Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hudson's Interview with Christoph Hess on the use of mobile phone

Hudson Shiraku works for Biovision’s Farmer Communication Programme (FCP) in Nairobi. As part of his job he keeps an eye on technological aspects of the programme activities. In our interview he explains the importance of the mobile phone in general and particularily M-Pesa, an SMS-based payment system with more than 17 million users in Kenya.
Why is M-Pesa so popular in Kenya?
Banks are seen by many as expensive to operate in terms of fees: They charge their customers for the storage and withdrawal services. Their services can only be accessed in major towns or even only in Nairobi. M-Pesa is cheap, convenient and you only need to go to one of these M-Pesa kiosks and agents.

(Photo: Simon Kihiko Kimani)
For many Kenyans it is uneconomical to save 500 shillings in a bank when the bank’s minimum balance is 200 shillings and it costs 50 shillings to withdraw it. A phone can cost from as little as 999 to over 50,000 shillings depending on the type of phone and the person who is buying it. So the affordability of phones and the fact that they all have the same M-Pesa features have contributed to the popularity of M-Pesa.

Do Kenyans think that it’s expensive or complicated to use a mobile phone?
It is a yes and a no depending on the type of phone and the person who is using it. Some illiterate and old people who are not technologically savvy have just mustered the art of calling and receiving calls – the green and red buttons and they don’t bother about other applications. In this context, it’s not complicated but when they think of other applications it is. Expensive or not? It depends on the person who is buying it and the type of phone also.

What might happen if more and more people have mobile phones with internet connection?
I can do emailing and even search for information from the internet anytime and from anywhere. This is the kind of empowerment that people will get by this and I’m sure that they will accrue all benefits that come with it. It is usually said here that information is power.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New study says livestock production provides Kenya with 43% of agricultural GDP

Collecting milk in Kenya’s informal
market (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).
Do estimates of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) of African nations really underestimate the value of the contribution from the livestock sector, as livestock specialists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and elsewhere frequently complain? In Kenya and Ethiopia, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.
A new study by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Livestock Policy Initiative (LPI), which worked with national partners, concludes that livestock’s contribution to Kenya’s agricultural GDP is a whopping two and a half times larger than the official estimate for 2009. An earlier IGAD study concluded that livestock’s contribution to Ethiopia’s agricultural GDP has been even more dramatically under-reported; livestock’s contribution is now being estimated at three and a half times larger than that of the last official estimate available.
In Kenya, ‘This increase of 150% over official estimates means that the livestock contribution to agricultural GDP is only slightly less than that from arable agriculture, i.e. 320 billion Kenyan shillings for livestock (about $4.21 billion US dollars in 2009) versus 399 billion Kenyan shillings for crops and horticulture (in 2009 roughly $5.25 billion US dollars). . . .
‘According to the revised estimates, milk is Kenya’s most economically important livestock product, providing a little less than three quarters of the total gross value of livestock’s contribution to the agricultural sector. In terms of its contribution to agricultural GDP, milk is about four times more important than meat.
‘Cattle are Kenya’s most important source of red meat, supplying by value about 80% of the nation’s ruminant offtake for slaughter. More than 80% of the beef consumed in Kenya is produced by pastoralists, either domestically or in neighbouring countries and then imported on the hoof, often unofficially.’
In addition, the broad range of benefits rural food producers derive from livestock keeping—including manure for fertilizing crop field, traction for pulling ploughs, and serving as a means of savings and credit and insurance—represent about 11% of the value of the livestock contribution to GDP in Kenya and more than 50% in Ethiopia.
‘The conclusion to be drawn from this study is that Kenya’s livestock are economically much more important than hitherto believed; in fact, only marginally less than crops and horticulture combined. Agriculture and forestry are by far Kenya’s most important economic sector in terms of domestic production and it would now appear that livestock provide about 43% of the output from this sector. . . .’

How to make a compost pile

Friday, November 25, 2011

Video-mediated farmer-to-farmer learning for sustainable agriculture

Interesting article by The Global Horticulture Initiative about the use of video for knowledge sharing and training in the field in research for development.
"From June to September 2011, Agro-Insight conducted a scoping study for SDC, GFRAS and SAI Platform on the production, dissemination and use of farmer training videos in developing countries, with a focus on sustainable agriculture. Literature was consulted, the internet screened, experts and users consulted and a global on-line survey launched in English, French and Spanish. Continue.....: You can as well find the associated report here
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why increase food production only to loose it to spoilage? Need for proper post harvest management systems presents youth with both an opportunity and a challenge..

“Food security” may have different interpretations to different people but basically, it may mean having an adequate supply of food materials to feed the population from one harvest period until the next. In this context, food security is going to be defined as above and vary somewhat and include safety and quality aspects such as absence of physical, chemical and biological contamination.
Among factors contributing to food security, safety and quality problems such as lack of hygiene, waste handling, theft, erosion of indigenous species, ancillatory effects and spoilage, loss due to spoilage accounts for the highest percentage; 50%. This notwithstanding, governments continue investing in increasing agricultural productivity rather than in post harvest management and hence my big question; Why increase food production only to loose it to spoilage? 
Below are the simplest ways of drying maize for storage 

Seed preservation 
Drying maize for storage
In light of this, there is need to look at cheap, efficient and readily available ways of preserving food – and in this context, drying. Food drying is a very simple, ancient skill. It is one of the most accessible and hence the most widespread processing technology. Sun drying of fruits and vegetables is still practiced largely unchanged from ancient times. Traditional sun drying takes place by storing the product under direct sunlight and it has evolved to the use of solar dryers.Postharvest losses in Africa have opened a vista of untapped opportunities for agro-processors willing to invest in the sector giving youth a perfect entry point. These opportunities come at a time when crop improvement programs by NGOs and national partners are offering better varieties and increasing yield. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Time to Use ICTs to Strengthen Farm Extension Services

In this time when a lot of emphasis is being laid upon addressing food security and agricultural related problems, there is need to take Farm Extension Services (FES) to the digital level in order to cope with this pressure. FES is fundamental in that it helps farmers to know what and when to plant, how to care for their plants from seed to post-harvest, how to handle fertilizers, pests, and much more. As a result to extension service work, smallholder farmers’ productivity increases.
However, there exists a 2-Pronged Problem whereby too few farmers have access to the extension services they need and on the other hand extension workers cannot easily tap all the information available to help farmers. 
In view of using ICTs to tackle these problems, there exists opportunities worth taking advantage of. In the field of Agricultural development we have;
·        Most AG development projects (including FTF) include some farm extension services.
·        Donors are providing funds to improve FES.
·        Some governments are modernizing their FES.
·        Large buyers, processors know value of providing FES.

Opportunities related to ICT include the following;
  • Access to mobile networks especiallyis expanding dramatically in developing countries –and the poor use cell phones.
  • Mobile networks now handle voice and data applications.
  • Mobile network operators (MNOs) are competing hard for market share, to reduce churn.
Some of the ICT Options available for tapping include; mobile networks, radio, video (stand-alone), GIS, digital cameras and the internet all working in complimentarity with more traditional ones such as:
  • Face to face training
  • Demo plots, more 
For successful use of these ICT tools, there are key challenges calling for consideration, there is need to look at;
·        How to match “channel” with best learning?
·        How best to combine?
·        How to time for greatest impact?
·        Reaching right information fast
·        Digitizing so much information
·        Localizing
·        Scaling: getting beyond “success story”
·        The lure of “cool” devices
·        Using or adapting available platforms, applications, service providers
·        Leveraging governments’ FES
·        Affordable access: telecom enabling environment, use of telecom universal service funds
However, despite the above challenges, there are some encouraging success stories. For the purpose of this post, I’ll mention just two; Uganda’s Grameen Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) and India’s Digital Green
How it works: Trusted (paid) CKWs disseminate AG advice (as well as weather, prices) and collect AG-related info via Android phones.
Who Pays: Grants to Grameen AppLab from MTN-Uganda; Gates Foundation; Earns fees for data collection by same CKWs; experimenting with fees from farmers.
Scale: Some 200 CKWs each serving 500-750 households
Impact: Pilot study showed farmers increased productivity, incomes; plans call for impact assessment over next 12-18 months.
How it works: NGO helps farmers produce modularized videos of farmers demonstrating improved farming practices; videos shown in villages in gathering places via TV/DVD. Feedback loop via IVR (phone).
Who Pays: Developed with funding from Microsoft; Gates Foundation providing 3 year grant. Farmers subscribe as a part of membership in farmer orgs. Not sustainable based on subscription fees alone.
Scale: so far 600 villages with 42,000 farmers
Impact: Microsoft study showed 10 times more cost effective than traditional approaches with AG extension workers; adoption of better practices increased 7 fold. Larger scale control trial now under way.
NB: India (exploring options in sub-Saharan Africa)
     In view of all these, the possibilities are inexhaustible.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tie Agriculture to Youth's Interests to attract them

Thinking of how to involve youths in agriculture, I realized there is need to actively cultivate interest, and demonstrate that agriculture is relevant to youth. Educators must define agriculture and relate it to youths' lives. Sports or music celebrities could be enlisted to deliver messages to youth about agriculture.
For instance instead of discussing food, which seems to be of minor relevance in their lives, a discussion of a scenario such as, "leather comes from animals, and is made into the tennis shoes and basketballs, etc." may be more effective. Because there is such a detachment from agriculture in the minds' of youth, it is important to help them make connections.
Materials may also emphasize the technical aspects of agriculture and the various career opportunities in these "hi-tech" fields. For example, youth may be interested in genetic engineering, global positioning, or high performance engines.

Lower primary pupils in a local schoo
A popular adage in my community goes, ‘samaki mkunje angali mbichi’ this literally translates to – if you want to bend a fish, you must do it when it’s still fresh. After drying it breaks if you attempt to. In schools, older students appear to have already shaped their perceptions of agriculture, it may be best to target new efforts at children in the lower primary classes

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Five ways of increasing youth involvement in Agriculture;

In our quest to increase youth involvement in Agriculture, here are some recommendations to jump start us:
1.      There is need for improved access to Training and Capacity Development
  • Improved training at the primary and secondary school level 
  • Linking School Agricultural  Operations with General Curriculum
  • More opportunities for on farm training for youth
  • Enterprise development training particularly in value added activities such as food processing  and packaging
2.      Access to resources plays a key role in the agricultural sector and therefore there is need for improved and easier access to resources such as:
  • Land
  • Capital
  • Technology and Information
  • Facilitating access to and encouraging the use of appropriate technology
  • Developing a data base of agencies  that can provide access to youth on information in agriculture
3.      Getting some financial reward from agriculture is the main driving force behind the sector and therefore it will be of paramount importance to Facilitating Market Opportunities. That is, providing targeted marketing opportunities for primary and value-added agricultural products produced by young entrepreneurs via special arrangements with schools, hotels etc.
4.      Providing motivation and improving the image of agriculture to make it appealing to the youths. That is, update policies and incentives
5.      Facilitating networking among youth will also increase their involvement in Agriculture. Such should entail providing incentives to encourage collaboration and group activity of youth

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Youths and agriculture; Mutisya's take on this

Question; What Reasons Hinder Active Involvement of Youth in Agriculture?
1. Lack of their rights to land ownership since most of the land is owned by their parents.
2. Ignorance/lack of commitment.
3. Lack of ability to raise funds for their Agricultural activities since majority are jobless.
4. High rate of land sub-division and fragmentation resulting to small pieces of land which cannot contribute to reasonable production and returns.
5. A lot of risks and uncertainties associated with Agriculture scare the youth from investing in enterprises .eg climate change, poor infrastructure and poor market.
6. Negative attitude towards Agriculture alternatively preferring to search for white color jobs in urban areas.

Question; How can they be Solved?
1. Campaign and educate on the importance of Agriculture in the modern life to convince them.
2. Assist them with information on farming skills, help them create Agricultural opportunities and link them to markets.
3. Give them freedom to express themselves and rights to ownership of land.
4.  Making them informed on the available local resources/inputs in order to reduce the cost of production thus keep them in farming.

Question;How do you Relate Youth and ICT in this Context?
This is an opportunity which goes down well with many youths thus they can access Agricultural information easily.               

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gender equality; key for agricultural success

Gender equality
A fundamental human rights issue, gender equality means equal empowerment and participation for both men and women in all spheres of public and private life. This does not imply that both sexes are the same but rather that they are equal in rights and dignity. As with all human rights, gender equality must be constantly fought for, protected and encouraged.
As we endeavor to transform farming into a form of employment to the many jobless youths and use it as a flagship project in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals –
  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8. Develop a global partnership for development
Approaching it “gender blindly” is going to be a world goose chase.
Gender equality is a goal that has been accepted by governments and international organizations. It is even enshrined in the MDGs and many other agreements. This underscores the importance of gender equality not only in agriculture but across all other sectors in order for them to achieve their full potential.
Many studies have revealed that cash crop yields on plots managed by women are lower than those managed by men. Does it mean women are worse farmers? NO. This is not because women are worse farmers than men; indeed extensive evidence shows that women are just as efficient as men. They simply do not have access to the same farm inputs as men, if they did, their yields would be the same as they would produce more and overall agricultural production would increase.

Concerted efforts should therefore be directed towards gender education. If it addresses both girls and boys, it can be a positive force for creating gender equality in modern society and change the roles that girls and boys and women and men play in private and public life. By reducing gender stereotypes, gender education assists children in building a genuine civic equality where males and females live in relationships of cooperation and in mutual respect. The building blocks for gender education are gender awareness.

Poor returns from farming are discouraging farmers

Farmers in the North Rift are having difficulty selling their maize as the market has been flooded with the commodity, resulting in a decline in prices. This comes at a time when the country is faced with a starving populace.
Maize prices in most parts of the region have dropped from Ksh 3,400 per 90kg to Ksh 2,7oo following the harvest of this season’s crop. Retailers who have been interviewed attributed this decline in maize prices to a bumper harvest last season due to favorable environmental and weather conditions and importation of the grain from a neighboring country under the Common Market Protocol.   
The ongoing harvesting of maize in parts of the North Rift region has also contributed to a market glut and consequent drop in their prices.
It has become unrewarding to invest in grain production when the returns are low amid the rising cost of living fueled by inflation.
As a remedial measure to revert recurrence of this situation, farmers should embrace diversification in their farming. They should consider diversifying into horticulture, dairy farming and fish farming which are equally if not more lucrative. This is a new perspective youths should look at agriculture with in order to increase chances of profiting from the activity and spread their losses.