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    High Yield

    As the war on agricultural counterfeits intensifies, agrodealers in the country have unveiled a new strategy that focuses on training of farmers who are the victims of the vice that accounts for 15 to 20 percent of Kenyan agrochemicals market.

    Retailers and distributors of the agricultural inputs have also been factored in the new strategy with the realization that they are the point of contact with the products and as such are key in eliminate the counterfeits and maintaining a clean supply chain.

    According to CropLife Kenya CEO Richard Sikuku awareness and training is the industry’s best bet in the drive to eliminate counterfeits in East Africa in general and Kenya in particular. “As an industry we have developed a strategy for managing the problem of counterfeits based on the three pillars of training and awareness, development of clean supply chain and law enforcement by the government,” he said.

    Although all the industry will pursue the three pillars, Sikuku said “the industry will focus more on awareness and training for the next three years starting in 2014.” A steering committee has been formed comprising the Agrochemical Association of Kenya, government officials and non-governmental organizations to spearhead the drive to eliminate counterfeits, which now account for 15 to 20 percent of the Kenyan agrochemicals market. The figure stands at 40 percent in neighboring Uganda and Tanzania.

    “The agrochemical industry does not want to work alone during the three years, but has incorporated government agencies and non-governmental organizations,” said Sikuku. Some of the government agencies to be involved in this new drive are security agencies or law enforcers, the Judiciary, Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and the Pesticide Control Products Board (PCPB).

    “We are ready for take-off immediately. We rope in a non-governmental organization, which we intend to utilize for passing of information through the development of an effective communication mix,” he said. Some of the tools the strategy aims to deploy include television adverts, posters, leaflets, billboards and radio jingles.
    Sikuku said the agrochemical industry in East Africa has previously employed the three strategies in fighting counterfeits, but there have been challenges in safeguarding the development of clean supply chain and effective law enforcement.

    “We have tried law enforcement but there have been serious challenges in ensuring its effectiveness. This is partly because counterfeits are being sold by powerful cartels that have infiltrated agencies that should help in ensuring compliance. Some of the cases we filed in court have been pending since 2009. So even as we pursue them, we now want to shift focus to training the farmer/consumer in identifying counterfeits and sensitize them to why they should only use genuine agrochemicals,” he said.

    Counterfeiters have upped their game according to Sikuku, especially in their labeling of the fake products ready for release to the market. The trend also affects counterfeit products in the Kenyan and East Africa market from Far East, China and India according to previous surveys. “The labeling is so good that it is difficult even for some experts to differentiate at face value which label is counterfeit and which is one genuine,” he said.

    Agrochemicals Association of Kenya lost one case previously when an expert from a leading agrochemical manufacturer in Nairobi, who was called to court to identify a genuine label from a fake one, singled out the counterfeit one as genuine, Sikuku said.

    “These cartels somehow get to know where agrochemical manufacturers make their labels and contract the same makers to generate for them similar ones to use on their products making it difficult to differentiate between the two labels,” he said.

    In addition, the CropLife Kenya CEO says the pricing of the counterfeit “is now almost similar with those of genuine agrochemicals unlike before when they were underpriced.” “The only slight difference is the shelf life of the counterfeits which they indicate to be up to five years instead of the standard two to three years for genuine products,” added Sikuku.

    However, CropLife Kenya is now piloting a new technology, the CropLife Holospot Quality Label, which has shown tremendous success in Ghana and Uganda, in an effort to reduce the supply of counterfeit agrochemicals. The technology involves the scratch-off Holospot label on an agrochemical product and sending the 12 digits to the agrochemical manufacturer through mobile phone’s short message service (SMS) to verify if the product is indeed genuine or fake.

    The introduction of this mobile authentication service is also part of a deal between CropLife Kenya and the country’s standards body, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs). Kebs requires by law that all products in the country should have a quality mark as a confirmation that the product is approved to be sold in the market. The quality mark has a number which can be scanned by the seller in the presence of the buyer to confirm the product is genuine.

    The Pest Control Products Board has numbers of all genuine products in the Kenyan market and by scanning the number it will show information about the manufacturer and ingredients. “We are soon getting a short code number from a mobile service provider where buyers of the agrochemical products can send the unique code displayed after scratching the label. They will get an instant message from the manufacturer on whether the product is genuine or counterfeit,” said Sikuku.

    “If we manage to bring on board all the farmers, by empowering them to identify the products they are buying, we will have made huge strides in this fight against counterfeit agrochemicals.” In addition, CropLife Kenya is piloting a project in Kajiado and Kirinyaga counties called the Spray Service Providers scheme.

    The providers will be trained in chemical use, selection, mixing and spraying techniques. They will then help farmers in the purchase and spraying of the agrochemicals at a fee. “The use of spray service providers will eliminate incidents of farmers spraying chemicals at the wrong time of crop maturity for example or using wrong amounts of the chemical which may end up compromising the quality of the crop especially in the international market,” said Sikuku.

    Under the scheme, which is expected to be rolled out countrywide, there will be a main spray provider. Under him will be five spray persons each working with five to 10 farmers. “The program has done well in Zambia where the focus has been on herbicides use. In Kenya we want to use it for all types of pesticides and herbicides,” said Sikuku.

    Meanwhile, CropLife Kenya is carrying out a new baseline study to establish the extent of the counterfeit supply in the local market. “Between April and December of this year we will do a new baseline to establish what is the current,” said Sikuku.

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    Farmers in Homabay District who have traditionally decried low yields due to poor soils have found solace in chilli farming now earning them over Sh1,000 a week in exports, ten times what they earned from maize thanks to a partnership with a chilli exporting company.

    Magdaline Ajowi a farmer in Rangwe village of  Homa Bay District  had become accustomed to watching her barren one eighth acre piece of land harvest after harvest. Poor soils as a result of over use of fertilizers meant that the maximum she could get from her farm was a paltry two bags.

    Her story reverberated across HomaBay district whereas hundreds of farmers succumbed to poor soils. After months of frustration a representative of Mace Foods, a company involved in horticultural exports predominantly chilli   introduced them to the Bird’s Eye Chilli variety. This is the smallest type of chilly, which is about a centimetre long and red in colour when ripe. The crop has a ready market in the European Union.

    After Mace Foods set shop in the area. Agronomist Nickson Agao was deployed to the region to buy the product, but realised that farmers were unable to produce the quantity required. Mr Agao says he further engaged the company to enable him train and convince farmers that the business was viable. Less than a year later, farmers in the region can afford a smile.

    The crop only requires four months to mature from seed to fruit. It takes about a month at the nursery and once transplanted, it takes about three months to be harvested. "We usually solicit seed from supporters of this project on behalf of farmers as part of the programme to fight poverty in this region," said Mr Agao.

    The success of the crop has opened doors to more buyers increasing the farmggate price.  Mr Peter Ouma Muga, an employee of East African Growers, now buys seeds for farmers and distributes to them free of charge. He says this is part of the social responsibility of the company, which has given him some days off duty to assist communities in doing business agriculture as opposed to subsistence.

    Magdaline now say they can now employ young men and women to help pick the crop, whose harvest is quite involving. Mr Agao says: "We ship the chilly to Amsterdam in before it is transported to Germany, our headquarters." A kilogramme of dry chilly sells at Sh100 and if a farmer delivers 10 kilogrammes a week, she earns Sh1,000 which is paid on the spot.

    Last year alone, Mace Foods collected 14 tonnes of chilly from the region, despite the fact that the crop was introduced late in the year. By end of March this year, farmers had delivered six tonnes which they describe as impressive. The chilly is of high quality in the sense that its pong is high and its colour lively red, which sells fast in the EU market. No chemicals are used, and this makes Kenyan pepper stronger in the foreign market.

    And how do the farmers handle diseases? They crush chilly and spray the plants to kill any parasites. Composite manure is used as opposed to chemical manure. The area around Lake Victoria is suitable for this type of chilly, and if all people embraced the crop, the region would be soon financially stable.

    The high temperatures at the lake region makes the chilly dry without developing any aflatoxins, which would otherwise compromise its quality and make it dangerous for consumption.

    The crop, if marketed and embraced by the community around Lake Victoria would take advantage of the current suspension from the EU market of Asian chilly. Kenya is rated second in quality chilly production in the EU market, according to Mr Agao, adding: "We need more farmers to join and capitalise on the readily available market".

    Michael Otieno Okoth is an expert of nursery development and transplanting of the crop. He says a packet of seeds contain about 8,000, which translates to 8,000 trees that cover about an eighth of an acre. Although the crop is drought resistant, rainy season makes it sprout fast and bear fruits at a faster rate, says Mr Okoth.

    The chairman of Ndiru Chilly Farmers, Mr Charles Odera says Mace Foods introduced the seeds in the area, paying half of the cost until well-wishers came in to assist pay for the seeds fully. "At the beginning, it was difficult to grow the crop, but now we are used to it. We can now employ young men and women to pick our crop," says Mr Odera.

    He says farmers are now able to pay school fees for their children, build decent houses and buy themselves food. Mr Muga said he had distributed about 500 packets of seed to farmers. He says that a packet, once planted, would yield 4,000 kilogrammes, which would translate to Sh400,000.

    "Talk about this region where the poverty index is very high and you realise that such a project will get us out of the woods," says Mr Muga. The chilly project has been adopted by the people of Kagan, Kochia and Gem, all in Rangwe Division.

    The farmers, apart from chilly, have taken to growing pineapples, onions and bananas for commercial purposes. Mr Muga said the farmers would soon diversify their crops to growing ginger, chamomile (an ingredient for cooking tea believed to kill stress), water melon and butternut.

    The project, although small, could help alleviate poverty in the region, taking into account the short maturation period and the farm input required to get instant money.

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    A farmers’ cooperative has delivered Uasin Gishu farmers from the burden of poor market prices, tripled their earnings and exposed them to market opportunities, in a model that is now being credited countrywide for insulating farmers from market vagaries.

    Amid market challenges for agro based products, innovative farmers from Uasin Gishu County have devised a market oriented cooperative society helping them tap into the lucrative markets and registering year round supply.

    Started out as a farmers group two years ago under the name Ami Farm, the 50 farmers inspired by the success stories of others in the area had only one aim, to mint millions through agribusiness. However, after two seasons of immense toiling with no returns, the members lost hope with some contemplating on trying out other ventures. Philip Tanui the head of the group narrated that all was not rosy as they had initialized. “We had established a greenhouse but the returns were not good. To make matters worse, the market for our harvest was a hustle. The market leaders could not trust us because we were unreliable and our crops were a bit seasonal and therefore could not sustain the much needed year long supply.”

    But a visit by the Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprise (KAVES) after hearing the farmers’ plight changed their plight made the turnaround.  One of the extension officers advised them to form a more focused organization. Based on the tip, the members met and formed farmers’ cooperative society with clear cut plans and policies. Tanui noted that the formation of Master Seed Mararu Cooperative Society was a turning point as it has tripled the growth of their fortunes and multiplied opportunities.

    We have divided our group into members of five with every subgroup assigned a crop of their choice. The organization has put into consideration the fact that markets demand a constant supply and to sustain this, the crops are planted in shifts. For instance if a group of five members plants kales this month, then the next five members who are also interested in planting the same crop plants after about five weeks.

    According to Tanui, this plan enables them to supply constantly year round without disappointing their market. “It is very difficult to get stable markets especially for us who target large supermarket chains like Nakumatt and restaurant. Therefore having suffered initially, we have laid out procedures that ensure that once we get a client to supply our products, we do not run dry.”  

    Knowledge acquisition and exchange is also another front that the cooperative members are embroiled. We have an ultimate goal of uplifting our members and since some members have different projects and also access online tutorials, we encourage exchange of the skills and adoption of modern techniques. The team meets every Wednesday and unlike other cooperative societies, Tanui and his friends meet in their adored office ‘farms’. “We want to inspire each other with what we are doing and therefore organize our meetings in members’ farms where the host show cases for us what he or she is doing.”  

    Due to the organizational record books, and growing financial strength, other agribusiness partners are also partnering with them. Currently, the team has over ten acres of land under snow peas. East African Growers has signed a contract with the members to grow the crop and offer them ready market. The firm offered us seeds whose cost is deducted after the sale of the harvests to them. 

    Although snow peas are lucrative in the market, Tanui noted that their group members have planted in small sizes of land with some members planting only on a 0.2 acre land due to the labour intensive nature of the crop especially during harvesting. “0.2acre land produces yields amounting to over Sh24000 but because the crop requires more attention and inputs for instance quick harvesting. This is the reason as to why we have adopted it on a small scale and diversified it with other crops.”

    For one to join the group, a registration fee of Sh500 is paid and one is required to purchase at least 15 shares each costing Sh1000 over a span of one year. The money according to Tanui helps in the running of the cooperative. The greatest role the group is currently playing is pooling together of harvests and selling the produce as a single entity which helps us to have a higher bargaining power and also ensure that we have constant supply.

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