In Kenya’s Central Rift Valley, sweet potato farmers have struggled to produce healthy, high yielding crops, with much of their harvest lost to plant viruses or damaged by weevils. In response, sweet potato breeders from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute have worked with farmers in the area to select and develop better varieties of sweet potato, which are tolerant of viruses, high yielding and contain high levels of nutrients and vitamin A. Breeder Laura Karanja explains the process, and how through planting the new varieties and attention to farming practices such as weed control, farmers can expect to double their yields. She also points out the importance of breeding crops specific to local areas, in order to match local conditions such as rainfall patterns, soil moisture and altitude.
published: February 2013
In Tanzania, cassava has traditionally been grown as a food crop, generally thriving in warm, lowland areas. But, learning from the experience of countries such as Nigeria and Mozambique, Tanzanian cassava breeder Dr Kiddo Mtunda is developing varieties of cassava with high starch content, for use by industry. Starch from cassava is highly valued for making glucose syrup as an ingredient for beer and other drinks. Starch is also used by textile manufacturers, by the pharmaceutical industry and others. Dr Mtunda explains to Chelu Matuzya about three high starch cassava varieties under development, which also have resistance to major cassava diseases. These represent a new source of income for farmers, in selling cassava to starch processors, as well as offering by-products including livestock feed.
published: February 2013
In Uganda, bean crops have been affected by a disease called anthracnose, which causes blistering on the pods. Initial attempts to introduce disease-resistant varieties failed, as many of the attributes of these new varieties, such as taste, colour and cooking time, were not popular with farmers. Recent breeding work, however, has involved farmers in the selection process so that they can choose varieties which are not only disease resistant but have many other attributes they want. To complement the work of seed companies in spreading these varieties, farmers have also been trained to produce bean seed, which some farmer groups are now doing as a valuable source of income.
published: January 2013
Napier grass, also known as elephant grass, is the most important type of ‘cut and carry’ grass used to feed dairy cattle in sub Saharan Africa. But in the central highlands of Kenya, an area where dairying is vital for farming incomes, Napier grass is being attacked by a harmful disease – head smut – which makes the leaves thin and tough, greatly reducing its feed value. In recent years, plant breeders from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) have developed a variety of Napier known as Kakamega 1, which is not affected by head smut. Around ten thousand farmers are now planting Kakamega 1, ensuring they have good supplies of feed for their cattle. Winnie Onyimbo visits the International Livestock Research Institute genebank in Ethiopia, which provided smut-tolerant Napier samples to the KARI breeders.
published: December 2012
All farmers want to earn a good price for their crop, but many fail to do so for various reasons. In Uganda, Farm Concern International has helped to link cassava farmers and traders, achieving benefits for both groups. By forming ‘commercial villages’, the farmers have bulked their crop, making it much easier and more efficient for traders to buy it. And by meeting traders’ need for a clean, high quality crop, farmers have been able to earn a higher price. Wambi Michael speaks to a trader and farmer, as well as Farm Concern’s country coordinator in Uganda, to find out more about how linking farmers and buyers has created a ‘win-win’ situation.
published: November 2012
In Busia County, western Kenya, around 10,000 farmers have increased their cultivation of cassava in order to supply industrial markets. The introduction of chipping machines has made a big impact, allowing for much quicker processing of raw cassava, which is chipped and dried ready for sale within just a few days. By working in producer groups, farmers produce sufficient quantities to attract larger buyers, including animal feed manufacturers and flour millers. Pius Sawa visits Tangakona Commercial Village to see the cassava chipping process in action and to find out how the technology has transformed the lives of the farming community.
published: October 2012
Moses Amai, a smallholder dairy farmer from Kenya, has increased his year-round milk production by storing grass and crop residues for use as feed during the dry months. Instead of burning crop residues like maize and bean stalks, he stores them in his barn, which can hold up to 100 tonnes of feed. Another farmer, Jennifer Kilach, grinds green maize stalks, Napier grass and desmodium, to make a nutritious cattle feed for the dry season. With good availability of drinking water for their cattle, both farmers are managing to cope with more frequent periods of drought associated with climate change.
published: September 2012
Smallholder banana growers, like other smallscale farmers, can struggle to find a good market for their crop or earn a high price. They may also have difficulty obtaining disease-free, high yielding banana plants and other inputs, and this leads to low yields. In Kenya, the TechnoServe organisation has supported farmer groups to join up and establish their own banana marketing centres. By bulking their banana crop, they have attracted more consistent buyers. They have also introduced selling by kilo, rather than having to accept a price based on the buyer’s own judgement of value. And by forming a larger group, farmers have accessed better quality banana plants as well as training.
published: September 2012
Coffee leaf rust, caused by a fungus, is a damaging disease in coffee farms around the world which can reduce harvests by 40 per cent or more. Until recently, the disease was not commonly found in highland areas, as it favours a warmer climate. However, with rising temperatures as a result of global warming, coffee growers in highland areas of countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, are increasingly finding their crop attacked by the disease, with a significant impact on both the quantity and quality of their yields. In response, the research organisation CABI is working with national coffee institutions to identify varieties of coffee that are resistant to the disease, and train farmers in other methods of protecting their crops.
published: July 2012
Forest areas, or farmland with large numbers of trees, offer many benefits to people and the environment. At a global level, trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, helping to control the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and prevent global warming. And at a local level, forest areas trap cool, moist air near to the ground, thereby reducing temperatures and protecting people, crops and animals from excessive heat. But despite these and other benefits, in Kenya, uncontrolled felling of trees continues, including from protected areas. In response, the Kenyan government aims to achieve 30 per cent tree cover by 2030 through support for tree planting.
published: June 2012
To be notified when new Agfax reports come online, write your email address in the box below.