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    By George Munene 

    Through the use of ripper ploughs in conservation agriculture farmers are able to halve their production cost while advantaging themselves in ways not accessible to farmers practicing traditional conventional agriculture.

    “In conventional agriculture, land preparation before planting entails first ploughing, this in Western Kenya costs a farmer Sh3000 for every acre. This is then preceded by a second ploughing which costs a similar amount. After planting farmers often practice their first and second weeding; 10 hands can weed an acre of land with each paid Sh300 for the day's work. In all, this sets a farmer back Sh12,500,” explains Geoffrey Wanjala, a field agronomist who is also Busia’s Farmer Service Centers Senior Agribusiness Coordinator. 

    With ripping, in conservation agriculture farmers are whittling down this to just Sh5,500 an acre. This constitutes Sh2,500 in charges for hiring a tractor-mounted ripper; buying herbicides as well as the option of hiring spray service providers each costing Sh500. In maize farming, an additional Sh1,500 is used in weeding herbicides coupled with a similar Sh500 charge in spraying cost.

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    Ripping services are accessible to farmers across the country through satellite Farmer Service Centres available in 12 counties across the country. This is a network of over 300 agricultural extension workers that help farmers aggregate their ploughing land to make it commercially feasible for ploughing service providers to work on smaller land sizes. “We have availed this service to farmers across most counties in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Eastern regions,” Wanjala says.

    Moreover, conservation agriculture has many other advantages that include: preserving soil structure and the intactness of soil microorganisms as the soil is minimally tilled; increasing soil fertility; reduction of water erosion—rippers are fitted with tines that penetrate the soil to a depth of up to 30 centimeters, this increases water percolation and reduces water runoff. Also, by perforating deep into the soil profile, ripping gives crop roots access to leached minerals.

    Disk ploughs and hand-held hoes can only reach a depth of 10-15 centimeters, this creates a hardpan that encourages erosion when it rains by preventing water from trickling into the soil. This hardpan also causes lateral rooting which means crops are easily susceptible to drought.

    Moisture conservation in arid regions—decomposing crop residue forms mulch which cools the environment around the plant’s roots. It also provides warmth over the cold season improving crop performance.

    Ripping creates furrows or rip lines where fertilisers and seeds are then sowed in manually or through use of tractor mounted planters. This further reduces production costs by eliminating the need for digging holes or furrows. “Once a farmer has conducted two or three ripping sessions which would have completely broken soil hardpans, they can entirely practice zero tillage which exerts even less in planting costs by totally doing away with ploughing,” Emmanuel says.    

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    Rippers are however limited in their use as they cannot be used to break ground for crops such as potatoes which first require to be ploughed vertically with chisel ploughs to break hard pans before ripping. 

    As more farmers embrace the use of ripping in land preparation, Wanjala argues the technology’s costs are only bound to reduce; “ripper mounted tractors consume less fuel than the ones fitted with disc ploughs. This makes their operationalisation far cheaper for ploughing service providers. There is currently a dearth of ripper ploughs but as more farmers opt for the use of this technology there is bound to be a corresponding increase in its service provider which will lead to a reduction in the pricing of ripping services,” he argues.

    Farmer Service Centre

    Geoffrey Wanjala: 0710454130

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    homescreen enBy George P. Munene

    Plantix is a mobile crop advisory app that helps farmers and extension workers diagnose issues with their crops and offers appropriate treatment measures. All this is available at a click of a button and at no cost to the farmer. 

    “Since I started using the app early last year my input cost has fallen by about a third while my yield output has almost doubled,” testifies Antony Ndwiga, a vegetable farmer at Makutano, Meru.

    Plantix employs image recognition software that scans the precise pest, disease or nutrient deficiency and gives an immediate brief reply on the cause of the problem and the possible chemical and biological remedies.

    According to the Plantix team, farmers who cannot download the app are also catered to as they can send pictures of their afflicted crops over WhatsApp and get a prompt diagnosis.

    Added to this the app also helps farmers gain knowledge on the best farming practices for most major crops, crop diseases preventative measures as well as offering a tailored fertiliser application calculator.

    First released in 2015,Plantix, christened the “mobile crop doctor” is proving a god sent for many crop farmers. “Getting ahold of reliable agronomic help is a major hustle; private agronomists are expensive while government extension officers will be ‘on the way to your farm’ for weeks. With Plantix’s integration of WhatsApp all I do is send a picture of my afflicted crop and have a clear diagnosis and possible remedy in short order.” explains Ndwiga.

    Farmers can access localised weather forecasts for at least five days; participate in an online community of fellow farmers and scientists to discuss all matters crop farming. Farmers also get agricultural advice throughout the various planting seasons, post-harvest management and receive alerts if there's a crop disease spreading in their region.

    The app is user friendly, having an intuitive easy to master interface available in 18 local dialects--these features are crucial for most farmers who are older and not especially technologically conversant 

    “I have had little need for a plant health expert since I began using Plantix-- I very much walk around with my very own pocket agronomist these days.” Antony says. With over 10 million downloads, many other farmers can testify to this.

    Plantix on WhatsApp; +917876171002

    Plantix app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.peat.GartenBank&hl=en&gl=US

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    Drone edited

    By George P. Munene

    After 13 years in the aviation sector, retired Captain Dan Ng'ong'a has meshed his newfound passion for agriculture and his aviation background to help farmers master precision agriculture that helps them raise their yields and cut on costs.

    “A drone fitted with an 18-liter tank can cover five acres of farmland in just 15 minutes. This is compared to conventional human spraying that takes 4-5 hours and up to three rounds of spraying with a 20-liter knapsack sprayer to cover an acre of land. This means agrochemicals that would for example last a month can be stretched to last for two months instead,” Ng'ong'a explains.

    “As a farmer myself (he runs Danico Ventures—a mixed farm located at Emakoko, Kitengela) I am all too aware of the major pain points for Kenyan farmers; how to improve yields while managing the cost of production,” he says.   

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    Having gotten his drone license and registered his business, the former Kenya Airways pilot has embarked on helping transform Africa’s agricultural landscape focused on unearthing practical solutions for small-scale farm holders' that help improve their bottom line.

    Most of Africa's population is, directly and indirectly, dependent on agriculture, practiced mostly by small-holder farmers and the multiplier effect of having marginal gains in the sector could be transformational for the continent he contends.

    “We are focused on offering the right value proposition to small-scale farmers: collating 20 farmers paying Sh2000 each for a service rather than one large scale farmer paying a similar amount will have a larger footprint in the transformation of Africa's agriculture,” Dan elucidates.

    Danico Drones offers a bouquet service; from soil testing and analysis, crop scouting and crop spraying. 

    The company uses scanning technology for soil tests meaning the results are instantaneous; they're received after just five minutes, unlike the usual KALRO results which take two weeks. As standalone samples for an acre soil tests cost farmers Sh2000.

    “We encourage smallholder farmers to pool together to make it economically feasible to reach regions further out from where we are headquartered in Nairobi,” Ng'ong'a says.

    For scouting services, a drone can cover two acres in just five minutes—it takes real-time aerial pictures of a farm which are then stitched onto a map which forms the basis of analysis. This gives the farmer the ability to better plan their farm. 

    For plant pest and plant diseases analysis they are able to reflect different amounts of visible light (VIS), near-infrared (NIR) light VIS and NIR light, which are a measure of how healthy plants are. By measuring the changes in visible and NIR light reflected from a crop, farmers can spot potential health issues in their crop. Unmanned aerial vehicles also allow for targeted spraying—zeroing in on the exact area a farmer should be looking to apply agrochemicals on their farm. This helps save on chemical application costs and is useful for farmers looking to minimise their use of chemicals. The technology also integrates remedies for crop stresses such as diseases which can be sought through mobile crop advisory apps.

    Farmers also get an exact bearing on the plant population on their farm allowing them to have an accurate reading of their expected yield. Other important measures are weed analysis and agriculture applications such as fertilizer, pesticides, and water distribution.

    All this allows farmers to practice precision agriculture ensuring inputs – nutrients, pesticides, seeds or water are used with exactitude and strategically improving productivity and resource efficiency, reducing costs and exerting minimal environmental impact.

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    Aerial survey rendering cost Shs 5,000 with crop scouting and analysis costing a further Sh5,000 per acre. Crop spraying cost Sh 2,500 for every acre with a minimum acreage of four acres

    “With time the data bank we hope to collect can also be useful to national and county governments for better planning by helping determine the most impactful agricultural interventions as well as private players such as agricultural insurance firms in helping set premiums,” says Dan.

    The company is currently drafting an operational plan for use of drones in combating the locust menace that has swarmed East Africa.  

    Danico Drone Services:

     +254733271175

    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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