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    Soya bean is positioning itself as a lucrative commercial crop in Mumias with over 1000 farmers cultivating it thanks to empowerment by research groups and ready market from Promassidor. The leguminous crop is also being hailed as a remedy to the soils that have become ‘tired due to over use.

    Organized under Mumias District Federation of Soya beans Farmers group (MUDESOF), the budding farmers were first introduced to the lucrative crop in 2006 by research and development projects under International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The researchers were carrying out soil analysis and trial of various seeds of which Soya was outstanding. Little did the farmers know that coming on board as good Samaritans to the stranger researchers will eventually change their fortunes and water their pockets as Stephen Kasamani the leader of the group noted, “We volunteered to help the researchers in their quest for inquiries of the traits and variations in seeds and soils. We provided the land for trials, managed them and kept records like planting date and maturity periods.”

    Due to the farmers’ goodwill and passion to see the success of the research projects, the development partners in return started providing them with knowledge, farm inputs, seeds, resource centers and even funds to empower more farmers in reach out programmes. Most farmers settled for the Soya and the trial farms gradually turned into seed multiplication centers. According to Kasamani, Soya was already being grown by various farmers in the region although on a small scale.

    Therefore the introduction of better seed varieties, farm inputs and knowledge on better farming methods just endeared the crop to more farmers and even increased the acreage under it. Initially we never bothered about certified seeds and seed properties. But through the help of CIAT we realized the importance of all these factors and settled to the more nutritious and most sought after variety of SB 19.

    Related News: FarmBiz TV: Kalro launches drought tolerant soya bean variety (SB19) doubling earnings.

    Due to the steady increase in number of farmers adopting the crop, the production eventually subdued the farmers’ consumption and small scale local markets. Having helped them in their initial research and studies, Kasamani noted that CIAT sourced for them a lucrative market thorugh bringing on board of Promassidor in 2011. “Their coming on board almost made the crop go viral because of their lucrative prices and capability of having two harvests per year as opposed to Sugar cane which for a while has been fronted as the only viable cash crop.” Imagine being able to harvest and cash in Soya twice a year while Sugarcane can only be harvested once in two years, posed Kasamani. To him, this was just a jackpot deal that many farmers could not let go. Apart from providing farmers competitive prices, the company also provided transport facilities to the group and initially supported with all the farm inputs. Although it sounded like a jackpot, Kasamani advised that the crop needed dedication from the part of the farmers.

    Unlike sugarcane, where millers like Mumias Sugar Company will provide almost everything for the farmer right from land preparation, providing of fertilizer, seeds, harvesting and transport; with Soya, all these inputs directly comes from the farmer. “I always advise many of the new farmers that the crop is not meant for lazy farmers but the proceeds from it are sweeter because there will be no exorbitant deductions that cane farmers experience. In fact sometimes cane farmers with little land almost get zero returns after harvests and instead they remain with company debts because the investments were much higher than the outputs. “With Soya what you harvest is all yours”, added Kasamani.

    Currently the group attracts farmers from Mumias, Matungu and the border districts of Kakamega, Siaya and Butere. Although the crop still experience competition from other established stable crops like maize, on average, over 600 acres are under Soya cultivation per season. The crop is also helping in the fixation of nitrogen in their farms and some farmers are now adopting crop rotation to maximize returns from its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil.

    In the long rain periods, some farmers intercrop the crop with maize but in the subsequent shorter rain period, most farmers opt for Soya hence the crop has positioned itself as a preferred and profitable choice for rotational farming. Rotating the crop fixes the poor soils and many maize farmers who plant maize after harvesting Soya are registering about 50 percent increase in yields… Iddi Makokha is one of the group member who has mastered the art rotating Soya bean with maize, a practice that the father of five have never regretted since its’ adoption.

    “Initially, in an acre I used to acquire about 13-15 bags even after upholding all the best husbandry methods, however, the script changed for good after introduction of Soya in my farm. I first planted it with caution just on a little portion but when I planted maize the following season on the same portion, the one acre gave me five more bags. Out of excitement, there was no way I could not put all my four acres under Soya and currently I rotate Soya and Maize, a move that has not only enabled me feed my family but also get income from the sale of the surplus harvest,” explained Iddi.

    The main group has smaller commercial village groups with farmers in order to ensure easy organization. The smaller commercial village groups are further organized into their own constitution and help farmers to acquire farm inputs and financing from financial institutions. According to Kasamani, “The organization into smaller village groups also enables us train the farmers easily and above all, their membership into the group also enables them to get personal loans from banks.”

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    As a result of their clear chain of command, Promassidor has partnered with Equity bank and recommend the farmers for personal loans. David Inyani Supply Chain Manager from the Promassidor explained that they are focused towards uplifting farmers livelihoods and will always work towards that. “We are concerned with farmers’ welfare and believe that an empowered farmer will even provide us with both the raw material, market and be a good brand ambassador hence having a healthy nation. Therefore, we are using our contacts in the business sector to uplift them.”

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    Peter Mutisya, a fodder crop farmer in Kivaa village, Machakos County earns over Sh85, 000 per season from sales of Rhodes and Brachiaria grass compared to maize and beans that used to give him Sh10, 000 per season five years ago.

    The irregular and insufficient rainfall affected his yields, harvesting only five bags of maize and 10kg of beans at most per season. “I was always relying on relief food from the government and well-wishers because after selling maize and beans and settled school fees I was left with nothing,” he said.

    In the Southeastern region of Kenya where Mutisya comes from the drought has affected harvests and livestock. According to Kenya Meteorological Department August 2017 report the area received depressed rainfall of less than 40 per cent of the March-April-May seasonal rainfall.

    Related News: Brachiaria grass rescues farmer's cow from drought

    This has prompted Mutisya and other farmers in the region to look for alternative sources of income in growing fodder crops.

    In 2015 Mutisya visited Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation’s (Kalro) Arid and Range Lands Research Institute at Katumanu branch in Machakos County and bought seeds of Boma Rhodes hay and Brachiaria grass at Sh800 and Sh1, 000 per kilo respectively to plant on his six acres farm.

    He followed the agronomic instructions given by the Kalro officers and within a short time he was harvesting his first crops for market. “I was surprised that after three to four months both Rhodes and Brachiaria were mature for harvest,” said the father of three.

    Mutisya’s customers are animal keepers who visit his farm to buy feeds for their animals. He sells Boma Rhodes at Sh300 per bale and Sh20 per kilo of Brachiaria grass. He harvests both in three phases a season getting 150 bales and about 20,000Kg of Boma Rhodes and Brachiaria grass respectively. This gives him a sum of Sh85, 000 in a given season.

    Mutisya no longer relys on their village chief’s charity food to feed his family. “With the money I get from selling the grass, I am able to settle my bills and buy enough food to sustain my family.”

    Related News: Brachiaria grass triples Siaya farmer's milk production

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    A growing number of Kenyans living in arid areas are swapping staple crops for livestock fodder like Rhodes or Brachiaria grass, which require less water to grow, according to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization.

     “Rain-fed staple farming is becoming increasingly difficult in Kenya due to poor rainfall, whereas growing fodder can help farmers withstand prolonged drought." Said Joseph Mureithi, Kalro director.

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    With research showing that sweet potatoes are going bad within a week, a new cost-free method is increasing the shelf-life of the produce for up to seven months.

    This innovative way of increasing the freshness of the produce allows for more time for commercial farmers to access far-flung markets while improving food security for subsistence consumers.

    Sweetpotato is gaining popularity in the in the commercial sector with opportunities for value addition increasing profits for farmers and processors.

    Dr Sammy Agili says curing reduces post harvest losses, recovery of investment returns.

    Dr Agili is the project agronomist for Scaling Up Sweetpotato Through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN), which is one of International Potato Centre (CIP)’s Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) projects in Western and Nyanza regions in Kenya.

    Related News: Fact sheet on sweet potato farming

    He says the secret of prolonged freshness lies in the maintaining a firm and intact sweetpotato skin. Injuries and bruises to the fragile skin accelerate rotting.

    ”Removal of foliage 14 days ahead of harvesting is the first step toward successful curing. Without the leaves, synthesis of food for the storage roots stops. This encourages hardening of the skin to minimize injuries during and after harvesting,” he says.

    Use of oxen to plough out the roots from the ridges is preferred. Hoes and other sharp implements inflict cuttings and bruises on the skin, which will be entry points for destructive micro-organisms.

    “In one to two hours after harvesting, the roots must be placed in a room with temperatures of 29 degrees Celcius and humidity of 90 per cent to 95 per cent for four to seven days. This encourages healing of minor wounds and ‘torn’ skin,” he said.

    Locally, farmers can stack the sweetpotato in crates or wooden boxes before covering them with a polythene bag or cloth to increase humidity of the room. Humidity level will rise as a result of physiological processes like respiration in the tubes.

    After the seven days, the harvest can be moved to a room of temperatures of about 15 degrees Celcius and low humidity.

    The sweetpotatoes can be stored for up to seven months.

    High temperatures will encourage sprouting, which will lead to more losses.

    Timely harvest impacts successful curing. Harvesting must be done after the leaves have started turning yellow, which is an indication of maturity.

    Related News: Kenya's first sweet potato processing plant to raise Migori farmer’s earnings

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    Early harvesting will lead to premature produce that will shrink and be of poor quality. Late harvesting encourages development of fibrous roots and attack from weevils, the agronomist says.

    CIP’s five OFSP varieties-Kabonde, Vita, SPK 004 and Ejumla- mature between three and six months. They are rich in vitamin A- up to 14mg per 100g.

    The organisation supplies vines for propagation of the varieties.

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