called commercial villages (CV). The CV’s give the farmers more bargaining power in selling the maize, and allow small scale farmers to access the market by having their maize “bulked together with produce from other farmers” in communal stores.
The maize farmers are now earning from Sh1100 to Sh2500 per 90kg bag, where they were selling at farm gate prices of around Sh700, although “prices vary depending on market demand,” said Muriithi.
Farm Concern started the initiative in September last year, and is combining it with training farmers on the post-harvest management of grains. The three regions have suffered large grain losses through aflatoxin poisoning caused by premature harvesting and poor handling of maize grains after harvest including storing them in moist conditions.
Farm Concern’s field officers in the regions are also training the farmers on fumigation measures to control pests and using moisture monitors to ensure farmers store their maize with moisture content of below 13.5 per cent.
These techniques are enabling the farmers to store grains for longer and enabling them to wait for market prices to peak.
In addition to maize millers and farmers, other stakeholders involved in the initiative are pesticide providers and transport companies, who ferry the maize to collection centres.
Farm Concern chose the three regions because the farmers in these areas faced more marketing challenges than farmers in other areas, such as Eldoret, said Muriithi. In addition, in the major maize growing areas of the Rift Valley, incidences of Aflatoxin poisoning -which is a killer for people who consume the poisoned maize - have been rare.
This Farm Concern project in the eastern regions will end in September 2011.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
In 2008, Isaac Ochieng Okwangi from Nyangera, Siaya District harvested just two 90kg bags of maize from his one and a half acre maize plot. On the same piece of land today, 29-year-old Ochieng gets around 16 bags a season, in two seasons a year. His yields from other crops like beans have also risen.
Ochieng attributes the eight-fold rise to applying lime on his farm, which lowers soil acidity to levels that sustain subsistence crops, according to David Mbakaya a soil scientist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Kakamega.
According to a recent report by AGRA-Alliance, Kenya has over half a million hectares of acidic soils in its maize growing areas. In Western Kenya, around 57,670 hectares of soil are acidic. The use of nitrogenous fertilizers like DAP and high rainfalls that penetrate deep into the ground have exacerbated the problems of soil acidity.
Year in, year out subsistence farming without rotating crops has also increased soil acidity, giving the land “no rest.” As a result, maize yields in Western Kenya are on average estimated at less than 1 tonnes per hectare, yet neighboring regions get 5 to 6 tonnes a hectare.
In 2009, acting on advice from KARI Kakamega, Ochieng applied on his one and a half acres 10 bags of agricultural lime. He was one of 50 farmers who got the lime for free when Alliance for Green Revolution (AGRA) sponsored KARI led trials that provided the lime, costing Sh270 a bag of 50kgs from the Homalime Factory in Koru, Kisume.
After Ochieng spread it on his maize plot, he cultivated it into the soil, planted his maize and waited for the results. “The maize was vibrant and one maize plant would have two or more cobs,” he said.
Although he bypassed the Sh2700 cost of adding the lime, the returns would have made the investment worthwhile even if he had paid.
In both 2010 maize seasons he harvested 16 bags each season, fetching a market price of Sh5000 a bag. He also sold 4 sacks of beans each earning Sh8000.
The Sh2700 in the right input had shifted his annual earnings from what would have been Sh20,000 to Sh112,000.
Ochieng even sold some of his maize to other farmers who had poor harvests after declining to apply lime on their land. With the proceeds he was able to build a new house for his family of two children.
His turnaround has since convinced other local farmers to dig lime in.
“We had no hunger,” said 33-year-old Evelyn Achieng Ochieng, another of the 50 members who applied lime in 2009. Before, she used to get 3 or at most 4 bags of maize from her half an acre plot. Now she gets 10.
The change saw Achieng also try it on her cassava plantation, where the cassava became vibrant and leaves wouldn’t sag. “It’s like they got rid of some cassava disease,” she said.
A near similar observation was made by Stanley Chiveti, a nursery tree farmer who says applying lime matures his tree seedlings faster. Initially, they would reach certain heights at 6 months. Now they get there in 4 months and without nursery tree pests.
According to Mbakaya, soils they have sampled in Western Kenya have PH levels of 4.3 to 5.5. Yet subsistence staple crops thrive at a PH of 5.5 to 6. KARI supervises farmers applying lime to ensure they don’t put in too much and make the soil to alkaline. Alkaline soils only work well for tea farming.
After one full application of lime, KARI advises farmers to reapply the lime again after 3 years. “Over applying lime leads to toxicity,” said Mbakaya.
When applying lime on soil, he also advises farmers to have gloves and face masks as it irritates the skins and chokes. In the soil, lime replenishes Magnesium and Calcium minerals.
Lime is also being added to fish ponds by fish farmers like Francis Sakula from Isanjiro Village in Northern Kakamega. In his 50ft by 50ft pond with over 1000 tilapia he applies the lime to stop the green algae (spirogyra) from forming and floating on his fish pond denying his fish oxygen. It also kills frog tad poles ,which prey on fish fingerlings and encourages growth of the water plants that fish feed on.
In addition, frogs don’t lay eggs in limed water and snakes don’t invade a pond with lime. Its brownish color when applied to the ponds also obstructs the view of birds that prey on fish. Sakula applies around 5kg to 10kg of lime from the pond’s inlet.
Farmers like Ochieng and Achieng who got the lime for free will now have to buy and reapply it after 3 years. In Western Kenya there are 5 Agro-Dealers stocking the agricultural lime, but AGRA is currently paying for transport in an effort to keep the lime affordable.
The research into the impact of applying lime was done by KARI Kakamega and Moi University Eldoret after they got a grant from AGRA’s Soil Health Programme.
For Isaac Ochieng, the study has transformed his life. In early 2008, he left Nairobi’s Mathare area with just Sh7000, having lost all his possessions to arson in the post election violence. Today, he has no regrets as he gazes at his lush vibrant maize crops and the vegetables he is growing, and has emerged as an outspoken advocate for the benefits of lime for the farmers in his region.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
Kenya is expecting a deficit of two million tonnes of maize from June that will need to be plugged by imports from South Africa, and cross-border imports from Uganda and Tanzania, with pricing in coming months depending on the volume of now-cheap imports brought in.
Maize harvests across Africa have been strong this year, including in Kenya, but scant stocks following last year’s shortages have left the country needing to rebuild fall-back supplies and still racing to catch up on consumer demand.
Kenya Food Security Technical Working Group (KFSSG) confirmed through an assessment report released in March 2010 that the country’s maize stock would only last to May, prompting the country to turn to the international maize market to feed its citizens before local farmers harvest their produce in September.
At present, foreign maize prices are substantially lower than in Kenya.
Maize flour, a major constituent for preparing ugali Kenya’s staple food, is at the moment retailing at an average price of Sh80 for a 2kg packet, down from Sh100 in January 2009.
But maize prices in South Africa, Kenya’s main source market, have fallen to R1090 a tonne or Sh980 for a 90 kg bag, following a bumper harvest. That price is before freight charges and importers’ margins, but with the current equivalent maize price in Nairobi now standing at Sh2,100, the stage is set for cheaper maize as imports begin.
In Kenya, the International Regional News Information Network (IRIN) predicted in December 2009 that the coastal and south-eastern regions would harvest a bumper maize crop from mid-February following the El Nino-enhanced rains. This was confirmed by KFFSG’s March 2010 report, which reported a significant improvement in food security between January and June, especially in the south-east.
However, KFSSG reported that with the April short rains harvest representing one-and-half month’s supply of national consumption, prices could yet surge if imports were not forthcoming. Current national stocks of maize are running at one million tons. This will be boosted by an additional 100,000 tons to be harvested after the short rains in May, with the bumper harvest helping boost the nation's grain reserves severely depleted due to low production in Rift Valley Province - Kenya's grain basket. The Kenya National Cereal and Produce Board is expected to purchase at least four million 90kg maize bags from farmers in the coastal and south-eastern lowlands in May.
As a result, the substantial imports and carry-over stocks that helped bridge the supply gap from July 2009 to January 2010 remain critical in bridging potential deficits before the end of the marketing year in July 2010 - necessitating clarity on the status of the waiver of duties levied on maize imports, KFFSG reported.
Maize prices in Tanzania and Uganda have now dropped to about Sh1,500.
In South Africa, Reuter reports that consecutive bumper harvests, lower international prices and good crop weather in the country’s main maize belt have reduced maize prices on the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX) over the past year. The benchmark fourth-month white maize futures contract has fallen by more than 30 per cent to April 2010 and is within sight of four-year lows.
Maize farmers in South Africa expect to harvest South Africa’s largest harvest since the 1981/82 season which saw a record 14.42 million tonne crop harvest.
Analysts argue that cheaper maize on the international market will help keep inflation in Kenya low and ease the pressure on the import bill at a time when exports remain sluggish.
However, despite the expected improvement in household food security in Kenya, an estimated 3.8 million people still do not have enough to eat.
Written By, Robin Okuthe for African Laughter
Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) maize breeding division at Muguga has released three new mid-altitude hybrid maize varieties, which they say guarantee farmers five to ten per cent more yield than any current mid-altitude breeds.
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
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