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Monday, 24 April 2017

Sokopepe issue 3: Farm records for improved productivity

By Bob Aston
We are pleased to present issue 3 of Sokopepe Newsletter. The issue is a joint effort between Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) and Sokopepe Ltd.
The end of March 2017 marked the end of a successful roll-out phase of the Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) innovation by Sokopepe Ltd in the nine Sub Counties of Meru. This followed a pilot phase in five sub counties in Meru in 2014-2015.
Sokopepe issue 3 Newsletter
The past 11 months has proven that farmer-serving agencies are able to leverage on the digital record-keeping platform to reach farmers with various services and products.
Our supportive farmers during the roll-out phase made us appreciate that farm records could transform their lives. It has been a humbling experience hearing and seeing the various micro-innovations that they undertake.
Our networks of Production Information Agents (PIAs) have played a pivotal role in ensuring successful completion of the roll-out phase of FARMIS innovation. Providing record keeping data, demand-driven extension services, boosting farmers’ access to information through the PIAs has helped many farmers to realise increased productivity and profitability.
More farmers are now able to use the record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable. This is helping them to make right farming decisions, as they are able to know the crops that are “eating” into their profits.
We are now working to ensure that we launch our second Agriculture Production Report (APR) next month. We hope that through the report, the government and other agencies would be able to obtain reliable, regular, and high-quality data on the status of agriculture in Meru County.
We hope that the aggregated FARMIS data will help to identify trends, which will support appropriate decision-making, while the farm level data will continue to determine the credit worthiness of farmers.
It is our hope that readers will find the third issue of Sokopepe Newsletter as informative and that it would give them a deeper understanding of what we are doing. You can download a copy of the newsletter here.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Nurse with a passion for agribusiness

Thomas Ngaruiya
In Muiriene village in the heart of Meru County, Mrs. Doris Mutirithia’s 1-acre farm has since 2010 helped to support her family by paying school fees for her two children through the proceeds received from the sale of farm produce.
In a good season, the government nurse at Kibaranyaki Hospital in Imenti Central makes more than 100,000 from the sale of cabbages, capsicum, carrots, or potatoes. There are times when she takes her produce to Gakoromoni market in the morning before heading to work. She divides her time between her profession, family and her agribusiness.
Mrs. Doris Mutirithia inspecting her cabbages

“Farming is the only business that can allow me enough time with my family, profession and still serve humanity by providing quality farm produce," says Mrs. Mutirithia.
Initially, it was hard for her to know whether she was making a profit of loss. She formalised her farm records when she adopted Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) in 2016. A neighbour who had adopted the innovation recommended it to her as an easy way to manage her agricultural enterprises.
She has been doing crop rotation on a three-acre farm to improve soil stability and control pests and diseases. Like many farmers in the region, lack of market information and inadequate information on best agricultural practices used to be a challenge. Sokopepe has since addressed this.
She says that Sokopepe has enabled her to have better control of her economic destiny. Although she spends most of her time working at Kibaranyaki Hospital and with her family, she always ensures that she spends a bit of time at her farm.
“Sokopepe has helped me to embrace agribusiness. I am able to track all my enterprises and farm expenses,” said Mrs. Mutirithia.
Mrs. Doris Mutirithia preparing onions for storage
Last year she received her first profit and loss statement after selling cabbages. She is now able to use record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable. This has helped her to make right farming decisions. She plans to venture into pig farming using the profits received from the sale of farm produce.
Each season she is able to know which crops are eating into her “profits” and which ones are more profitable. FARMIS has allowed her to evaluate her income and expenses. This has eased her decision-making process.
“I can now account for every expense that I incur in the farm. Initially i never kept farm records and I could never tell how much I was getting from the sale of farm produce,” said Mrs. Mutirithia.
She said that the record keeping data has made her learn from her past mistakes. She now only invests in profitable farm enterprises.
Sokopepe has assigned her a Production Information Agent (PIA) who visits her farm once a week. Besides record keeping training, the PIA also provides her with extension services, market information, and linkages.
She has urged other professionals to embrace farming as a way of investing their money. She also urged other farmers to formalise their records to improve their economic gains and increase profit.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Banked farmers learning how to manage risks

By Bob Aston
Access to financial services is about to provide an opportunity for Kairiri Forest Users and Conservation Community Based Organisation (CBO) in Timau area of Meru County to deal with crop failure. Most of the members had contemplated quitting farming this year after the crop failure.
Sokopepe has been supporting the CBO to increase productivity and profitability of its members. This season, Sokopepe linked them to a micro finance institution to enable them to receive credit.
Members of the CBO going through Sokopepe's Farm Books

Linking the CBO to Times U Sacco Society Ltd has made the members to be among the few-banked farmers in the Country. The Sacco has a Kilimo Bora Loan, which is ideal for farmers due to low interest charged. For close to 5 weeks now the Sacco has been building their financial literacy and capability.
Already 30 members of the group have each paid a Ksh 200 for registration and are now saving Ksh 200 per week. Soon they will be able to receive Kilimo Bora Loan. The farmers can borrow up to 5 times the amount saved.
The Kilimo Bora loan attracts a 7.5 percent interest rate. The repayment is after four months when the farmers have harvested. The 74 member CBO are now planning to cultivate their combined 30-acre farm.
Mr. Bernard Mureithi, a Production Information Agent (PIA) at Sokopepe said that farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) help financial institutions to know whether farmers are capable of managing risks.
 “The farmers are able to track all their agribusiness enterprises and expenses incurred. This will ensure effective use of Kilimo Bora loans,” said Mr. Mureithi.
Mr. David Kabuari, Kairiri Forest Users, and Conservation CBO Chairman said that access to credit has always been a challenge. Financial institutions always deny them loans due to lack of proper farm records.
“Most financial institutions are always reluctant to lend to us. We are glad that Sokopepe linked us to a micro finance institution. We are now capable of accessing and managing credit," said Mr. Kabuari.
He said that Sokopepe has been training the CBO on record keeping, best agricultural practices, market information and linkages, and conservation agriculture.
“The training has equipped us with agribusiness skills. The knowledge is helping our members to track their agribusiness enterprises and expenses. This will help us to use the Kilimo Bora Loan which we expect to receive soon,” said Mr. Kabuari.
Members of the CBO being trained on financial literacy
Mr. Mureithi has been visiting the group every week to check on the progress of their crops. He has also been assisting individual members in filling their farm book.
He said that Sokopepe has enabled the CBO members to plan their farm enterprises. They are able to know the enterprises that ‘are eating’ into their profits.
The CBO has been engaging in forest management and conservation of Timau Forest for 9 years. The CBO has a Forest Management Agreement with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Through the agreement, KFS issued the group with 1.5-acre land for farming.
The group is playing an important role in forest restoration and agroforestry. This is helping to restore healthy, diverse, productive, and sustainable land-use systems.
The group has integrated apiculture with other farming activities. The CBO's 19 beehives are helping in pollination of plants, trees, fruits, and crops. This ensures the improvement of yields as well as promoting environmental conservation.
Mr. Kabuari noted that apiculture enables them to get income from honey, bees wax, pollen, propolis, bee colonies, bee brood, queen bees, and package bees.
The CBO also owns a tree nursery that produces at least 4,000 indigenous tree seedlings and around 3,000 exotic species. The CBO has been planting trees in Timau Forest, individual farms, education facilities, riparian and government land.
They have been donating seedlings to Water Resource Users Association (WRUA), schools, hospitals, and government departments. They are also selling to individuals. Exotic trees retail between Ksh 10-15 while indigenous trees retail at Ksh 25-50.
Difficulty in accessing credit facilities has hindered the productivity of most smallholder farmers. Sokopepe is keen on financial inclusion, as it would ensure increased income for farmers.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Be bold for change: Women making a difference

By Bob Aston
Today Sokopepe joins the World in celebrating the International Women Day 2017. This year’s theme is “Be Bold for Change.” The annual celebration is marked on March 8. This year’s celebration not only honours women who took the step to be bold for change, but also challenges everyone to take calculated and intentional bold steps to effect change in their own small way.
Sokopepe is recognising and celebrating some of the bold women who are forging a better working world for others. Sokopepe has taken a bold step to effect change in their own small way by intentionally promoting women inclusion in staffing patterns, thus a workforce comprising of 62 percent women. These women have taken steps to be bold for change and are trying to ensure a more inclusive gender equal world.
Women learning about Sokopepe during a training in Meru County
The countless acts of courage and determination carried out by these women have significantly contributed in empowering smallholder farmers in Meru County.

Ms. Gladwellah Muthoni, A production Information Agent (PIA) at Sokopepe has been one of the most passionate extension officers at the social enterprise. She is a keen believer in ensuring that women have equal access to productive resources. She believes that this not only ensures that women increase agricultural productivity but also have better control of their economic destinies.
She has been leading in the provision of record keeping data, demand-driven extension services, boosting farmer’s access to information and supporting farmers in documenting their innovations and experiences.
“I am always eager to help women farmers pull down the barriers that they face. Women play a critical role in food production and in achieving food security,” said Ms. Muthoni.
On her part, Fridah Gatwiri, 26, a Production Information Agent (PIA) at Sokopepe and a leading youth farmer has been an inspiration to many aspiring farmers.
She has been training farmers on record keeping, best agricultural practices, market information and linkages, conservation agriculture and the importance of high-value crops. When she is not at work, she is busy tending to her 3 acres leased farm.
“Over the years I have worked through my weaknesses and imperfections. I am now proud of every step that I take in fulfilling my goals in life,” said Ms. Gatwiri.
“I always try as much as possible to make a change in women farmers. Hearing from farmers and knowing that I helped them make an informed decision always makes me proud,” said Ms. Gatwiri.
She is always eager to encourage Youth to embrace agriculture instead of searching for elusive white-collar jobs.
Ms. Fridah Gatwiri, a smallholder farmer based in Meru County inspecting her crops
On her part, Ms. Judy Nkatha, Partnership and Linkages officer at Sokopepe has carved a niche in seeking for partnerships that are helping to develop and unlock services downstream in value chains.
Her dedication in seeking for partnerships has seen Sokopepe partner with seven agricultural service/product providers. This has helped to enhance good agricultural practices and to provide economical, effective, and sustainable agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers.
“I always believe that tackling barriers that hold back the productivity of women farmers could usher in broader economic growth,” said Mr. Nkatha.
Ms. Nkatha is always at the forefront in ensuring that women farmers are able to access and repay loans without relying on their husbands, and women are able to choose farming enterprises and make informed farming decisions.
On her part, Ms. Roseline Ngusa, a Co-Director at Sokopepe has been at the social enterprise since its inception in 2014. Through Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), she learned about challenges faced by marginalised communities and when the opportunity to be an agripreneur arose, she seized it.
Since then she has been making a social impact by working with smallholder farmers by addressing the lack of accurate production, marketing and operational data in agriculture. Her passion in mentoring female staff at Sokopepe and enthusiasm in ensuring smallholder farmers embrace record keeping and increase productivity and profitability is always palpable when she is talking about Agribusiness.
“I am an accountant with a passion for agripreneurship. Given my professional background, I know the importance of records and am sure those records can make a difference in farmer’s lives and they are able to increase productivity and profitability,” said Ms. Ngusa.
She has taken a keen interest in financial inclusion. She has been at the forefront in ensuring that Sokopepe is leveraging on existing relationships within the value chains to ensure farmers access financial services sustainably while unbanked farmers enjoy new possibilities.
“I am determined to ensure that we continue working with financial service providers to build financial literacy for smallholder farmers as well as their financial capabilities,” said Ms. Ngusa.
The disparity between women and men characterises most spheres of society. Giving women an equal opportunity and allowing them to reach their full potential is important in ensuring an inclusive gender equal society.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Kenyan farmers tackle crop failure by swapping seeds for seedlings

By Caroline Wambui
RUMURUTI, Kenya – Dressed in a navy blue sweater and a grey pair of trousers, David Mwangi bends to examine a bunch of ripe tomatoes.
In this central region of Kenya, farmers’ crops struggle to germinate because of irregular and unpredictable rainfall and temperatures, leading to high crop failure. But some farmers are now turning to seed propagation, whereby their seeds are grown in a “nursery” in a greenhouse before the farmers transplant the seedlings at home.
Unlike planting seeds manually in the ground, growing them in plastic trays in greenhouses enables a better control of conditions like temperatures and shading.

Farmer examining seedlings on his farm in Rumuruti, Kenya. TRF/Caroline Wambui
Justus Murage, a farmer who buys vegetable seedlings himself, explained that “the seeding process at the greenhouse is automated: machines fill the trays with soil, make holes in the soil, plant the seeds and waters them before releasing them to await germination at the greenhouses.”
The trays are filled with peat moss, a highly compact and absorbent matter that makes it easier for seeds to grow.
Mwangi and Murage are among thousands of farmers across the country who get their seeds “propagated” in the greenhouse before transplanting them, paying about 1 Kenyan shilling per seedling depending on the type of crop.
The seeds can take as little as less than a month to mature in the greenhouse, instead of at least 5-7 weeks when planted manually, according to Okisegere Ojepat, a horticulture expert.
Murage added that the protected environment of the greenhouse produces not only higher quality seedlings, but uniform ones.
“The more uniform seedlings are, the easier it is to plan when to harvest them, as they all mature at the same time.”
“No seedling will grow taller or shorter than the other, as they all grow in optimal conditions.”
Mwangi agrees, saying that “I can now plan my farming strategy as I know for how long the seeds will be at the greenhouse, when I can transplant them on my farm and when I can harvest them – which wasn’t the case when I manually planted seeds myself.”
The seedlings grow faster when transplanted at the farm, meaning Mwangi now has four harvesting seasons in one year – instead of three previously – allowing him to plant and sell more crops.
Ojepat said that propagation ensures a germination rate of up to 97% – compared to 40-50% previously – ensuring stronger seedlings with a big root mass which lowers their chances of withering during transplant.
Propagation is also helping farmers cut on costs. “Since I’ve been using the technology, I’ve saved about 25,000 Kenyan shillings per harvesting season (three months) by using less labour and experiencing less crop failure,” said Mwangi.
He used to employ three people to till the land, form a seedbed, plant the seeds and transplant them – and now only needs to employ one to transplant the seedlings.
Article originally published at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).