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Friday, December 27th, 2019

 

Time to probe the haste in marking national exams

In 2017, a Kiongwani Secondary School teacher marking chemistry papers at Loreto High School in Limuru collapsed and died. This was attributed to work pressure the teachers were subjected to. A Tusunini Primary School teacher died while being treated at PCEA Kikuyu Mission Hospital after being taken ill after two days marking the KCPE 2019 exams. This, too, has been attributed to “strenuous work in examination centres”.

There have been alleged cases of fatigue leading to health complications amongst teachers marking the national examinations in Kenya. There have also been cases of errors in tallying of results, which point to weak points in the seemingly hastened marking systems. For instance, the recently reported case of one Valine Nabumbo Kakai, a former student at Alliance Girls High School, who erroneously scored 70 points (B+) at initial tallying, points to a serious crisis in exam marking. The results would later be corrected to 82 points (A plain) after her 12 points in history subject were added.

From the above mentioned instances, it is clear that despite the much-hyped technology and human resource-supported improved marking system, there is need for the Ministry of Education to re-examine the modalities of exam marking.

There is evidence of haste and overstretching during the exercise. This can have adverse effects on the quality of exam results, as well as on the health of the teachers involved. There is need to evaluate the procedures, workforce allotment versus work load, time allowed and proof checking mechanisms to come up with an optimal marking system that will guarantee quality results as well as the health of the teachers involved in marking.

In essence, we are in a country where examination results count for much. For KCPE, they determine which secondary schools the pupils attend, whether the pupils are eligible for scholarships, and generally it can be a motivating (or demotivating) factor for future performance of the students. So an accurate system can preserve the aforementioned.

For KCSE, it is all about how career paths are shaped. For instance, The Alliance Girls High School student who received initial erroneous results was very demoralised since her chances of pursuing medicine, her dream career, were dwindling. The Kenya Universities and College Placements Service has set the bar very high for students wishing to study careers like medicine, engineering, law, actuarial science and architecture. While top grades may not be all that counts to succeed through such careers, it is imperative that the Kenya national Examination Council ensures that no student is short-changed.

In the same vein, no marker should be short-changed and exposed to fatigue and other unhealthy conditions in the name of hurrying to finish marking exams. That is why the entire system must be probed and every anomaly fixed to ensure a transparent and friendly examination system.

CHARLES E. BUTIKO, Vihiga


Hard lesson that led to specialty tea business

ELIZABETH OJINABy ELIZABETH OJINA
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As the year ends, one of the things discerning farmers will be planning to do in 2020 is finding ways of making more money from agribusiness. One sure way to do this is by adding value to their potatoes, milk, fruits or chickens.

The value-addition journey, however, is not a walk in the park, especially if one’s products are to stand out.

We sought to find out from Boaz Katah, an agriprenuer who processes specialty tea, his experience on value-addition.

Katah’s firm, Tumoi Tea, is at Savani Tea Estate in Nandi Hills, Nandi County, an area dominated by vast plantations started during the colonial period.

The 500-square metre company sits on a two-acre farm and produces a wide range of teas – black, green, white, purple and oolong – that he sells abroad.

Katah says he has lived and breathed tea all his life, having been born and brought up on a plantation. He often accompanied his father, Jacob Katah, to the tea farms and factories.
“I started this project in April 2011 after taking part in a tea expo in the United States organised by the office of the Prime Minister. I was in the business of buying tea from factories and later selling it to people,” the 40-year-old entrepreneur told Seeds Of Gold.

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“I went with my tea to the expo. What I didn’t realise was that there were other ways of processing tea. While at this exhibition, no one was interested in my tea. I literally threw it in the dustbin.”

After witnessing other ways of processing tea, demonstrated by the Japanese, Chinese and Indians, Katah was inspired to start a firm for making specialised tea.

“My dream all along was to own a factory. With this new method, I could start with basic equipment such as rollers, driers and sieves,” he says.

The tea his factory processes is different from the ordinary cut, tear, curl (CTC) tea processed in the local factories.

“My tea is from the same plant but is processed differently. It is ideal for people who prefer to drink tea without milk. It is a very mild tea,” he explains.

TOOK TIME TO RESEARCH

Not many people are involved in this kind of tea. So far, only seven companies are licensed but only two are actively processing.

He took time to do research on the new tea processing method via YouTube as there was no such factory locally at the time.

With a Sh250,000 capital drawn from his savings and family donations, Katah bought locally fabricated equipment.
He later imported better gadgets for rolling tea leaves from India.

The rolling machines are used to curl the leaves while driers reduce the moisture content.

“The most basic way is to roll the leaves with your hands and dry them using sunlight,” Katah says.
Processing specialised tea

The businessman buys most of his the tea from farmers at sh50 to sh100 per kilo. “We insist that the farmers pick two leaves and bud. We don’t want any green leaves,” he says.

Once the leaves are picked, they go through they are withered for about 18 hours. Then the leaves are fed into the rolling machine.

“Rolling should take about an hour,” he says. After the rolling, the leaves are sieved.

The smaller pieces fall through the sieve and are collected, ready for drying, while the bigger ones are taken back for rolling.
The freshly picked tea is exposed to steam, rolled and dried. Tumoi Tea processes 2,000 kilogrammes of green leaves daily, which results in 400 kilogrammes of processed tea.

“A lot of it has been because of online research. We also get information about new technology and science from the Tea Research Institute,” Katah says.

CLIMATE IS GOOD

Since Kenya has not been making this kind of specialised tea, Katah usually goes to India for training and workshops.

The specialised tea is then packed in 30 and 50kg brown bags ready for export to the United States, Canada and Germany.

Tumoi Tea factory has 10 permanent employees. In addition, Katah works with 20 to 30 farmers who supply him with the leaves.

Even as he exports most of his tea, the agripreneur has kept an eye on the local market. “We plan to begin selling specialised tea in Kenya in January. We may expand to the rest of the East Africa after that,” he says.

“Most traders are not aware that Kenya can produce these kinds of tea. Our country has great potential for specialised tea. The climate is good and our tea leaves are pesticide-free,” he explains.
Kericho Tea Research Institute director Samson Kamunya encourages investors to begiin processing and selling specialised teas.

“As the global prices keep falling, our tea loses its value during the auction. The only option is to empbrace new processing techniques because such tea fetches high prices,” Dr Kamunya says.

He adds that the specialty tea fetches $10 to $50 per kilogramme, depending on quality. And Katah’s foray into specialised tea is paying off.

In November, the entrepreneur was given Sh2 million by Sinapis, a faith-based institution that offers entrepreneurs capital, after he participated in a business plan contest.

Katah plans to expand his business by getting more equipment to increase production.


Vet on call: Unusual cases may be hidden message

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIABy DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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Last week, I shared four cases I saw for the first time this year. I requested farmers and vets to contact me if they had encountered the syndrome I explained in pigs.

Two readers wanted to know if the incidents could be a result of climate change or development of antibiotic resistance by pathogens.

Medical professionals should try and understand why diseases occur and if there are changes in occurrence trends.

While a single incidence of a disease occurrence can flag a change in patterns, a change requires scientific investigation to be confirmed. This is a known as disease epidemiology.

Since I have not carried out thorough investigations, it is not possible to state if there has been a change in occurrence of the diseases.

Nonetheless, two of the cases involving dogs were unlikely to be associated with global warming or antibiotic resistance because they were cancers of animals above eight years old.

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Oliver, a pig farmer in Makueni, wanted to know if the disease could spread to his county. Farmers and traders should know that movement of animals and animal products promotes disease spread.

Oliver may feel safe in that the syndrome I described was only on one farm, affecting mainly pregnant pigs.

Njuguna from Kiambu said he was on the verge of losing his pigs. He thought the syndrome I described was responsible. He had 20 pigs and 18 died in two weeks.

The disease signs included bleeding spots under the skin and on the surfaces of the intestines, stomach and heart. He said his neighbour’s pigs had died with similar signs.

I advised Njuguna to report the disease to the authorities immediately. His animal health service provider had told him to sell the pigs for slaughter. The farmer, however, delayed to do so and I commended him for that.

Njuguna’s case points more to African swine fever. Once a notifiable disease is confirmed, the national and county directors of veterinary services ensure intervention measures are taken to check the outbreak, treat the animals and give protective treatment to healthy ones.

A DIFFERENT PESRPECTIVE

Kamau is a consultant and has long experience in pig production. He has on a few occasions seen pigs with the syndrome.

Most of the cases he had seen had resolved without a confirmatory diagnosis as they were thought to be bacterial infections.

A different perspective came from Hose, a paravet in Narok. He said he had encountered the syndrome and was advised by a doctor that it was most likely porcine parvovirus (PPV). The pigs appeared to recover when he used the PPV vaccine.

I explained to him it was unlikely to be PPV. A PPV outbreak has five key indicators comprising small piglet litters and repeat breeding. Served pigs lose all or some embryos by the 35th day of pregnancy. Sows farrow mummified foetuses.

There is increased number of stillbirths per farrowing and piglets with low birth weights. Abortions are not a dramatic feature of PPV.

Hose’s case could have been a viral infection where the pigs developed immunity and managed the virus naturally. Farmers should vaccinate their breeding pigs against PPV.

Dr Juliet, who has worked with pig farms, said she had seen the syndrome once but her investigation did not yield a specific diagnosis.

She suspected it could be a viral infection that caused depression of immunity in the sows, resulting in general bacterial infection. I am inclined to postulate the same.

I continue to receive enquiries. Most want to know the cause of the disease and how to protect their animals. Farmers should practise good hygiene, vaccinate their animals and source animals from healthy herds.

BREEDING AND HEALTH RECORDS

I received a follow-up call from the Kiambu County Director of Veterinary Services (CDVS). He requested me to brief the sub-county Director of Veterinary Services (SCDVS) of the area the farm is. In terms of disease outbreak investigation, this is an order.

We visited the farm with the SCDVS – Dr Lydiah Nyaga and Dr Juliet who is a microbiologist. Our first face-to-face briefing was the initial step of the official outbreak investigation.

Dr Nyaga assured us that county authorities would liaise with the National Director of Veterinary Services (DVS) to make a confirmatory diagnosis of the problem.

A scrutiny of the breeding and health records showed three of the pigs were served by the same boar while the other two had artificial insemination. The boar had fever and loss of appetite two weeks before the sows got sick.

It recovered after treatment with antibiotics. We advised the manager to rest the boar from breeding until we confirmed the disease affecting sows.

The sick pigs we had treated earlier with antibiotics were recovering. We attributed the response to control of bacterial infection. One sow was in the process of abortion. I terminated the pregnancy to save the mother.

Four of the five surviving piglets of one sow had died. The last died as we arrived at its pen.

There were no new cases on the farm. In fact, six more sows had since my last visit farrowed between 12 and 14 healthy piglets.

We concluded our meeting, recognising our joint end of year challenge; to follow up on the outbreak investigation till we confirm the cause of the disease syndrome on the


Pastoralists adopt new livelihoods

PIUS MAUNDUBy PIUS MAUNDU
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A drive along the Kitengela-Namanga road in Kajiado County reveals an idyllic countryside dotted with fields hosting many head of cattle and greenhouses.

In this neighbourhood, Malelo Ipani’s ranch and homestead stands out from the rest in many ways.

The 42-year-old community leader is the chairlady of Osupuko Women Group, an association of 50 local women who are in the business of bee keeping, buying, fattening and selling steers, and making and selling ornamental beads jewellery.

Members of the group do not move with their cattle from one place to the other as has been the tradition. Instead, their families keep lean stocks that graze in paddocks around homesteads.

Malelo has gone a notch higher and replaced all her 20 indigenous cattle with a single Freshian cow. Her face lights up as she explains why she does not regret the move.

“The Freisian cow is easier to manage compared to the 20 indigenous cattle that I owned initially. They required more attention and a bigger tract of grazing land,” she says, adding that the animal is more valuable.

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The cow, which Malelo bought at Sh150,000, grazes on a fenced and paddocked land with lush guinea, horsetail, creeping and foxtail grass.

The cow produces 24 litres of milk daily on average. Buoyed by her success, she plans to acquire three more Freisian cows.

Already, her initiative has inspired five group members to buy their own dairy cows to boost their milk production.

Scores look up to Malelo, whom they see as a beacon of hope in a region grappling with prolonged droughts, floods, disease outbreaks, reduced agriculture production, and other vagaries of climate change.

The subdivision of the sprawling 150,000-acre Elangatawas Group Ranch following a government directive has further complicated things for the herders.

CLIMATE CHANGE RISKS

More than 500 homesteads own parcels of land after the ranch was subdivided five years ago, meaning there is no communal ranch anymore.

Herders either have to drive their animals to as far as Tanzania in search of pasture or watch their animals die.

This has drawn the attention of South Eastern Kenya University (Seku), which has been studying ways in which farmers and pastoralist communities in Kajiado, Kitui and Machakos counties can sustainably leverage natural resources in the wake of multiple risks posed by climate change.

A team of lecturers has been working with farmers to identify alternative sources of income in the project dubbed A Sustainable Approach to Livelihood Improvement (ASALI).

“Multiple studies show that the biggest challenge facing farmers is lack of information on how to farm well in the wake of climate change risks such as drought and floods.

There is need for farmers and pastoralists to diversify their sources of income to reduce their vulnerability to the drastic changes in climate,” says Dr Moses Mwangi, a hydrology and aquatic sciences expert and the lead Seku lecturer working with farmers in Kajiado County.

The use of hybrid seeds, growing high value crops through micro irrigation supported by earth dams and farm ponds, and agroforestry are some of the alternative livelihoods mooted as suitable for these communities. Rainwater and dew harvesting have also been promoted.

“Farmers should also strive to invest in off-farm livelihoods such as running a shop,” notes Dr Charles Ndung’u, a climate change adaptation expert.

After the training on alternative sources of livelihood, it is up to the farmers to decide what to pursue. The lecturers then offer free extension services and general advisory on farming and pastoralism.

Most of Malelo’s neighbours have reduced their herds. The rest are experimenting with mixed farming.

Mr Peter Loontasati, for example, has cut a niche for himself in pasture production and preservation and made some income selling hay and leasing sections of his land to Somali camel herders all year round.


Mixed farming bears fruit for Nkubu priest

CAROLINE WAMBUIBy CAROLINE WAMBUI
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Some three kilometres from Nkubu, on the Mitunguu road, is a mixed farm belonging to Catholic priest Ashford Mwebia.

Fr Mwebia, a priest in the Dioceses of Meru, says he does farming out of passion. He credits his father, now deceased, for making him love crop and animal husbandry. Part of Fr Mwebia’s farm profits goes to charity.

He has sponsored bright and needy students from primary school to university for the past 15 years.

The calling to serve humanity as a religious man did not stop Fr Mwebia from pursuing farming, most of which he does during his free time.

Barely a year in service as a priest, Fr Mwebia was made the principal of St Daniel’s Boys High School, Tharaka-Nithi County.

That is where he came face-to-face with what children from poverty-stricken backgrounds go through in pursuit of education and basic needs. In his efforts to assist the students, Fr Mwebia realised that farming could be the best option.

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Fr Mwebia began with growing bananas but later realised it was the kind of farming practised by almost every family in the locality and beyond.

It was not profitable to produce bananas since the supply greatly overwhelmed demand. He had to try something else, fast.

He abandoned banana growing and went for dairy and pig farming. The animals at his farm are kept in partitioned sheds.

Every shed holds animals according to their age and gestation. The priest has 10 dairy cows, which give him an average of 150 litres of milk every day.

A litre of milk sold to Meru Central Cooperative Society goes for Sh34. To maximise production and ensure the right feed concentrate, Fr Mwebia makes his own dairy meal. He buys raw materials and makes the Total Mixed Ration (TMR).

The dairy meal consists of half maize jam, whole grain maize, cotton cake, sunflower, fishmeal, Maclick supper salt, a mixture of quicklime and other ingredients.

FLUCTUATIONS IN FEED QUALITY

The priest says fluctuations in the quality of feeds inconvenience the animals. “Poor feeds fail to meet the required protein and energy level and affect milk production,” he said.

According to Fr Mwebia, a farmer must have enough quality feeds to last him or her at least six months to avoid any the inconveniences.

“I realised that suppliers were offering very expensive feeds, which unfortunately did not meet the nutritional requirements of my animals. It compelled me to begin making the feeds,” he said.

Fr Mwebia in his coffee farm. To keep up with Fr Mwebia in his coffee farm. To keep up with the changing trends, he attends farmers’ trainings and workshops in and out of Tharaka-Nithi County. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NMG

To increase the production of quality milk, the priests inquired and learnt about a new fodder preservation technology.
It does not require one to use molasses or innoculants to preserve the animal feeds. The technology – dubbed ‘Mama Silage Bags’ – helps sweeten the fodder.

He says it has increased milk production per animal by at least five litres. According to Mr Phillip Oketch, a dairy expert and one of the service providers implementing the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project in Tharaka-Nithi, the bags help reduce production costs.

“There is no use of molasses like in the conventional bags and systems. The nutritional value in the feeds is also guaranteed as there is no heating up. All the energy is retained and wastage is minimised because moulds don’t form. It means there is no chemical reaction,” Mr Oketch said.

“The bag is ideal for a small-scale farmer with one to five cows. Such make up around 80 per cent of dairy farmers in the country. The bags preserve fodder for a very long time without making it lose its nutritional value.”

The Catholic priest’s farm also has 78 pigs. He began making feeds for his pigs after a tragedy hit the farm several years ago.

The priest bought a feed that he believes was responsible for the deaths of his 100 pigs. Fr Mwebia keeps chickens, peacocks and dogs “just for the love of nature”.

Records on the farm are up-to-date. Activities and details of every animal are recorded. Fr Mwebia’s cows are tagged, making record-keeping by the farm’s two permanent employees easy.

Apart from the animals, the priest grows coffee on three acres, sweet potatoes on two acres and maize on a five-acre piece.

To keep up with the times, Fr Mwebia attends farmers’ trainings and workshops in and out of Tharaka-Nithi County.

He says some of the students whose education he sponsored are prominent people in the government and private organisations.

Own feeds have right concentrates

Fr Ashford Mwebia prefers making his own dairy feeds using maize jam, whole grain maize, cotton cake, quicklime, salt, fish meal and other ingredients. He buys raw materials to make the total mixed ration.

The priest began making feeds for his pigs when a feed he bought from a dealer killed 100 animals. Some of the proceeds from the farm goes to charity.


Retired professionals find a sweet landing in pawpaws

 SHABAN MAKOKHABy SHABAN MAKOKHA
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Retired professionals in Mumias who ventured into pawpaw have become a shining example to locals following the collapse of the sugar industry.

Mr Silas Lutomia, a former Kenya Forest Research Institute employee and retired teacher Francis Mubatsi have found a new lease of life in the fruit.

The two elderly men have introduced more than 2,000 farmers in Mumias West, Mumias East, Matungu and parts of Butere to pawpaw farming. They say the venture is more profitable than sugarcane farming which locals have long held to.

“I began growing pawpaw two years ago. I can’t compare what I’m making to what I used to get when growing sugarcane. I wish I had started early,” Mr Lutomia told Seeds Of Gold.

Pawpaw (Carica papaya) is a fruit tree that can easily fall when the winds are strong. It is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates for its nutritive and medicinal value.

The two opted for Malkia F1 improved variety pawpaw whose seeds take three weeks to germinate and three months to reach a height of two feet when they start producing fruits. The indigenous variety germinates after 11 weeks and may take years to begin yielding fruits.

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Mr Lutomia helps farmers prepare their lands. He advises them to dig a hole two feet deep while the space from one tree to another should be five feet.

After 21 days, the hole should be filled with manure and light soil. The seedlings are then planted a week after the manure is applied.

“Pawpaw is a popular fruit but has become rare. I was introduced to the venture by a friend who had been in the business for long. He told me it was well-paying and I have confirmed it,” Mr Lutomia said at his farm in Lureko village, Mumias Central ward.

USES SOCIAL MEDIA

He bought 100gms of improved Malkia F1 seeds at Sh5,400, which he put in a seedbed. Three weeks later, the seedlings were ready for transplanting. He planted 200 seedlings on a 50x100ft plot and harvested 800 kilogrammes of pawpaw.

“I sold a kilo at Sh200. In just four months, I had earned Sh160,000 from the plot. I now have more than 1,000 seedlings on a five-acre piece,” he said.

Mr Lutomia also supplies seedlings to farmers. His customers come from as far as Siaya, Nairobi, Kitui, Tanzania and Ghana.

Mr Mubatsi started growing papaya in 2018 after failed attempts at sugarcane and poultry farming. He has been to Nyamira for benchmarking and has 500 trees on a one-acre piece.

“We intend to expand pawpaw trade and make Kenya a key exporter of the fruit. There is a large market for papaya. Most fruits consumed locally are from Uganda,” Mr Mubatsi said.

He says the Kenya Papaya Products Industry in Sabatia, Vihiga County which began operations in August, has expanded the market for the fruit.

“The factory is a ready market and pays on time. It also gets fruits from Nyamira, Kitui and Siaya,” Mr Mubatsi said, adding that the factory pays Sh40 per kilo of fruit.

The retired teacher uses social media to market his fruits and has signed deals to supply the produce to dealers in South Africa, Spain and the US.

A part from the fruit, farmers can also sell pawpaw latex, which is used in the pharmaceutical industry. “We get a litre of latex from five kilos of fruits. The latex goes for Sh200 a litre,” he said. The factory managers say they expect to explore up to 25 products from the fruit.


Agronomist notebook: Avoid dirty water when irrigating farm

ANN MACHARIABy ANN MACHARIA
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Due to global warming, many farmers in almost all parts of the country are gradually embracing irrigation. Irrigation is the artificial application of water to crops. It has increased the productivity of farmers.

Traditionally, farmers used to depend on rainfall as the only source of water for their crops.

Rainwater is less likely to contaminate agricultural food produce. Unfortunately, many parts of the country receive scarce rainfall. When the rain falls, it comes in torrents but for just a very short periods.

This calls for measures to be put in place by farmers if they are to properly utilise the various forms of the available water.

However, it should be borne in mind that artificial application of water to the land increases the risks of contaminating the food crops.

There have been reports of Kenyans growing fruits, vegetables, edible roots and other crops along sewer lines. Such water is obviously dirty.

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Some also use kitchen waste to water their small gardens while others go to the extent of growing crops around abattoirs.

A few have built dams near rivers as others use pipes to divert river water. Doing this without the necessary permits could be illegal, though.

There are many sources of water. These include dams, rivers, harvested rain water, pans, boreholes and wells.

A number of farmers also use untreated water on their lands, a situation blamed for the recent increase of lifestyle diseases among Kenyans.

In some cases, farmers use the waste water to supply nutrients to their crops, thus reducing costs in terms of buying fertiliser. The consumer is the sufferer in this situation. On some occasions, the waste is the only water available.

Ignorance makes farmers use such water, not knowing that it could be carrying disease-causing micro-organisms.
Treated and contaminated water ends up in rivers – the main source of irrigation.

The water, usually green in colour, carries harmful micro-organisams which may also affect the growth of crops. Some of these plants end up rotting and dying altogether. Contaminated water kills fish and other animals found in rivers and lakes.

LESS HARMFUL TO CROPS

This is due to oxygen depletion, mainly if the waste water contains a high amount of phosphates that enhance the rapid increase and growth of algae. The algae are known for sucking oxygen from water.

If such animals cannot survive, it means the water is contaminated and is therefore not safe to humans as well. Farmers should therefore be careful when sourcing for irrigation water.

Factories and the real estate industry should treat their effluent and sewage before releasing it into rivers, lakes and other water bodies.

Kenyans may be going through rough economic times but that does not mean we grow crops near sewer lines.

Fruits, vegetables and other crops grown there absorb the dirty water and chemicals, passing them to the consumer.

Farmers are also advised to subject water to be used for irrigation to laboratory tests. If they can take their soil for analysis, why can’t they do the same to their water?

To avoid the use of kitchen water on the farm, build a waste pit. And to prevent the draining chemicals in water sources, one should have a soak pit.

This ensures that the chemicals are diluted, meaning they are less harmful to crops, animals and the environment in general.

Water from boreholes should be tested as it tends to have high salinity, blamed on clogging drip lines.

When salt accumulates in water, farmers should consider having a reverse osmosis to reduce the concentrations. The process, however, can be expensive.

The use of gypsum helps reduce the concentration of salts and improves soil water infiltration. Farmers should also mix fertiliser with black earth to control salt accumulation in the soil.

It is advisable to consider using nitric acid to lower the alkalinity of the water. Hydrogen peroxide or carbonates can be used to increase acidity.

Salt accumulation results in antagonism, where the availability of one nutrient prevents the uptake of others by plants.

Fish pond water should be used in irrigation for it contains high levels of ammonia. Ammonia is known to increase oxygen in the soil, a key nutrient for plant growth.


Love for bees sweetens man’s life

PETER CHANGTOEKBy PETER CHANGTOEK
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Samuel Tangus, a bee farmer in Tendwet, Narok County, is proof of the oft-quoted maxim “disability is not inability”.

Affected by polio at a tender age, Tangus has demonstrated great prowess in beekeeping, an activity he has carried out for almost three decades.

“I had a passion for beekeeping when I was young. I used to see my father bring honey home because he was a forest ranger. When I was in primary school, I loved bees, especially when I saw them in beehives,’’ says the man who grew up in Dundori, Nakuru County.

“I started beekeeping in 1994, using traditional beehives. In 2005, a wildlife conservation agency called WWF (World Wildlife Fund), came to Mulot and Segemian and taught us about the importance of conserving water catchment areas,’’ says Tangus, adding that the organisation taught them farming methods that do not involve digging of soil, that is, poultry keeping and bee keeping, among others.

Together with 14 others, who were interested in beekeeping, they received 10 modern beehives from the organisation.

Since he already had his five beehives, the members decided to place the new beehives in his farm. After some time, the other members quit and left the beehives to him.

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“I did not want to abuse what the organisation had started for us, so I decided to go on with the project, doing research and reading books on bee farming,” says the farmer, adding that his son helped him research about beekeeping in Kenya and in other parts of the world.

THE COMMODITY IS RARE

He was also lucky to be given other beehives by a neighbour who had his own apiary but was moving to another place.

Currently, Tangus has 25 beehives, but those colonised by bees are 11. Apart from Langstroth beehives, the farmer also uses Kenya top bar hives (KTBH).

“I later realised that the management of the Kenya top bar hives is easy. Traditional beehives have a lot of disadvantages and they don’t produce quality honey,’’ explains the farmer, who also grows avocados.

To avoid the wrath of the insects, Tangus harvests honey at night.

“I harvest twice a year, but when the weather conditions are favourable, I can harvest even three times,’’ says the farmer. He harvests five litres of honey from a single Langstroth beehive.

He then sells the processed honey in 350ml containers at a price of Sh200, a price he has fixed himself since the commodity is rare there.

Tangus notes that beekeeping is a profitable venture and urges other farmers with small pieces of land to venture into the business.

“Anybody can start, even old people. Even when you are on a wheelchair, you can manage even a hundred beehives,’’ he says.

Tangus says if he gets support, he will volunteer to teach others, especially the physically challenged, about beekeeping.


Cabbages rotting due to bad roads

JOHN NJOROGEBy JOHN NJOROGE
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It’s a 30-minutes walk from the main road to Kapsita Farm in Elburgon, Nakuru County. The dark clouds in the sky and the chill signify a potential downpour.

Despite the bad road, the Seeds Of Gold team finally arrives by boda boda at Mr John Njuguna Kanyotu’s Farm. Clad in a yellow and navy blue raincoat and a pair of gumboots, Mr Kanyotu is busy tending to his cabbages.

The farmer says he bought 7,000 seedlings from Longonot Farm Propagation in Naivasha five months ago at Sh10,500.

“The plants did well in the first one-and-a-half months before they were attacked by the diamond black moth. The pest destroys the stem,” Mr Kanyotu said.

He sprayed the cabbages with Merit 150 SC pesticide. Before the cabbages matured, he applied Green Sea fertiliser to the one-acre plot three times.

An agricultural extension officer in Molo urged farmers to report any crop diseases to the relevant authorities as soon as they notice signs.

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And in spite of the expected bumper harvest, Mr Kanyotu is not a happy man. He says he will likely incur huge losses since he cannot sell his produce, blaming the situation on bad roads.

“My cabbages were ready for harvest months ago but I cannot harvest them because of the ongoing heavy rains,” the farmer said.

SELLING TO MIDDLEMEN

“I watch helplessly as they rot on the farm.” Noticeably, the cabbages’ core are also turning purple as a result of excess water.

He expected to make Sh80,000 when the cabbages were ready for harvesting three months ago, since every head was going for Sh12.

“Vehicles cannot access my farm due to muddy roads. The cabbages are rotting and there is nothing I can do about it,’’ he said.

Mr Kanyotu added that he has not made any profit for the past three years and expected things to change this season because his cabbages did well.

“Locals now sell their produce to middlemen. We’d rather sell our cabbages at throwaway prices than let them get spoilt,” he added.

Mr Kanyotu said he sells a cabbage at Sh6 instead of Sh12. Recently, a team from Egerton University visited Mr Kanyotu’s farm and others nearby to collect soil samples.

“I had planted potatoes on a portion of my land but they did not do well. I then resorted to planting cabbages,” he said.
Former Molo MP John Njenga, says farmers are hardworking but are being let down by local leaders.

Mr Mungai, himself a farmer, said the leaders have failed to ensure that roads and other infrastructure are repaired.


Villager finds comfort in growing tissue culture bananas

SAMMY WAWERUBy SAMMY WAWERU
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Karii in Kirinyaga is a farming village. Upon upon arrival, one is greeted with tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. The area is also popularly known for bean farming while others grow maize on a small scale.

On Mrs Lucy Muriithi’s one-acre piece is a canopy of bananas. Some are fruiting and others flowering. She checks on a swaying bunch to see it it is ready for harvest.

“I’ll harvest several bunches in a few weeks,” she says. Ms Muriithi used to grow French beans but it was a venture that was not profitable.

“Getting a market for French beans is not easy. Most of it ended up rotting on the farm,” she says. Compared to French beans, producing bananas is economical, she says. After rice, wheat and maize, banana is the most consumed food worldwide.

Mrs Muriithi grows tissue culture bananas. “I started with half an acre with a Sh25,000 capital five years ago,” she says.
Seedlings are propagated in a special laboratory under sterile conditions for weeks. They are later hardened in a greenhouse before being transferred to the field.

The use of suckers is still the preferred banana farming method for many locals. Farmers says it uses few inputs.

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PRONE TO PESTS AND DISEASES

Unfortunately, such plants are prone to pests and diseases like Sigatoka, banana streak, bacterial and fusarium wilt.

Banana weevils and nematodes are common in plants from suckers. The traditional bananas also take long to mature and the yields are little.

Tissue culture bananas are as a result of technology. The technique, also known as micro – propagation, allows multiplication of uniform and quality clones. The plantlets are healthy and free from viruses.

Mrs Muriithi says tissue culture bananas take short time to mature. “They are ready for harvesting in less than a year,” she says.

To produce the bananas, ensure the land is well drained. Pits should be 3x3x3ft and spacing shoud be 10x10ft she says.

Fertiliser, well decomposed manure and suggested nematicide should be mixed and the holes stuffed with the mixer to a height of a foot.

“The remaining space is for mulching and nurturing the plants,” she says, adding that she gets water from River Thiba.

Experts say for quality and maximum produce, suckers around the mother plant should be pulled out.

“Too many compete for water and nutrients with the mother,” advises Mr James Macharia.

For the first harvest, a plant produces a bunch, from the second year onwards, three to four bunches, each weighing 25-30kgs.

To address the problem of brokers middlemen, Mr Macharia and other experts advise local farmers to add value to their bananas.