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    By George Munene

    Before the first case of Corona virus was reported in the country on 13th March, 50 tonnes of khat worth Sh16 million was shipped daily to Somalia from Igembe’s three main miraa growing regions; Meru North, South and Central.

    An agricultural sector that is the main source of livelihood for up to 50,000 households has ground to a halt; with no end in sight for the pain that miraa farmers have endured for the last eight months.

    “Schools are just now reopening, my members are going to seek for soft loans SACCOS would usually easily advance to them, but are being turned down. The picking, packaging and transport costs for miraa are about Sh1000/kg; local markets are oversupplied –you’ll get no more than Sh1000 for the same. It is not a question of how much less farmers are earning, there just is nothing to earn,” says Kimathi Munjuri, chairman of the 38,000 registered member, Nyambene Miraa Traders Association.  

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    With the onset of rains, miraa in shambas is now more prolific than ever. The government’s forever delayed promise of having the situation resolved means farmers have to reach into their own pockets to cover for harvests with money they barely have to help maintain their trees. What was once one of Kenya’s most lucrative crops— within the country, a kilogram of kangeta fetched Sh2000 and that of kisa Sh3000; exports, done in 100 kilogram bundles fetched Sh20,000 each— now serves as no more than mulch for shambas.

    The situation for miraa farmers looks even grimmer owing to a diplomatic impasse with Somalia which is seeking formal redress from Kenya over:

    • Its violation of Somalia’s airspace
    • Kenya’s perceived interference in Somalia’s internal affairs and its treatment of Somalia as a smaller brother rather than equal
    • Kenya’s allowing in Somalian goods such as fish, rice, honey, meat and milk
    • Stopping the mandatory spot check of Somali flights at Wajir for inspection

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    This has allowed Ethiopia to steal a march on Kenya and begin exporting its khat into Somalia. This worries Kimathi—“as Somalian khat consumers acquire a taste for Ethiopian miraa, Kenyan farmer face the prospect of losing the market completely,” he warns.

    The halt in business has left the towns of Laare, Mutuati and Maua as ghost towns and the multiplier effects on the wider economy of the region are only just beginning to be felt.

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    avocado farming

    By George Munene

    The global demand for avocadoes is projected to double by 2024 according to a report by market watchers Infiniti Research Limited. Coupled with Kenya signing a deal gaining entry into the mammoth Chinese market on 25th April 2019, this makes avocado growing for the export market project as safe lucrative bet as any in farming.

    Data from the Avocado Society of Kenya and the Directorate of Horticulture shows that export sales of avocadoes to 42 countries in the first half of 2020 hit a record 58,400 tonnes.

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    Despite the momentary cessation of international travel occasioned by Covid-19, the country is projected to have earned Sh8 billion from avocado export. The record half year high is partly attributable to the pandemic, which has led to growing demand for fruits with avocadoes being highly recommended for their high alkaline content.

    “The increase also owes to more acreage in the country coming under avocado production and an improvement in the quality of fruit being produced by farmers. The global rise in demand only serves as more good news for our farmers,” says Avocado Society of Kenya Chief Executive Ernest Muthomi.

    With declining production in other regions of the world and a growing global demand, the country is tapping into; a four kilogram pack of fuerte avocadoes now fetches Sh1760 up from Sh1100 the previous year.

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    The European Union was Kenya’s biggest buyer of avocadoes at 45,737 tonnes as of June with the Netherlands the leading importer at 16.3million kilograms.

    Kenya is the world’s third largest producer of avocadoes and recently overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest avocado exporter.

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    By George Munene

    George Muturi, a 26-year-old farmer has cut a lucrative niche for himself in offering innovative organic farming solutions through the rearing of redworms, black soldier flies and growing azolla. Ventures which net him about Sh50,000 a month.

    Lacking school fees after completing his secondary education, Muturi began rearing poultry and rabbits in 2013, he however changed tack in 2015. “Through internet research I found the rearing of redworms to be a novel and more promising business opportunity. ICIPE (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology) was encouraging farmers to take on the venture by offering free worms, from them I got my first batch, starting out with an aim to propagate the earthworms as a source of chicken feed,” Muturi says.

    However, due to their low production rates he opted to use them for vermiculture –production of an affordable organic fertiliser called vermicompost (a product of the decomposing vegetable or animal waste using species of worms) that he sells to other farmers for crop production. From making just 100-150 kilograms of vermicompost six years ago the resident of Lari, Kiambu County, now produces two tonnes of vermicompost monthly for his standing clients. He sells a kilogram for Sh50.

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    The worms feed on animal manure (he opts for the more available cow dung) as well as dry and wet leaves. For his production of two tonnes, he uses 200-300kg of earthworms and 2.5 tonnes of raw material. Whilst he is able to source vegetative material from his home he has to buy cow dung from neighbouring farms. This he says, runs his total cost of production to Sh25/Kg. He rears his worms in a simple shed made out of offcuts and nylon paper. The basic parameters to observe in setting up a vermicompost unit are ensuring it is shaded from direct sunlight; ensuring temperatures within the unit do not exceed 35°C or go below 15°C. The moisture content level also needs to hover at around 40%. The worms can be fed at one go or intermittently—about once every week and the fertiliser is ready for harvest after 45 days.

    Muturi’s newest project is the farming of azolla, a water fern that is rich in proteins and serves as a supplement to feed for chickens, ducks, pigs, fish, cattle, sheep, goats and rabbits. Azzola has been in vogue amongst poultry farmers in the know for its high rate of growth in water without displacing existing crops and its ability to proliferate without inorganic nitrogen fertilisation. “Again, through online research, I got to read up on the benefits of azolla as a supplement to traditional chicken feed, I got the seeds from one of the pioneering farmers in its growth in Nairobi, explains George. Muturi propagates his azolla in a foot deep 1.5M*7.5M artificial pond. The azolla is ready for harvest after just three weeks. Every three days one collects up to 10-15 kilograms. One kilogram of azolla is fit to provide sufficient dietary protein for up to 50 chickens. Most of his azolla is consumed by his chicken, though he sells 10-20 kilograms of it at Sh1000 per kilogram every month to other farmers.

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    He also rears black soldier flies in a setup that farms 100 kilograms every two weeks—most of which he feeds to his chicken and pigs. He sells 15 kg of BSF larvae at Sh2000 per kg every month to starter farmers.

    George Muturi: 0717411668

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