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    African armyworm

    The African armyworm, scientifically known as Spodoptera exempta, is a particularly devastating pest. An early warn­ing sys­tem using traps that fake the smell of mat­ing fe­male moths has de­livered a break­through in coun­ter­ing the spread of the army­worm, which can move into an area and dev­ast­ate en­tire crops.

    The over 2 mil­lion farm­ers in Kenya and Tan­zania who to­gether grow over 7 mil­lion hec­tares of cer­eal, mainly maize, now say cases of army­worm in­va­sion have dwindled greatly thanks to the early de­tec­tion under a pro­ject de­veloped by the Centre for Ag­ri­cul­ture and Bios­ciences In­ter­na­tional (CABI).

    The African army­worm, sci­en­tific­ally known as Spod­op­tera ex­empta, is a par­tic­u­larly dev­ast­at­ing pest. Large num­bers of the vo­ra­cious black cater­pil­lars ap­pear sud­denly, leav­ing crops and pas­ture dev­ast­ated in their wake. Once the food has been ex­hausted in one area, they mi­grate to their next des­tin­a­tion. With out­breaks are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, they catch farm­ers un­aware and un­pre­pared. If un­con­trolled, they can cause total crop loss, with mil­lions of hec­tares af­fected in bad years.

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    But un­der­stand­ing the in­sect has as­sisted sci­ent­ists in pre­dict­ing which areas might ex­per­i­ence out­breaks, some two weeks ahead of ac­tual in­va­sions. However, while such fore­casts are use­ful for na­tional plan­ning, they are of little or no value to in­di­vidual farm­ers. Gov­ern­ments often have in­suf­fi­cient ca­pa­city for timely con­trol, with in­sect­icides con­tinu­ously being ruled out due to their pro­hib­it­ive cost and dam­age to the en­vir­on­ment.

    The pro­ject has there­fore put in place local re­ac­tion and mon­it­or­ing sys­tems.

    Early de­tec­tion is being achieved using fact­ory en­hanced fe­male hor­mones, com­monly known as pher­omones, which act as a trap that dupes the male of the pres­ence of a fe­male ready to mate. A pher­omone is a bio­lo­gical chem­ical secreted by fe­male in­sects or even mam­mals that trig­gers the at­trac­tion of a male to a fe­male.

    In the army­worm it is the basic in­dic­ator used by male moths to identify fe­male moths for mat­ing with doc­u­mented evid­ence show­ing that male army­worm moths are able to de­tect the scent of the pher­omone from a ra­dius of 10 km, de­pend­ing on wind dir­ec­tion.

    The pher­omone trap also con­tains an in­sect­icide and once in­side the trap the moths die. The farm­ers then count the dead ones after every week.

    Ac­cord­ing to sci­ent­ists, more than 30 catches of the moths in a week is a clear warn­ing of a pos­sible in­va­sion of army­worms. When this hap­pens, an alert is is­sued by word of mouth in schools, chiefs’ meet­ings, churches and on com­munity radio.

    The pro­ject, which was pi­loted in Tan­zania sev­eral years ago and even­tu­ally scaled up in other coun­tries, has also in­volved the train­ing of farm­ers who in turn train oth­ers within the vil­lage.

    Ini­tially, the plan was to train at least 200 vil­lages, but the pro­ject has ex­ceeded ex­pect­a­tion with Malawi and Tan­zania alone ex­ceed­ing the tar­get. Ac­cord­ing to Jon Knight, an eco­nom­ist from the Im­per­ial Col­lege of Lon­don who has been among the people in­volved in the ven­ture, the fore­cast­ing has been highly ef­fect­ive given the low costs in­volved.

    The ini­tial cost of train­ing each vil­lage was just $233 dol­lars with an ad­di­tional $4 being used to buy the trap which lasts for up to ten years and the pher­omone cost­ing $2 a year. However, the cost has been fur­ther re­duced through more cost ef­fect­ive train­ing, and has de­livered added be­ne­fits in teach­ing re­search­ers how best to en­gage with local farm­ers.

    The second phase of the pro­ject in­volves the es­tab­lish­ment and ex­pan­sion of a virus pro­duc­tion sys­tem in Tan­zania to cre­ate a nat­ural pesti­cide called SpexNPV to fight the worm. Sci­ent­ists have tested the virus, as well as loc­ally-grown neem, and shown that both kill the worm.

    Over half of farm­ers in Tan­zania have neem trees, and can use both leaves and ber­ries to fight the worm. But it takes a lot of leaves to gen­er­ate a pesti­cide set­ting up prob­lems of bulk. However, the virus is much less bulky, and is being made so that it is held in a light clay solu­tion that is then dried ready for re­hyd­rat­ing and spray­ing.

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    The tech­no­logy to pro­duce the virus loc­ally has been brought in from Brazil and will ini­tially cre­ate enough virus to treat around 10,000 ha a year, and later to meet the re­gional need of 100,000 ha a year. The pro­ject is being fun­ded through the Re­search into Use Pro­gramme (RUI) fun­ded by the UK De­part­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (DFID)

    The double break­through of an early warn­ing sys­tem and nat­ural pesti­cides come at a time when the gov­ern­ment is spend­ing over Sh70m a year on pesti­cide to head off the mi­grat­ory pest. Moreover, with much of Sub Saha­ran Africa in­clud­ing Kenya hav­ing ex­per­i­enced bet­ter rain­fall this year, sci­ent­ists are warn­ing this can provide con­du­cive breed­ing con­di­tions for the pests. Already, over 120,000 farm fam­il­ies in Malawi re­por­ted the de­struc­tion of 35,000 hec­tares of crop in Janu­ary last year.

    The worst at­tack was in Liberia in 2009, where army­worms at­tacked about 100 vil­lages and dam­aged crops, in­clud­ing cof­fee plant­a­tions and pas­ture. Over 500,000 people were af­fected, and over 20,000 res­id­ents were forced to flee their homes.

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    Patrick Mwangi an en­ter­pris­ing farmer from Muranga County is re­writ­ing the rules of ag­ribusi­ness in poultry farm­ing hav­ing shrugged off tempta­tions of join­ing the quail craze but fo­cus­ing on the more neg­lected tur­key.

    Hav­ing grown up in a home where tur­key was a sig­ni­fic­ant part of the farm­ing busi­ness, Mwangi knew right these rare birds held the key for gain­ing fin­an­cial in­de­pend­ence. “My father reared tur­key when I was still a boy but sud­denly the birds dis­ap­peared from our homestead after a cer­tain Christ­mas period when they were all sold out.” Des­pite this, the now youth­ful farmer had grasped some ba­sics in rear­ing the birds and coupled with his love for farm­ing, he vowed to give it a try in fu­ture.

    His child­hood dream star­ted being ful­filled after ac­quir­ing a loan in 2013. ‘’I had ap­plied for the loan to pur­sue other ven­tures but de­cided to take a por­tion of it and gamble into this worth­while ven­ture. It was not easy to settle on the idea as this was also the time that the coun­try was buzz­ing with quail farm­ing which many farm­ers were run­ning into with the hope of being in­stant mil­lion­aires,’’ he said. However, Mwangi man­aged to stay fo­cused and pur­sued his dream start­ing with an ini­tial in­vest­ment of about Sh50, 000.

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    As a shrewd farmer, Mwangi first, in­ves­ted his time into re­search of the birds which he mainly did through on­line and farm vis­its to farm­ers who already had tur­key. “I wanted to be sure of what I was in­vest­ing in and as a mat­ter of fact, I could only ac­com­plish this through thor­ough back­ground checks to as­cer­tain their health risks, feed­ing re­gime and even mar­ket for its products like eggs and meat,” ex­plained Mwangi. Hav­ing as­sured him­self that the ven­ture was worth­while, he em­barked on the main pro­ject start­ing off with con­struc­tion of the struc­ture.

    This ini­tial cost in­cluded the house struc­tures mainly made from wood and heavy metal on the sides with the nor­mal iron sheets on the roof. He also fenced about half an acre to en­able the mainly free roam­ing birds space to fend for them­selves. In total the con­struc­tion of the struc­ture and the fen­cing cost was about Sh25000. He then star­ted off his trade with seven ma­ture Tur­key six fe­male and a male one.

    Ac­cord­ing to him he opted to begin with ma­ture birds be­cause of the high re­turns they prom­ised and the ease of deal­ing with them. “The ma­ture birds were a good bet to begin with be­cause some were already lay­ing eggs and they had fin­ished all the re­quis­ite im­mun­iz­a­tion re­quire­ments. There­fore I learnt on how to man­age the whole flock from the ex­per­i­ence I got from the ini­tial stock.   In ad­di­tion the birds are not heavy feed­ers com­pared to exotic chick­ens. Seven ma­ture birds feeds on a paltry less than 2kilos of com­mer­cial feeds be­cause they sup­ple­ment the feed with their own free range feeds.

    The key to keep­ing tur­key is al­low­ing them enough space to fend for them­selves. These birds also feed on and re­quire sun light ex­pos­ure for healthy breed­ing and growth. He noted, “If you deny them that then they may be very weak and de­velop rick­ety tend­en­cies as I wit­nessed a case with one that my brother had kept in door to­gether with quails.” If they are denied the spa­cious en­vir­on­ment, Mwangi warned that even their lay­ing pat­tern is heav­ily hampered.

    Cur­rently Mwangi’s farm has over 18 birds. Ac­cord­ing to him, the mar­ket de­mand for the tur­key and its eggs is over­whelm­ing but still un­der­fed. Since start­ing off, I have sold off over 10 tur­keys with some ma­ture male bird able to fetch over Sh9000 es­pe­cially dur­ing the fest­ive sea­son. An egg re­tails at Sh150 and al­though the bird is not a good con­sist­ent layer, Mwangi noted that one bird can lay an av­er­age of four eggs per week. He has an in­cub­ator where he broods the chicks selling a one day old chick at Sh500. “Cur­rently all the eggs in the in­cub­ator are already booked and am forced to turn down other cli­ents with some com­ing as far as from Kissii and Kisumu,” noted Mwangi If slaughtered, a kilo of meat re­tails at Sh900 and some well fed male Tur­keys can weigh up to 24 kilos mak­ing it a vi­able ven­ture. Ac­cord­ing to this bud­ding farmer if the birds are well fed, they start lay­ing eggs at around five months al­though the mal take a longer period of about eight months to ma­ture.

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    Des­pite the prom­ising rosy re­turns, the birds also have their fair share of chal­lenges with Mwangi not­ing that the most chal­len­ging part of them is deal­ing with the young birds which are sens­it­ive to cold tem­per­at­ures. “The chicks are more fra­gile than the chicken to cold weather which in­fects them with res­pir­at­ory com­plic­a­tions but the key to this is grant­ing the birds ut­most at­ten­tion, enough warmth and ob­serving all the re­quired im­mun­iz­a­tion against dis­eases like co­ci­di­osis, New­castle, Gum­boro among oth­ers.”  He ad­vised that if one wants to reap from any ag­ribusi­ness ven­ture, then he needs to cre­ate time and phys­ic­ally in­volve him­self in the day to day activ­it­ies. “It’s only through doing this that you even in­spire the work­ers to do the right thing and to take their work ser­i­ously”

    As fate would have it, Mwangi was destined for suc­cess and now nine months later he smiles back at the mile­stones he has achieved. I im­plore more ser­i­ous farm­ers who want to reap the gains of agri busi­ness to ventiirre into this noble en­tity be­cause the prob­lem in the vil­lages is that many farm­ers don’t ven­ture into in­come gen­er­at­ing ag­ribusi­ness activ­it­ies just for the sake without a clear vis­ion of busi­ness model and how to reap gains in it. This he sup­ports with the ex­amples of tur­key farm­ers in the coun­try who rare may be two or four and at the peak of fest­ive peri­ods, they sell all the birds and again take long to start off.

    “This is a lifelong ven­ture avail­able for any stall­holder farmer in the coun­try and un­like quails which was hyped and faded, the Tur­key birds have been here for ages and only few farm­ers dare go for it and as a res­ult the re­turns are so mouth wa­ter­ing that one will not re­gret”

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    Lucy Wairimu a once job­less middle aged woman who lived on handouts is now a proud owner of over ten goats that sup­ply her with over 30 litres of milk daily fetch­ing her some Sh2,000.

    Lucy is among thou­sands of farm­ers who have be­ne­fit­ted from The Na­tional Ag­ri­cul­ture and Live­stock Ex­ten­sion Pro­gramme.
    The idea is that farm­ers with mu­tual in­terests form groups and then ask for sup­port and aid them­selves, for ex­ample, re­gard­ing the best meth­ods for dif­fer­ent forms of ag­ri­cul­ture and live­stock rear­ing. Small-scale farm­ers are thereby en­abled to be­come more ef­fi­cient and get bet­ter re­turns on their products.

     "We had to col­lect water from far away. The first thing I did with the money from the sales was to in­stall run­ning water. I car­ried on. Then I sold an­other goat and ar­ranged so that we could build a lat­rine," Lucy said with pride.

    High walls sur­round the little plot where maize and ba­nana plants sway high between the pump­kin and bean crops. There, three cows and many chick­ens share their space with goats and a house of cor­rug­ated metal, wooden planks and earthen floors. Then the crown­ing glor­ies of the house: the tap with run­ning water, the com­post­ing toi­let in its own struc­ture right by the en­trance, and nearby is the con­struc­tion site of the fam­ily's new house.

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    From hav­ing spent two to three hours daily fetch­ing water, Lucy and her fam­ily have time to spend on things that can provide in­come. In­stead of using a hole in the ground lined with plastic as a toi­let, they can now close the door be­hind them, while re­du­cing pol­lu­tion in the ground and the spread of dis­eases.

    Lucy leans her head against the goat's stom­ach and holds a jar un­der­neath the teats while she milks. She gets ap­prox­im­ately three to four litres a day. She keeps a litre for the fam­ily and sells sev­eral litres every day. The daugh­ter Milka takes the milk from her mother to warm it on the stove for the grand­chil­dren. Be­cause even though all of Lucy's chil­dren are grown up now there are, ex­cept Milka and her daugh­ter, an­other five grand­chil­dren liv­ing at the farm since their par­ents died.

    Three years ago Lucy re­ceived in­form­a­tion about meet­ings for all those in­ter­ested in be­com­ing goat farm­ers. Lucy, who did not have a job, thought it soun­ded in­ter­est­ing and went to a meet­ing the fol­low­ing Monday. An ag­ri­cul­tural ex­pert told them about all the ad­vant­ages of goat rear­ing.

      "At the next meet­ing, Mar­tin came again and told us how we should feed the goats. A cow eats 75 kilos, which feeds six goats. He also told us that a litre of goat's milk sells for Sh100 while cow's milk only fetches Sh30.  "We de­cided to start a group and to­gether save money to buy goats," Lucy re­membered.

    Now Lucy is con­sid­er­ing giv­ing up the three cows and in­stead ex­pand­ing the goat rear­ing since this gives greater re­turns in terms of in­come and im­proved health. "When I star­ted rear­ing goats I had high blood pres­sure. When I slowly star­ted drink­ing goat's milk I be­came a lot bet­ter. My chil­dren are really healthy. They do not get any dis­eases, neither mal­aria nor any­thing else. Goat's milk has been good for our health."

    The time is just past eight in the morn­ing and a small group of men and women are start­ing to gather in a circle in the shade at Lucy's. They sit down on the light blue plastic chairs and, when they run out, people sit down on hay bales and wood pal­lets. The milk goat farm­ers meet once a month and dis­cuss everything re­lated to goat farm­ing. They save money to­gether in order to buy goats, bor­row male goats for breed­ing and ne­go­ti­ate prices for goats and goat's milk.

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    Mar­tin Ng´ang´a is re­spons­ible for this area within the Na­tional Ag­ri­cul­ture and Live­stock Ex­ten­sion Pro­gramme, NALEP, as one of their 7, 000 ag­ri­cul­tural ex­perts around the coun­try. The idea is that farm­ers with mu­tual in­terests form groups and then ask for sup­port and aid them­selves, for ex­ample, re­gard­ing the best meth­ods for dif­fer­ent forms of ag­ri­cul­ture and live­stock rear­ing. Small-scale farm­ers are thereby en­abled to be­come more ef­fi­cient and get bet­ter re­turns on their products.

    Mar­tin Ng´ang´a says that this group re­quests what they want to learn and are man­aging the work them­selves. He is at the meet­ing at Lucy's and Moses', one of the coun­try's 20, 000 farmer groups within NALEP. This com­mit­ment and the strength in being able to bring change is the back­bone of the goat farm­ers' suc­cess. To­gether they have man­aged to make poverty more bear­able for mil­lions of fam­il­ies.

     "I am really glad for this group. It has given me strength. Without the group we would not have been as healthy as we are today."

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