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Friday, November 9th, 2018

 

Gaza losing resilience with each crisis

In August 2018, the Trump administration slashed more than half a billion dollars in U.S. assistance to Palestinians. Its first target was the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the main provider of relief, development, and protection services for Palestinians in need across the region. The administration also ended bilateral humanitarian and development assistance for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The impact of these cuts will be significant, especially in Gaza, where the population largely relies on the UN for basic services, and humanitarian indicators have been in steep decline for months.

The Trump administration cut aid to the Palestinians in an effort to bring pressure to bear on the Palestinian leadership to re-engage in a faltering peace process with Israel. In doing so, it explicitly broke with decades of bipartisan consensus on an important principle of U.S. foreign policy—that humanitarian aid should be provided on the basis of need, not politics. This principle has been defended by the United States on many occasions, including in the multilateral “Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles” first endorsed by the administration of George W. Bush. To be sure, application of this principle by the United States has been imperfect over time. By so clearly and vocally politicizing relief in this case, President Trump has raised concerns that all U.S. humanitarian assistance is now potentially subject to this kind of political conditionality.

Humanitarian assistance is of course voluntary, but when it is provided, it should adhere to the principles (among others) of impartiality and independence―that is, it must be based on need and must be autonomous from U.S. political objectives with respect to Palestinian political leaders. Rescinding such aid based on political factors does violence to these critical principles. It will also have a dramatic and negative impact on Palestinian civilians.

Some in U.S. policymaking circles argue that the situation in Gaza has been so bad for so long that it cannot get any worse. Tragically, this is not the case. This flawed contention is too often followed by a reassurance that Gazans are so resilient that they will get through anything. But the time has come to face facts. In Gaza, conditions are indeed getting worse. The first section of this report will assess this trend and the potential impact of the U.S aid cuts in key sectors, including food security, health care, education, and livelihoods.

The second section explores key historical factors likely to amplify the pain caused by the reduction in funding. Decades of occupation by Israel have left the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)―Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem―in need of significant international assistance to maintain public services. In addition, for more than a decade, Gaza has been subject to a socio-economic blockade that has exacerbated humanitarian need and impeded economic development. Although food and some medicines can usually get through, commodities like building materials that qualify as dual use items often are prohibited. Today, some 2 million people are effectively trapped in a space of 140 square miles without reliable access to clean water, sufficient food, adequate medical care―including the ability to leave the territory to receive life-saving treatment not available in Gaza―or the ability to make a living. International humanitarian assistance therefore provides Gazans with a lifeline.

On a recent field mission in the region, the Refugees International (RI) team was denied permission to enter Gaza but held interviews from Jerusalem with residents and aid providers in the territory. The team repeatedly heard from those who live and work inside Gaza that conditions impacting social and economic well-being―health, education, employment―are the worst they have ever been. In many cases, these conditions are life-threatening, and experts and others interviewed by RI expect them to degrade further. Most alarmingly, there was general agreement that each time Gaza has been hit by a shock in recent years―be it economic, humanitarian or political—its recovery has been slower and less complete. Put simply, Gaza is losing resilience with each crisis. That loss has led to new lows in living conditions and hope for the future.

Recommendations

  • The Trump administration must cease using funding for humanitarian programs to Palestinians as political leverage.

  • The U.S. government must restore its annual contribution to UNRWA, including the funding withheld in 2018, because urgent humanitarian needs remain and are escalating. The contribution should remain at least at the pre-existing level.

  • The U.S. government must restore its bilateral assistance to projects in the OPT, some of which serve critical humanitarian objectives, including the funding withheld in FY2018.

  • U.S. congressional appropriators and the relevant subcommittees must restore all humanitarian and development assistance to the OPT, including earmarking funds for OPT projects in the FY2019 budget.

  • The government of Israel must allow and facilitate the free flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza, subject to reasonable security restrictions. In particular, patients who need life-saving medical assistance outside of Gaza should be expedited for travel. Traders and day laborers must also be able to leave and enter Gaza to pursue their livelihoods.

  • The government of Israel, in conjunction with the Palestinian National Authority (PA), must amend the dual use lists that apply to Gaza so that rebuilding and reconstruction can occur.

  • The Gulf countries—particularly those that have been supportive of addressing humanitarian needs in the OPT—must prioritize the humanitarian response in Gaza in their own foreign assistance policies and practices. They must commit to multiyear financing for UNRWA as well as projects that restore the economy in Gaza and create livelihood opportunities.


Varsities should play lead role in fight against drug abuse

By LETTERS
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An article titled “Chuka University links suicides to drug use” (Daily Nation, Tuesday, October 30, 2018) highlighted some crucial issues facing young people.

The fight against drug abuse amongst teenagers and young adults is a challenging battle. Three key entities surround this fight — the university administration, students and drug peddlers.

However, it is a socio-psychological war that needs our youths to be equipped with negotiation and coping skills.

The administration plays the role of a parent who has the best interests of the student at heart. This role is also expected from the local administration, including licensing authorities, church leaders and the police.

However, in most cases, these institutions are compromised and end up trading blame.

Most students are in their late teens or young adults who are vulnerable by virtue of their experimentation, curiosity and peer-pressure tendencies.

They have to face the pressure brought about by freedom away from the watchful eyes of parents.

Living by themselves for the first time away from home gives them an opportunity to explore the world, including trying out the things they themselves would consider wrong.

Students end up squandering school fees or other funds meant for their survival and education, leading to frustration and depression.

With hundreds of thousands of students admitted to university, this is a viable market absolutely for everything and almost anything.

TEAM EFFORT

Local residents will try any business that will target this ready market. Drug peddlers flourish in this environment since authorities can be compromised.

The presence of nearby slums and drinking dens is a serious threat to the fight against drug abuse.

If there existed cooperation between the university administration, students and local residents, then it would be easier to weed out the few rogue businesses.

The locals take advantage of the students’ naivety while the local administration gives advantage of the residents by not enforcing due laws.

This leaves the university administration to bear blame and consequences of tragedies that befall students.

COUNSELLING

Some key elements that lead to suicide amongst students include squandered school fees, strained love affairs coupled with drug abuse, failure to fit in peer groups, failure to meet academic expectations and cyber bullying.

All these can be well managed with sobriety, counselling, coping skills and moderation of certain group expectations.

I recommend initiating and promoting counselling therapy and rehabilitating the affected individuals. Depression and addiction have been identified as medical conditions that need medical intervention.

Residents and area administration need sensitisation such as holding peaceful demonstrations and consultative meetings with organisations like Nacada.

WALTER NYARERU GWARO, Nairobi.


To all girls who put in honest work, success is coming, Omar is proof

By NJOKI CHEGE
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As a young woman who harbours C-suite ambitions, I never pass over an opportunity to write about women who inspire me. I also hardly fail to notice — and celebrate — when one of us smashes the glass ceiling because such rare occurrences are educable moments from which we could wring some lessons.

Whether it is the recent appointment of Ms Sylvia Mulinge as Safaricom’s Chief Customer Officer, or Ms Lina Githuka’s appointment as Managing Director of Kenya Wine Agencies Limited, or even the fact that Ms Rebecca Miano is the first female CEO in KenGen’s 60-year existence, these success stories — which are few and far between — give young ambitious women a lot of hope.

Imagine my joy this week when I read about Ms Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American elected to US Congress. Her story is a remarkable account of what sheer resilience and supreme determination can achieve.

Born in 1982 in Mogadishu, Somalia, Ms Omar’s life was disrupted by the violence which began when she was only eight years old.

Her family moved to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where they lived for four years before migrating to the US. In an interview with Time magazine, she says they arrived in the US when she was 12.

She took a keen interest in politics, often accompanying her relatives to political meetings where she was exposed to issues about governance.

Before joining politics, she worked as a policy analyst and community leader, and organised various political campaigns.

Ms Omar, whose mother died when she was fairly young, had every reason to give up. Being a black in the US is hard enough.

I cannot imagine how tough it must be, being a woman, black and Somali. When Ms Omar expressed interest in elective politics, it seemed impossible for her to get elected.

Yet, in November 2016, she made history by becoming the first Somali-American lawmaker, having been elected to represent District 60B in the Minnesota house of representatives.

During the recently concluded US midterm elections, she ran on a Democratic Party ticket and at the age of 36, became the first Somali-American elected to Congress.

She will be representing Minnesota’s fifth congressional district. She is also the first of two Muslim women elected to Congress. The other is Ms Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who will be representing Michigan’s 13th Congressional District.

Even if Ms Omar stops here — and I hope does not — she will not be an asterisk in the books of history. Hers will be a story of what it looks like to believe in yourself, ignoring naysayers and focusing on your mission.

We must not let this lesson be lost on us.

In a world where it is fashionable to take shortcuts to the good life, Ms Omar teaches us that hard work may be old-fashioned, but still the best route to success.

In a world where diligence and dedication are underrated, her determination to outwork, outdo and outsmart competition is the testimony we need.

In a world where mediocrity is rewarded and incompetence celebrated, the story of this young Somali congresswoman teaches us that you must trust your struggle.

So today I am speaking to all the young women who work late and study into the night to acquire those qualifications — the world is ours for the taking.

To all the young women reading this, who are putting in the hard work and the long hours to achieve our dreams, your time is coming.

To the young women who have decided that they are not taking shortcuts in life, that we are working for every penny in our purses and every milestone in our name, success is nigh.

For all the young women harbouring great dreams, making the right moves, learning the ropes and doing our homework as we prepare ourselves for the next level, help is on the way.

To the women fighting hard to assert themselves in vicious, male-dominated fields such as politics, where the odds are stacked against you, your victory is around the corner.

To mothers who are raising their children alone, stretching every coin to educate your children and put clothes on their backs, may your hard work never go unrewarded.

Ms Omar is the personification of the quote; “It matters not where you come from, all that matters is where you are going.”

Young women of Kenya, your hard work is all you have, and it is all you will ever need.

Viva, Ms Omar!


Sort out sports funding

By EDITORIAL
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It is a shame that the national amputee football team from the just-concluded Amputee World Cup in Mexico had to stage a sit-in protest at the Sports ministry headquarters on Thursday night to to be paid their allowances amounting to Sh2 million.

The team of 15 players and four officials arrived in the country on Wednesday after putting up a good show to finish 12th out of 24 countries, in a tournament won by Angola.

The players had to sleep at the Sports ministry’s Kencom House headquarters to draw attention to their plight. They had done the same before departure three weeks ago, and it’s Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko who came to their rescue and funded the trip to Mexico.

The players only ended the strike after striking a deal with the government to have their allowances paid by next week.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa and his Principal Secretary Karimi Kaberia have been handling things very casually. The 2013 Sports Act is clear, and the ministry should operationalise the Sports Fund so that national teams can start receiving funds.

Amputee’s case is just one among many national teams that the government has failed to fund. The stalemate shall continue for as long as the Sports Fund is not operationalised.

It can be made active before the stakeholders and the Parliament decide whether it should remain at the Sports ministry or not.


Teen pregnancy crisis needs urgent solution

By EDITORIAL
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The shocking revelation in this year’s Standard Eight and Form Four examinations is the incredibly high numbers of pregnant candidates.

A nation is horrified at what arguably is a damning revelation of harsh socio-cultural and psychological challenges of our times.

But right from the onset, it is important to state that this is not a new phenomenon. We have reported over the years of girls sitting national examinations on hospital beds after giving birth.

Probably, what has not been done is to aggregate the numbers and frame the problem appropriately. Better still, the voices crusading for female schooling have muted after achieving near gender parity and the problem left to fester.

For the past two decades, there has been heightened campaign to take girls to school and ensure equity in terms of access. And the results are amazing.

The population of girls enrolling, staying and completing primary and secondary education has soared dramatically.

For example, out of the 611,952 candidates who sat last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, 296,322 were females, representing 48.42 percent, demonstrating that access and equity objectives have nearly been achieved.

But such global figures tend to be misleading as they mask minute details. Missing in that narrative are the hidden socio-cultural and psychological challenges affecting girls such as early pregnancies.

Also unstated is the rule that requires all learners who have registered for exams to write the papers irrespective of their medical, physiological or psychological circumstances.

That is why exams are administered in hospitals for candidates who are sick or have given birth.

Studies abound on the reasons for teenage pregnancies, including socio-cultural practices, gender-based violence, peer pressure and lack of parental guidance.

While some are fairly straightforward and can be dealt with through conventional disciplinary process, others are so delicate and cannot be resolved through decrees.

Which is why even while we acknowledge the efforts by Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to arrest the situation, we contend that the approach is not right.

SEX EDUCATION

It is perfect to set up a task force to investigate and provide empirical evidence to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem.

But the directives to punish parents or penalise chiefs who fail to report cases of teenage pregnancies is ridiculous. We need a well-thought out strategy to tackle the problem.

In this context, the debate about teaching sex education in schools must be revisited and settled. Similarly, the rules around exams administration should be revised to allow for exemption of candidates in emergencies.

Clearly, we have a daunting socio-cultural and psychological challenge and our argument is that we have to think more deeply and seek practical solutions beyond issuing decrees.


Dairy farm that’s turning the tide in dry Mandera

By MANASE OTSIALO
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Bulla Haji Dairy Farm, on the outskirts of Mandera Town, is a marvel in the dry region dominated by pastoralism.

On this farm, one encounters beautiful and well-kept Friesian dairy cows, an indication that they too can thrive in the arid region dominated by the Zebus and galla goats.

Using the 27-acre farm, the county is keen on turning the tide by training locals various aspects of zero-grazing.

Muhidin Ali Haji, the farm supervisor, says their main target is farmers living along rivers in Mandera since they can grow feeds in large quantities.

The farm was started with 12 Friesian animals sourced from Naivasha in 2015 and the number has since increased to 32 over the years following successful breeding using artificial insemination.

“Only one cow died due to the change in climatic conditions but the rest have adopted well and some have even calved down.”

Friesians are heavy feeders and susceptible to various diseases therefore they need quality management to keep them productive.

“This is a fact that we knew and we were prepared to handle, the reason why we have grown our own pasture over the years,” he says, adding pneumonia and mastitis are some of the challenges they have to contend with.

Ticks are another challenge, thanks to the pastoralism culture, thus regular spraying is a must on the farm to curb them.

“Our highest milkers offer us up to 50 litres a day, milk which the county government buys to sustain the project,” says Haji.

The farm grows Sudan and napier grasses, and they use the former to make hay, ensuring that they have feed all the time.

“This farm is trying to change the perception that zero-grazing is impossible in Mandera and the locals have shown much interest in it already,” says Johora Mohamed, the Agriculture and Livestock executive.

At least 200 locals trained on zero-grazing at the farm are awaiting public auctioning of the animals to start their ventures.

“We have a procurement committee currently evaluating the value of the cows on the farm before deciding on the price for auctioning. The exercise is expected to end this month and the interested farmers will get their cows by end month,” says Johara.

In zero-grazing, a farmer should ensure that the cowsheds are clean all the time, meaning that the cow dung should be removed every day.

In addition, the farmer should have a reliable source of water because the animals need a lot of drinking water as they feed on dry pasture.

“Once the cow is served, we feed it mainly on dairy meal and silage, which we latter withdraw and replace with the dry matter that includes hay,” says Haji.

Two to three weeks before calving, which is the steaming up period, a cow is withdrawn from the herd and moved to the maternity bay where it is fed on dairy meal and silage high in protein to ensure high milk production after calving.

“This is a very exciting venture that I am ready and willing to sell all my indigenous livestock to start zero-grazing,” says Ahmed Abdulllahi, a farmer.

Shamsi Mohamud, the county chief officer for livestock and fisheries, says livestock is the main source of food and income in the county, providing 95 per cent of household income but most of the animals are reared for beef.

“We believe this is the time to train our community new livestock farming techniques for more profits,” she says.

“We know it may take time but it is possible to transform residents from nomadic pastoral culture to zero-grazing,” she adds.

She notes it is encouraging that despite the high temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius and 24 degrees Celsius, the Friesians are doing well in the region.

Get it fast

Keeping friesians for more milk

Fresians are best kept on large-scale producer farms with better resources but they are not the best producers when kept by small-scale farmers with limited feed resources.

They are outstanding milk producers and if kept under good management, they can be milked up to three times a day.
However, their milk has the lowest butterfat content of 2.5 to 3.6 per cent and about 3.1 per cent protein.


Vet on call: You want to be a vet? Know about this risk

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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Sometime back, I was injured by the incisor tooth of a calf that I was giving some medicine by mouth. It twisted the head and cut my finger.

The sharp tooth went right through my latex glove like a razor and made a fairly deep cut across all the layers of my skin.

You see, latex gloves are only meant to protect against disease-causing micro-organisms but not physical force.

I cleaned the wound thoroughly with iodine and surgical spirit and later visited my doctor. I was treated with antibiotics and the wound was cleaned again with antiseptics and bandaged.

Good healing occurred uneventfully but four weeks after the wound closure, the scar became itchy and later developed a hard tissue, the size of a pigeon pea. I could tell something was growing inside the swelling and, therefore, I visited my doctor again.

Dr John examined the swelling and then asked me, “Doc, what do you think the calf planted in your hand?” He further asked we should work on the issue together because animals are the source of many human diseases, some of which human doctors rarely encounter.

Actually, I had spent sleepless nights dreading what could have been happening to my hand. From the appearance and texture of the swelling, I suspected the calf could have inoculated me with one of the tenacious bacteria that cause either wooden tongue or lumpy jaw in cattle.

The bacteria reside in the soil and mouths of ruminants without causing any problem. However, once they get into the tissues through an injury, they cause debilitating diseases called wooden tongue and lumpy jaw, which are very difficult to treat.

In lumpy jaw, the bacteria infect the tissues and bones of the jaws and cause them to become very big with a hard lump at the infection epicentre.

PATHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

Smaller lumps may develop away from the initial infection site. Wooden tongue, on the other hand, causes the animal’s tongue to become very hard like a piece of wood and the animal is unable to eat. In most cases, such animals are destroyed or slaughtered.

Now you can understand my dilemma as I faced the doctor with the itchy lump on my hand. He proposed to take a small tissue called a biopsy from the swelling for laboratory examination by a specialist called a pathologist.

These are the doctors who specialise in studying disease processes, their causes and impacts on tissues. The results would have been out in about one week.

In the meantime, John suggested he puts me on antibiotics and anti-inflammatories awaiting directions from the lab on the treatment they would recommend from their specialist diagnosis.

That suggestion only enhanced my anxiety. The biopsy collection procedure could open healthier cells to the disease organisms and thereby spread the infection. I could imagine having a hard swollen hand similar to what I had seen in infected cattle tongues and jaws.

“Sorry Doc, I don’t like what I’m seeing on my hand and the itchy feeling in the lump,” I started. I informed him I knew of only two bacteria that could cause the kind of reaction I had.

Then I proposed the doctor to surgically remove the whole lump at a distance and depth far enough from the lump margins to ensure all particles of the agent causing the growth had been removed.

The lump could then be taken to the lab for pathological analysis and I would be at peace knowing that nothing was growing in my hand.

He readily concurred. He removed the lump, stitched up the wound and gave me antibiotic and anti-inflammatory shots.

For the next seven days, my work was limited to office duties but the wound healed very well. In the second week, Dr John called me to his office. I could see from his face he had confirmatory results from the pathologist.

EMERGING DISEASES

“Doc, you may have a look at the microscope,” he told me as he pointed to the equipment mounted with a slide ready for viewing. I sighed with relief when I saw the thin slice of my hand tissue contained short pink rods among the body cells.

The calf had for sure inoculated me with bacteria of the group actinobacillus. One of these organisms, Actinobacillus lignieresii is the cause of wooden tongue in cattle, sheep and goats.

The pathologist’s report said correctly the bacteria could only be classified by family as actinobacillus, but the laboratory work needed to culture the organisms and identify the specific species was not possible due to the small size of the sample.

Actinobacillus species are mainly pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria of herbivorous animals but in favourable circumstances may affect humans.

The main method of entry into human tissues is through open injuries to the skin — as happened in my case.

To date, I still carry the surgical scar for the operation that saved me from a possible full blown infection by actinobacillus from a calf.

It is a reminder of the great care that veterinary doctors must always take in the line of duty to prevent diseases jumping species from animals to humans.

It is documented that about 60 per cent of infectious diseases affecting humans emanated from animals. In addition, 75 per cent of new diseases that affect humans emanate from animals.

They are called emerging diseases. Avian influenza and swine fever are recent examples of such diseases.

In some cases, some bacteria become more lethal to humans by developing resistant to common antibiotics after being exposed to small doses of the drugs in animals.

In other situations, the microorganisms get adapted to thrive in humans due to regular close contact of humans and and animals.


Agronomist's notebook: To reap from veges, take these steps

By ANN MACHARIA
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A few weeks ago, I attended a farmers’ event on the outskirts of Nairobi and I must say the huge attendance attested the growing interest in farming among women and men, the young and the old.

From the look on the faces of farmers and the questions they later asked, one could tell the hunger for agricultural knowledge.

I picked three major concerns from the questions the farmers asked. In no order of priority, they are marketing of the farm produce, pest and disease identification and control and how to maximise production.

Jane Njeri, a tomato farmer, said that her major challenge was market of her farm produce. This is common to most farmers due to market fluctuations, exploitation by middlemen, inadequate or no marketing, which actually results to huge post-harvest losses.

But when I looked at Jane, she was holding a smart phone in her right hand. “That is where one of the solution to your problem lies,” I told her.

A large number of farmers still rely on analogue ways of selling their produce yet they are ardent users of mobile phones.

They believe that they must labour growing crops and then call the broker to come and buy from their farms.

Digital or online marketing tools reach many potential customers and eliminate brokers. They are a convenient and easy way to sell since one only needs a cell phone or a computer and the access to the internet.

“There are quite a number of platforms to sell your products like Facebook, WhatsApp and various websites,” I told the farmers.

“Through these platforms, you can reach consumers directly or the mama mbogas, grocery or hotel operators who offer better prices than brokers.”

Well, before you sell your produce to places like hotels or schools which do not pay immediately, have a written contract with the buyer.

“As a farmer, it’s also important to be a consistent supplier of the produce to maintain the customers,” I told Jane.

MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

I finalised the answer by pointing out that before one farms, the most key thing to do is to conduct a market

assessment that involves identifying the potential customer, their location and the demand for the product one intends to produce.

“How do I minimise the use of chemicals to control pests and diseases on my farm,” Brian inquired.

“Prevention is always better than cure and still applies in crop production,” I said. “It’s vital to prevent the occurrence of pests and diseases during the production period. Preventing the occurrence of pests and diseases starts during the selection of planting materials where one should acquire certified seeds,” I told him.

Use of substrate such as cocopeat and peat moss readily available in agrovets when raising seedlings helps one grow plants that are free of pests and diseases.

“All this is part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which you should put into practice. It also includes controlling weeds that harbour pests and hosts some of the disease, having appropriate rotational programmes and intercropping,” I told the farmer.

Lastly, Nancy inquired how to maximise production per unit area on her farm. This is critical to every farmer who wants to profit from her venture.

“You see, it’s important to observe the plant population per metre square having in mind that different crops have different spacing due to their growth habits, nutritional and water needs and growing period,” I told the farmer.

For instance, lettuce requires 30cm by 30cm spacing making a total of six plants per metre square while the spacing for tomatoes is 40cm by 60cm making a total of four plants per metre square. Expected yields for tomatoes per metre square is 6-7kg.

“Timely planting and carrying out management practices such as fertiliser application, weeding, pest control and diseases effectively plays a major in maximising the produce,” I concluded.


Telephone farming made easy

By MWANGI NDIRANGU
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Ereri, a small village 17km from Nanyuki Town in Laikipia County, was once a parched piece of earth, with livestock roaming in search of scarce pasture and water.

Then, it was hard to imagine that crops would thrive in such an area, with most of the owners of the parcels of land leaving them fallow having no idea how to utilise them.

However, the sleepy village with scattered manyattas is currently undergoing an agricultural revolution.

Tens of greenhouses are now dotting the hitherto bare land, with water, which was once a scarce commodity in the locality, now flowing freely from to the facilities and neighbouring farms.

Inside the greenhouses imported from Israel are healthy looking tomatoes (Ana F1 variety) and capsicums, with the produce sold in Nairobi.

“We are harvesting on average eight tonnes of tomatoes every week, which are sold in grocery shops in Nairobi as well as retail outlets,” says Monicah Wangari, the pack house manager at the farm managed by Barletta Holdings Limited.

Barletta emerged tops in the large-scale fully commercialised category in the National Farmers Award Scheme last month, receiving an award from President Uhuru Kenyatta.

It was honoured for promoting food security using modern methods and farming technologies such as greenhouses, pack house, centralised irrigation network, refrigerated truck, farming equipment, and integrated pest and disease controls methods,

The award scheme is run by Elgon Kenya and the Ministry of Agriculture.

It is easier to see why they emerged tops. The land and the greenhouses are not owned by the company, but by individuals who have entered into an agreement with Barletta Holdings to manage the investments on their behalf.

“It all started with selling and buying land, then farming came in later after we realised that the land was staying idle,” says Gerald Mwanza, the general manager of Wealthsmith Ltd, which has contracted Barletta to manage the agribusinesses.

CONCEPTUALISED AND WELL-MANAGED

In the concept, individuals buy an eighth of an acre at Sh620,000, which comes with a greenhouse measuring 240sqm.

“Some 200 investors have taken up the greenhouses growing all manner of crops but mainly tomatoes and capsicums,” says Mwanza, adding they have put up mechanisms that include employing qualified agronomists to ensure investors get return on investment.

Susan Korere attends to tomatoes they grow in one of the greenhouses in the farm.Susan Korere attends to tomatoes they grow in one of the greenhouses in the farm. The farm was honoured for promoting food security using modern methods and farming technologies such as greenhouses, pack house, centralised irrigation network, refrigerated truck, farming equipment, and integrated pest and disease controls methods. PHOTO | MWANGI NDIRANGU | NMG

The project has turned tens of people from all-over the country into telephone farmers.

Lilian Kemunto, who works in Nairobi, says she has two eighth acres.

“I am one of the telephone farmers working in Nairobi but someone else is working for me on the farm,” she says, noting the venture is profitable.

Alice Munene, a Mombasa-based businesswoman, terms the idea as “letting your money do the farming for you, without soiling your hands”.

Mwanza says at the beginning of the agribusiness project in 2016, they had targeted 800 clients but ended up with the current number due elections last year.

“This brought us financial distress as the importation process also took longer than expected and poor road network added more misery but we are now on the right track,” he says, noting investors sign four-year renewable contract.

Barletta Holdings, he says, is run by agricultural experts to ensure everything goes right, from planting seedlings to harvesting.

Jacob Mbugua, an agronomist from Egerton University, says contract farming can yield good results if conceptualised and managed well.

“There is already enough proof around that this model works,” said Mbugua. “The greatest challenge, however, is unforeseen risks such as unpredictable weather patterns and depressed prices for produce when they are harvested and taken to the market.”


An organic farm with a difference

By LEOPOLD OBI
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Timothy Mwangi bends to uproot a cauliflower vegetable from the soil before chopping off the curd off the plant’s swanky leaves.

“This is the procedure of harvesting cauliflowers,” Mwangi says as he carefully examines the plant.

“Once the curd — the white solid part of the vegetable — is harvested, the leaves are never discarded since they are as good as cabbages or collard greens,” adds Mwangi, the farm manager of Oleleshwa Farm in Narok West sub-county.

The 15-acre farm stands out as a pristine food forest and grows a variety of vegetables and fruits without use of any chemicals.

They include red cabbages, broccolis, carrots, butternut, grafted oranges, pawpaws, apples, lemon and passion fruits, all which are grown organically.

“We use animal manure as our fertiliser while we mix herbs to control pests.”

Mwangi says the followed the route to respond to needs of consumers who are increasingly becoming health conscious.

“People are becoming very selective and specific in what they eat, and as a result, organically produced commodities are now popular.”

To compose organic pesticides, they mix hot chilli with onions then mash together before mixing them with vinegar. The concoction is then boiled.

“To make the concoction, we slice four pieces of onions, then mix with 0.5kg of chilli. We then dilute with three cups of water and boil it. A pinch of vinegar is then added to the solution,” he offers, adding that three cups of the solution is diluted with 10 litres of water during spraying.

With the organic pesticide, the farm is able to keep away stubborn pests such as thrips, caterpillars and aphids, and powdery mildew disease.

“This concoction has been very effective in controlling pests. We have never used chemicals in pest control since we started,” he says.

According to him, chilli pepper has a bio-chemical called capsaicin which repels all other pests and kills insects by causing membrane damage and metabolic disruption.

The farm also grows tomatoes and pepper in 12 greenhouses and vegetables in the open field.

The farming plots are made of raised beds, on which the crops are watered using drip irrigation.

Cauliflower should be planted in a spacing of 45cm by 60cm, adding that the crop needs cold climate.

PEST CONTROL

“The vegetable requires cold areas but in event they are planted in warm areas such as Narok, they need proper irrigation. In this case you will find them growing faster.”

He notes that cauliflower performs better in the field rather than in the greenhouse, but can only be planted inside greenhouses to break pest cycles.

“When you grow vegetables such as tomatoes or capsicum in a greenhouse, you need to rotate them with cauliflower to break cycle of pests like tuta abosluta,” he says.

The crop takes about two months and two weeks to be ready for harvesting after transplanting. Cauliflowers are grown for their white ‘ricey’ head, which Mwangi, says they sell at Sh270 a kilo to a hotel in Maasai Mara Game Reserve and to traders who visit the farm to buy.

The vegetables leafy foliar, which are never taken to the market, are supplied to a neighbouring school, says Mwangi, noting the farm started in 2o13 is run by Save the Children.

Timothy Munywoki, a senior agronomist at Amiran-Kenya, says while it is possible to organically control pests, he advises that farmers should use commercially manufactured organic pesticides instead of herbal concoctions.

“Preparing organic pesticides at home is not only tedious but the concoction might also not be concentrated enough to deal with the pests. Herbal concoction might not contain the right amount of dosage required to control the pests, so it merely scares the them away rather than kill them.”

He notes that farmers need to use pesticides or bio-pesticides that target the pests either at the larval stage or the egg stage.

Cauliflowers are also more susceptible to boron deficiency than cabbages. This deficiency is usually noticed just before the harvesting stage and can be very costly.

Maxwell Kiptanui, an agronomist, explains that boron is a macro-nutrient, which helps plants in flowering and formation of curds in cauliflowers.

He advises farmers to administer two applications of boron as a foliar feed just to make sure there is enough

“Cauliflower curd are sold per kilo, so when you have boron deficiency its leads to tiny curds which is not profitable,” Kipatanui explains, adding that farmers should cover the curds as soon as they begin to form to protect them from direct sunlight.