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    Chinese scientists have taken a lead role in spurring Uganda’s fish industry with the introduction of a new technology to boost commercial fish farming. The new model of cage fish farming focuses on commercialization of fish farming with a main focus on lakes, dams, reservoirs and rivers.

    The project which started in April 2012 is being implemented by Chinese scientists through a three-year China-Uganda cooperation in aquaculture research.  According to Barry Kamira a research scientist at the National Fisheries Resources and Research Institute (NaFIRRI) and the coordinator of the project, the metal cage fish technology is being introduced to foster the fisheries sector of the economy. “We have to adopt diversity and modern ways of fish farming to supplement the traditional means and eventually maintain the insatiable demand.”

    Karima explained that many of the Ugandans’ livelihoods mainly depend on fish farming. “Fish farming supports 4.2 million smallholder farmers in Uganda and the country earns around US$116 million a year from fish exports. Fish is an important commodity that Uganda is exploring how to advance in its development agenda.”
    This technology, unlike pond fish farming, relies on metal cages of various sizes that are suspended in a water body. Each cage carries up to 10,000 fingerlings. Fish farmers use a measure of their efficiency in converting food mass into increased body weight to know when to transfer the young fish to the next cage until they mature for harvesting six months later.

    Currently the pilot project is being funded by the Chinese government to enable knowledge and technological transfer and adoption by the locals. When the trial ends, the Ugandan government is expected to roll out the technology nationally. Kamira noted that Uganda is taking the lead among the East African countries — Kenya and Tanzania to demonstrate the potential of rearing fish using metal cage fish farming technology to rapidly transform the sector from subsistence to commercial fish farming, according to Kamira.
    Kamira explained that while Kenya is also in its early stages of applying the technology, water hyacinth which is an invasive plant species growing in Lake Victoria, which is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania is hampering the process.
    The need for the technology has grown because of a drastic decline in fish production resulting in the country neither meeting national demands nor having enough fish for export. "Despite its long history dating back to the early 1950s, fish farming in Uganda has not developed beyond small subsistence scale,” noted Kamira. According to Kamira, initial findings from a study to ascertain the safety of the method cleared any doubts about the environmental impact of the model.

    In addition, the findings also noted that the technology can be used in other water bodies within the country like rivers, water reservoirs and small lakes like Lake Edward. "The technology does not have any negative effect on the water quality. We carry out water quality monitoring in triplicate, that is, at the demonstration area, downstream and upstream.”

    The Chinese experts are building the capacity of NaFIRRI experts on how to operate the technology and will transfer the necessary skills to Uganda to use it commercially. The government and other stakeholders involved in the project are hoping that deepening and adoption of the technology will foster fish farming in the country and eventually commercialize the practice. "Through this technology, people will have enough money for their livelihoods and generate more revenue for the government by using the full potential of the natural water bodies like lake Victoria to breed  and rear fish," added Karima.

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    Hannah Wairimu has never regretted uprooting 100 trees of poorly performing coffee from her two acre piece of land and replacing them with a variety of horticultural crops. Within five years of her investment in horticultural farming she has managed to educate two of her four children to university level and bought three cows to supplement her income.

    Passion fruits, avocado and strawberry leaves have been the goldmine for this 48 year old widow. Thanks to the success of the horticulture market both locally and for export, she now earns Ksh 8 per avocado which she sells to private horticultural companies, a far cry from the Ksh 1 that a single avocado fetched in 2001. “In between my avocado trees I have managed to plant beans, maize and sweet potatoes for my family upkeep something I couldn’t do with coffee,” says Wanjiru explaining another of the reasons that inspired her to go into full time horticultural farming.

    Wairimu is among the 25 members of the Mbari ya Mboche self help group, a community group united in their passion for farming and determination to access the market directly. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Gichuki, a retired officer from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) now turned farmer, the group has benefited from support of researchers at KARI Thika. The support resulted from a successful proposal submitted by the group to get into passion fruit farming. Advice from KARI has included information on better farming practices to increase yields, avoid post-harvest losses while helping them to connect to ready markets.

    The group has also managed to establish market ties with local processors who use their fruits for pulps and juices. One such processor, Rosavie in Nairobi, buys the fruits from the farmers at Ksh 100 per kilo.

    In addition, farmers have learnt to add value to avocados and other fresh produce, including passion fruits, by making their own juices. At social gatherings or when holding a ceremony, they no longer have to buy commercial juices. “We intend to organize ourselves in order to set up a state of the art machine that will assist us produce commercial juices as we look for further ways to diversify our income,” says Gichuki..

    Farming for exports has, however, been a tall order for the farmers as exporters demand stringent conditions that the farmers must meet.  The European Union, and particularly the United Kingdom, who consume most of Kenya’s avocados has become particularly sensitive to food safety issues especially with imports from Africa.

    The exporters therefore only buy Grade one fruits from the farmers, those that have no black marks. Black marks are interpreted to mean the fruit is infected by diseases and is of low quality. “It used to be a very big problem when we started. Exporters would turn down half of the fruits we delivered to them due to this problem. This is now a thing of the past thanks to the extensive training we have received from KARI on better farming practices,” says Gichuki.

    Wairimu, like her fellow farmers, been forced to change the type of avocado she grows from the traditional Fuerte to Hass, which is highly preferred for export. Hass, a medium-sized round fruit that turns purple at full maturity has a tough pebbly skin with an impressive shelf life and its flesh is used in a variety of food products.

     Fuerte a Mexican- Guatemalan hybrid is a shiny- green pear shaped fruit weighing 250 to 450g and, although it has high oil content, the oil isn’t of high quality. Fuerte is predominantly farmed by small-scale farmers for local markets.

    KARI has however taught farmers, who find it hard to abandon the traditional Fuerte, on grafting which introduces the superior characteristics of Hass with the tough traits of Fuerte. “If you cut the stem of the Fuerte which is drought and disease resistant and combine it with the scion (top plant part) of the Hass which produces high quality fruits, you have a fruit fit for export. So farmers don’t have to weed out the Fuerte,” says Samuel Kiiru a KARI researcher.

    The meteoric rise in demand for avocado, both locally and internationally, has been aided by new and expanding uses for the fruit, particularly with rising demand for avocado oil from the cosmetics industry, largely in France and Germany. Avocado oil in these countries is used to make cleansing creams, moisturizers, skin care products, lipsticks, bath oils and make up bases.

    The main challenge for many of the farmers is concerns over the fruit’s shelf-life. Wairimu, who last season harvested three sacks of avocados, only managed to sell one sack. Two sacks went bad after the exporter delayed in collecting the fruit from the usual five days after harvest to seven.

    The memories of the poor returns during 2010 are ever displayed in her wrinkled face anytime she is reminded of that season. “It’s still a painful venture you know. I had invested so much in avocado farming and it was my first time to harvest. Were it not for my fellow women farmers, I would have uprooted the trees like I did with coffee,” she says as she bends to weed around one of the avocado tree, a panga in one hand and a bunch of weeds in the other. She has, however, had greater success with passion fruit and growing strawberries.

    Responding to the farmers’ please, KARI has started working at ways of increasing the fruit shelf life- from five to as many as 10 days- by slowing the production of the ethylene hormone responsible for avocado’s normal ripening.

    For farmers such as Wairimu, once tied to painfully low prices for her coffee berries from the local factory, divesification into horticultural crops has already transformed her fortunes. But as research and replanting continues the sector’s now growing number of processors and exporters claim that Kenya has the opportunity to gain yet much more from the blossoming horticultural sector.

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    A ten year cattle rearing hobby of rearing cattle has transformed into a fully ventured award winning commercial dairy farming, with Kalia Farm becoming a milk powerhouse in the semi arid Ukambani region, and creating dozen jobs in an area buffeted by vagaries of weather.

    Dr. Nelson Nyamu the man behind Kalia Farm which was recently voted overall winner in Smallholder Fully Commercialized Farms Category of the National Farmers Awards which were organized by Elgon Kenya Limited and the Ministry of Agriculture dared to invest where hope never existed. His zeal and passion to move agriculture in Machakos County from an agonizing venture to smart farming has earned him international recognition. “Farming is my passion, keeping cows is my forte. I have seen lives transformed. That’s why I am in this to stay,” added an excited Nyamu.

    Dr. Nyamu, a physiotherapist by training and the managing director for Physical Therapy Services Limited  which runs a private practice that deals with both clinical work and sales of rehabilitation equipment through out the EA region, also doubles up as the Managing Director for Kalia Farm, which he visits on weekends at least twice a month. “Sometimes the work schedule at my clinic is very tight, but I have never failed to go check on the progress of my farm at least two times a month.

    This farm is not just a side business, it’s a labour of love, its what gives me purpose in life. I have always had a passion for dairy farming and I am glad I have actualized it. There is no turning back,” Dr. Nyamu added. Kalia Farm which started in 1998 and with just one cow, then moving to six which Dr. Nyamu says by then was just hobby, went fully commercial in 2002. The farm stands on 2.5 acre land with the diary taking about half an acre, a one acre house compound and the rest of land on lucerne bananas and other fruit trees.

    For Dr. Nyamu the Lucerne, categorized under wonder shrubs, has been his saving grace at a time when the cost of commercial feeds has been at unprecedented highs. The shrubs are mixed with other feeds and are known to increase milk yields due to their unparalleled nutritional value. “I have saved a lot with these bushes that’s why I tend to them with zeal. Since learning about them and adopting them I have learnt the wonders of upping milk yields,” he added.

    Little wonder then that the 105 Holstein Friesian cows that he has managed to produce over 600 liters of milk on average per day which is supplied to various institutions in the county and beyond. His target by next year is to up the yields to1000 a day, which will enable him to start adding value to the milk in order to reap the untapped benefits of value addition. “t is very motivating to mentor and see other farmers come up to diary systems that work very well for them,” said Dr. Nyamu who has now employed 10 employees including a manager, a maintenance guy and a house help.

    But the long distance from Nairobi which means getting some inputs has been costly, coupled some of the suppliers for feed concentrates interfering with the quality of the feeds affecting his animal’s production capacity have been his biggest challenge.

    Elated about the National Farmers Awards which he hails as a step in the right direction in motivating farmers, Dr. Nyamu says he is in dairy farming to stay and thanks his wife for being the force behind his success.  “Success and my love for dairy cows and my family have been my motivation plus striving to prove that in semi-arid areas diary can do very well since the milk price is always better. Hard work pays and excellence comes from doing the same thing right many times,” he concluded.

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