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    A group of pastoralists in Rift Valley are using scarce land for grazing, cultivation and conservation in a model that is limited competition for resources, taming human-wildlife conflict and attracting conservationists and ranchers the world over.

    The Olkiramatian Group Ranch with a population of about 10,000 people majority of them pastoralists shares the community-agreed zoning of 22,000 hectares of land. "We have groups coming to see what we are doing," he said, "from other parts of Kenya and even North America, India, Mongolia and China," said John Kamanga, Chairman of Group Ranch.

    The system, based on traditional techniques but with a modern twist, divides the valley for three different uses: grazing, cultivation and conservation. Grazing accounts for around 75 per cent of the group ranch and each registered member raises their own herd of livestock. "We adhere to strict rules for grazing," continues Kamanga, "so that the delicate wild grazing is never pushed too hard."

    A second zone, where freshwater flows down from the hills, is dedicated to crops. Each member is allocated five to ten hectares, which they cultivate themselves or lease to others to grow maize, tomatoes or Sukuma wiki. Some members even produce export crops, such as okra and aubergine. The cultivated area is the only zone where, if a family wishes, a permanent home can be built. Finally, the third zone - one-eighth of the total area - is a shared resource designated as a conservation area where the valley wildlife can thrive; this zone is the key attraction for ecotourists.

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    Allocating land for a wildlife zone reflects the Olkiramatian pastoralists' vested interest in healthy numbers of zebra, wildebeest, antelope and giraffe, which graze the very same grasses and low-growing shrubs that their cattle, goats and sheep depend on. The pastoralists even refrain from attacking predators such as lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas that share the valley - and might attack their stock. "Last year I lost about seven goats to hyenas," recalls Chief Steven Nteetu, as he checks his herd of more than 70 goats. "But I do not get my arrows to attack and kill wild animals because, in return, we benefit from the revenue generated by visitors who come to the conservation area. That money pays for hospital bills, our children can go to school, and it helps us to fund the provision of water pipes."

    The conservation area is also a dry season grazing bank which, with group consensus, can be opened to livestock in times of severe feed shortage. Are there contraventions of agreed grazing times and zones? "No," replies Nteetu. "If animals are seen in the wrong place at the wrong time then, as a community, we apply pressure so that the system works. We make sure everyone, right down to the youngest person, knows our system."

    Not only does the grazing accommodate wildlife but cattle have adapted to the carrying capacity of the land. Experiments like marching cattle on treadmills have shown that Maasai cattle show no ill effects when walking for the equivalent of 16 kilometres per day, they are given half the feed ration compared to cattle marched only eight kilometres. Maasai cattle drop their metabolic rate by as much as 50 per cent to withstand feed and water shortages and cope with long walks to wherever grazing is to be found.

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    The pasturelands may be more productive, but the Olkiramatian ranchers continue to seek ways to help each other and to increase their income opportunities. After a tentative start, a newly established market has seen increasing numbers of animals traded and dozens of stalls busy with sales, providing essential income to buy household necessities and livestock medicines.

    Agnes Molo boosts her family income by trading in fresh produce. But when asked what she thinks is key to the growing prosperity of the ranch, it is the interests of the community that are uppermost in her mind "It's the way we behave." she explains. "We are still working with common resources so our behaviour is towards functioning for a common purpose. Through that, all of us are tied together."

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    By George Munene

    A new drought-tolerant variety of wheat named Jabal, developed together by farmers and scientists in a decades-long project, has been released for cultivation in Morocco.

    Named Jabal, which means “mountain” in Arabic for its distinctive black spikes, the climate change-resilient variety was able to thrive despite the country suffering its worst drought in 30 years which destroyed other wheat varieties.

    The new variety of durum wheat, Jabal, has a distinct tall stance and plump fat grains and was made by crossing cultivated durum wheat with one of its wild relatives collected in Syria.

    "Jabal is an exceptional variety characterized by its broad adaptation, especially to the driest conditions, and its high productivity and special grain color. We believe these characteristics will be beloved by Moroccan farmers. Our company is eager to include Jabal in our commercial portfolio. We are setting up a promotional program to ensure farmers will take full advantage of its genetic potential and see their production significantly improved," said Mr. Benchaib, founder of the farmers’ association Benchaib Semences, which specializes in the multiplication and commercialization of crop varieties for Moroccan farmers.

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    When plant breeders and farmers tested new durum wheat varieties between 2017 and 2021, the resilience of Jabal was immediately highlighted as a series of intense droughts across multiple sites saw it flourish and continue to produce grains, while all commercial varieties of durum failed.

    In the last five years, durum wheat has been the tenth most commonly cultivated cereal worldwide, with a yearly production average of 40 million tonnes (MT) from an estimated 16 million hectares.

    Durum wheat is grown primarily to produce pasta. It is also used for making couscous and bulgur, which are particularly popular in North Africa and the Middle East.

    Jabal was developed by plant breeders and genebank staff at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) working in close collaboration with Moroccon farmers, with support from the Crop Trust.

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    The variety was first evaluated under the Crop Trust’s Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) Project and has now been officially registered for cultivation by the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture, following a two-year testing program across many Moroccan locations. Its commercial path has now started, with commercial seeds due to reach farmers’ hands in the next three years.

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    By George Munene

    According to research on farmer willingness to employ potato cold storage, although only 26 per cent of households had previous storage experience, 70.7 per cent of growers were willing to rent cold storage facilities.

    These findings have implications not only for potato storage in the study areas but also for commodities whose harvest is perishable and season bound (e.g., vegetables, fruits), where taking advantage of differing prices during different seasons may offer price stabilization. 

    The results on potato prices over a five-year period (2014–2019) show that seasonal price gaps were higher than the estimated willingness to pay (WTP) for storage revealing the viability of investing in rented cold storage facilities.

    Food losses arising from poor storage adversely affect over 800,000 potato-producing households with a total cultivated area of about 681,000 ha, corresponding to 18 per cent of the total cultivated land.

    Using a survey of 502 households in Nyandarua and Bomet Counties the WTP for storing Shangi, a common variety with a short shelf life (1 month) was Sh104 (1.16/kg/month) compared with Sh96.4 (1.07/kg/month) for the Unica variety with a slightly longer shelf life.

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    The study focused on potatoes because of four main reasons: The crop has a low value-bulk ratio compared with grains. The crop is a semi-perishable commodity— it needs to be stored in ideal conditions. Third, like any other perishable bulky vegetable, the marketing of potatoes is faced with several challenges and is highly correlated to the weather and harvesting patterns. Lastly, the sustainability of the efforts to establish cold storage in some potato-producing counties remains uncertain driven by the lack of understanding on whether at a commercial scale, smallholder farmers would be willing to store their produce or even pay the full costs of cold storage. 

    Existing evidence shows that many farmers in developing countries store little of their harvest. Corollary to this is a seemingly puzzling behavior where farmers tend to sell their crops immediately after harvest and, a few months later, return to the market as consumers, when prices have risen.

    These price fluctuations especially for the essential food staples (such as maize, grain legumes, and tubers) tend to be very pronounced across many markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, making storage of food commodities for some time after harvest key in alleviating the downside of price fluctuations for farmers.

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    Potato is the second most important staple crop grown in Kenya after maize, and before rice. According to The International Potato Center (CIP), it is grown by 800,000 small-scale farmers generating employment for an estimated 2.5 million people along its value chain. 

    The leading potato-producing Counties in Kenya are Nyandarua, Meru, Nakuru, Narok, Bomet, Bungoma, West Pokot, and Elgeyo Marakwet.

    The country’s yields however continue to stagnate with average tuber yield at seven tonnes/hectare and many fields producing below three t/ha.

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