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    The fortunes of French beans farmers in the country have been raised with the introduction of new varieties that have uniform maturity eliminating the tedious harvesting schedules that comes in stages consequently leading to improved yields and lower costs of production compared conventional bean varieties in the market.

    French bean is one of the vegetable crops that is largely grown in Kenya for export market. It is grown by both the small scale and large farmers. “We have French beans for the export market as well as the canning industry. French bean seeds are in several categories. The extra-fine, the fine and the bobby and among the categories, there are several varieties. Each market has its preference so the farmer chooses the category and variety depending on the market or end user requirement,” explained Everlyne Musyoka a Commercial Manger at Amiran.

    The new seed varieties in the mechanical harvesting category will help in reducing the high costs of the intensive labour needed for harvesting the crop which will normally take an average of 4 harvests. The mechanical harvested varieties will have high potential yields with the capacity of been harvested once either by use of machines or by using the existing labour force making it easier for growers to plan and project their yields with more accuracy.

    According to Everlyn, the introduction of these new varieties of beans is part of a wider and sustained long term demand trends by both growers and consumers as vegetable consumption worldwide increases in volume and the value. “As disposable incomes grow, people are becoming more cautious of the health benefits with vegetables replacing meat and carbohydrates in the diets. This is causing a big evolution in the vegetable sector and opening a platform for increased use of advanced breeding techniques,” explained Everlyn.

    She cautions that for most Kenyan farmers to compete for spaces in the international food stores like Tesco, they have to produce high quality products under the most possible lowest costs in order to realize the substantial returns hence the need to adopt better varieties that can compete on an international platform.

    Currently vegetable breeders are engaged in ensuring that the sector gets the best seed varieties and they are keenly breeding for all links in the vegetable supply chain. They are looking into several issues like increased yields, disease and pest resistances, shipping and keeping quality, product uniformity, taste, nutritional and health values delivered.

    “Amiran Kenya Ltd is in the forefront of ensuring that these various values are delivered to our clients in our product portfolio as a way of ensuring that our growers remain valued and relevant globally in the horticulture sector. As the world population grows, estimated to hit 9billion people by the year 2050, certainly there is much to be done and the global trends in the sector will definitely shift to support this growth,” noted Musyoka.

    Part of this growth will be introduction of new varieties that will give very high yields at a very low cost of production such as the mechanical harvested bean varieties The new French bean varieties are currently under multiple location trials and expected to be commercialized by end of the year. The varieties mature within 45 days to 60 days depending on the location and growing periods within the year.

    Unlike the other conventional French beans varieties these varieties presents uniform flowering, uniform pod growth as well as uniform maturity. This enables these varieties to be ideal for mechanical or single harvesting. “The crop presents a plant height of 55-60cm, a good developed root system. It is very fleshy and does not show seeds in maturity stage. Equally it has a very good shipping ability and with the aid of the active shelf life extension bags another innovation from Amiran, you are assured of 30 days shelf life,” said Everlyn.

    The other conventional beans do not mature uniformly prompting farmers to harvest them in different stages a trait that Everlyn Musyoka  noted reduces yield potential and increases the cost of both labour as well as prompting a prolonged use of pesticide sprays.

    “If the beans are not maturing uniformly then the farmer will be forced to pay more for labour costs . In addition, during harvesting, the plant is weakened with sustained flower abortion, a fact that contributes to reduced expected yields.”

    In case after the first round of harvesting a farmer realizes some disease and pests incidences such as bean rust, then he or she is forced to spray the crops to ensure that he can continue harvesting healthy pods.  In the process, the chemical usage goes up hence contributing to higher costs of production as well as limiting the farmers access to international markets considering the strict rules applied when it comes to meeting the maximum residue levels.

    Other vegetable crop varieties that are also receiving attention from breeders to improve quality include tomatoes, water melons, onions among others. For instance, there is much efforts being done to breed tomatoes with high content of lycopene .People who have diets rich in tomatoes, which contain lycopene, appear in some studies to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach.

    Water melons are being developed to increase firmness, introduce different colours and introduction of smaller sizes of about 2 kilos famously known as the minis which is said to be ideal for the European markets as their family sizes shrink .

    An agronomist has introduced a cheap way of steaming soil, killing over 90 percent of bacteria and other disease causing organisms in the soil which are responsible for the increasing wilt diseases among greenhouse farmers costing them fortunes. The steaming doesn’t affect the nutrients in the soil.

    The introduction of the greenhouses which are famously branded as Amiran Farmers Kits was thought to be the end of the food security problems in addition to boosting household incomes. However, many of the clients who adopted the kits have been struggling with emerging issues. It is this turn of events that have prompted Mutuni Christopher an agronomist working with Amiran to source for an ideal solution to continue keeping clients happy.  
    “After doing a survey among our farmers to ascertain the major challenges they were grappling with, we realized that majority of the farmers were faced with bacterial wilt which is as a result of micro organisms in the soils which curtail any success that these farmers had hoped to get from their smart farming initiatives.

    The high level of destruction the bacteria cause to the crops have earned them a more seemingly dreaded title. “These micro organisms in the soils which we mostly refer to as HIV virus of the soil can cause up to 100 percent losses to a farmer depending on their intensity in the soil. These problems has been on the rise and although some farmers are advised to conduct the more affordable soil solarization, the technology is at times not convenient especially to farmers who are located in areas that rarely receive intense heat from the sun or to those who wish to plant during rainy seasons,” explained Mutuni.

    According to him, he then had to devise a method that was ideal for killing this disease causing micro organism in the soil any time of the year without relying on sun availability hence the birth of the soil steaming technique.
    The soil steaming equipment developed by Mutuni is mainly made up of a metallic drum with piping systems that are then inserted in the steaming kiln.

    The steaming kiln is composed of a solar rig cover.  The steaming kiln can accommodate about two wheelbarrow of soil although the size may vary depending on the needs of a farmer. The base of the piping system is connected to about four sub-pipes. Each sub-pipe is drilled with about five holes facing upwards. The cost of constructing the kiln varies depending on one’s sourcing of materials and fabrication labour cost.

    The kiln is filled with soil covering the sub-pipes and the kiln covered tightly with another solar rig cover. “The ratio of soil and manure being filled in the kiln should be at 1:1,” added Mutuni. The drum is filled with about three quarters of water and the lid tightly covered to ensure that there is no gas leaking from it. Mutuni explained that one then starts heating the water in the drum boiling it for about four hours.

    “At the end of the exercise, over 90 percent of the disease causing micro-organisms is killed and the soil mixture is ready for use although farmers are advised to use soil bags. “Once the soil is steamed in the right way it can last for over two seasons with yields being steady and one not seeing any menace of the wilt diseases,” said Mutuni.   

    According to research done by KARI, the most affected soils by the disease causing micro organisms are in Nyanza and Western regions of the country although farmers are advised to always conduct a soil analysis to ascertain the extent of damage of their soils. “Soil analysis is very vital for any farmer who is venturing into the smart especially given the high investments being made. These disease causing bacteria mostly affect tomatoes and green pepper.”  The technology has already been demonstrated and adopted to farmers in Kisumu, Kiambu and Machakos.

    A furrow that was used by the colonial administrators to punish the locals of Yatta area in Machakos is turning the semi arid area into an oasis, with irrigated farms supplying households with surplus produce which they sell.

    There are pipes underneath connected from the furrow extending to different farms. “Look at the lush of green surrounding my farm. This place was once rocky land with no possibility of any plant growing here. Now I earn from it, and it has kept my children in school,” said Martha Mwende a single mother of four who has used the water from the furrow for the last ten years.

    She plants, kales, onions, avocado and tomatoes on her one acre piece of land which in a good harvest gives her Sh80,000.

    “The beauty with the crops I have chosen to grow is that they offer me year round supply. I am never out of business because I alternate these crops. I also don’t spend a lot in labout because my children go for a day school so they water the crops every evening and do the weeding on weekends,” Mwende further added.

    The farmers are however concerned that the water may dry up because the furrow is covered with soil and the government has taken too long to solve the problem.

    The furrow had dried for six months as a result of prolonged drought which saw farmers lose a lot of produce. Farmers are therefore asking the government and the necessary institutions to divert some water from River Athi to keep the furrows functioning.

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