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    By Brian Moseti

    The high price of tractors and other farming equipment has made African farming the least mechanised in the world, but Kenyan farmers are now buying imported second-hand tractors and farm equipment at two-thirds of the price of new equipment.

    According to the Malabo Montpellier Panel in a report titled Mechanised - Transforming Africa's Agriculture Value Chains, Africa has the world's largest share of unused arable land, accounting for 60 per cent of the world total, and the most favourable climate for farming, yet it remains a net importer of food as its lack of mechanisation hinders the continent in using its tillable land.

    “Africa is the region with the least mechanised agricultural system in the world... African farmers have ten times fewer mechanised tools per farm area than farmers in other developing regions,” noted the 2018 report, citing affordability as the main reason for the shortfall.

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    This is more evident in Kenya than elsewhere in East Africa as a result of Kenya’s taxes on farm machinery and equipment.  As a result, a John Deere tractor, for example, is 25 per cent cheaper in Uganda, where taxes have been removed from farm equipment.

    However, Kenyan farmers who wish to mechanise are now enjoying an increasing range of options to buy second-hand machinery and equipment imported from Europe and Asia at a fraction of the cost of new equipment.

    James Chelimo, an auto dealer in Nakuru, who specialises in importing pre-owned tractors and farm machinery, sells a New Holland TT55 4WD at Sh1.3m, which is more than Sh500,000 cheaper than buying a new version of the same model from CMC Kenya.

    "Our offer is a lot better because the tractor also comes with a two-disc plough valued at around Sh200,000, a complete tool box, three free services and a 24-month warranty," said Chelimo.

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    Ebrahim Millah, another farm machinery dealer and proprietor of Bonjour Auto in Ngong, Kajiado County says the performance of pre-owned tractors is just as good as new ones, "provided you buy one that has a proper service history, and you commit to its proper maintenance using genuine parts whenever required."

    Janet Mukami, who runs a farm-tilling service for wheat farmers in Narok using several pre-owned tractors, agrees with Millah, noting that in her line of business it makes sense to go for lower-cost used equipment as opposed to new ones.

    "The tractor hire service takes long before it pays for the cost of the tractor, and it helps if the initial cost is not as high. For me, it makes business sense for me to buy good second-hand tractors and other machinery like combine harvesters, which sometimes cost up to Sh2m less than new ones," she said.

    So, as a first-time tractor buyer, what should you be looking for?

    Millah recommends proper research guided by one's needs and financial capacity. "A farmer who has 100 acres of land and another who has five acres will require different sizes of tractors in terms of horsepower. A 40hp Massey Ferguson 1260, for instance, would be great for a small farmer as it is inexpensive and would do most of the work required of it. In comparison, a large-scale farmer, or one in the tractor hire business, might need an MF6475 which is costlier but hardier," he said.

    Other things to check include the engine oil, which will tell you if the tractor has been serviced recently and the quality of the engine. "Any glittery items in the oil, and things that look like metal filings will tell you that the tractor has an engine problem," said Millah, adding that it is important to also check on the quality of the tyres on the tractor.

    "Tractor tyres are really expensive, so it is advisable to confirm that the tyres on the equipment you want to buy are in good condition," said Millah.

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    Millah also recommends the guidance of a trusted tractor mechanic, who can test the performance of the tractor's hydraulic system, throttle response, towing capacity, power take-off (PTO) and to conduct a general assessment of the quality of the engine to check if any repairs and overhauls have been done.

    "As a ground rule, oil and coolant leakages are red flags as they indicate seal, gasket or radiator problems. Additionally, it is important to check the steering wheel for play, with excessive play indicating steering system problems, which can be really expensive to fix," he said.

    Bonjour Auto Limited, Ngong: 0739064226

    Sobea Farm machinery and Equipment, Nakuru: 0722608978

    Ebay Tractors, Eldoret/Mombasa/Nairobi: 0790066000

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    By Fredrique Achieng

    The One Acre Fund has partnered with Elgeyo Marakwet county government to provide inputs and training to thousands of the county’s farmers, who can now get all the inputs they need to create the season’s crops, and then pay for them in instalments once their harvests are underway.

    “One Acre’s aim is to improve the life of farmers. We will give vegetable seeds, pulses, tree seedlings, crop control and post-harvest materials, Knapsack sprayers, drying sheets, and solar lights to each beneficiary,” said Lilian Avugwi, One Acre Fund, Government Relations Officer.

    The support is being offered for farmers who have from ¼ acre to around 3 acres and has already been rolled out to 3,109 farmers from Kamariny, Kapchemutwa, Chepkorio, Kabiemit, Kaptarakwa and Metkei sub-counties offering assistance to maize and bean farmers, but it is now expanding to cover other crops too.

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    For those who want to be included in the next round of support, which starts in April 2021, they must be a member of a farmers’ group of five to 25 members that is registered in the county, and they must register and pay a commitment fee of Sh500 by December 2020, said Lilian.

    Once accepted into the project, they are provided training by the One Acre Fund to help maximise their crop yields, and then assisted with the provision of inputs.

    “I was in the first group this year, One Acre Fund gave me 75kg of DAP and CAN fertilizer that I have used on my one acre, which if I had needed to buy on my own would have resulted to me getting late for the planting season,” said Mary Chebet.

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    For a farmer who has ¼ acre piece of land, it costs around Sh8,000 for inputs, such as seeds and agrochemicals, and Sh3,000 to Sh27,000 to buy fertilizer and top dresser. But, unlike direct loans to farmers that can put them into debt, the project works to support each farmer in generating crops to cover the repayment costs.

    The One Acre Fund is now also carrying out a trial supporting macadamia and Irish potato production, which it hopes to add to its packages for the next season. 

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    By Fredrique Achieng’

    Herb farmers who are drying 200kg of herbs or other vegetables for Sh500 are earning Sh10,000 or more in extra income from the dried products, using the solar drying service from community-based organisation Afya Choice, in Lari, Kiambu County.

    The driers are run by Afya Choice as part of their work to help farmers diversify their products and earn better incomes. It takes three days to dry the crops in the solar dryers, which cost farmers Sh15,000 to Sh25,000 to build themselves.

    Afya Choice also helps farmers build their own dryers. “A dryer does not need a big space you can build it on a space of 3 by 6 metres. You’d be required to buy drying sheets, polythene film, drying mesh and timber,” said George Gathuru, the Value Addition Officer at Afya Choice.

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    Once a farmer buys the materials, technicians from Afya Choice build the dryer for the farmer for Sh5,000.

    However, for those who want to use dryers only occasionally, it offers its own or members’ dryers for rent. The aim is to show producers how easy and effective drying is and how much value it adds.

    “What Afya Choice is doing for farmers is really wonderful. I used to dry my chili with them, but once I discovered it is a process that I could easily do for myself I was able to buy the required material and Afya Choice installed it for me in my farm at Kabete. Right now, I rent it out to people who would wish to dry their crops,” said one of the organisation’s members, Mary Wanjiku.

    Wanjiku first started using the solar dryer from Afya Choice in January 2020, but now has six to seven people who come to dry their own crops at her farm. She charges Sh1,000 per day for drying a variety of crops.

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    According to George, the drying process is really simple. Giving an example of the herb mint, he recommends watering the leaves the day before harvesting. Because the whole plant is edible, then pick it with sufficient stem, as this increases productivity.

    After picking off the plant, it is taken through the process of washing and then blanching. This helps preserve nutrients in the plant. For blanching, place the plant into boiling water at 100 degrees for a period of one minute. Then transfer the herb into a cold bath and let it rest for five minutes.

    Once the mint has dried, place it on a sheet of paper to allow the leaves to dry, and then place them into the dryer. The dryer should be placed in direct sunlight and away from trees or building to ensure maximum exposure to the sun.

    “Using this process of drying, one should be careful not to exceed the temperature of 40 degrees as this helps preserve the flavour oils of the herb”, said George.

     “We at Afya Choice aim at getting each of our farmers that are producing in the herbs industry into drying as the value of a dried herb is higher than that of a fresh one, due to the fact that the dried herb has a longer shelf life than a fresh one,” said George.

    But as Mary discovered this year, many other crops can be dried too, from chillies onwards.

    Afya Choice can be reached on 0701179490

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