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Friday, October 12th, 2018

 

Goodwill between teachers, TSC best thing for learners

By LETTER
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In his article in the Saturday Nation of October 6 (Row between Knut and TSC is a battle of egos, not substance), Mr Kariuki Waihenya gave a largely balanced analysis of some important teacher management issues affecting the teaching service.

His views on the centrality of the teacher appraisal programme in monitoring performance of teachers were refreshing as was his argument on the inevitability of transfers for the purpose of achieving equity in teacher distribution and optimisation of resource application.

However, towards the end of the article, the writer talked of the need for the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to cultivate a more cordial relationship with its employees.

TSC wishes to assure all stakeholders that it is doing everything possible to maintain the goodwill of its publics, particularly teachers.

First, in the last five years, TSC has vigorously pursued an all-inclusive approach in decision-making, especially in the formulation of policy to guide its operations.

The TSC Act and the Code of Regulations for Teachers, which form the basis for engagement with teachers and other stakeholders, were subjected to full stakeholder participation.

All operational policies were thereafter derived from these legal documents.

Moreover, in the last two years, TSC has held open days across the country as a way of interacting with its key publics.

This has provided an important platform for receiving feedback which has, in turn, formed an important base.

TSC commissioners and management routinely meet with teachers during monitoring of implementation of teaching and learning programmes such as appraisal and curriculum delivery.

In addition, teachers and other stakeholders are constantly updated through meetings, circulars, website, Facebook and Twitter on various issues touching on the profession.

Moreover, decentralisation of services through strengthening of county and sub-county offices ensures ease of access to services.

That notwithstanding, TSC is still open to views on continuous improvement of service delivery.

Kihumba Kamotho,

Head of Corporate Communications, TSC, Nairobi.


Austerity good for counties

By EDITORIAL
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County governments have largely abused the liberty for foreign travels, which they have turned into channels for outings and siphoning public money without commensurate benefit to the taxpayers.

This is the reason why it is imperative to impose controls on their travels and ensure only relevant and critical assignments are approved. Stiff rules are paramount to create order in the counties.

This is the basis upon which the Devolution ministry has issued rules to guide foreign travels by county officials, stipulating that only those that are absolutely necessary would be sanctioned.

Any travel must be justified. And for every trip, the county delegations, be they Members of County Assembly, executives or other officers, must submit reports, which in turn have to demonstrate learning that benefit the residents.

But this has elicited stiff opposition from the Council of Governors, which considers it restrictive and punitive.

Other than the argument that Devolution ministry has no direct control over the counties, the substance of the rules are justified.

Counties have exhibited singular inability to control themselves. The officials are notorious for misuse of public finances through devious trips that add no value.

Paradoxically, counties are perennially crying over budgetary constraints, complaining of inadequate and delayed disbursement of funds.

Many projects are stalled while services are appalling due to lack of funds. Yet cash for travels are promptly obtainable.

Generally, the country is going through hard economic times. Just last month, Parliament was compelled to cut budgets.

National government itself has had to contend with austerity measures. That must extend to all other levels, including the counties, which in themselves are unable to generate own incomes to become self-sustaining.

In effect, the row between governors and the ministry over new travel rules is uncalled for.

Administrative questions of who should issue instructions to counties is a small matter that can be easily resolved.

But the bottom line is that rules are required to rein in the counties and force them to maintain financial discipline.


Rio probe should yield quick results

By EDITORIAL
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In September 2016, the government, through a gazette notice, formed the Rio Olympic Games Probe Committee to look into various aspects of Kenya’s preparation for and participation in the Rio Olympics.

The committee met and interviewed government and sports officials, elite sportsmen and women along with sponsors, National Olympic Committee of Kenya executives along with other key stakeholders who gave their observations and recommendations.

Key among the investigation team’s findings was that more than Sh88 million had been misappropriated and athletes’ kit stolen.

A list of names of individuals found culpable was disclosed in the report handed over to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who ordered the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to institute immediate investigations to determine the culprits and process them for trial in court.

Indeed, in January last year, both the DCI and DPP reported that key government officials had a case to answer.

However, ever since, nothing has been done to prosecute those blacklisted.

Sadly, not even the 34-member team from Parliament’s Departmental Committee on Labour and Social Welfare also investigating the Rio fiasco made any serious headway that would guide prosecutions.

That’s why reports that the case has now been revived offer fresh hope that something could, after all, be done to rein in officials serially plundering sports resources.

We have seen the current offices of the DCI and DPP have demonstrated they may have some investigative and prosecutorial teeth.

We hope to see such muscle bring sobriety into the management of sports in the country, which prides itself of producing some of the world’s finest athletes.

And with the Harambee Stars on the threshold of qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, with a match in Nairobi tomorrow, cracking the whip against recalcitrant and corrupt sports officials will help to create order and sanity in sports management.

More importantly, the committee investigating the Rio mess also came up with a series of recommendations on the road map to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo which, if implemented, would help arrest the impropriety unveiled besides gunning for better performances.

The road map includes proposals for funding, training and competitive participation at the Olympics and other major international sporting events.

We hope the retrieval of the Rio files isn’t merely window dressing but an honest attempt to right the wrongs that have plagued our sport.


Bhang consumption causes concern in Vihiga

By DERRICK LUVEGA
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Every market has its madman, so goes the adage, but Luanda market in Vihiga County is home to one too many.

Local lore has linked this unlikely phenomenon to high consumption of cannabis sativa (bhang), locally known as “omusaala”.

Luanda town, where the market is, lies on the busy Kisumu-Luanda-Busia highway. It is a rural business hub of sorts as it has roads linking it to Siaya, Busia and Kakamega counties.

But it is also a place where the line between fact and myth gets blurred.

It remains unclear whether bhang consumption accounts for the high number of people with mental illness.

However, doctors in the county say drug abuse is the cause of mental illness in at least 40 percent of the patients they receive.

Police in Vihiga say consumption of bhang is common in towns, and Luanda in particular, but they are yet to identify where it is grown. However, it is not uncommon to find individuals enjoying a toke, especially at sundown.

Mr Thomas Oluche, a trader who frequents the market, says the number of insane people has gone down in the recent past.

He however adds that on any given day, one can hardly miss a few, and you will know them because some always cause a nuisance.

Others will be begging for food while some will be seeking manual jobs. He confesses that he has never seen any of the men smoking bhang in the market, though he acknowledges that smoking of weed is common.

According to some locals, the weed is not to blame. For them, poverty and a history of illness in some families could be the cause of the problem.

Mr Vincent Oloche is one of those who shares this view. He says the presence of mad people in Luanda should be treated the same way it is in any other market and should not be linked to consumption of bhang.

He adds that most insane people in the area are calm and don’t cause disturbance either at the market or funerals.

“I have seen many going to funeral places to help in fetching water, splitting firewood just to get some pay or food. Once they are satisfied, they leave,” Mr Oloche says.

Efforts by the local administration to fight smoking of bhang have failed to bear fruit. Way back in 2013, Luanda Police Station rolled out an operation dubbed “Operesheni Wazimu Rudi Nyumbani”, a move that appeared to yield some positive results as the number of mad people in the market reduced.

Acting county police commander Justin Nyagah says much of the weed smoked in Luanda is brought in from neighbouring areas like Busia.

“Consumption of bhang is a major concern in all our towns in this county. We mostly arrest consumers and sellers but we have never found a plantation of bhang in this county,” Mr Nyagah.

“Some of the sellers we have been arresting tell us they get the weed from Busia. Luanda has many consumers going by the arrests we have made.”

Recently, Kibra MP Ken Okoth made a proposal for legalisation of bhang smoking.

This is not the first time a legislator is considering this option. Former Emuhaya MP Wilson Mukuna (now deceased) is on record beseeching the government to allow Luanda residents to grow bhang for export.

The latest proposal by Mr Okoth has caused jitters among the police in Vihiga, who now say legalising bhang will roll back the efforts they have made in the fight against the use of the weed.

Mr Nyagah says: “If it becomes law, we will have a lot of trouble managing the youth.”

He recalls that last weekend police arrested one suspect, Mr Christopher Asava, 66, selling bhang to youth, just a few metres from Mbale Police Station.

Mr Asava had 100 rolls of bhang at the time of the arrest. He pleaded guilty to the offence before the Vihiga magistrate’s court and is currently on remand at Kodiaga Prison.

Dr Andrew Ngida, the county mental officer, says bhang and other drugs contribute to 40 percent of patients being treated for mental illness in Vihiga County.

He estimates the number of patients seeking treatment at 2,400 annually.

Every month, Dr Ngida says an average of 11 patients are received from Emuhaya while Luanda brings in only eight.

Vihiga takes an average of 50 mental patients to the mental clinic at Mbale every month, 30 are received from Hamisi while 28 come in from Sabatia.


Why Kitale is the home of champion bulls

By BRIAN OKINDA
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One of the highlights of last week’s Nairobi International Trade Fair was the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta buying a two-year-old supreme companion bull at Sh650,000.

The First Lady outdid all the other bidders, who included the President, to clinch the top prize at the handsome price.
The lucky bull was raised by the Kenya Seed Company’s Elgon Downs Farm in Kitale.

It weighed 650kg and is a cross of Boran and Simmental breeds, with the latter being a Swiss variety of the Fleckviehs.

From ADC Nai Farm came a stud bull named John, which won in the breeders’ category. The seven-year-old pure Boran animal weighed a tonne, and was bred in Endebess, on the slopes of Mt Elgon, by the seed producing farm.

Not far from the two enterprises in Kitale is Suam Orchards, another seed producing farm. It had three stout bulls of the Boran and Hereford, and Boran and Charolais crosses that gave the top contenders a run for their money.

So, how has Kitale managed to produce top bulls that routinely win in nearly all major livestock competitions they participate?

Hosea Sirma, the head of production at Elgon Downs, says feeding is among the most important of all the factors.

On their approximately 5,000-acre farm, which currently hosts up to 500 animals, mainly beef cattle breeds, they feed the cattle on pastures, cereals, seeds, maize stovers, and a variety of oil seeds such as sunflower, soya, canola, cotton, and safflower, among others.

“We further give the cattle mineral supplements and being premium seed producers, we ensure our pastures are of optimal quality,” says Sirma.

At Elgon Downs, they let the animals graze most of the time, with the grass in the fields carefully attended to, especially through top-dressing.

“Clean drinking water is usually always available for the cattle, and salt blocks for their licking is ever present in the field,” he says, adding what remains after the production of pasture seeds and the byproducts of the processes also go into feeding the cattle. There is also routine checking of the livestock for any pests and diseases.

AMPLE AND FAVOURABLE WEATHER CONDITIONS

Mike Nyongesa, a feeds specialist at the ADC Nai Farm, points out that they offer their animals a mixture of maize meal, molasses, sunflower, oats and salt, providing a rich diet for the cattle, especially those reared for breeding purposes.

Handlers try to restrain the two-year old bull from Simlaw's Elgon Downs Farm in Kitale, who won the supreme champion in this years ASK Nairobi International Trade Fair.Handlers try to restrain the two-year old bull from Simlaw’s Elgon Downs Farm in Kitale, who won the supreme champion in this year’s ASK Nairobi International Trade Fair. The bull was bought by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at the auction. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NMG

“Our champion bull, which won in this year’s breeders bull category, and other bulls on the farm, eat up to 50kg of this feed every day. That is 17kg in the morning, at midday and in the evening. This, is alongside their normal grazing,” says Nyongesa.

He adds that feeds and water should be in abundance and readily accessible to the livestock.

“Without water nearby, for instance, when thirsty, the cow will spend too much time looking for it at the expense of feeding.”

Solomon Silenge of Suam Orchards notes that livestock should be kept in environs in which they are relaxed both physically and psychologically.

“Minimise situations that tend to affect cattle such as noise which impairs their feeding habits.’

Besides feeds, according to the livestock experts, Kitale has good climate and rich soils, which facilitate cultivation of pastures, fodder and grass, and also has ample rainfall which is required by the plants to thrive.

“The environment and weather conditions in the region, especially Endebess, are also comfortable and favourable for thriving of the livestock,” says Sirma.

However, while the conditions are good for livestock breeding and production, it all boils down to an individual farm’s acquisition of proper livestock genetics, good management of the farm and feeding.

Dr Hinner Koster, a senior interbreed livestock expert and judge based in South Africa, notes when judging the animals, they check good body capacity, a balanced and structurally correct body shape, strong hind quarters and the animal should be well proportional from front to back.

“Age of the livestock is not necessarily a big determinant in this process. A young animal can effectively compete against an older one,” says Dr Koster, noting it is the reason why the two-year-old champion from Kenya Seed was declared the supreme champion against ADC Nai Farm’s Boran bull which was the breeding category champion, and weighed a lot more.


School ignites the passion to farm

By ELIZABETH OJINA
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The bell rings to signal the end of classes just as the Seeds of Gold team arrives at Joel Omino Secondary School, Nyalenda, some three kilometres from Kisumu town.

Three students receive us and we head to a 10m by 5m poultry structure, where they keep poultry. The poultry house hosts 255 broilers of the Isinya Cobb500 breed.

The students scoop finisher mash from a bag and put inside four feeders. The birds scramble to get a share of their evening meal.

“They are ready for sale,” says Steve Owuor, one of the students. “We slaughter some for ourselves and sell the others to members of the community.”

This is the second batch of broilers that the school is rearing since they started the poultry venture in mid this year.

Principal Richard Nyayal says they used old iron sheets and wood to set up the poultry structure. They then brought 255 day-old chicks at Sh80 each.

The school also bought wiremesh, four feeders and three drinkers for the birds.

“We started the poultry venture to provide students with a practical platform to learn. We believe this will ignite the passion for agribusiness as an alternative source of income away from school,” says Nyayal.

The birds, according to him, mature faster, are resistant to diseases and have quick adaptability to the local environment.

As part of pest and disease control, they vaccinate the chicks against Gumboro at day 10, Newcastle at day 20 and 30.
The birds are fed thrice a day and given plenty of water to drink.

“We start feeding the chicks on starter mash, followed with grower mash and finisher. We sell the birds when they are at least 1kg. We have also learnt that keeping the poultry structure clean helps in managing infestation of pest and diseases,” says Owour, noting the school has employed a worker who helps them run the farm.

They sell each bird at Sh400, with the school pocketing Sh94,000 in the first season.

“This venture is rewarding to both the students and school. It’s a project that the school will wish to sustain and expand in the coming years. We are planning to start rearing layers in January next year,” says Nyayal, noting feeds are expensive with a 70kg bag of mash going for at least Sh3,000.

Maseno University’s Department of Agriculture Head Matthew Dida says farmers have the option of formulating feeds to cut costs.

“As long as they are taken through a training on feed formulation, they can make balanced rations for broilers, which cuts costs by 30 per cent.”

Raw materials available for feed formulations include sunflower seedcake, cotton seedcake and maize germ.


Vet on call: Yes, gapeworms are widespread on farms

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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My September 29 article on gapeworms in poultry has helped highlight the plight of farmers with the pest.

I can now confidently say that gapeworms exist in the country mainly in free-range and backyard chicken.

The presence of a disease is confirmed even with observation of only one case while the frequency of occurrence gives the number of cases observed in a stated period or in a certain percentage of the population.

It can also be given in ratios based on population attributes such as disease observation in males and females, young in comparison to the old or animals reared in confinement as compared to those in free-range.

In the article, I elaborated on gapeworms in chickens and other birds and concluded by requesting readers to report if they thought they had gapeworms in their birds.

Infestation is the presence of parasitic disease-causing organisms in or around body organs while infection is the presence of disease-causing micro-organisms inside body tissues and cells. Therefore, worms will infest chickens while bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi infect the poultry.

The calls started coming in the same day the article ran, meaning that Kenyan farmers are good readers who have faith in the information carried by the papers.

Kimani from Karatina told me he had almost 200 turkeys in early August but they had all died of a disease he thought could be related to gapeworms.

He had planned to sell the birds this Christmas but now he had only remained with 12.

He said his birds coughed, stayed quiet, stopped eating and then died, despite treatment by his veterinary service providers.

I could not conclude he had an outbreak of gapeworms because no postmortem examination was done to assess the condition of the voice box (larynx), trachea, bronchi and the lungs of the dead birds.

I, however, told him gape worm infestation was not the only disease that could cause respiratory problems in turkeys. There are other diseases caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses.

EFFECTIVE DEWORMER

Next was Ocharo from Migori. His observations were more like gapeworm infestation. He said his chicken kept squeaking, shaking the head, gaping and coughing. They would waste and then die.

Ocharo had not sought the assistance of a veterinary service provider. I advised him to get professional help.

I got many other calls that described possible gapeworm infestation in chicken reared on free-range or in backyard enclosures. In all the reports, the environment and method of rearing were conducive for gapeworm infestation.

The calls came from Baringo, Uasin Gishu, Vihiga, Kakamega, Siaya, Nyeri, Kisumu, Bomet and Nairobi.

Let me share the Bomet and Nairobi incidents because they confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that gapeworms are rampant in Kenya.

Lawrence called from Githurai on September 30 and teased me, “Doc, why were you talking about my cock in your article yesterday?” He explained that he had a cock that was behaving exactly as I had described in the article.

He concluded it must have been having gapeworms and requested I go and examine the bird. He suggested I could even sacrifice the bird to demonstrate the worms’ presence since he understood from the write up that the meat was safe for human consumption.

On October 3, Emanuel called from Bomet describing signs of gapeworm in his free-range chickens. I was convinced he was seeing the right signs.

I advised him to seek the services of a qualified veterinary service provider who would slaughter one of the affected birds and carry out a thorough postmortem examination.

The service provider would be required to open the trachea down to the bronchi and purposefully look for gapeworms. We agreed he would ask the service provider to talk to me on phone after carrying out the examination.

Korir called me the following day on behalf of Emanuel and confirmed he had seen gapeworms at the point of branching of the bronchi in one of the farmers’ chickens. A few other birds showed signs of infestation and he requested me to prescribe an effective dewormer, which I promptly did.

INTEREST POULTRY RESEARCHERS

The service provider identified himself as a veterinary para-professional with 30 years of experience but he had never seen a case of gapeworms before. He described his observation as small red worms, some of them coiled into a ball while a few had a Y shape. That confirmed to me he had seen gapeworms.

I visited Lawrence as agreed on the evening of October 5. He had already heated the water for de-feathering the suspect cock.

He reared his chicken in a backyard enclosure. Lawrence told me he kept seeing lots of snails in his compound and his birds liked eating them.

I observed the cock was in very good body condition, meaning the illness reported had been there only for a short while. The bird would shake its head, squeak, cough and gape.

He assisted me to slaughter the cock. I then carefully slit the larynx and sure enough, gapeworms in a ball of blood-tinged mucous welcomed me into the bird’s airway.

When the bird was alive, it was shaking the head in an attempt to dislodge this ball, which partially blocked the trachea and interfered with breathing.

The poor bird did not know the worms were anchored onto the wall of the larynx and, therefore, could not be dislodged.

“Are we still eating the meat?” Lawrence quipped as I thanked him for availing me the opportunity to see my first live case of gapeworms in chicken. I prescribed for him the medicine he would give all his remaining chicken to remove gapeworms.

Since we have very scanty information on gapeworms in Kenya, this finding should interest poultry researchers to profile and document the prevalence and economic impact of gapeworms in Kenya.


Women, youth must be at the heart of food security agenda for a hunger-free nation

By NELSON MAINA
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Over the last five years, the rate of rural-urban migration among the youth has reached unprecedented levels with policy makers warning that if allowed to persist, it could hit epidemic proportions with irreversible impacts.

With eight out every 10 unemployed Kenyans being young person of between 18 and 34 years, the clamour for white collar jobs has been high.

The young people have been relocating to cities in droves searching for white collar jobs that are not forthcoming and they are forced to make do with tough living conditions which have seen majority of them worse off than they were in rural areas.

Researchers now say that up to one third of Nairobi residents are ultra-hungry as high food prices take a toll on city dwellers’ incomes.

About 76 per cent of women in the country are employed in agriculture according to the recent data by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Even more interesting, 80 per cent of farms are run by women. However, only half of these women actually own land.

The rest are owned by their husbands in what has created numerous problems including access to credit, improving farm productivity and making investments, because they have to consult before making any decisions.

Women and youth remain among the most important fulcrum of food security in the country despite having been ignored for so long. Rural women for example spend on average seven hours on the farms.

The youth, on the other hand, have been billed as the hope of a future, food secure country. With agriculture being the lifeline of the country, in earnings to both government and households and a major employer, the focus on ensuring women and youth are at the driving seat of the food security agenda should be a matter of when, not if.

Numerous researchers have identified modern age agriculture as a panacea for taming rural urban migration, especially among the youth and the low hanging fruit in tackling the headache that is unemployment.

It is, therefore, encouraging to see initiatives that have been introduced to address this starting to bear fruits in terms of mind shift and the actual embracing of farming by young people and women.

One such drive, the National Farmers Awards, organised by agro input company Elgon Kenya and the Ministry of Agriculture has proven that recognising farmers’ efforts goes a long way in motivating the noble pursuit of feeding a nation.

Indeed, now in its sixth year, the award scheme has particularly laid emphasis on women and youth who every year are rewarded by the president at the Nairobi International Trade Fair.

FOOD SECURITY HANDSHAKE

What has been christened the ‘food security handshake’ between these winners and the president has had major impact beyond the award ceremony with the soil celebrities going on to create farming empires and inspiring a new generation of crop producers.

Past winners have turned their homes into model farms attracting visitors from across the country and beyond. One woman farmer now has contracts from Kenyans in the US, who have requested her to grow produce on their behalf.

Another has trained visiting farmers from Namibia. Yet these are ordinary farmers who are fuelled by the conviction of their passion and the need to place food on the table. It is a journey of surmounting odds and celebrating yields one crop at a time.

Judges of the award scheme who traverse the country in the judging process have been impressed by large swathes of lush green vegetation run by young people busy on the fields, effortlessly turning barren lands into baskets of bumper harvests, not because they want to win awards, although that is usually in their wish list, but because they have found purpose, reason and source of income in farms.

Such impressive stories from the field are a major step towards our hunger free journey.

It has been impressive to see the enormous support from the private sector in this noble initiative. Institutions like Bayer East Africa, BASF, UPL, Excel Crop Care Limited, FMC, Arysta Life Science and Nation Media through Seeds of Gold have been unwavering in seeing the success of the scheme.

Now more than ever the role of the private sector in farmers’ lives is needed considering that every single day, the government has needs competing for its attention.

No country has ever succeeded by leaving an all-important sector like agriculture to government alone.

To transform Kenya into a land of plenty requires the commitment of all of us, but most importantly calls on us to listen, champion and promote women and youth led agricultural enterprises.

The writer is the marketing and communications manager, Elgon Kenya Ltd.


How I farm onions from the US

By LEOPOLD OBI
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Standing in one of the furrows of his onion farm in Maili Tisa, Kajiado County, while checking on his farm workers as they harvest the crop, Joseph Oloimooja is cheerful.

It is barely six months since he harvested 18,000kg of bulb onions from an acre of his farm, which he sold at Sh75 a kilo.

And now he’s expecting yet another bumper harvest of the crop from five acres.

In a world where farmers, especially those farming from far, are always complaining of dishonest workers, few dare farm from far.

But not for Oloimooja, who does telephone farming from the US.

The career pastor, whose official name is Rev Oloimooja, lives and works in Los Angeles in the US with his family. He was in the country recently.

He went into onion farming at the beginning of the year, starting with an acre.

“I started with an acre to test the waters, luckily, there was huge demand for the commodity in the markets at the time enabling me to sell at Sh75 a kilo.”

He further grows managu and spinach separately, also under drip irrigation, that his workers sell at Namanga market.

Oloimooja went to the US about two decades ago to pursue a master’s degree in theology and he is currently in-charge of a congregation at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in the Leimert Park, Los Angeles diocese.

The Man of God said he decided to venture into onion farming to create employment and make use of his vast land that was lying idle.

“I once came home and saw that we were importing plenty of onions from Tanzanian farmers yet we have plenty of land and the same climatic conditions. This challenged me,” says the pastor, who ploughed Sh1.3 million in the business, with the bulk being used in drilling a borehole.

Onions from Tanzania have for years dominated the local market because they are produced in large-scale, which enables farmers to make profits even when they sell at lower prices. Second, the onions are of high quality and have longer shelf-life because they are well-cured.

CONSULTED A SOIL EXPERT

To begin, Oloimooja says he consulted a soil expert who tested the soil on his farm and gave his onion project a go-ahead.

He then contracted an agronomist who took him through the steps of growing onions for high quality bulbs.

The onions are first planted in the seedbed before they are transplanted.

During transplanting, he uses animal manure and NPK 23:23:23 fertiliser to enrich the soil, says the pastor, who has a borehole from which he draws water that he uses to irrigate his onions of the Neptune variety.

Charles Munuo, the farm manager, says they spray foliar feeds on the onions besides using different pesticide to control pests such as thrips.

Rev Oloimooja's farm manager, Charles Munuo in the farm in Kajiado.Rev Oloimooja’s farm manager, Charles Munuo in the farm in Kajiado. According to him, they spray foliar feeds on the onions besides using different pesticide to control pests such as thrips. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI | NMG

“We keep changing pesticides to stop pests from developing resistance due to prolonged use of one particular chemicals,” Munuo said.

When the onions are two-and-half months, they remove the soil around the roots to expose the bulb. Then, two weeks before the crops are harvested, irrigation is stopped to enable them dry, which is what is called curing, Oloimooja explains.

“When onions are harvested while still under irrigation, they start sprouting overnight, which makes them lose weight and market,” he adds.

According to him, many farmers harvest onions when they are not cured hoping that they will make money when the produce is weighed.

“Well, this might work for some but not for long because if you don’t cure the onions, they will regrow and the customer will ditch your produce,” the farmer points out.

Since he lives abroad, scouting for the ideal market early enough is crucial to avoid unnecessary inconveniences.

“I begin prompting potential buyers on social media informing them that my produce will be ready in about 120 days,” explains the farmer, who is now expecting some 90,000kg of bulb onions from the five acres.

So, how does he manage to farm over the phone from that far? “Initially, I had employed my relatives but having fallen victim to rip-offs, I changed tack. I have now employed people who are not related to me after through vetting,” he says.

INVOLVING FAMILY OR RELATIVES

According to him, involving family or relatives in managing one’s business is tricky.

“Most of them will try to take advantage of you, diverting money you send them for your projects to pursue their own developments. Later when you realise, you can’t fight them back because they are family.”

Social media app WhatsApp has been key in helping him stay in touch with his workers, and knowing the happenings on the farm in real-time.

To curb workers’ restlessness, all his 15 farmhands and their families stay on the farm.

“I also have the overall farm manager and operations manager to coordinate the workers. I also take good care of my workers so that they feel appreciated.”

The agronomist visits the farm twice a month or if need be to inspect the crop and recommend pesticides to be used.

“This enables me to plan in term of pesticides needed. The farm manager also keeps records that I peruse now and then over the phone,” he said.

The reverend here showcases his onion harvest.The reverend here showcases his onion harvest. The Man of God says he decided to venture into onion farming to create employment and make use of his vast land that was lying idle. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI | NMG

He now plans to turn about 200 acres in the rural village into an onion farm.

Carol Mutua, a crop expert at Egerton’s University Department of Crops, Horticulture and Soils, says that high yields and best quality bulbs are obtained in areas above 1,000m above sea level.

“Reasonable crops may be realised at lower altitudes sometimes. Irrigation is only done when the crop is grown under insufficient rainfall. If practised, irrigation should be stopped two to three weeks before harvesting to give the bulbs time to cure,” she says, advising that the necks of the onions should be bent as soon as tips of leaves begin to turn yellow to make bulbs have a smooth closure and minimise thick necks.

****
Fertiliser Use

Fertiliser application for onions should start by first week after transplanting, with an NPK regime for establishment of the crop.

40 per cent of the N, and K as well as calcium requirements should then be applied by the 3rd-4th week during the first top- dress.

The second top-dressing should then be done at the bulbing stage, supplying the rest of the nutrient needs.

Calcium and boron are critical in ensuring a longer shelf-life and preventing rots in the bulbs.

Onions prefer a nitrate form of nitrogen as opposed to ammonium forms for better bulb size and weight.


Cow auction like no other

By FRANCIS MUREITHI
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“Auction at Ostrich Farm. We are selling our dairy cows, 30 calves, heifers and lactating animals by public auction,” read a signpost last week at the junction leading to Ostrich Farm, a short distance from Kampi ya Moto trading centre in Nakuru.

The owner of the farm, Humphrey Njoroge, was selling the Friesian and Ayrshire cows in bid to destock his herd.
Njoroge’s records showed his animals produced an average of 20 to 30 litres of milk daily.

Unlike the normal auction where bidders outwit each other by quoting the highest price, Njoroge had a reserve price for each animal.

Once the buyer identified the animal he was interested in, Njoroge would then inform him the price.

The farmer said he took the approach to attract serious buyers since it was not a one-day event.

“I had a reserve price and the auction was not restricted by time. The flexibility thus allowed people to stream in anytime as long as the cows were there,” he says.

The kind of auction further does not put pressure on the owner to sell the animals.

“This method saves one money as you don’t need to pay a professional auctioneer. Auctioneers are paid a certain percentage at the fall of the hammer depending on their charges. Again, the method of shouting can make people buy the animals at an outrageous price and scare other buyers,” he observes.

Some 20 of the 50 animals up for grabs were sold during the auction last week, with majority going for between Sh70,000 and Sh160,000.

Njoroge, a former military man who retired at the rank of commandant lieutenant-general, served as the head of the National Defence Training College.

The farmer said he decided to sell some of the animals to destock his herd, which had increased to over 100.

“This is the first auction I have done. I had kept these animals for more than 10 years. My aim was to reduce the herd.”

He noted that he had bought some of the animals from Gicheha Farm in Rongai, Nakuru while others he had acquired them from Embori Farm in Nanyuki.

EVALUATE THE LIVESTOCK

“The cost of production in a large-scale farm is high, by scaling down the number, I was also seeking to reduce my expenses.”

Dairy farming has been exciting for him since he retired in 2004 and was gifted a heifer by the then Kenya Air Force commander-general, Julius Karangi. Karangi went on to become Chief of Defence Forces.

“From this heifer, I built my dairy empire, getting at least 200 litres of milk from my cows at any time,” recounted Njoroge.

His passion in agriculture saw him be selected to join Egerton College to study Dairy Technology. However, while he was in Form Five at Kagumo High School in 1966, he was recruited as a cadet trainee.

“If I did not end up at the army, I would have joined the agriculture sector and that is why I still love farming.”
He had plenty of advice to those who bought his cows.

“Before you think about dairy farming, think about the feeds. You must know the source of your feeds. Bad feeds can make this venture very unprofitable. Grow your own like yellow maize, hay and lucerne and only buy the concentrates.”

Water is a critical component while hygiene of the animal is paramount. “I have a visiting veterinary doctor who checks my animals at least once a month and deworm them regularly,” he added.

Joel Kangogo, a farmer from Nakuru who bought one of the animals, said he went for it because of its high-yields.

“I’m not new to cows from this farm. I once bought an animal from the farm two years ago and the returns were good, the reason I came back for another.”

For a good auction, David Njoroge, an Agricultural Society of Kenya approved judge, said that one must first evaluate the animals by knowing details of each like when it was born, when it was inseminated, when it calved and whether it is a bull or a heifer calf.

“The daily milk record is also critical. One must check the record when the animal approaches the rest stage before it goes for the next calving. Critically, look the record of milk production for the 305 days. Also check the animals if they have been recorded at Kenya Stud Book as pedigree or a grade,” he offers.

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Selling your cows through auction

There are no licences needed when a farmer wants to auction their animals because it is willing buyer willing seller.

To sell the animal, you must involve a veterinary surgeon and the valuer to give you the reserve price and then group the animals according to category of high yielder, middle yielder and lower yielder.

Then you group them on a number of lactation, heifers and bulls.