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January, 2020

 

Patience running out for Kenyan students trapped in virus city

ELIZABETH MERABBy ELIZABETH MERAB
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ALLAN OLINGOBy ALLAN OLINGO
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Kenyan students caught up in a lockdown in Wuhan, China, are worried that the government is not proactive in protecting them, a day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed 210 people around the world and infected more than 10,000 others a public health emergency of international concern.

The students, who reached out to the Saturday Nation on Friday hours after national carrier Kenya Airways announced cancellation of all flights to and from Guangzhou in the Chinese mainland, said they were beginning to worry whether anything was being done to protect them as the situation in Wuhan continues to escalate. 

A number of Kenyan and African students opted to stay in the country as China kicked off its traditional New Year celebrations. But now, confined to dormitories to protect themselves from contracting the deadly virus, they are running low on basic supplies.

“They are just telling us that they are monitoring the situation,” said one of the Kenyan students stuck in the epicentre of the virus. “Today we witnessed students from Germany and Bangladesh being evacuated by their governments.” 

The Saturday Nation is not revealing the identities of those who spoke to us to protect them from possible victimisation.

In Nairobi, the Ministry of Health called for calm and reassured the public that the country is free of the virus. Outgoing Health CS Sicily Kariuki said samples taken from a male student who flew into Nairobi earlier in the week had tested negative for the virus. 

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World Health Organisation country representative Rudi Eggers said the international health agency has been working with the Health ministry, and that, so far, there are no other suspected cases in the country. Dr Eggers also said that Kenyatta National Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unit is well equipped to handle any suspected cases put under quarantine.

Whereas Dr Eggers emphasised on the need to have all travellers leaving China undergo screening both at the port of exit and entry, he agreed that patients who did not display symptoms posed a greater danger.

“Asymptomatic cases are indeed a problem. The fact of the matter is that this virus is new to everyone and it’s difficult to predict the areas of focus. However, everybody is learning quite rapidly.”

Kenya Airways’ suspension of flights to and from Guangzhou came days after it said it was monitoring the situation before making a decision on whether or not to keep flying to China. In a statement, the airline said it had done so after consultations with the government, through the ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.

“Further to our prior communication, we have temporarily suspended flights to and from Guangzhou effective January 31 until further notice. We, however, clarify that our service to Bangkok, Thailand, remains operational,” the airline said.

The move came barely hours after its workers, through the Kenya Aviation Workers Union, threatened to boycott work if KQ refused to stop flying to China.

The carrier’s chief executive Allan Kivaluka said: “This is very important to us, not just for the China route, but the entire network”. 

“It is a global issue and airlines are looking at it very seriously,” said Mr Kivaluka. “We have taken precautionary measures, right from boarding, to ensure that we do not allow on board anyone who hasn’t been cleared by the Port Health Bureau of China. So anyone from Wuhan city in China will not be allowed on our flights.” 

China’s delayed response to the discovery of the new and deadly infection worsened the epidemic, the most senior official from the city at the centre of the outbreak said yesterday.

Public anger has simmered on Chinese social media over the handling of the health emergency by local authorities in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected.

Wuhan officials have been criticised online for withholding information about the infection until the end of last year, despite knowing about the new illness weeks earlier.

“Right now I’m in a state of guilt, remorse and self-reproach,” said Ma Guoqiang, the municipal Communist Party secretary for Wuhan.

“If strict control measures had been taken earlier, the result would have been better than now,” he said during an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.

Wuhan and cities in surrounding Hubei province have been locked down since January 23, with blanket transport restrictions effectively trapping around 56 million people at home.

Ma said the restrictions should have been brought in at least 10 days earlier.

“I think if we had taken measures like this at the time, the epidemic may have been alleviated somewhat, and not got to the current situation.”

Additional reporting by AFP


The story of Kuria Mungai and those who helped him fulfil his dream

TOM ODHIAMBOBy TOM ODHIAMBO
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Often one hears the phrase “teaching is a noble profession”. Not many Kenyan teachers would agree with this saying. Today, teachers work in very demanding conditions — congested classes, inadequate teaching aids, poor remuneration, hostility from neighbouring communities, disdain from the larger community and demoralised colleagues.

Nevertheless, there is still something ennobling about teaching. There is joy in knowing that one did contribute to the growth and development of a particular child; helping them mature into adults; aiding them to become valuable citizens.

Yet too many teachers retire into obscurity, without telling their stories to others than those they directly taught. For, after more than 30 years teaching, considering that many teachers join the profession in their early 20s and retire at 60 years, teachers do have many stories to tell about how they became interested or trained in a particular subject; what they first ever experienced when they were posted to a school; how they taught specific topics; who they taught and how they related to the learners; and what current and future teachers can learn from them.

Kuria Mungai, a teacher who retired early and became a bookseller, tells his story in the teaching profession, as well as his time as a book marketer, in the book In Love with the Book: My Life Story (Mini Max Communications, 2019). This is not one of those long autobiographies that Kenyans are fond of writing these days. It is short and clear. It is nostalgic. It celebrates the tens of people who have interacted with and made Kuria’s life what it is today. In other words, by telling the stories of others, we can see the type of person he is.

If it is true that in life it is the simple things that matter, then Kuria presents to the reader a story, if not stories, of very modest things that he has done, and which have led him into what appears clearly to be a happy retirement. For starters, Kuria isn’t shy to say that he went to a harambee secondary school — schools that were built by parents immediately after independence, when the government could not put up enough schools to accommodate the hundreds of young Kenyans who wished to join secondary school. The schools lacked adequate facilities, and qualified teachers — many of the teachers were untrained Form Four leavers; and were often spread too thinly, meaning many schoolgoers had to trek long distances to school.

However, despite all these challenges, Kuria passed his Kenya Junior Secondary Examination but didn’t proceed to Form Three. Instead, he joined Kisii Teachers Training College, from where he graduated as a P2 teacher in 1968. He was posted to teach at Narasha Forest Primary School in Baringo, then Tenges Day Primary School, Solian Primary School, Maji Mazuri R.C Primary School and Saos Primary School. Some of these schools were ‘forest schools’, well-built by the standards of the time and had plenty of food supply, making life manageable. But they were also far from big towns like Nakuru, where one could get other necessary goods and services, because of a poor road network.

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Yet, Kuria shows that with hard work and commitment to better one’s life, even the hardships experienced by someone with little pay then could improve his life. So, he decided to study for the Cambridge School Certificate examination in 1969, the same year he started teaching, scoring a Division 2. Thereafter, he sat for the London General Certificate of Education ‘A’ Level examinations in 1972, scoring two Principal Passes in CRE and Kiswahili. This was the minimum entry requirement for a university degree.

Kuria would join Kenyatta University College, then a constituent college of the University of Nairobi, in 1973, to study for a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in “English language with Linguistics, Religious Studies and Philosophy, and Education.” He graduated with a B.Ed., in the second-class honours, upper division in 1976.

From college, Kuria didn’t teach for long at Molo Secondary School, where he was posted, because he joined the Family Planning Association of Kenya in 1978.

That is the story of the teacher-turned bookseller, as he improved his academic and professional qualifications and climbed the socio-economic ladder.

But why should we read this story? Because it has many nuances. Kuria was clearly an ambitious man. He bought a Suzuki motorcycle in 1971 for Sh2,300, paying a monthly premium of Sh200. He thereafter bought a Volkswagen Beetle car by trading in his bike and topping up the initial balance and increasing the monthly instalments. All these life improvements were based on savings, despite the very modest salary then. According to Kuria, “a typical P2 teacher’s payslip in 1972” showed a basic pay of Sh500, which was the gross pay, with Sh13 as Graduated Personal Tax and a union fee of Sh3. A “typical payslip for a BEd teacher in 1978, for instance, had a gross pay of Sh2,250 only. Yet teachers such as Kuria lived a decent life and dreamt of improving themselves.

Kuria’s life story says a lot about the life of Kenya. It speaks to the dream of freedom and self-improvement that many Kenyans desired when the country got uhuru. He epitomises the aspiration and industry of many of his relatives and members of his community who suffered colonial repression in the 1950s but went on to improve their lives by working the land — he is a farmer even today.

Kuria’s life suggests that hard work, self-denial and perseverance in life has dividends in the end. He may have started life as a P2 primary school teacher but he retired a happy man from a job he loved.

Compared to many auto/biographies that one reads about in the newspapers today, Kuria simply tells a straightforward story in In Love with the Book. He isn’t afraid of speaking about his first failed marriage, his children and their failures and successes, or his relationship with his workmates. His views about many aspects of life are forthright but not preachy.

This is a man who ends his story with a celebration of his “village heroes”: Zablon Kamau — whom he describes as “one of the very few young men from our village who actively fought in the forest and came back unscathed”; Eliud Mwangi Njuguna, a teacher; Bethuel Muiruri, a primary school teacher and committed Christian in his village. The beauty of In Love with the Book is in the brevity of the story and its celebration of others.


Publishing a book in Kenya is not for the fainthearted

BETT KINYATTIBy BETT KINYATTI
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One day, weeks, months or years from today, you will open a blank Word document on your laptop and you will begin to write. You will be writing a story about your life. Why? Because everyone has a book inside them. Every human being on this Earth has had — or will have — an experience worth eternalising in a book.

It could be a story about overcoming an addiction — alcohol, heroine, pornography. Or your 30 years in combat in the army’s front lines. Maybe your brutal decade in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. Or as a midwife in a public maternity hospital who birthed babies through different political regimes. Hell, maybe you just want to talk about facing Mount Kenya.

So you will bang away at your laptop. Some days you will bang furiously, as though the story is writing itself, other days you will struggle to find this magician they call a muse. You will lose hope on such days, you will doubt yourself and the ability of your story to change the world as you imagine it will. But you will muscle your way through the fog and mud. The burden to tell your story keeps you relentless.

The ready-to-publish draft will be ready in two years. It will have been a labour of love. You did not imagine writing a book could be this difficult. You send your manuscript to a publishing house for review. You bite your nails waiting on their response. They call you in for a meeting six months later.

You meet a junior from the publishing house in their musty boardroom. He holds your manuscript in his hands. Your palms are clammy. After some useless chatter about the weather, he tells you in a grandmotherly tone: “You have a wonderful story here, it has weight. But the execution falls short. You have a lot — a lot — of work to do in polishing up your writing. I’m sorry, we can’t take you on and publish your book.” He adds hastily when you slump: “Look, I’ve seen several people like you with brilliant stories hire a professional writer to write the book for them. Please consider it.”

You are as insecure and needy as the next writer is, so what you heard him say was: “My goodness, what a horrible book! It reads like a boring CV. You did the right thing bringing it here first because no one else should be punished to read it. Look, take your manuscript and fling it as far away as you can.”

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His criticism does not faze you. You believe in your story — and your writing — so you ignore him to publish your book yourself.

When you publish your book with a publishing house, they do all the heavy lifting: they oversee the editorial process, applying for the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) from the Kenya National Library, typesetting, artwork for the front and back cover, printing, storage, marketing on social media and through print ads, and distribution of the book through these marketing channels. You can get annual royalties of up to 20 per cent of book sales, depends on how you negotiate.

Sometimes you can sell the publishing house your book’s copyrights. In such cases, the publishing house pays you a lump sum cash advance for the copyrights’ and once they have gone to print, they give you a few copies for distribution. All sales proceeds from here on out are theirs to keep. If ever you want some copies yourself, you will have to buy them like everybody else.

When you self-publish your book, you do all the heavy lifting yourself. It sounds like a lot of work because it is a lot of work. It is also cash-intensive. You will settle from your pocket the professionals you contract, that is the editors and graphic designers. You will also have to source for book printers, negotiate printing rates, approve the dummy copy and keep the books … somewhere (maybe your living room? Your car boot?) when they leave the printers. Marketing is another headache all together. It helps if you already have a loyal community on social media. And in your church.

The beauty is, you are in complete control of the process. You know how many copies are printed, how many are sold and how the market is responding to your book. All sales proceeds go into your pocket. Your copyrights are yours. I want to say you will be laughing all the way to be bank but I am not into clichés.

I have seen several Kenyan authors in recent years walk down this path of self-publishing. You can easily point out those who skimped on editorial reviews, graphic designing or printing. Local bookshops are hesitant to stock self-published books mostly because of this skimping. International literary fiction awards lock out self-published authors.

Everyone has a book inside them, no doubt. But if you are not willing to put your money into telling your story in the right way, then let that book remain inside of you.


Trump limite l’accès aux Etats-Unis pour les ressortissants du Nigeria et 5 autres pays

Publié le 31.01.2020 à 23h50 par AFP

Donald Trump a décrété vendredi de nouvelles restrictions pour l’accès aux Etats-Unis de ressortissants de six Etats supplémentaires, dont le Nigeria, le pays le plus peuplé d’Afrique, dans le sillage de son très controversé décret anti-immigration.

La nouvelle mesure, qui entre en vigueur le 22 février, concerne également la Birmanie, l’Erythrée, le Kirghizstan, le Soudan et la Tanzanie, ont annoncé des responsables de l’administration américaine. Le Bélarus, qui avait été évoqué par le Wall Street Journal et où le chef de la diplomatie américaine Mike Pompeo se rend dans les prochains jours, n’est finalement pas visé.

Le président des Etats-Unis avait annoncé dès la semaine dernière, en marge du Forum économique mondial de Davos, son intention d’allonger la liste des pays visés par son décret anti-immigration, dévoilé juste après son arrivée à la Maison Blanche en janvier 2017.

« Nous devons rester en sécurité. Notre pays doit être en sécurité », avait plaidé le milliardaire républicain, qui a fait de la lutte contre l’immigration un de ses principaux chevaux de bataille pour son élection il y a quatre ans comme pour sa campagne en vue d’un second mandat au scrutin de novembre.

« La décision du président découle d’une évaluation complète et systématique menée par le département de la Sécurité intérieure », a expliqué vendredi à la presse un responsable gouvernemental, sous couvert de l’anonymat. Il a estimé que les pays concernés s’étaient montrés « incapables » ou « non disposés » à « adhérer » à certains critères « de base » en matière de partage de renseignements, de sécurité nationale et de sécurité publique.

Le décret anti-immigration de 2017 visait principalement des pays à majorité musulmane et interdisait à leurs ressortissants toute entrée sur le territoire américain. Immédiatement baptisé « muslim ban » ou « décret anti-musulmans » par ses détracteurs, il avait provoqué de très vives critiques aux Etats-Unis comme au sein de la communauté internationale.

– « Déraisonnable » –

La mesure a été combattue en justice lors d’une âpre bataille qui a obligé le gouvernement à revoir sa copie à plusieurs reprises.

L’Union américaine pour les libertés civiles (ACLU), en pointe de la lutte contre le texte, a tenté de prouver l’existence de préjugés antimusulmans durables chez Donald Trump, en rappelant sa promesse de campagne, qui avait provoqué un émoi planétaire, d’interdire l’entrée des Etats-Unis aux musulmans.

La Cour suprême des Etats-Unis a finalement validé mi-2018 une troisième mouture du décret anti-immigration qui interdit le territoire américain de façon permanente aux ressortissants de six pays: Yémen, Syrie, Libye, Iran, Somalie et Corée du Nord. Le Venezuela a été ajouté à la liste mais uniquement pour les responsables du camp du président Nicolas Maduro, honni de Washington.

La nouvelle mesure est moins générale et ne concerne pas les déplacements pour tourisme ou affaires.

Elle ne vise que « certaines catégories de visas d’immigration afin de mettre l’accent sur des personnes qui veulent s’installer aux Etats-Unis, pas celles qui veulent seulement s’y rendre en visite », a assuré un responsable. « Les membres de la famille pourront toujours rendre visite à leurs proches », a-t-il dit.

L’octroi de visas d’immigration est ainsi suspendu pour les Birmans, les Erythréens, les Kirghizes et les Nigérians, tandis que Soudanais et Tanzaniens ne seront plus éligibles à l’attribution de permis de séjour par tirage au sort.

« Trois ans après son premier décret anti-musulmans censé être temporaire, l’administration Trump confirme cette interdiction et l’étend pour inclure des ressortissants de six autres pays », a néanmoins déploré la puissante ACLU, appelant le gouvernement à mettre fin à cette politique.

L’organisation non gouvernementale Refugees International a jugé « déraisonnable et non nécessaire de restreindre l’immigration de manière si généralisée sur la base de la nationalité, de la race ou de la religion ».

Et les élus démocrates ont aussi condamné la nouvelle liste, qui risque d’alimenter la polémique.

Le ministre des Affaires étrangères du Nigeria, une des principales économies africaines, est ainsi attendu lundi à Washington pour le « dialogue stratégique » entre les deux pays. Quant au Soudan, l’administration Trump a affiché un soutien très clair au gouvernement de transition soudanais et négocie un retrait du pays de sa liste noire des pays soutenant le terrorisme.


Firm unveils solar cold rooms for fresh produce traders

MILLICENT MWOLOLOBy MILLICENT MWOLOLO
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Agribusiness entrepreneurs who deal with perishable produce can now use solar-powered cold rooms to store their produce following the unveiling of the gadgets this week.

Sheffield Africa, the makers of the product, said it targets farmers, traders and exporters of agricultural produce, many of who suffer storage challenges that lead to high post-harvest losses.

“This is a solar-powered and low-cost cold room solution for entrepreneurs in the agricultural industries such as dairy, green grocery, florists, meat and fish outlets and fruit and juice vendors,” Saravanan Karuppusamy, the business development manager for cold-rooms at Sheffield Africa, said.

The portable cold rooms are designed for outdoor use to cater for immediate produce storage.

The hybrid cold room can also run on electric power or a digital generator in case there is no power and is capable of achieving temperatures as low as 0°C.

The facility comes equipped with backup batteries and can function for over 24 hours without sunlight to keep highly perishable products fresh.

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Solar-powered cold rooms give a host of benefits to users as they have little running costs. They are also portable and easy to assemble and disassemble in any open area. “This flexibility of usage ensures they can be reassembled in case of expansion,” added Saravanan.

The air-conditioned cold rooms can also be used outdoors, including on farms, to hold products such as freshly harvested flowers, vegetables, and fish before moving them to a freezer for long-term storage, noted Saravanan.

“The beauty with these cold-room solutions is that they can be customised and tailor-made to suit someone’s needs and what they want to store in it,” Saravanan added.

The use of cold room solutions enhances the shelf-life of products, making fruits, flowers, vegetables, milk, meat, fish and other perishable goods available whenever needed and at the right conditions, especially for small traders.

For instance, when ripened at controlled atmospheric conditions, fruits adopt excellent colour appearance and texture, therefore, curbing losses associated with lack of good storage facilities.


Retired teacher’s roadside seedlings’ business brings in cash

BAYA SAMUELBy BAYA SAMUEL
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As traders cross from one side of the road to the other hawking their wares to travellers at the Kibunjia junction along the Nakuru-Eldoret highway, one person goes on with her work unnoticed.

Catherine Ng’ang’a, a retired teacher, runs a tree nursery along the road and amid the cacophony, grafts the Fuerte avocado seedlings undeterred, her eyes set on the ultimate price.

Her farm sits on a piece of land that overlooks Molo junction. The farmer specialises on grafting and selling seedlings.
It is a business she has engaged in for the past five years, selling the seedlings to farmers in Nakuru, Bomet, Nyandarua and Bomet.

Catherine, 65, retired as a teacher at Kibunja Primary School in 2014 and decided to go full-steam into farming as a business.

“While I also grow vegetables that I sell to locals, my main agribusiness is selling avocado seedlings,” she says.

She explains that she grafts a Fuerte scion with a rootstock she grows from seeds she buys from markets to form a high-yielding tree.

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“I started growing the tree seedlings in 2017 and the first fruit to grow was the avocado because there was a ready market and even now prospects are much brighter.”

With little knowledge about the venture, Catherine sought more information from seedling farmers in Murang’a. She has now mastered the grafting process.

“I buy avocado seeds from the open-air markets, plant them in nylon pots and wait for them to germinate. When they are a foot tall, I do the grafting after getting scions from Fuerte trees.”

The seedlings are ready for planting after four months, she offers. She sells a grafted avocado seedling at Sh200.

“I sell an average of about 40 pieces every week. Many people are now planting the fruits as they seek to reap from the expanding market.”

Her best time comes when the rains start, says the farmer, noting the 2019 October to December rainy season was one of the best.

She has currently employed one worker, she says, adding that sometimes getting Fuerte scions is a challenge as many farmers grow the Hass variety.

According to her, the good thing with avocados is that they support intercropping as long as they are not deep-rooted.


Coconut revival taking shape, one tree at a time

GITHUA KIHARABy GITHUA KIHARA
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You can get more than 100 products from a coconut tree, making it a wonder crop with a high potential of making money for farmers.

Indeed, baseline surveys have put the farm-level value of the coconut subsector at more than Sh3 billion.

With a population of 7.4 million trees and from an assessment of the developments in production of the various products from the coconut tree, one survey gave a rough estimate of a much bigger subsector, at Sh20 billion.

Today, the population of the trees has passed the 10 million mark, with a production of 260 nuts each per year, raising the potential even higher.

Yet despite the impressive numbers, the crop has not turned around the fortunes of the coastal people.

Ageing trees, improper farming techniques and poor marketing strategies are the main woes in the subsector. The country has not created a local market, leading to consumption of our coconut products being confined to the Coast.

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“This is mainly attributed to lack of awareness on the importance of many products that come from coconut,” Finyanga Pole, a researcher at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Matuga, Kwale County, says.

Pole, who is involved in the trial of a new coconut variety, also says too many middlemen eat into farmers’ earnings.

Pauline Akoth, the factory manager at Kentaste Product Kenya Ltd in Kwale, which is processing virgin oil, concurred.

Although the company can process 25,000 nuts a day, it is operating at half its installed capacity due to lack of a ready market for the finished product.

Its organic oil goes to the export market, where competition is very stiff while conventional oil is consumed locally, as many people do not know its health value.

“Most Kenyans do not know the health value of the coconut virgin oil. Largely, they only use it as a cosmetic,” Akoth said.

Aged trees yield as low as 30 nuts each per year, according to Pole, as opposed to the optimal 100 nuts yield for the local varieties.

“Many ageing trees are also being cut down for timber. This has contributed to lower coconut tree population since the rate of replanting is lower than that of cutting down,” Pole said.

PROMOTE PRODUCTION

In 2007, population of coconut trees past the age of optimal productivity of 30 years was 44 per cent, according to baseline survey.

Ann Ngugi, the communication officer at Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT), which has been involved in various coconut value chain projects, says the subsector needs concerted and joint efforts to rescue it from collapse.

The coconut has been the lifeline of the coastal counties – Kwale, Kilifi, Taita-Taveta and Lamu – with 100,000 families depending on the crop for their livelihoods. Instead, a lot of attention is being given to cereals that are not sustainable.

Richard Ndegwa, the head of Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate at the Agricultural and Food Authority (AFA), said that under the Big Four Agenda, the government plans to plant one million new seedlings by 2022 in partnership with the county governments.

“In the last financial year, we distributed 280,000 seedlings, largely in Kwale and Kilifi. We did training with counties and we are also encouraging them to promote production, which is part of their functions,” Ndegwa said.

Investment in value addition in the subsector is very low. Palm wine accounts for about 40 per cent of the total crop value.

Other products are nuts, makuti brooms, coco-wood and coir. Palm wine is still embroiled in legality, religious and social image questions.

Many countries cultivate coconut for its copra, the dried endosperm or kernel, which is further processed into oil for use in the soap industry, cosmetics, candle manufacture and some is refined for edible oil.

The subsector stands to gain if it embraces high-yielding varieties, Ngugi said. MESPT has facilitated the procurement and shipment of 6,000 seed nuts, Ngugi added.

Once mature in two-and-a-half years, this variety will produce 250 nuts per year. “We need to undertake an urgent and deliberate effort to conduct a coconut tree planting campaign to replace the ageing trees. At least a million seedlings should be planted per year,” Pole said.

A report by MESPT on documentation and lessons learnt on coconut value chain interventions in Kilifi and Kwale counties proposed a long-term sector perspective that would provide ample time to allow local communities appreciate the enormous business opportunities presented by the coconut sector, especially in processing.


I count my money from the fruits every month

PETER CHANGTOEKBy PETER CHANGTOEK
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Clad in a checked shirt, matching trousers and shoes, Elisha Lang’at holds a clipper, which resembles a pair of scissors, in his left hand.

He then holds a ripe avocado fruit dangling from a tree and cuts it from the stem before putting it into a pink plastic basin and going for the next.

Lang’at is one of the farmers in Bomet who have embraced farming of the crop as market prospects brighten.

He began farming the fruit in 2015 after raising Sh15,000 capital, with nearly half going to purchase of seedlings.

“I started with 40 seedlings that I bought at Sh150 each. The rest of the money was spent on labour (digging holes) and manure,” shares the farmer, who farms in Teganda sub-location, Bomet Central.

Currently, he has 60 avocado trees of the Hass variety and harvests fruits from 40. “The fruit trees take three to four years to mature,” he says.

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Before planting the seedlings, the farmer first digs holes that are 2 by 2 feet. As he digs the holes, he separates the topsoil from the subsoil.

“I mix topsoil with well-decomposed manure,” he explains, adding that he mixes the soil with two buckets of manure.
He then removes the plant from the nylon pots and plants 6m between the rows and 7m from plant-to-plant.

“You should ensure the soil around the hole holds firm. Then the plant should be watered well, mulch applied to reduce moisture loss and prevent weeds from growing.”

Pests such as spider mites, thrips and whiteflies are some of the threats to his crops but he controls them by spraying pesticides. One avocado tree, he says, produces 250-300 fruits of fruits per season.

He sells the produce at Sh60 per kilo to the Nairobi-based Davja Investment Limited – an exporter of fruits and vegetables.

“This farming is profitable compared to any other crops so long as you manage to keep pests and diseases at bay.”

Lang’at grows the crop on a half-acre plot, but he is working to increase the acreage to two as the market expands, especially following the deal between China and Kenya.

Other farmers in the county are following suit as they see avocado farming pays as compared to maize. Carol Mutua, a crop expert from Egerton University, says the best climatic condition for avocados should be warm to cool climate.

That is between 1,800m and 2,100m above sea level. “Warm temperatures are essential for the fruits set,” she says.

“Avocados do well in areas with rainfall averages of 1,000-1,500mm per annum, well distributed throughout the year. Irrigation is essential where rainfall is not sufficient.”


Agronomist notebook: Don’t blame it on the rain if your maize gets mould

ANN MACHARIABy ANN MACHARIA
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Popular Germany’s music group, Milli Vanilla, remains one of the best acts of our time despite reigning in the 80s and 90s.
One of their most successful songs is Blame it on the rain…does it ring a bell.

Well, I remembered this song when I visited maize farmer Eliud in Elburgon in Nakuru County, recently, where he lamented his produce was rotting on the farm because of the heavy rains. Eliud talked about how the rains had made harvesting impossible as the roads were impassable.

“All the maize is rotting on the farm. My investment is going down the drain,” he said, reminding me of Milli Vanila and the hit song Blame it on the rain.

As the weather changes and becomes extremely unpredictable, it is obvious that the rains would continue to cause mayhem. But should we continue blaming them for our omissions.

Looking at the farms in Elburgon, the main challenge affecting maize farmers due the rains was mould. This is a fungal infection that causes huge losses and harms human and animal health since they produce aflatoxins.

The toxins remain in the stored products and cannot be easily destroyed by burning or evening processing.

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Besides on the farm, plenty of grain is usually lost after harvesting due to poor handling and bad storage practices that expose the grains to insect pests and diseases.

Pests such as weevils can infest the maize while still on the farm making holes on the seeds while the rodents make the seeds to break and spill on the ground.

Therefore, for the best strategy, management of post-harvest losses in maize should start right before one plants the crop.

SIMPLEST AND AFFORDABLE

This begins by selecting varieties that are less susceptible to the attack. These varieties are available for most of the regions of the country enabling farmers to curb losses, whether there is rain or shine.

Timely harvesting also reduces contamination on the farm. While harvesting during the dry season makes most of the grains to be stored well, sometimes prolonged rain season may force a farmer to harvest during the rains.

If this happens, store the maize in a well-ventilated leak-proof structure and keep on turning the produce frequently to ensure proper air circulation. This will prevent the grains from rotting or developing moulds.

After harvesting, ensure the maize is well-sorted and graded to remove all the infected seeds. Threshing should be done and all the residues removed as they also act as a source of contamination.

Sun-drying is the simplest and affordable method of drying the grains. However, solar panels can also be used to effectively dry the maize.

Even without a moisture meter, you can do a simple test to determine if the maize is well-dried by putting a handful of seeds and salt in a bottle and thoroughly shake to mix it. If the salt does not stick on the bottle, this shows that the maize seeds are well-dried.

Monitoring of the moisture content in and around the granary is also essential as this ensures the seeds remain dry. Therefore, one should ensure that the granary is well-ventilated to allow air circulation.

To control weevils, the maize seeds can be stored in hermetic bags that are made up of three layers or in metal silos.

This helps the farmer to keep the grain without using any preservatives. Pests inside the bags or silos suffocate since they are airtight.


Lessons from a lecturer’s organic farm

CAROLINE WAMBUIBy CAROLINE WAMBUI
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Some three kilometres from Chuka Town along the Kathigiririni Road in Tharaka Nithi County, one finds David Mugambi’s farm, a crop’s haven.

The one-and-a-quarter-acre farm is teeming with an assortment of plants, thanks to good agronomic practices that see him combine crops with agroforestry, all farmed organically.

The farm is a collection of sweet potatoes, cassava, macadamia, pawpaws, bananas, gravelia trees and napier.

The father of three also rears 40 chickens and 60 goats, with the organic integrated farming paying great dividends for him.

“Through this kind of farming, I have created a microclimate that protects my crops against extreme climatic conditions. This is a semi-arid region thus one should minimise on the climatic and biological risks while offering diverse range of nutritional foods to the community.”

Integrated organic farming, according to him, ensures long-term fertility in degraded soils while maintaining the organic matter levels and producing chemical-free foods, says Mugambi, who also doubles up as an environmental studies lecturer at Chuka University.

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With changes taking place in the modern world both in terms of climate and lifestyle, Mugambi is of the view that farmers should strive to minimise climate and biological risks, while providing consumers with a diverse range of nutritious foods and increasing the soil organic matter.

His sweet potatoes not only act as cover crops, but they also help in curbing soil erosion while also earning him income. On the other hand, his macadamia and pawpaw trees help protect the other plants on the farm.

To grow his crops, Mugambi uses organic manure from both his chickens and goats and practices mulching to conserve moisture in the soil.

ANSWER TO CLIMATE CHANGE

“This not only helps to reduce evaporation, but also suppresses weeds while improving the soil structure. Through the integrated farming, I have been able to maximise on land use and create biodiversity, attracting a variety of beneficial and predatory insects that help minimise pest and diseases,” explains Mugambi, who sells his produce to traders in Chuka.

Macadamia nuts, for instance, go for between Sh100 and Sh150 a kilo.

On his farm, gravellia trees act as a boundary crop that not only provide shade, but he also sells them for timber and building materials.

“I plant napier on the terraces to curb soil erosion while bananas and pawpaws are my fruit trees,” he says, adding sweet potatoes act as cover crops on the farm helping to curb soil erosion. His crops are mixed up on the farm, with the farmer noting it is the best way to grow them if they are to benefit from each other.

So why did Mugambi go for this kind of farming? “Integrated organic farming is part of the answer to climate change. Besides, many indigenous crops are richer in proteins, vitamins, iron and other nutrients than popular non-native plants and can reduce droughts and pests but people don’t take them seriously,” he adds.

Apart from sweet potatoes, he isolates cassavas as a very useful crop on the farm.

“This tuber makes complete use of rainfall. It’s long extensive root system taps any available rainwater and ensures that the soil is never left exposed thus reducing soil erosion,” he says.

Mugambi has become a model farmer in his village, with the farmer using his Green TNC Farm to train farmers and other residents on how to plant crops for a better environment.

“We engage pupils with an intention of transforming them into ambassadors of environment in the future. Lack of trees means that communities are deprived of myriad benefits associated with them.”

Benald Kinoti, an agricultural officer at the Ministry of Agriculture in Meru County, says organic farming is not only safe to the environment, but also to the animals, soils and