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     Oserian Technical Director, Hamish Ker, explains how the company utilises geothermal power in its greenhouses.JPG

    Oserian Technical Director, Hamish Ker, explains how the company utilises geothermal power in its greenhouses.

    Oserian Flower Farm in Naivasha which produces flowers for export has come up with a raft of measures aimed at maintaining production over a long period of time without compromising on natural systems or its responsibility to workers, suppliers and the local communities using geothermal heating system.

    In an attempt to strengthen access to international markets, players in the flower sector trooped to Britain and the Netherlands in November 2014 to ascertain their ‘sustainability story’ to a jittery market.

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    From the two meetings, it emerged that responsible cultivation of flowers in Kenya, environment stewardship and social responsibility by all players in the value chain, would enable Kenya’s flowers to be branded as responsibly grown.

    Three years down the line, the reality that growers are facing a market that is increasingly getting concerned over unsustainable practices dawned on the industry when supermarkets stated that they will only be sourcing flowers from growers involved in sustainable practices..

    In adherence to this requirement, Oserian Development Corporation has come up with a raft of measures aimed at maintaining production over a long period of time without compromising on natural systems or its responsibility to workers, suppliers and the local communities.

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    As one of the largest exporters of cut roses to the European Union, Oserian has adopted a ‘champions by nature’ approach to flower growing. The company utilises the integrated pest management (IPM) system, hydroponics to reduce water and fertilizer consumption and has the world’s largest geothermal heating project for maintaining temperature in its greenhouses and for provision of carbon dioxide (CO2) needed by the plants.

    The Company has adjusted its production system to address the ongoing changes in European Union’s environmental legislation which has increased pressure on agricultural production from EU’s trade partners. “We’re seeing developments in legislation on pesticides and bee-friendly products,” says Mr. Hamish Ker, Oserian’s Technical Director. He adds that the EU currently measures maximum residue limits (MRL) of pesticides on vegetables and fruit imports.

    The company has invested heavily in natural solutions. It has launched a new outfit called Two Lakes, to develop new biological solutions through own research or by partnering with leading IPM companies.

    RELATED ARTICLE: Flower companies embrace integrated pest management

    Oserian considers investing in natural solutions as a means of improving the company’s products for lowering costs. Ker says that this makes Oserian more competitive and to get better results. “Yes, we have to invest in training on how to use these unique systems, but once you have that capacity, you find that nature’s solutions are more sustainable from all perspectives. To all intents and purposes, what you’re doing is creating a balanced ecosystem on the farm.”

    Driven by an ambition to attain CO2 neutrality, Oserian joined hands with Cranfield University in a 2007-study that compared its CO2 emission with what emanates from flower companies in the Northern Hemisphere who use fossil fuels to heat their greenhouses and provide light. “The researchers found out that production in Northern Hemisphere greenhouses resulted in 5.8 times more CO2 emissions than our production in Kenya, including air freight,” says Ker. He adds that the company plans to ascertain how its subsequent improvements have further reduced CO2 emissions in a study to be commissioned later this year.

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    To further reduce its carbon footprint, the company has imported seven electric vehicles from the Netherlands. “We’re going to use them to convert our trucks from fossil fuel to electric vehicles, which we can power from our geothermal plant,” says Mr. Ker. “If the project goes well, we’ll see more electric vehicle use in the future.”

    “Green business is good business,” says Ker who adds that the company hopes to save on the $500,000 it uses on diesel each year.

     Oserian relies on sheep to 'mow' the grass.JPG

    Oserian relies on sheep to 'mow' the grass

    Flower for life

    Oserian’s ‘Flori 4 Life’ campaign talks volumes about its approaches. “We have created four lines: Flowers 4 Water, Flowers 4 Farming, Flowers 4 Education, and Flowers 4 Nature, says Ker. He adds that the concept allows the company to put a tag on its products telling its various stories. “One tag might talk about putting water into the community; another might talk of building schools. This will allow us to keep our clients updated on a monthly basis on what we’re really doing…when you’re giving someone flowers, it’s an emotional gift, and we believe if we can tell the sustainable story behind our own flowers, it adds even more value to that gift.”

    RELATED ARTICLE: Flower farm shines at farmers awards

    In addition, the company has embraced a more environmentally-friendly transportation process. It has adopted a unique concept for packing flowers developed by a Nairobi-based company, Cargolite. The latter’s cardboards are strengthened with plastic skeleton. “This means a lighter box, which saves on air freight, cardboard, and results in reduced impact on the environment.” KER adds that by using the new packaging system, Oserian now saves as much as $8,000 for every one million stems transported to Europe.

    Support to farmers & herders

    Further, the company has been supporting local farmers to develop clean seed and in soil analysis. “Our sister company, Stokman, has developed clean seed banana planting  materials and potatoes in its labs,” Ker says that the company helps local farmers by doing soil analysis, “so that they can understand the imbalances and can apply the right fertilizers and other corrective measures.”

    Related to this is that Oserian has been providing high-breed sheep to local herders.  “We have sheep on the farm to keep the grass short around the greenhouses, which reduces the insects and the diseases.” Ker says that the company imported a pedigree breed of sheep from South Africa called the Dorper, which it crossed with the local Maasai breed. “We set aside some of the ram lambs every year and donate them to the community, to help improve their flocks.

    For the local women, the company supports a bracelet project, where some of the local ladies make bracelets that are put on its bouquets.” 

    RELATED ARTICLE: Flower companies court solar energy to stem rising production cost

    The company’s sustainable approaches are hinged on its motto of ‘Better each day’. Ker says the company’s management team is challenged to “be better each day, to see what they can develop and improve, to drive out waste, and to improve performance and quality. We also try to think about what makes Oserian Flowers different.”

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     Pond (1) fish.JPG

    Fish farmers fearing loss of stock to predators can now construct a wooden portable pond that can accommodate 300 fish for less than Sh30,000 in their secure backyard.

    Alex Aholi of Kenya Market-Led Aquaculture Programme said a wooden pond is one of the cheapest and safest ways of successfully raising more than 300 fingerlings to maturity right at the homestead.

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    “Farmers lose close to half of fish to thieves and other predators when their ponds are far away from home. A wooden fish pond at one’s backyard boosts surveillance against human and animal predators such as snakes, rodents, dogs and cats,” he said.

    Pond construction

    A 20 feet by 10 feet by four feet pond can raise about 300 tilapia fingerlings or at least 500 catfish, which would mature in six to eight months.

    Besides security, a wooden portable fish pond is an ideal tool for both urban and rural farmers, who want to move into aquaculture on limited land, he said.

    The base requires about 200 feet of timber. The two sides for the width require 80 feet while the length will consume 160 feet of timber.

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    Timber cost

    Timber costs in Kenya depend on the type of wood and area of purchase. Taking an average cost of Sh27 per foot in Nairobi, timber for the pond will cost Sh12,880.

    In Kisii, the same size costs Sh25.Mukima tree timber, which costs Sh20 in Nyeri fetches Sh25 in Nairobi.

    An allowance of Sh1,000 expenditure on timber will cater for any extra pieces for patching up.

    Three and four-inch nails of two kilogrammes cost Sh400.

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    Holding the water

    A polythene lining of about 30 square metres is required to hold the water. A good quality lining gauge costs between Sh250 and Sh500 per square metre. It will cost Sh9,000 for a lining of Sh300 per square metre gauge.

    A hexagonal wire-mesh costing about Sh2,000 is required to cover the top against animal predators.

    With labour of about Sh2,000, the total cost of the pond will be Sh27,280.

    Pond capacity

    The wooden pond can hold between 700 litres to 1,000 litres of water. The water should be drained or regularly changed to avoid accumulation of toxic substances from excrement and food remains.

    If a farmer rears 300 tilapia or 500 catfish, they can reap a gross income of about Sh10,000 on first round after maturity.

    “Tilapia will do best because the pond is free from mud,”said Aholi.

    RELATED ARTICLE:Fish pond waste water increases milk yields by three litres

    Costly containers

    The portable pond is convenient for an urban farmer who may not have permanent residence. It is also easy to move the pond within the homestead, he said.

    Mombasa County in 2015 launched similar backyard fish ponds out of used cargo containers bought for youth groups.

    But they are more expensive, ranging from Sh110,000 to Sh150,000 for a 20 feet container.


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    Farmers in arid and semi-arid regions in Kenya can now locate water and grazing areas thanks to a new app by Project Concern International (PCI) that displays information by the use of satellite. This will enable farmers save a third of their herd lost during dry seasons according to research.

    A report by PCI reveals that pastoralists lose a third of their herd due to limited vegetation during the dry seasons. This is attributed to use of traditional methods in search of pasture such as scouting, word of mouth and indigenous knowledge that have inherent limitations and increasing unreliability due to climate shocks and land use changes.

    The Afroscout app will offer pastoralists localized digital content eliminating the need for paper maps and creating long-term sustainability. In this, they will be able to make better informed decisions on where and when to migrate herds for grazing in order to reduce potential livestock loss and mitigate the effects of climate change.

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    It will enable farmers check the vegetation conditions in a map of traditional grazing areas with up to date satellite information. It also displays permanent and temporary surface water variation for easy access to water sources for the animals.

    The app will further help pastoralists manage conflicts such as cattle rustling through sharing of alerts and warnings on impending attacks. This also includes predator and animal disease alerts which aid farmers through tracking of livestock predators and real time alerts on diseases that affect certain regions respectively.

    afriscout app.jpg

    Pastoralists browsing for grazing areas with the afriscout app/PHOTO COURTESY

    In a recent interview with local media stations, Brian Wandera, the National Program Manager, Afriscout Kenya said that the app was piloted in three African countries (Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania) with 29 mapped areas covering 130,676 kilometers squares and 513,149 map users. It has proved to be highly useful for pastoralists reducing mortality for herds by half, saving time in search for pasture, as well as improving collective pasture management.

    In its pilot phase in Kenya, 78 per cent used maps on the app for migration decision making, 52 per cent considered the maps their most important resource while there was a 48 per cent decline in herd mortality resulting in savings of over $5m.

    The app, which was launched on 1st February 2018, can be downloaded on Google play store and installed on android mobile devices. It will be provided to pastoralists for a six month trial period at no cost after which they have an option of signing up annually at a fee.

    There are over 225m pastoralists in Africa, with 4-7m pastoralists living in Kenya where livestock production accounts for US$800m per year, or 24 per cent of the total agricultural output.

    Kenya’s pastoralist communities have long considered cattle rustling a cultural practice, according to a 2011 Kenya Human Rights Commission report. According to the 2015 police report more than 24 people were killed as a result of cattle rustling in that year, while nearly 25,000 livestock were stolen in 56 raids. The Afriscout app can go a long way in solving some of the problems faced by pastoralists in the years to come.

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