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    An August 2017 report by the Kenya Meteorological Department has indicated that in Northeastern, Northwestern and Southeastern parts of the country , areas where over four million pastoralists reside , will experience enhanced rainfall until December, a factor that will facilitate the growth of grass for their livestock.

    “Foliage and pasture conditions in the pastoral areas of Northeastern, Northwestern and Southeastern Kenya are expected to improve significantly as a result of the expected good rainfall performance during the season,” reported the Kenya Metrological Department.

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    “The onset of the rains is expected in the second to third week of October and the cessation during the fourth week of November to first week of December.”

    During the rainy season, grass grows faster due to the presence of enough water however this can also be lead to the growth of soft grass which experts warn it should not be fed to the animals when fresh.

    “When the rains come, new young grass sprouts,this is very good for the animals. Animals easily pick at the soft grass and eat it up in big quantities but farmers should take care because this grass has a lot of water and little fibre, which is not very good for the animal,” said Peter Muturu, Livestock Production Officer- Nairobi County.

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    “Animals need fibre for proper digestion. The water fills up the stomachs and it is virtually useless.”

    Muturu advises livestock keepers to harvest or cut some of the young grass and dry it under the sun,this will turn it into good feed.

    The rainy season is also the season when most livestock farmers in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), grow fodder crops like Cenchrus Ciliaris (African Foxtail Grass) which is the grass of choice for ASAL areas. This grass specie is highly palatable with high leaf production.

    Pasture production in most pastoral areas in Kenya is based on Cenchrus ciliaris and Erasgrostis superba grass which is loved by the Maasais according to Kerio Valley Development Authority. The two are the most popular pasture species in ASALS where livestock rearing is the mainstay economic activity.

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    Cenchrus Ciliaris grass for instance can produce up to 200 bales of hay from one hectare of land under good agronomic practices. Upon maturity, the grass can be used to make hay, stored and fed to livestock during the dry season when there is little growth of grass.

    It can be of good use during dry spells when pasture is a major challenge to livestock farmers or pastoralists in these areas.

    The first rainy season of this year the country experienced below-normal rainfall that was mainly recorded during March-April-May. Most parts of the country experienced generally sunny and dry weather conditions during June-July-August according to the weather report.

     

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    Lack of better and up-to-date information that has made most farmers make uninformed decisions on farming practices leading to unnecessary losses has prompted group of some agricultural experts from western and parts of Rift Valley to start up a farmers’ Whatsapp group with the aim of sharing agribusiness information to bridge the information gap.


    The group which is known as Kilimo Bora Public Private Partnerships comprises of agricultural officers from public and private sectors, information officers and farmers.


    Mr. Milton Patrice, an agricultural extension officer from Bokeira Ward in Nyamira County is one of the founders and administrators of the group. “When we realised that our farmers were lacking better and immediate information on farm practices, we decided to start a WhatsApp group to help them,” said Patrice.

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    To avoid confusing farmers who are the majority in the group, the group is strictly about sharing agribusiness stories and any member posting anything other than that is warned or even expelled from the group if need be.


    “In this time of heated political and social debates across the country we protect our members from being diverted from the main purpose of the group which is to share agribusiness issues to something else by sternly taking proper actions on members who post irrelevant posts,” said Patrice.


    Some of the information circulated in the group include proper agronomics from planting to harvesting, new seeds and fertilizer, emerging technology in farming, farm machinery, agricultural events, and new methods in farming among others.


    The group now prides in 233 members of which 200 are active since it was started in February this year. Every month over 40 farmers receive information on up to date upcoming agricultural events and new seed varieties . Trainings are organized and facilitated by extension officers within and outside the group.


    “Since I joined Kilimo Bora Public Private Partnerships WhatsApp group I have benefited from advice from experts, connection with farm input suppliers and frequent assessments of my onion farm by extension officers,” Said Mercy Kemunto who is expecting to harvest her one acre of onions early August.


    Patrice says that they have managed to group farmers in different areas for the benefit of those who cannot afford to be on WhatsApp due to one reason or another.


    Farmers are just one of those many Kenyans who take advantage of the speedy Internet and the wake of smartphone usage in Kenya to help them get and share information not only to grow themselves but also the community.


    Akamai’s 2016 State of the Internet report ranked Kenya’s internet as the fastest in Internet speed in Africa and Middle East.

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    harvested onions.jpg

    Fresh harvested onions. Onions can escape the pangs of drought given that they are ready for harvest in four months. Photo gallery.


    To increase her income to beat the rising cost of living, Royal Mabati employee Mercy Kemunto has delved into four-month-maturing onions, abandoning maize crop- which takes almost double time to harvest.


    The Nakuru farmer opted for onions given that they are less prone to pests like aphids. Onions produce a pungent smell that repels some pests. Actually, some farmers grow it around other vulnerable vegetables as a pest defender.


    “Maize is the preferred ‘meal’ of the fall armyworms. The pest has destroyed most of the maize in Kenya, with the Rift Valley and Western parts being the most affected. Onions are less at risk,” she said.


    Kemunto, who works as the sales person of the company, said drought has also affected maize production in the past. It takes between six to eight months to plant and harvest maize. But onions can escape the pangs of drought given that they are ready for harvest in four months.


    Having acquired an irrigation kit, she says, the production cycle in a year can be two or three, with short season crops unlike maize. With an initial capital of Sh35, 000, she sourced sets from a renowned onion seedling supplier in Nakuru.
    In February, this year, Kemunto started preparing her farm by ploughing and adding manure. Since she had a readily available water tank and pipes, her work was cut out.


    One of the three acres initially set aside for maize was chopped off for onions.


    “My plan is to shift slowly from overreliance on rain-fed agriculture to irrigation. Rains are unreliable now” says Kemunto.
    Maize planting is no longer profitable in the wake of importation from other countries like Mexico and South Africa at cheaper costs. Head smuts have also ravaged the crop.


    In April, Kemunto planted her onion sets on her one acre farm 10cm by 15cm apart. According to the advice she got from Kilimo Bora, a farmers’ Whatsapp group, she learnt that onions thrive well in firm soil.
    Mercy used drip irrigation to water the onions and this was beneficial as this method it saves water and discourages foliar diseases.


    She used NPK fertilizer on her onions to provide all the necessary nutrients required for the development of bulbs. NPK fertilizers are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium which are useful in the development of bulbs for onions. Kemunto used two 50 kg bags NPK fertilizer per acre with each bag costing her Ksh. 3200. She applied mulching by using grass clippings to control weeds and preserve water on the soil.


    Her purple onions will be ready for sale in early August. Mercy will work with established agribusiness farmers to identify and market her produce to various hotels in Nakuru, Nairobi and the surrounding towns. She expects to harvest about three to four tonnes from her one acre farm which she will sell at 900 shillings per 13 kg net (the price is according to Soko +, a digital commodity trading and information system, linking small scale farmers to end retailers/bulk purchasers of produce)

     

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