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    A rare Aloe vera variety is enjoying impressive uptake among households in Western Kenya thanks to its superior medicinal value with the company behind its introduction now targeting commercialization to allow farmers reap from its growing demand. The bitter-less plant which has been neglected and considered wild grew on its own in forested areas in the region. However, the trend has now shifted with many farmers creating space in their backyard for this medicinal plant thanks to the awareness campaigns about its’ medicinal value.

    The awareness campaign was initiated four years ago by Bio Gardening Innovations BIOGI,a not for profit  community  based organization ,implementing sustainable livelihoods  projects in Western Kenya, and is counting success with demand for the plant’s seeds rising. “Nature is generous and has always favoured us because this plant has been in our surrounding for quite a long time save for our ignorance about the medicinal value in it. After empowering farmers with knowledge about its’ attributes, we can only blame ourselves if we don’t drive the masses into its adoption hence the launch of its campaign in the area.” explained Ferdinand Wafula the head of the organization.

    This type of Aloe-vera known as ‘True Aloe’ is green with white markings and takes about seven months to mature. Wafula’s team is breeding the seeds for the farmers and also encouraging the farmers to exchange seeds among themselves in order to foster the deepening of the plant in the area. “The seeds are not available in the market and therefore the few farmers who already have the plant help us in seed multiplication. We also have our own farms that are helping in seed multiplication and exchange among the members of the various groups that are already affiliated to our organization.”

    To ensure its quick growth, farmers are advised to prepare the land and also use organic manure while planting the seed. The planting season is best done during the rainy season around March and April a fact that Wafula explained will help increase the germination rate. “The only challenge with this plant is the initial planting time where one must give it proper care but after sprouting after three weeks, the plant has over 99 percent chances of survival to maturity.

    It’s resistant to many shocks like poor climate and is hardly infested by any pest and diseases and therefore the only requirement from the farmer is to ensure that the garden is weeded and timely pruning is adhered to.” Depending on the soil and the existing climatic conditions the plant may take even less time to mature. “The beauty about it is that it’s not a one season plant as it may even last for over five years.”

    Although Aloe-Vera is widely known for its’ medicinal properties, this unique type is exciting farmers due to its’ bitter-less properties. According to Wafula, many people in the area eat the fresh raw Aloe-Vera without any difficulties. The plant is very soft and has near salty taste as opposed to what many people associate with other varieties which are bitter and difficult to even taste leave alone chewing it.  The plant is now known by the locals as a cure for many ailments like Malaria, ulcers and even wounds. “Anyone with wounds or even skin diseases like ring worms which are common among children just smear the gel and healing process starts taking shape although the time frame depends with the intensity of the disease.”

    Although the plant has a huge economic power, Wafula noted that their main priority now is to ensure that every household in the region adopts it and uses it to improve on their health and nutrition. “The locals have to first adopt and benefit socially from the plant before we scale it to the commercialization stage. You can only commercialize something after its’ acceptance in the society.

    According to Dr. T. Ombrello from University College Cork Ireland, in the past, True Aloe vera leaves were sliced and laid on the skin to relieve itching and to heal burns.  Today it is claimed to work effectively on sunburns, minor burns, wrinkles, insect bites, skin irritations, cuts and scratches.  “A “tea” made from the dried sap of this species is said to make a good wash for wounds and the eyes.”  Interest in Aloe vera healing properties has revived in recent decades in respect to its use as a treatment for radioactive burns.

    The major source of the raw sap today is the Netherlands Antilles, the true aloe having been introduced there several hundred years ago.  Historically, physicians commonly prescribed aloe sap for “cleansing the body” of a variety of “toxins”. Applied to an infant’s thumb, it was a sure way to stop thumb sucking.

    A ten year cattle rearing hobby of rearing cattle has transformed into a fully ventured award winning commercial dairy farming, with Kalia Farm becoming a milk powerhouse in the semi arid Ukambani region, and creating dozen jobs in an area buffeted by vagaries of weather.

    Dr. Nelson Nyamu the man behind Kalia Farm which was recently voted overall winner in Smallholder Fully Commercialized Farms Category of the National Farmers Awards which were organized by Elgon Kenya Limited and the Ministry of Agriculture dared to invest where hope never existed. His zeal and passion to move agriculture in Machakos County from an agonizing venture to smart farming has earned him international recognition. “Farming is my passion, keeping cows is my forte. I have seen lives transformed. That’s why I am in this to stay,” added an excited Nyamu.

    Dr. Nyamu, a physiotherapist by training and the managing director for Physical Therapy Services Limited  which runs a private practice that deals with both clinical work and sales of rehabilitation equipment through out the EA region, also doubles up as the Managing Director for Kalia Farm, which he visits on weekends at least twice a month. “Sometimes the work schedule at my clinic is very tight, but I have never failed to go check on the progress of my farm at least two times a month.

    This farm is not just a side business, it’s a labour of love, its what gives me purpose in life. I have always had a passion for dairy farming and I am glad I have actualized it. There is no turning back,” Dr. Nyamu added. Kalia Farm which started in 1998 and with just one cow, then moving to six which Dr. Nyamu says by then was just hobby, went fully commercial in 2002. The farm stands on 2.5 acre land with the diary taking about half an acre, a one acre house compound and the rest of land on lucerne bananas and other fruit trees.

    For Dr. Nyamu the Lucerne, categorized under wonder shrubs, has been his saving grace at a time when the cost of commercial feeds has been at unprecedented highs. The shrubs are mixed with other feeds and are known to increase milk yields due to their unparalleled nutritional value. “I have saved a lot with these bushes that’s why I tend to them with zeal. Since learning about them and adopting them I have learnt the wonders of upping milk yields,” he added.

    Little wonder then that the 105 Holstein Friesian cows that he has managed to produce over 600 liters of milk on average per day which is supplied to various institutions in the county and beyond. His target by next year is to up the yields to1000 a day, which will enable him to start adding value to the milk in order to reap the untapped benefits of value addition. “t is very motivating to mentor and see other farmers come up to diary systems that work very well for them,” said Dr. Nyamu who has now employed 10 employees including a manager, a maintenance guy and a house help.

    But the long distance from Nairobi which means getting some inputs has been costly, coupled some of the suppliers for feed concentrates interfering with the quality of the feeds affecting his animal’s production capacity have been his biggest challenge.

    Elated about the National Farmers Awards which he hails as a step in the right direction in motivating farmers, Dr. Nyamu says he is in dairy farming to stay and thanks his wife for being the force behind his success.  “Success and my love for dairy cows and my family have been my motivation plus striving to prove that in semi-arid areas diary can do very well since the milk price is always better. Hard work pays and excellence comes from doing the same thing right many times,” he concluded.

    As vanguard farmers explore various ways of maximizing on land use and reaping more from farming, cereal production seem to be their forte. But forget the traditional maize and beans, a new crop has been in the offing that is turning farmers into overnight millionaires.

    Barley which is sought after by beer companies as one of the prime ingredients in the making of beer, is enjoying impressive uptake by farmers with the jump in its cultivation having shot by over 60 percent in the last four years.

    Interestingly though, while it traditionally was farmed by large scale farmers, a new trend where beer companies have chosen to give incentives to smallholder farmers has seen both yield and acreage under production go sky high.

    But the farmers are still hedging themselves from market vagaries by growing the barley side by side with other traditional cereals like maize and beans. Behind towering lushes of barley plantations is the story of Douglas Nderi a smallholder farmer in Narok county whose 4 acre piece of land has made a turnaround since he embraced barley farming.

    After receiving a visit from officials at East African Malting Limited, a subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited he was convinced of the potential that lay in this venture.  He has never regretted setting aside three acres for barley production. Each acre fetches Sh15,000. His is a classic example of how vanguard farmers are hedging themselves from the vagaries of volatile markets for traditional cereals like maize. He has an assured market including insurance of his crop and subsidised farm inputs such as fertiliser and seeds.

    He represents thousands of farmers now delving into barley farming buoyed by encouraging returns.   A 90 kilogramme bag is bought at Sh3,285 compared to maize that fetches Sh1,900 for the same quantity.

    Rift Valley province where Narok falls under has led the country in reaping the fortunes of barley farming, with the area under cultivation of the crop in the region increasing from 3,012 hectares to 21,630 hectares while the production has gone up from 92,434 bags to 627,705 bags last season.
    The rise and rise of the cereal crop comes as other crops like maize and wheat record appallingly as new diseases and unpredictable weather takes toil on yields.

    At the same time wheat production in the country is expected to decline this season due to the ongoing heavy rains that has interrupted harvesting of the crop in the South Rift region. The dangerous Ug 99 disease and wheat rust has eaten into farmers’ pockets as it subjects them to extra costs in containing the spread of the disease.

    Sub-division of large wheat farms into smaller uneconomical plots, inadequate of certified seeds and attack by migratory birds especially quelea birds has contributed to decline production of the crop.

    But even as barley continues to bask in glory, experts are only guaranteeing farmers of sustained yields if they take good care of the crop which is susceptible to attacks. But with the right arsenals like Impact Fungicide, and Eazole, distributed by Elgon Kenya Limited farmers can concentrate on upping yield as pest control is assured.

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