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    A veterinary officer in Mwingi area of Eastern Kenya is training farmers in the arid area to mitigate against changes in weather through pasture preservation technology with over 60 farmers now comfortably taking care of their animals.

    Dr Jim Katu who received scholarship by Australia Awards Africa Fellowship in Agriculture Livestock Course decided to return home after the scholarship to ease the difficult lives of the rural farmers in his village.

    Their situation was being exacerbated by increasingly changing weather patterns.

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    Dr Jim Katu has brought a glimmer of hope for these farming communities. He undertook an Australia Awards Africa Fellowship in Agriculture Livestock Course in 2012. On completing the fellowship, he returned to his post as District Veterinary Officer in the Ministry of Livestock in Mwingi East District, where he set upon utilising his new-found knowledge to assist farmers in the arid and semi-arid areas.

    “Climatic change is proving to be a major constraint to agriculture among the Mwingi communities. I have integrated knowledge and skills learned in pasture preservation from the course and successfully trained two community farmer groups of about 25 to 30 members each and six staff members as trainer of trainers on improved pasture cultivation and fodder preservation,” says Dr. Katu.

    He further initiated an ongoing community project in perennial pasture establishments as a key drought mitigation strategy for the district that has an estimated total livestock population of about 70,000 cattle and 80,000 goats. Eighty percent of the population is composed of rural dwellers.

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    “The course proved effective not only in fine tuning country-specific departmental community projects but also created the ideal setting for innovative platforms and professional networks. Such networks will be effective in developing applicable and sustainable mechanisms for small scale farmers to adopt improved farming practices resilient to the impacts of climatic change across Africa,” Dr. Katu added.

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    Apis mellifera Western honey bee

    Renowned biologist Josan Salk once said that there would be no life on earth within 50 years if all insects disappeared.

    Salk’s conclusion stems from the fact that more than 85 per cent of global vegetation requires insects for pollination, something that makes the bugs a key factor for continued crop production.

    Yet, and sadly, the number of bees dying per year around the world has increased dramatically from between 5-10 per cent in 2006 to a high of 30 per cent due to climate change and human activities, this according to a recent Global Research dubbed the death and extinction of bees.

    Ironically, the immediate beneficiaries of insect pollination are the greatest contributors to the death of these insects through uncanny farming practices, notably the use of inorganic chemicals for pest and insect control.

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    In the USA, for instance, 40 per cent of honeybee colonies died between mid 2014 and 2015, with pesticides accounting for 11.2 per cent of those deaths.

    Neonicotinoid pesticides mostly used on corn and other cereal crops were found to block nerve endings of bees, paralyzing and forcing them to starve to death. The study conducted by the country’s department of agriculture estimated the economic value of bees’ pollination to be between $10-15b.

    More research

    The International Pollinators Initiative, a programme by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) and FAO in 2013 conducted a study in seven countries across the globe, including Kenya, which found that farmers had limited knowledge on the benefits of pollinator insects.

    The study, which sampled 500 smallholder farms in Kenya, revealed that 68 per cent of them use fire to harvest honey, killing most of worker and marble bees responsible for pollination.

     47 per cent of the farmers interviewed could not comprehend the relationship between pollinator insects like bees and butterflies and food production with 72 per cent of them choosing the use of chemical pesticides as the best in eradicating harmful pests and insects on their farms.

    Generally, the study found out that harmful pests and insects have developed resistance to most chemical pests and insecticides used but kill beneficial organism of the farm. A part from killing pollinators, those chemicals destroys nematodes that attack and kill pests in the ground.

    The researchers asked governments to come up with well structured agricultural policies to minimize the use of chemical pest and insecticides by farmers and recommended organic pesticides as safest way of conserving agricultural friendly insects that contributes to almost $220b of global food.

    Local players

    In a bid to arrest this growing concern of pollinators’ extinction, some organizations both locally and globally are coming up with innovative ways of increasing awareness and conservation of these insects. Last year, in Kenya, ICIPE launched the African Reference Laboratory for Bee Health to research and capacity build on the health of wild bees. It was aimed at looking at pesticide residues, diseases, pests and viruses that are affecting these bees and develop a harmonized procedures and legislations on bee heath into national development agendas across Africa, and act as a build up for a pan- African framework on bee health.

    Meawhile, Koppert, a multinational agricultural based research and solution provision company is countering the wide pollinator deficit across the globe by artificially breeding and selling some of these pollinators to farmers across the world. Bumble bees are some of the insects the company breeds and sells to farmers to aid in pollination. They are packaged in minipol beehives containing brood and sugar solution.

    In case of difficult pollination, like hybridization, where both parental lines produce little pollen or nectar or are not attractive to regular pollinators, the company has unique pollinator flies to ensure crop reproduction.

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    Koppert also rears and sells the Natufly, botanically known as Lucilia sericata, to farmers, who keep them in their greenhouses to aid pollination in cabbages, carrots, onions and cauliflowers. Those flies are packaged in two litter bottles carrying at least 33,000 flies, according to Douglas Mureithi, a researcher at the company’s Kenyan branch.

    While such initiatives may not offer permanent solutions to tame extinction of pollinators, they provide a positive benchmarking platform for agricultural stakeholders across the globe to develop relevant policies to conserve agricultural friendly insects and save the existence of both flora and fauna.

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    2DU Kenya 86 5367322642 1

    Small holder farmers, who account for 90 per cent of the agricultural output in Africa, are extremely poor, because of poor market information for their produce, a study by the Agricultural Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) say.

     
    The report revealed that 85 per cent of smallholder farmers lack information and connectivity to lucrative markets at provincial, national and global levels hence resort to subsistence farming or sell their produce cheaply at local markets. Further, the report observed that the village economy by small holder farmers results in low investment, weak incentives, and low adoption of smart farming technologies.
     
    Poor infrastructure linking village farmers to the world and a poor or lack of government policies regarding smallholder farmers were identified as key obstacles towards farmers economic traction.
     
     
    In Kenya for instance, small scale maize farmers end up selling their produce to middlemen at a loss of up to 40 per cent, according to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
     
    Rose Andaje, NCPB Corporate Affairs Manager acknowledged that poor infrastructure was inflating the cost of doing business especially in the agricultural sector. She cited poor road network and low internet connectivity ?-which leads to ?a wide market information gap especially for rural farmers -as the major hindrances to agricultural growth.
     
    In response, various organisations, such as the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), have set up systems to dispatch market information to farmers' mobile phones.
     
    NAFIS' system allows farmers to access market information by simply calling the numbers 020-5100102 at normal rates. The system was designed in 2009, but has since been upgraded to include specific hot line numbers to specific agricultural categories like livestock, cereals, vegetables, poultry etc.
     
    Those with access to internet can visit www.nafis.go.ke and search for any market information including latest prices of agricultural commodities in major wholesale stores across the country. The information is regularly updated by Extension Officers and a Voice-Based Service and contains summarized information which farmers’ access using mobile phones.
     
    NAFIS say the initiative has so far reached 2.1m small scale farmers in the country, although it has a capacity to reach 4.5m.
     
     
    Bonyo said that the system has taken advantage of the high mobile phone penetration in the country, which currently stands at 80 per cent according to the Communication Authority of Kenya, to reach majority smallholder farmers who lack access to internet.
    In a bid to ensure effective communication, the voice service is available in local dialects, making the initiative most suitable for majority of the illiterate smallholder farmers in the country.
     
    Apart from offering market information, NAFIS also allows farmers to obtain other extensional farming information from virtual Agricultural Extension Officers.
    The IFAD study concludes that if agricultural stakeholders and government create a conducive environment to enable smallholder farmers participate effectively in global market, extreme poverty can be eradicated with double digits.
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