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    BS2006 15 27By George Munene 

    Research by Egerton University into Togotia (Erucastrum arabicum)-- a forgotten small leafy vegetable--has discovered it to be a drought-tolerant and disease-resistant crop capable of boosting food security in Kenya. 

    The project dubbed "Exploring the potential of Togotia a forgotten African leafy vegetable for nutritional security and climate adaptation in Kenya," was aimed at understanding the crop’s growth and development, and cultivation systems as well as establishing the nutritional value of food products derived from it. 

    Togotia is a rich source of crude protein, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins C, and B. The consumption of these vitamins and minerals from Togotia has numerous health benefits, including reducing obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and mental decline. It can slow down aging and strengthen the immune system. 

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    The research which was conducted by Egerton University’s Dr. Miriam Karwitha Charimbu (Department of Crops Horticulture and Soils) and Dr. Charles Kihia (Department of Biological Sciences) was good news for the country as it reels from severe food insecurity as a result of five consecutive under-par rainy seasons and the proliferation of crop diseases. 

    Also known as Sarat in Kalenjin, its consumption averages 56.4 tonnes annually and is part of the diet of many Kenyan communities but its intake differs across counties. It is consumed as a stand-alone vegetable or mixed with other vegetables as an accompaniment to mokimo, and githeri, among others. The study showed it is used as a vegetable by 50 per cent of the respondents, fodder (22%), and herb (12.5%). 

    Most communities from Central Kenya (Kikuyu, Embu), Eastern (Meru, Kamba, Tharaka), and Western Bantu (Luhya, Kisii, Suba), Highland (Kalenjin, Sabaot), Lake Region (Luo), and Plain Nilotes (Maasai, Samburu) use Togotia as a vegetable. 

    Others in the Coastal Bantu (Swahili Mijikenda, Taita), and Cushites (Somali, Orma, Gabra) use Togotia as fodder and herb.  

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    The project was funded by Innovate UK KTN Award 2022, with a total grant of Sh5.24M, and run for six months. 

    It has also led to the founding of a Togotia seed system through Egerton University Agro-Science Park, led by its director, Professor Paul Kimurto, who allocated land for seed multiplication. 

    “We look forward to growing Togotia and developing it to the commercialization stage. We will continue to support its development and multiplication so that we come up with the best varieties. If possible, we will also hopefully do genetic modification of the crop with other vegetable varieties in the country to come up with varieties that germinate easily, yield higher, and are drought tolerant and disease resistant to help deal with food security in the Country and other parts of Africa,” said Professor Paul Kimurto.

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    honey bees bees hive bee hive 53444

    After graduating with a degree in environmental biology in 2015, Benjamin Lemoi had two options: to join the formal employment run like his peers and others before him, or to return to his pastoralist Maasai community and try to raise herds of cows, sheep and goats.

    He chose a third option, which he had held close to his chest as a trump card informed by proper field research.

    Moving back to his home in Loita, a district in Narok South Sub-county, he recruited eight members to set up the Maasai Bee-keeping Initiative (MBI), an enterprise that started with 10 Langstroth beehives purchased at Sh15,000 each.

    For a strong take off, Lemoi visited other beekeeping areas in the country and studied all the best practices, which he instituted in his project.

    “I went to Kitui, where I stayed for two months before travelling to Baringo, where I stayed for a similar period of time, learning the practical aspects of production, which I later implemented in our project, ” Lemoi said.

    The business was an instant success and within one year the group had recouped their investment and were expanding to set up more hives in Loita Forest, Maji Moto, Nyakweri and  Esupetai, all locales under Narok County.

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    Yet while it would have been easier for Lemoi and the first members of his beekeeping network to keep growing the project on their own, they opted to turn it into a social enterprise which has in five years recruited more than 300 members and administers over 1000 beehives. About one quarter of the members are women, mostly widows.

    “For me, it was not just about growing as a businessman, but to also provide empowerment opportunities for my community. This was a bigger mission, whose ultimate goal could only be achieved by uplifting the people amongst whom I grew,” Lemoi said.

    Lemoi now manufactures langstroth beehives at a workshop in Loita, a local production that has reduced the cost of one beehive by 60 percent to KSh5,500. He also sells metallic stands with locking features at KSh1800 a piece.

    Members who join his initiative, now a registered cooperative society, are taken through comprehensive beekeeping training and get ready access to markets for their produce.

    The society buys a kilogram of honey at KSh400 from the members and sells at KSh800. Wholesale buyers, some who purchase the honey to sell in the middle east get it for a bulk price of KSh500 per kilogram. On average, the society sells honey and related products worth more than Sh10million per year.

    “This project started as a proof-of-concept but it has grown to be a profitable business benefiting whole communities. We are really proud of the success gained so far,” Lemoi said.

    By having more members delivering honey and wax to the society, Lemoi is able to guarantee a constant supply of the products.

    “There is no time that you will come to us and fail to get honey. Ours is a year-round supply of high quality honey, produced using indigenous trees, which give a special flavour that cannot be replicated elsewhere,” he said.

    Bee-keeping in Kenya is an agricultural field that is yet to be well exploited with the industry bearing an estimated yield of 100,000 metric tonnes per year. However, just 20 percent of the country’s honey production potential has been tapped.

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    “The beauty about bee keeping is that it can be practised alongside other agricultural activities as the hives do not generally occupy substantial ground space. In addition, the hives can be set up even on land that is not arable, therefore making productive use of resources that were previously disregarded,” Lemoi said.

    At present, 80 percent of the country’s honey is produced using traditional log hives, which yield almost half the honey produced by bees in modern langstroth hives.

    “With proper training, farmers can take up improved production methods, which yield more honey, and, certainly, more income for them,” said Lemoi.

    With his success in Narok, Lemoi and his MBI society are looking to expand into other regions of the country, setting up new apiaries, while training existing farmers to increase their output.

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    chia seeds seeds food vegan

    In a move that has seen him ahead of most farmers in the area, Peter Muga, a small scale farmer owning a quarter piece of plot in Njoro-Nakuru County in 2016 changed from just farming to provide basic needs to his family to produce high valued chia seeds which now earns him Sh150,000 a season.

    Like other farmers in the Rift Valley region, Muga used to intercrop maize and beans and he could spend up to Sh7,000 on-farm inputs excluding labour costs only to harvest four bags of maize of 90kg and a bag of beans of 50kg. To him, this was discouraging.

    “My target was to grow enough to feed my family and use the surplus for profit making. Unfortunately, what I got we could not survive on up to the next season leave alone using some for trading,” said Muga.

    However, things changed in 2016 when he visited Wambugu Farm in Nyeri during a farmers’ field day where he learn about chia production. It was a totally new crop to him though its returns as per the training were inviting and he decided to give it a try.

    He, therefore, bought a kilo of chia seeds at Sh1,000 then. These, after preparing his land he planted and after four months the result turned out to be quite promising.

    “The plant is grown organically and is resistant to pests and farmers do not have to use pesticides like is with other crops,” said Muga.

    Since then he has never looked back. Within his piece of the plot he harvests up to 50 kilos of chia seeds per season which he sells at Sh3,000 per kilo translating to Sh150,000 per kilo. He says the demand is high always due to the seeds’ high nutrition value.

    “Chia is one of the most nutritious foods you will ever come across. It is rich in proteins, Omega 3 fats and a dozen other nutrients that include calcium, manganese, and phosphorus,” said Muga.

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    The seeds do well in managing several diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, chronic constipation, high blood pleasure, cleansing blood (anti-oxidant) and invigorating the nerves.

    To speed up his sales, the farmer packages the seeds in smaller packs of 250g which he sells at Sh500 each to those who want to buy in smaller quantities.

    Apart from traders who come to the farm to buy in bulk, Muga also attends farmers’ events such as field days and agricultural shows in the country to sell his produce.

    He also

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