An information resource center has transformed the lives of hundreds of farmers in the semi arid Laikipia County assisting them share knowledge with peers while diversifying crop production to shield themselves from poor rains.
The resource center has been termed a breakthrough in the food security resolve by experts following numerous studies that show one of the biggest contributors to poor and low yields is lack of information on farm management.
The Arid Land Information Network (ALIN) has also pointed farmers to the right and ready markets even as their peers contend with meager earnings based on crowded markets. Members who access the resource center are able to learn about new crops, livestock breeds, crop husbandry and marketing.
The group behind the project is Ng’arua Focal group which boasts of 54 gender balanced members operating within a 40-square kilometre area. "We are involved in animal husbandry, fruit farming and business activities where members sell cereal to distant markets. We are also a source of community knowledge as we are able to access information from East Africa through our parent network," said Charles Mureithi the chairman of Ng’arua focal group. Five computers don the information center with one connected to GPRS through a local mobile telephony company. Open software also available in the resource center enable farmers to actively upload and download vital farming information on passion fruits and other crops.
And to move with changing times most of the local farmers in Laikipia have invested in apiaries on their farms chiefly to boost pollination of fruit flowers and for honey production. "We cannot be sure of bees coming from afar to pollinate our orchard. We have to have them on our farms as some fruits like oranges and mangoes need constant attention from bees to form," noted Mureithi on whose farm are 10 hive apiary. The biggest drawback for the passion fruit farmers has been the stem rot disease which has been killing many mature plants, demoralising the farmers.
"It would help cut our losses if a permanent solution for the rampant disease is found," said Gatama, who has been farming for years. While tobacco white flies and leaf beetles may attack the crop, they are locally not considered serious threats.
While elephants are a perpetual problem in Laikipia, they do not eat passion fruit, though they destroy the wires and posts for hoisting them, according to the local farmers. A local non-governmental organisation Tree is Life Project has been working closely with the passion fruit farmers through training. "Our organisation trains farmers on growing, value addition and marketing opportunities available. We are also sensitizing farmers on the need of increasing acreage to boosts returns", said George Kamau, the project's local extension officer.