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    Agricultural researchers in Kenya are banking on two fungi to increase animal feed productivity and resilience to drought and diseases.

    International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) experts say their recent study found that introduction of two fungi species living in African Brachiaria grass into stands can yield high quality animal feed that is resistant to leaf diseases and pests.

    Brachiaria is a tropical grass also found in Kenya.

    ILRI's Bioscience Eastern and Central Africa Hub-wing wants to capitalise on the micro-organisms to increase various feeds for animals during adverse times.

    “BecA-ILRI Hub aims to develop methods for isolation, identification and characterization of endophytes of Brachiaria grasses, examine cultivable fungal community and use selected member(s) for enhanced adaptation of Brachiaria grasses to drought and low fertility soils,” the researchers said in a common journal published Wednesday. 

    The fungi, Acremonium and Sarocladium, are known to be transmitted vertically, conferring resistance to leaf spot on the Brachiaria grass.

    This bio-techniques of increasing yields comes against a sustained global campaign of adoption of environmentally sustainable  agricultural methods. 

    They said these microbes will help in maximising water use efficiency, minimizing agrochemical uses and also provide high degree of persistence to plants against biotic and abiotic stresses.

    There were no timelines given when the research is expected to be complete.

    The report was released on the say day that Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett visited Nairobi's ILRI headquarters and thanked BecA Hub for their research aimed at countering African challenges for the last 15 years of existence.

    More than 3 million pastoralist in Kenya are hit by drought annually. It is estimated that  2008-2011 drought cost the economy Sh12.1bn due to lack of pasture and water.

     

    Kenya has secured a KSh6.3 billion from the African Development Bank (AFDB), for use in the irrigation of at least 7,400 acres of arable land in six years.
    Of the amount, KSh4billion was given as a loan that will be repaid in 25 years at 2 per cent interest per annum, while KSh2.3billion was awarded as a grant that will complement the credit facility in boosting food security for about 30,000 households.
    Bringing more land under cultivation out of the 70 per cent arid and semi arid land would be an upfront strategy to mitigate hunger, with New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) statistics showing that in Africa 12 people die of famine in one minute.
    Potential 
    The Alliance of Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) estimates that Kenya can triple current rain-fed production if 50 per cent of arid and semi arid land is put under irrigation.
    This will see the country produce surplus food and seal importation holes, while strengthening its export capacity.
    Speaking during the signing of the loan agreement, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said small scale irrigation and value addition projects would benefit 11 semi arid counties.
    "At least 300km access roads, water conservation facilities and farmers education are among the strategies that would help the country realise the irrigation dream," the minister said.
    The AFDB Regional Director for the East Africa Resource Centre, Gabriel Negatu, said the project, which targets smallholder farmers who produce about 70 per cent of food, will reverse the sad food and nutrition situation in the country.
    The Famine Early Warning Systems Network and Drought Management Authority estimate that 65 per cent of the country receives annual rainfall of between 200-600mm, which is insufficient for major crops such as maize and beans.
    Increased yield
    On average, maize, which is Kenya’s staple food, requires 600-800mm per year hence rendering much of the country’s land unsuitable for the crop. Last year, Kenya produced 30 million bags of maize against its consumption of 45million bags, forcing the State to import the deficit.
    Counties that will benefit from this project include Kitui, Makueni, Nyandarua, Tharaka Nithi, Kajiado, Machakos, Tana River, Murang'a, Nyeri, Bomet and Meru.

    The Nyandarua County government will officially launch the planned cheap artificial insemination (AI) service programme by the end of February this year despite opposition from a section of veterinary practitioners.

    County Executive for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Agatha Thuo, said improving the quality of cattle is for the benefit of farmers and nothing will block them from rolling out the programme slated for February 26.

    Opposition 

    Kenya Veterinary Para-professionals Association Chairman, John Ngigi, had earlier accused the county of planning to institute the programme in disregard of laws governing AIand professionalism.

    The paraprofessionals claimed that only Kenya Animal Genetic Resource Centre (KAGRIC) is allowed by law to distribute semen.

    Ahead of the roll-out, two veterinary practitioners from 25 wards were recruited, interviewed and approved for the exercise, Thuo said.

    “The county recruited 50 competent practitioners to efficiently handle the exercise. They are all certified by the Kenya Veterinary Board. They produced their certificates, which we verified. We want quality; we cannot afford to recruit people who will not give us the desired results,” she said.

    Two weeks ago, she said, the county signed a memorandum of understanding with KAGRIC. The memorandum allowed them to distribute liquid nitrogen and semen to the veterinary officers.

    READ ALSO:The county is giving motorbikes to the professionals on loan to help them reach the farmers

    “Farmers will be getting the services at their dooor-step at half the current cost of AI. Most of the certified professionals offer the service at a cost of between Sh1,200 and Sh1,500. But under this programme, they will part with Sh700 only,” Thuo said.

    The officer assured farmers that upgrading indigenous cattle and sustaining the current high-yielding dairy breed would improve earnings and transform the economy of the region.

    Besides the semen being certified by the various government agencies, Thuo said, rogue practitioners who have been extorting money from the unsuspecting farmers will be rooted out.

    “It is one way of regulating the administration of this service. Many quacks have infiltrated the field and farmers may not be knowing. Registration and certification would help us drive out those purporting to be professionals,” she told Farmbiz on telephone.

    Liquid nitrogen preserves semen under the required conditions to maintain its viability after harvesting from the bull breed.

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