By JOYCE KIMANI
January 20,2017, Nairobi. It was a complete clinic but with a different kind of patient and doctor. Farmers strode in with their sick plants to the demonstration farm of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro) in Njoro, carrying samples of their diseased plants.
Many were withered up, dried and dying for reasons they could not understand but were willing to see them diagnosed and treated. The Farmers Clinic, sponsored by Elgon Kenya Limited and Seeds of Gold, was one of the biggest attractions to farmers in Kenya.
In its second edition, the clinic witnessed hundreds of farmers from Makueni, Molo, Njoro, Kisumu, Machakos and Thika, seek treatment from expert Doctors from KALRO, Egerton University and University of Eldoret . Both large scale and small scale farmers thronged in the venue from as early as eight o’clock when the gates opened, seeking to exchange views with the crop experts.
The experts, mainly crop nutritionists from KALRO and Egerton University, took time to explain to the farmers on what ailed their products. The enthusiastic farmers took the well availed chance to ask all the questions that disturbed them, which the experts answered one by one till the farmer expressed satisfaction. “I have been planting beans for the last three years and despite other farmers harvesting over 90 bags in a one acre farm, the most I get is fifteen bags,” said Peter Mungai, a farmer in Thika. Dr Benard Towett, an expert from KALRO explained that he was using an old variety of bean seed hence the poor yield.
He advised him to try the new Chelalang seed released recently by the institution, which only took three months to mature unlike the one he was currently using that become ready for harvest in six months. “Farmers need to understand the new innovations especially in seed development if they are to get good prices and adequate harvest from their products.
The clinic offers direct interaction with farmers and on this basis they are able to get free and researched advice on their crops,” he added. John Wafula, a farmer, expressed concern that the invasion of pest and diseases was a major setback into practicing serious agribusiness. He pointed out that the high cost of pesticides had discouraged them from large scale farming.
Professor Miriam Gaceri Kinyua, fromUniversity of Eldoret and also a plant breeder, advised farmers to seek organic farming and utilize the readily available pesticide under careful instructions from the seller. “With the new technology farmers can just send a text to a mobile application and get all the relevant answers to their queries about anything related to farming,” she added.
On the wheat farming, Kinyua advised farmers to adopt the Eldo Mavuno and Eldo Baraka, which were introduced last season. “They are not only resistant to the lethal stem rust but they offer very high yields which I have enjoyed as a farmer too,” she added. Kinyua pointed out that the new varieties produced 30 – 35 90 kilograms bags per acre and the control of the various diseases including stem rut was inbuilt hence barred any disease from attacking it.
Kinyua said this will save farmers unnecessary costs, pointing out that it cost a farmer at least ksh 10 000 to spray every acre since it involved use of expensive chemicals. “Most of the farmers spray their crops more than three times with fungicides to deal with stem rust which is not only expensive but tiring,” she added.
Kinyua challenged the farmers to carry out soil testing to analyze the humus content, the acidity levels and its fertility, which was important for good crop production. She also advised farmers to plant certified seeds, which would yield better result and give them value for their money.
In a surprising turn of events, the clinic attracted many youth who were keen to embrace agriculture as a means of earning their income. Fredrick Otieno, a field assistant at KALRO, took time to engage them on the newly released varieties of sweet potatoes and their nutritional benefits as a means to woo them into serious production.
Otieno pointed out that many people, in bid to prevent lifestyle diseases like diabetes, arthritis, heart failure and high blood pressure had now opted to substitute bread with the potatoes. Otieno pointed out that many were now planting the potatoes not only to take as a snack but were also keen to mill it and use the flour for porridge and cakes. “We have developed at least five different varieties in Njoro. They are not only orange fleshed, boost eye sight, but also rich in Vitamin A making them ideal for diabetes and persons living with HIV.
Elgon Kenya Head of Seed Production Dr B L Menaria challenged farmers to engage experts before and during and even after planting. “It’s an ongoing process and farmers should not only come to experts when something is wrong. They should invite experts to evaluate and analyze their plants through their different stages and offer the needed advice,” he added Menaria called on farmers to buy certified seeds, saying that the continued usage of poor quality seeds would not only affect their soil content but would also give them poor yields.
He also challenged the farmers to adopt the new innovations in the agriculture sector, pointing out that Elgon Kenya carried out various field demonstrations to willing farmers. “The clinic is one of our biggest move to engage and talk to farmers directly and this interrelation helps us understand what new varieties and types of seeds we should release to the market for their own benefits,” he added. Margaret Nyawira, a farmer, called for more clinics, pointing out that many people were willing to engage in large scale green house farming but did not have the aduaquate finances. “We have been adviced on how to improvise local and easily available materials to create a green house and as it expands we will be able to purchase a bigger and better green house for farming,” she added.