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    Hannah Wairimu has never regretted uprooting 100 trees of poorly performing coffee from her two acre piece of land and replacing them with a variety of horticultural crops. Within five years of her investment in horticultural farming she has managed to educate two of her four children to university level and bought three cows to supplement her income.

    Passion fruits, avocado and strawberry leaves have been the goldmine for this 48 year old widow. Thanks to the success of the horticulture market both locally and for export, she now earns Ksh 8 per avocado which she sells to private horticultural companies, a far cry from the Ksh 1 that a single avocado fetched in 2001. “In between my avocado trees I have managed to plant beans, maize and sweet potatoes for my family upkeep something I couldn’t do with coffee,” says Wanjiru explaining another of the reasons that inspired her to go into full time horticultural farming.

    Wairimu is among the 25 members of the Mbari ya Mboche self help group, a community group united in their passion for farming and determination to access the market directly. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Gichuki, a retired officer from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) now turned farmer, the group has benefited from support of researchers at KARI Thika. The support resulted from a successful proposal submitted by the group to get into passion fruit farming. Advice from KARI has included information on better farming practices to increase yields, avoid post-harvest losses while helping them to connect to ready markets.

    The group has also managed to establish market ties with local processors who use their fruits for pulps and juices. One such processor, Rosavie in Nairobi, buys the fruits from the farmers at Ksh 100 per kilo.

    In addition, farmers have learnt to add value to avocados and other fresh produce, including passion fruits, by making their own juices. At social gatherings or when holding a ceremony, they no longer have to buy commercial juices. “We intend to organize ourselves in order to set up a state of the art machine that will assist us produce commercial juices as we look for further ways to diversify our income,” says Gichuki..

    Farming for exports has, however, been a tall order for the farmers as exporters demand stringent conditions that the farmers must meet.  The European Union, and particularly the United Kingdom, who consume most of Kenya’s avocados has become particularly sensitive to food safety issues especially with imports from Africa.

    The exporters therefore only buy Grade one fruits from the farmers, those that have no black marks. Black marks are interpreted to mean the fruit is infected by diseases and is of low quality. “It used to be a very big problem when we started. Exporters would turn down half of the fruits we delivered to them due to this problem. This is now a thing of the past thanks to the extensive training we have received from KARI on better farming practices,” says Gichuki.

    Wairimu, like her fellow farmers, been forced to change the type of avocado she grows from the traditional Fuerte to Hass, which is highly preferred for export. Hass, a medium-sized round fruit that turns purple at full maturity has a tough pebbly skin with an impressive shelf life and its flesh is used in a variety of food products.

     Fuerte a Mexican- Guatemalan hybrid is a shiny- green pear shaped fruit weighing 250 to 450g and, although it has high oil content, the oil isn’t of high quality. Fuerte is predominantly farmed by small-scale farmers for local markets.

    KARI has however taught farmers, who find it hard to abandon the traditional Fuerte, on grafting which introduces the superior characteristics of Hass with the tough traits of Fuerte. “If you cut the stem of the Fuerte which is drought and disease resistant and combine it with the scion (top plant part) of the Hass which produces high quality fruits, you have a fruit fit for export. So farmers don’t have to weed out the Fuerte,” says Samuel Kiiru a KARI researcher.

    The meteoric rise in demand for avocado, both locally and internationally, has been aided by new and expanding uses for the fruit, particularly with rising demand for avocado oil from the cosmetics industry, largely in France and Germany. Avocado oil in these countries is used to make cleansing creams, moisturizers, skin care products, lipsticks, bath oils and make up bases.

    The main challenge for many of the farmers is concerns over the fruit’s shelf-life. Wairimu, who last season harvested three sacks of avocados, only managed to sell one sack. Two sacks went bad after the exporter delayed in collecting the fruit from the usual five days after harvest to seven.

    The memories of the poor returns during 2010 are ever displayed in her wrinkled face anytime she is reminded of that season. “It’s still a painful venture you know. I had invested so much in avocado farming and it was my first time to harvest. Were it not for my fellow women farmers, I would have uprooted the trees like I did with coffee,” she says as she bends to weed around one of the avocado tree, a panga in one hand and a bunch of weeds in the other. She has, however, had greater success with passion fruit and growing strawberries.

    Responding to the farmers’ please, KARI has started working at ways of increasing the fruit shelf life- from five to as many as 10 days- by slowing the production of the ethylene hormone responsible for avocado’s normal ripening.

    For farmers such as Wairimu, once tied to painfully low prices for her coffee berries from the local factory, divesification into horticultural crops has already transformed her fortunes. But as research and replanting continues the sector’s now growing number of processors and exporters claim that Kenya has the opportunity to gain yet much more from the blossoming horticultural sector.

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    A ten year cattle rearing hobby of rearing cattle has transformed into a fully ventured award winning commercial dairy farming, with Kalia Farm becoming a milk powerhouse in the semi arid Ukambani region, and creating dozen jobs in an area buffeted by vagaries of weather.

    Dr. Nelson Nyamu the man behind Kalia Farm which was recently voted overall winner in Smallholder Fully Commercialized Farms Category of the National Farmers Awards which were organized by Elgon Kenya Limited and the Ministry of Agriculture dared to invest where hope never existed. His zeal and passion to move agriculture in Machakos County from an agonizing venture to smart farming has earned him international recognition. “Farming is my passion, keeping cows is my forte. I have seen lives transformed. That’s why I am in this to stay,” added an excited Nyamu.

    Dr. Nyamu, a physiotherapist by training and the managing director for Physical Therapy Services Limited  which runs a private practice that deals with both clinical work and sales of rehabilitation equipment through out the EA region, also doubles up as the Managing Director for Kalia Farm, which he visits on weekends at least twice a month. “Sometimes the work schedule at my clinic is very tight, but I have never failed to go check on the progress of my farm at least two times a month.

    This farm is not just a side business, it’s a labour of love, its what gives me purpose in life. I have always had a passion for dairy farming and I am glad I have actualized it. There is no turning back,” Dr. Nyamu added. Kalia Farm which started in 1998 and with just one cow, then moving to six which Dr. Nyamu says by then was just hobby, went fully commercial in 2002. The farm stands on 2.5 acre land with the diary taking about half an acre, a one acre house compound and the rest of land on lucerne bananas and other fruit trees.

    For Dr. Nyamu the Lucerne, categorized under wonder shrubs, has been his saving grace at a time when the cost of commercial feeds has been at unprecedented highs. The shrubs are mixed with other feeds and are known to increase milk yields due to their unparalleled nutritional value. “I have saved a lot with these bushes that’s why I tend to them with zeal. Since learning about them and adopting them I have learnt the wonders of upping milk yields,” he added.

    Little wonder then that the 105 Holstein Friesian cows that he has managed to produce over 600 liters of milk on average per day which is supplied to various institutions in the county and beyond. His target by next year is to up the yields to1000 a day, which will enable him to start adding value to the milk in order to reap the untapped benefits of value addition. “t is very motivating to mentor and see other farmers come up to diary systems that work very well for them,” said Dr. Nyamu who has now employed 10 employees including a manager, a maintenance guy and a house help.

    But the long distance from Nairobi which means getting some inputs has been costly, coupled some of the suppliers for feed concentrates interfering with the quality of the feeds affecting his animal’s production capacity have been his biggest challenge.

    Elated about the National Farmers Awards which he hails as a step in the right direction in motivating farmers, Dr. Nyamu says he is in dairy farming to stay and thanks his wife for being the force behind his success.  “Success and my love for dairy cows and my family have been my motivation plus striving to prove that in semi-arid areas diary can do very well since the milk price is always better. Hard work pays and excellence comes from doing the same thing right many times,” he concluded.

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    As vanguard farmers explore various ways of maximizing on land use and reaping more from farming, cereal production seem to be their forte. But forget the traditional maize and beans, a new crop has been in the offing that is turning farmers into overnight millionaires.

    Barley which is sought after by beer companies as one of the prime ingredients in the making of beer, is enjoying impressive uptake by farmers with the jump in its cultivation having shot by over 60 percent in the last four years.

    Interestingly though, while it traditionally was farmed by large scale farmers, a new trend where beer companies have chosen to give incentives to smallholder farmers has seen both yield and acreage under production go sky high.

    But the farmers are still hedging themselves from market vagaries by growing the barley side by side with other traditional cereals like maize and beans. Behind towering lushes of barley plantations is the story of Douglas Nderi a smallholder farmer in Narok county whose 4 acre piece of land has made a turnaround since he embraced barley farming.

    After receiving a visit from officials at East African Malting Limited, a subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited he was convinced of the potential that lay in this venture.  He has never regretted setting aside three acres for barley production. Each acre fetches Sh15,000. His is a classic example of how vanguard farmers are hedging themselves from the vagaries of volatile markets for traditional cereals like maize. He has an assured market including insurance of his crop and subsidised farm inputs such as fertiliser and seeds.

    He represents thousands of farmers now delving into barley farming buoyed by encouraging returns.   A 90 kilogramme bag is bought at Sh3,285 compared to maize that fetches Sh1,900 for the same quantity.

    Rift Valley province where Narok falls under has led the country in reaping the fortunes of barley farming, with the area under cultivation of the crop in the region increasing from 3,012 hectares to 21,630 hectares while the production has gone up from 92,434 bags to 627,705 bags last season.
    The rise and rise of the cereal crop comes as other crops like maize and wheat record appallingly as new diseases and unpredictable weather takes toil on yields.

    At the same time wheat production in the country is expected to decline this season due to the ongoing heavy rains that has interrupted harvesting of the crop in the South Rift region. The dangerous Ug 99 disease and wheat rust has eaten into farmers’ pockets as it subjects them to extra costs in containing the spread of the disease.

    Sub-division of large wheat farms into smaller uneconomical plots, inadequate of certified seeds and attack by migratory birds especially quelea birds has contributed to decline production of the crop.

    But even as barley continues to bask in glory, experts are only guaranteeing farmers of sustained yields if they take good care of the crop which is susceptible to attacks. But with the right arsenals like Impact Fungicide, and Eazole, distributed by Elgon Kenya Limited farmers can concentrate on upping yield as pest control is assured.

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