All posts by Amber Strong

Maize farming demonstrations with the Farm Shop Trust near Ngecha, Kenya

Amber Strong
August 20, 2015
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Myself and my colleagues, Morwenna Roberts and Claire Reigate joined Farm Shop Trust Extension Officers (in agronomy and livestock health) Naomi and Casty to give demonstration training at a farm near Ngecha. I first visited the demonstration farm in Ngecha on the 22nd of July and fifteen farmers attended. We were joined by Rosemary from the Ministry of Agriculture, and Beatrice from Farm Concern, an NGO that links farmers to market traders.

Farmers look on at the Maize planting demonstration near Ngecha
Farmers look on at the Maize planting demonstration near Ngecha

The Farm Shop Trust provides regular agricultural training days for farmers at locations across Kiambu County, Kenya. If farmers are educated on how best to farm a wide variety of crops they are more likely to produce higher yields, farm more efficiently and sustainably on the land available to them and be able to sell their produce for higher prices. Farming is the backbone of the Kenyan economy and training in efficient smallholder farming methods will help more people to thrive.

Farmers look on at the Maize planting demonstration near Ngecha
Farmers look on at the Maize planting demonstration near Ngecha

Farm Shop Trust staff led instruction for a group of fifteen local farmers on how to measure out the correct distances needed between maize seeds; how deep to make the holes and how to use the fertiliser correctly so that the seeds are not burnt by it. The training was based around using a fertiliser product, and planting F1 Hybrid Maize. The farmers pegged out the row, then used bits of plastic tied to the wire to mark out the 25 cm spacing, then dug a hole, put in 3 container caps full of fertiliser, covered it in a bit of soil then added the maize seed and covered the hole completely. They repeated this for 2 rows, then planted a row of maize without fertilizer so that the farmers can compare the difference.

Maize rows are measured out at the demonstration farm near Ngecha
Maize rows are measured out at the demonstration farm near Ngecha

At the end of the session farmers were asked to fill out feedback forms and identify areas in which they would like further training. Farmers requested instruction in dairy and poultry production, specifically calf rearing. Rearing animals for milk, meat and eggs would involve high initial investment by farmers, and continual cost of inputs for the maintenance of animal health, though promising higher profit margins.

Cows at the demonstration farm near Ngecha
Cows at the demonstration farm near Ngecha

I visited Ngecha again with Morwenna Roberts and Casty on the 12th of August, twenty-one days after the seeds were planted. When we arrived at the Demo field we saw that the maize seeds had successfully sprouted and grown to around seven inches in height.

Maize seedlings at three weeks old
Maize seedlings at three weeks old

The Farm Shop Trust had also previously instructed the demo farmer to plant pepper plant seeds and cover the patch with feed bags to protect the germinating seeds from the morning cold. When we removed the feed bags on the 12th of August the pepper plant seeds had sprouted successfully and in four weeks the farmer will transplant the seedlings so that the plants have space to grow and that he can sell some of the plants.

Morwenna Roberts and the demonstration farmer pick weeds from between pepper plant seedlings
Morwenna Roberts and the demonstration farmer pick weeds from between pepper plant seedlings

We then drove to a near-by tomato greenhouse where this group of farmers regularly meet and Casty reviewed what had been done three weeks ago and that this had resulted in plenty of healthy maize seedlings. Casty then handed out pens and paper to the ten farmers attending the training and gave a lesson on the importance of record keeping in farming because it enables the farmer to record exactly what they did. Farmers were instructed to record for livestock; symptoms of their sick animal, how long the animal had had those symptoms, what they had treated the animal with, how strong a dose they used and what the results where. For crops, they were taught to record the date of planting, spacing of planting, if fertiliser was used and if so, how it had been prepared. These habits were recommended so that if a farmer had a healthy crop they knew what they should do again next time and if the was a problem they had a better chance of identifying what had gone wrong.

Farmers attending the second demonstration day at Ngecha
Farmers attending the second demonstration day at Ngecha

After this lesson there was a group Q and A session where the farmers explained the current crop or livestock difficulties they were experiencing ad Casty explained the changes or treatments they needed to make. Casty explained de-worming procedures, how to identify Trichominiasis in cows and how to deter pests on tomato plants with either pesticides or diluted rabbit urine.

Farm Shop Agricultural Extension Officer Naomi, leading the Q and A session
Farm Shop Agricultural Extension Officer Naomi, leading the Q and A session

Farmers left with practical advice on the current agricultural problems they were facing. If farmers do well and make more profit they are more likely to be able to afford more than the most basic and cheapest agricultural products.

 

 

If you would like to know more about Plymouth University’s work with the Farm Shop Trust in Kenya please feel free to contact me at amber.strong@plymouth.ac.uk

Amber Strong -Network Advisor in Entrepreneurship
Amber Strong -Network Advisor in Entrepreneurship

Grace Mweru’s Farm Shop launch at Murera, Kenya

Amber Strong
August 7, 2015
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Myself and three other fellows are currently volunteering at the Farm Shop Trust’s headquarters in Kiambu County, Nairobi, Kenya for six weeks from mid July to late August 2015.

Launch day for the new Farm Shop
Launch day for the new Farm Shop

Working on behalf of Plymouth University and Duchy College (UK) on a project involving Comic Relief, our team consists of myself, Amber Strong (Business and Entrepreneurship) as a representative of Plymouth University’s Futures Entrepreneurship Centre, Liam Moore (IT) student at Plymouth University, Claire Reigate (Technical Specialist in Animal Health), from Duchy College, and Morwenna Roberts (Horticulture and  International Development) a student from Duchy College. Our aims are to support the Farm Shop Trust in creating the framework for a shop- assistant training programme and assisting in infrastructure development. This is due to the Farm Shop Trust’s rapid expansion that will continue to take place over the next year.

Seeds and other agricultural products are available in a Farm Shop
Seeds and other agricultural products available in Farm Shops

On my second day since in Kenya I had the opportunity to visit Grace Mweru, the owner of an Agri-shop (an agricultural supplies store) who was then in the process of becoming a Farm Shop Franchisee. Agri-shops’ sell a variety of products that a farmer might need; including seeds, fertilisers, animal feeds, feed supplements and veterinary medicines.  Agricultural supply stores are a common sight in Nairobi but some are often poorly stocked and the staff may not have the knowledge to correctly advise the farmer of the correct product to suit their needs or explain how the product must be used to be most effective. The Farm Shop Trust aims for all agricultural shops that become ‘Farm Shops’ under their franchisee-ship to be well stocked to suit the needs of farmers and must be staffed with helpful and well qualified staff that will enable Kenyan farmers to make the most efficient use of the correct products.

Grace's new shop before  Farm Shop branding, two weeks before the shop launch
Grace’s new shop before Farm Shop branding, two weeks before the shop launch

Until a month ago, Grace had an Agri-shop in the town of Githurai for over a year. Her shop was next to a busy Farm Shop and this inspired her to move her shop to a location nearer to her home and become a Farm Shop franchisee. Grace talked with current Franchisees before requesting to become a Franchisee herself. On Wednesday 5th of August she launched here new shop in Murera, Kiambu County, Nairobi, Kenya as a Farm Shop Franchisee. Her husband is a well-known Vet in the Murera area and treats the cows of many of the local diary farmers that I talked to that afternoon.

Graces's young daughter standing inside the unfinished shop
Graces’s young daughter standing inside the unfinished shop

When I visited Grace at the site of her new shop that had just been built, the walls were unpainted and the shelves for the shop were still being built. Now, on the 5th of August, the morning of Grace’s new shop launch; her shop is fully painted, well stocked, brightly labelled and bustling. Across the road from the shop, Farm Shop Trust staff had set up a gazebo for local farmers and a DJ had arrived.

Grace standing in her new shop with Farm Shop Trust staff
Grace standing in her new shop with Farm Shop Trust staff

At around 11am, Farm Shop Trust Extension Officers (in agronomy and livestock health) start off the launch event to an audience of around twenty-five farmers with a prayer and the drawing of the first raffle prize ticket. There are introductions regarding staff specialisms, talks on disease prevention by certain pests such as white fly, and how best to treat common livestock infections such as mastitis in dairy cows.

The four hour event was broken up by jokes by DJ John, raffled price draws of agricultural products stocked at the new Farm Shop and finally a banana eating competition. As I helped Farm Shop staff pack down the launch event banners, farmers flooded Grace’s shop to buy various products they had learnt about that day.

Grace's Farm Shop on the day of the launch
Grace’s well stocked Farm Shop on the day of the launch

The Farm Shop Trust provides a lot for their Franchisees; helping them to develop loyal customer bases.

The Farm Shop Trust provides new franchisees with:

  • a free shop launch event when the new shop opens
  • a free farmers outreach event 10 days after the launch to develop a local customer base
  • further free agricultural demonstration days for farmers based from the shop itself.

The Farm Shop Trust also provides free training for franchisees and shop assistants in accounting, customer service, product knowledge and business management.

Farmers listening to recommendations by a certified provider of vaccinated chicks
Farmers listening to recommendations by a certified provider of vaccinated chicks

As part of becoming a Franchisee, the Farm Shop Trust pay on average around 5,000 Kenyan Shillings for the outside of the shop to be painted in Farm Shop colours and branding. Branding the shop links the shop to the Farm Shop Trust’s developing reputation for:

  • high quality products
  • extensive product range
  • clean stores
  • well informed and helpful franchisees and shop assistants.

It takes around 300,000 Kenyan Shillings to fully stock an agricultural shop like Grace has done and the Farm Shop Trust often link potential Franchisees to micro-finance institutions.

Moses standing in the new Farm Shop
Moses standing in the new Farm Shop

After the event, I chatted to Grace’s shop assistant, 20 year old Moses; who is waiting to hear the results of his exams for his Certificate in Agriculture. He has already started studying for his Diploma in Agriculture, a two year course.  Like many Farm Shop shop assistants, his parents are farmers and this sparked his interest in agriculture.

Livestock feeds sold at Farm Shops
Livestock feeds sold at Farm Shops

For Grace and her shop, her husbands’ reputation as a reliable vet in the local area, Grace’s past experiences as a shop owner, the importance she places on having a very well stocked shop as well as the Farm Shop Trust’s assistance with training, branding and marketing all bode well for the success of her new shop. I wish her the very best of success.

Amber Strong -Network Advisor in Entrepreneurship
Amber Strong -Network Advisor in Entrepreneurship

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the Plymouth University’s Futures Entrepreneurship Centre or my work with the Farm Shop Trust please feel free to contact me at: amber.strong@plymouth.ac.uk


Farmers and the prevention of Mastitis in Kiambu County

On Tuesday 4th August 2015, I (Dr. Kennedy) visited farmers around Kiamwangi area in Kiambu County. This is one of the regions in which the Farm Shop continues to serve farmers by providing them with access to high quality products through their agro (agricultural products) dealer shop in the region. In addition, Farm Shop also provides a host of extension services through their technical regional representatives.

The farmers in the area had requested that I visit their farms and consult on a wide range of challenges affecting them, with Mastitis being top on the agenda. Kiamwangi is a long distance off from our Farm Shop headquarters in Ndenderu, Kenya.  I had to board three ‘Matatus’(local busses) and several motorbikes as I moved from one farmer’s home to another in the region. Most of the farmers I visited were struggling with subclinical mastitis which I diagnosed through a diagnostic test known as the California Mastitis Test (CMT). This is an easy cow-side test that can easily diagnose Mastitis in a herd with a history of decreased milk production. After diagnosis, I advised each farmer on the various methods of control and prevention as well as therapeutic measures they could employ to counter this problem.

Dr Kennedy checking for mastitis
Dr Kennedy checking for mastitis

Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammary gland or udder characterized by changes in milk and the udder. It is a complex disease caused by any combination of; bacteria, fungi, viruses, yeast, physical and chemical injury to the udder. It is one of the most common problems I have encountered affecting small holder farmers around Kiambu County, Kenya. It leads to loss in production when milk is discarded for being unfit for consumption due to contamination, reduced milk yields, veterinary costs, and culling or death of the animal. Prolonged use of antibiotics for management ultimately becomes counterproductive due to the development of bacterial resistance, thus prevention is left as the only viable option. Apart from the various control strategies, I also taught the farmers about what causes the disease and how it is transmitted.

Dairy Cow in Kenya
Dairy Cow in Kenya

Prevention of Mastitis achieves good results if it is looked at on a farm-wide basis. High levels of hygiene are fundamental when it comes to prevention. While your animals are grazing in the field, the teats should be clean and not soiled with any dirt. Clean housing and good milking techniques help to ensure that the environment stops build-up of pathogens to avoid injury to teats and the udder. In summary, prevention entails:

  • Maintaining hygienic environment in the milking parlor, proper drainage in the cattle pens and proper waste disposal.
  • Avoiding sharp objects in the environment which could injure cow’s teats and udder.
  • Avoiding dirt accumulation around the udder by clipping hairs regularly.
  • Maintaining appropriate milking techniques that entail squeezing and not pulling the teats while milking.
  • Disinfecting teats before and after milking by teat dipping.
  • Wiping the teats using separate towels for each cow to avoid cross infection.
  • Drying off the cow approximately 60 days before expected calving using dry cow therapy so as to prevent infection.
  • Milking healthy animals’ first and infected ones last. New animals should be milked separately.

 

If you would like to know more about my work with the Farm Shop Trust in Kenya please feel free to contact me on kennedykeya@gmail.com