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    mechanised farming

    By Eric KimunguyiCEO, CropLife Kenya/ Agrochemicals Association of Kenya

    In the months surrounding the birth of our own republic, from 1961 to 1963, a crucial, international organisation was also being born, to assure food safety across the globe.

    As a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, the Codex Alimentarius Commission produces the Codex Alimentarius, which is Latin for the ‘Book of Food’. It contains internationally recognised guidelines, standards, codes of practiceand recommendations on food safety, with just two goals: to ensure the health of consumers and fair trade in food.

    Yet, today, both are under threat.

    Over the 60 years since the Codex was launched, the commission has been led by the world’s top scientists, drawing on every global study to set food safety standards that include assessingpesticides for their impact on human health.To do thatCodex sets MaximumResidue Limits (MRLs) for how much of a pesticide can still be on a crop when it is eaten. These leave plenty of margin for us to eat more than we do and yet still only consume a level of pesticide residue that science has shown does not harm our health.

    These limits are based on data on the pesticide molecules and supervised residue trials and toxicological studies that are evaluated by an FAO/WHO panel of experts and a series of FAO/WHO and Codex committees made up of international representatives, including the EU.

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    The Codex MRLthen provides a benchmark against which every food safety system can be set. Crop protection manufacturers must then ensure products are used in ways that do not exceed the MRL. This is driven by how quickly a product’s active ingredients breakdownin reactions with air, water, sunlightenzymes in soils, or over time.

    Every chemical behaves differently, so manufacturers carry out studies and provide data to the authorities on how each product breaks down, and this is used to draw up user instructions, for instance, by telling users to allow a specific number of days after application before harvestingreferred to on the product label as the Pre harvest Interval (PHI)This allows ample breakdown and ensure the MRLs are met.

    The system has been forged by the world’s top scientists and Codex has been working towards the universal harmonisation of MRLs worldwideWhich is why, in a recent African Union webinar, the US Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, Ted McKinney,berated Europe, for “its attempts to undermine MRLs”. 

    For Europe has now changed the way it approves pesticides, with its decisions no longer based on science or international testing on human health. In trade, the EU is, instead, moving many pesticides off the MRLs that ensure human health and putting them onto limits of determination (LoDs), meaning if any part per million of a pesticide can be foundthe food is turned away.

    It has also stopped registering or reregistering pest control products, despite their approvals everywhere else in the worldand the health findings of the WHOunder a new European policy principle, called the Precautionary Principle. The ‘precaution’ is to refuse registration to chemicals where no evidence exists of any human health impactin case they should ever turn out to present a health risk. McKinney calls the principle “highly misguided” and an attack on the capacity of the WHO to judge science and health, and on the FAO, and the rest of the world: and at the loss of up to 40 per cent of agricultural production.

    For these reasons, it’s an equation that is causing rancour in the world of agricultural policy. Said McKinney: “When we establish MRLs, we already incorporate multiple, hundreds-fold, even thousand-fold or more of safety factors just to make sure that we have got safety right.”

    Related News: Local & export demand for orange fleshed sweet potato grows with superfood classification

    But the bigger issue for Kenya is the trade barrier the battle is now creatingfor Europe’s moves to abandon the global safety system are set to play oucatastrophically for our own nation.

    Our biggest agricultural market is Europe. Agriculture is the biggest contributor to our livelihoods. But Europe is now moving in multiple ways to prevent us from using crop protection, and simultaneously ban our producein the event of any pestswhile also declaring itsintent to push up its own agricultural production.

    Which is why, when I was asked recently to speak to several counties about the opportunities for food exporters, I was forced to point out that unless we begin to inform ourselves and take this international food safety, pest control, and MRLs battle seriously, we may have no food export opportunities left.

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    orange fleshed sweet potato

    By George Munene

    With the orange-fleshed sweet potato, OFSP, now classed as a superfood thanks to its many health benefits, its demand has been growing both locally and internationally for those looking for healthier food options.

    Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene, a rich source of vitamin A. 

    Since 2001, the biofortified orange-fleshed sweet potato has been introduced to over 14 African countries by The International Potato Center (CIP). It contains increased amounts of Vitamin A and antioxidants to regular sweet potatoes due to their high levels of beta-carotene--the organic, red-orange pigment that gives orange-fleshed sweet potatoes an orange color.

    These are nutrients important for the immune system, skin, vision, bones, and reproductive health, as well as having cleansing properties that reduce risks of developing cancer.

    According to the global trade tracker Trade Map, the value of sweet potatoes imported in 2019 was about 844.472 tons--a doubling of volumes from 2015. This was worth Sh75 billion, up from Sh60.5 billion in 2018, a 393,502kgs increase in volumes.

    Orange-fleshed potato varieties account for 95 per cent of European market imports and offer local farmers lucrative opportunities.

    Barbara Magoha, managing director for Barrinate Farms offers export opportunities to aggregated farmers from Western and Nyanza regions. “We export organically farmed Kabode orange-fleshed sweet potato, which is in demand in European and Arab countries due to its high nutritive value,” she said. Although the export market has been momentarily suspended due to the Coronavirus, the quantities she exports vary depending on the availability of the crop from other regions. When other major suppliers like Egypt, Spain and Senegal are off-season, especially over April to June months, her company works to plug this market gap.

    This ever-expanding market and the Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA), which gives duty and quota-free market access to the European Union offer great opportunities for Africa farmers.

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    Sara Murimi, a KEPHIS certified sweet potato multiplier, says the American orange-fleshed potato variety is in demand with supermarket and fresh produce outlets such as Carrefour, Zucchini, and Chandarana. While a vine can yield one to two kilograms; she advises farmers to limit tuber weight to between 1 and 1½ kgs--a weight more preferred by consumers. She sells 1000 cuttings for Sh10 each, with anything above at a discounted Sh7.5. A farmer will need two thousand vines to sow an acre. 

    Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes being a cheap and sustainable source of Vitamin A offers a low-cost answer to meeting some of Africa’s nutrition deficit. 

    According to Nutrition International Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) and marginal VAD prevalence was observed to be 9.2 per cent and 52.6 per cent respectively among preschool children. A lack of vitamin A weakens the immune system, putting a child at a 20–24 percent increased risk of disease and premature death. It is also the leading cause of child blindness in developing countries. Up to 500,000 Vitamin A-deficient children go blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

    According to the International Potato Center one small boiled root of most orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties provides 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A for children and is a good source of energy, a number of B vitamins, minerals (phosphorus, potassium) and vitamins C and K. These are vital benefits for the majority of people affected by VAD who live in rural areas where conventional VAD interventions such as supplementation and food fortification are less effective

    For George Aristole, a sweet potato farmer and seedling propagator, local consumers need to be sensitized to the innumerable benefits of the orange-fleshed sweet potato in order to diversify their eating habits and shift from consuming just the white-fleshed sweet potatoes which offer little more than starch in their diets. He propagates the Irene orange-fleshed sweet potato which under good agronomic practices he says has a yield potential of up to 6 tonnes an acre. He sells a kilogram of vines for Sh1300, a price that varies depending on a farmer's distance and the number of vines they purchase. 

    Orange fleshed sweet potato puree is also used to fortify bread and other confectioneries. Besides improved nutrition, this has been shown to reduce wheat bread and sugar cost by 20 per cent and by 5 respectively. It can also be used to make chips, crisps, flour, cakes, muffins, buns and juice.

    Related News: Sweet potato vines and roots silage offers livestock more proteins

    Evelyne Mwangi offers two varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes for sale to farmers; hard and soggy. The hard OFSP is further split into Kenspot 5 and 3; these sub-varieties have a broader local market but can only be consumed after boiling. She charges Sh5 a vine for 1000 vines and Sh3 for any number above that. American orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are classified as soggy and are progressively gaining popularity. “More traveled Kenyans will opt for the American OFSP given that they can be value-added in the making of fries, crisps and fortified flour; they also contain a higher content of both Vitamin K and beta carotene,” she pointed out. For these, she sells one thousand one-foot vines for Sh10 a piece and for Sh5 above that.

    Sweet Potatoes are adapted to most of Kenya's ecological zones and can be grown in all soil types apart from black cotton soils. They have a short production cycle of 3-4 months and are also grown year-round. The crop's roots and vines meanwhile can be consumed by both humans and animals.

    Evelyne Mwangi 0720 96 84 65

    Sara Murimi: 0720 697390

    Elim Farm:0721745950


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    By George Munene

    The Farm Africa Growing Futures project is helping over 4,000 young farmers in western Kenya acquire the skills to grow vegetables that are in high demand then linking them to domestic and international markets.

    The funding is focused on western Kenya where 80 per cent of the unemployed population is under 35, with farming employing 70 per cent of the country’s rural population.

    The youth aged between 18-35 years are trained to acquire technical assistance in horticultural production and agronomy, helping the farmers produce the quantity and quality of produce demanded by high-value buyers and certification schemes.

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    They are provided with access to agricultural technologies such as drip-irrigation systems, fertilisers, seeds and pesticides.

    The farmers are further linked to domestic and international markets through training to help them meet export markets’ standards. Once trained farmer groups then facilitated to secure export contacts guaranteeing a market for their produce.

    Founded in 2011, Farm Africa is helping farmers in Trans-Nzoia and Elgeyo Marakwet Counties capitalise on the growing demand for produce such as French beans, mangetouts, kale, tomatoes and cabbages.

    “Growing Futures focuses on the youth who are unable to continue schooling and are interested in venturing into agriculture. They acquire technical skills on crop production as well as business skills on how to run their farms as a business,” explained the project’s coordinator Mary Nyale.

    Related News: Meru sunflower farmers get ready market from climate adaptation project

    For Joseph Kiplagat, the project has been a godsend. After failing to secure an office job, the father of four ventured into agriculture. 

    Initially struggling to make ends meet while sorely growing maize, through Farm Africa, he shifted to cultivating a mix of vegetables which has enabled him maximise on his profits. 

    The project which also operates in Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and DR Congo is funded by supermarket chain Aldi UK. Medicor Foundation and UK aifd. 

    Farm Africa: 254 20 273 1664/ 254 721 576 531/ 254 734 721 208

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


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