Farmers battle crop failure by harvesting premature maize

By David Njagi

NGOLIBA, Kenya – Until a maize crop has gone through the eight month cycle of maturity, hardly can farmers claim a harvest. John Mwema does.
But the 34-year-old’s maize crop at the one acre farm in Ngoliba village, Eastern Kenya, is not the ordinary one grown by thousands of farmers in Kenya.
Baby corn, or cornlette, is the variety of maize that keeps Mwema returning to the farm for a harvest at least three times with every crop sown.
“It is a type of maize that is harvested while looking like it is immature. It is eaten whole including the cob,” said Mwema, adding that it takes about 50 days since planting for him to make the first harvest.
At this time of the year, the terrain at Mwema’s village is dotted with drying thickets. A Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) reading indicates that temperatures can be as high as 40 degrees Celsius here.
By his estimation, it last rained in December 2016. But his farm is covered by green corn, which he has kept this way by watering from the nearby Thika River.
It is understandable that Mwema can spend most of the day tending to his crop. For planting just five kilogrammes of seed, he now has about 35,000 crops to care for.
Each of these, he said, will produce two to three cobs, and can yield up to a tonne until the last harvest.
“Baby corn matures very fast. Nothing is wasted from the crop,” he said, indicating that even the maize stalks are sold to livestock farmers as fodder.
But it is the attractive prices that his crop fetches that keeps him working resiliently at the farm.
When he has placed an order locally with outlets like Nakumatt supermarket, he sells a kilogramme for about $ 2. For local folks buying from his farm, a dollar for one kilo of baby corn keeps money flowing in.
Martha Musyoka, a scientist at the Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) said there is a promising export market for baby corn because of the demand for the product in Europe.
But even locally, appetite for the crop is on the rise, indicating that farmers in central and eastern Kenya are now growing the crop to meet rising local demand.
“The cob is very tender and is harvested when it is not very thick,” said Musyoka. “It is very nutritious and is eaten as a salad or as a cooked meal.”
There is a climate change appeal too. According to her, the weather at Mwema’s village is suitable for the Thai Gold, Baby Corn ZS206, G5414 and SG18, varieties that are being grown in Kenya.
Due to its fast maturing ability, she said, farmers do not have to rely on rainfall to grow baby corn. All one needs is a source of water to irrigate the crop, argued Musyoka.
“It also acts as a wind breaker in dry areas,” she added, but warned that the crop needs a lot of attention and delicate care when growing it.
Joseph Muthengi, a fresh produce farmer in Eastern Kenya agrees. The 39-year-old was a passionate baby corn grower.
For him, having a ready crop meant that companies like Kenya Fresh, could buy the product directly from his farm for export to the European Union (EU) market.
“The returns in terms of money were so good that I was even planning to buy extra land to plant more baby corn,” said Muthengi, as he recalls the good fortunes that trickled in, four years ago.
However, the fortunes stopped flowing when the EU introduced regulations and standards that required farmers to meet certain conditions for their crop to be accepted into the lucrative market.
These conditions included, where the crop was being grown, and the type of chemicals used on the crop, among others, he recalled.
“They started rejecting our produce. This was a blow to us because of the losses we incurred,” recalled Muthengi, who now grows French beans and tomatoes.
At one time, he said, 10 crates of produce which he had harvested and packed were rejected.
“The best way to protect farmers from international market pressures is to train them on value addition and market their produce locally,” said Su Kahumbu of the Food Network East Africa.
“The local market is the closest one for fresh produce farmers and has few market risks,” she added.
However, Apollo Owuor, an agronomist working in Kenya, advises farmers to grow baby corn in rotation with other crops like pulses and pepper.

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Laziness is killing African women, report says

By David Njagi

african-woman
Laziness is a leading cause of lifestyle diseases in Africa, a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has established.
The report on the status of major health risk factors for noncommunicable diseases says women are more likely to catch a lifestyle disease due to poor physical activity.
The main Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) listed by WHO include heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive lung disease.
These are likely to surpass sickness and death from infectious diseases by 2030, the report says.
WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, links the rising cases of NCDs in Africa to diversion of resources to serve emergencies such as Zika and Ebola.
“Amidst these emergencies we cannot lose sight of the enormous health dangers posed by NCDs since many of these can be prevented through changes in behavior and lifestyle,’’ says Dr. Moeti.
The report also lists tobacco use, alcoholism, failure to consume five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, as other causes of NCDs.
While this is the case, at least one in three adults in Africa suffers from hypertension or high blood pressure.
“High blood pressure can damage the heart leading to heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and fatty build up in the arteries, causing them to harden,” says Dr. Abdikamal Alisalad, acting irector of WHO’s NCD cluster. “It can also contribute to stroke, kidney damage and vision loss.”
But it can be successfully treated through lifestyle changes and medication, said Dr. Alisalad.
For instance, WHO recommends adults to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate, or one hour of vigorous physical activity every week.
Moderate physical activities include brisk walking, doing household chores, and dancing, while running, carrying heavy loads, swimming, and cycling qualify as vigorous physical activities.

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Nairobi’s leopard is threatened by human encroachment, scientists say

By David Njagi

leopard

The leopard population in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park is on the decline due to what scientists link to disturbance of their migratory corridors.
A seven year study has found out that encroachment of the leopard’s migration corridor is restraining the female to venture out to look for a male. This disrupts their mating cycles.
For instance, the study, conservation biology for the leopards in Kenya, says a male leopard needs to control a terrain of about 100 square kilometers.
The Nairobi national park, which hosts about 17 leopards is 117 square kilometers big. This means only a single male can control this territory, explains Yumi Yamane, a guest researcher at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
“It can lead to violent confrontation for females and territory among the males leaving them severely wounded,” explains Yamane. “This can affect their mating ability.”
But the leopard also likes to live in secrecy and explore its territory under the cover of the bush, she says.
“This means the female leopard cannot go out to look for a mating partner because the migratory corridor has been disturbed by infrastructure development,” argues Yamane.
According to the researcher, Nairobi national park is a very important habitat for the leopard because it likes to perch on trees.
But huge infrastructural projects in road, railway and housing have led to the felling of trees within the leopards’ migratory corridor to pave way for construction.
“Leopards like to perch and move around where there is plenty of tree cover,” argues Yumi. “If the migratory corridor is disturbed then their numbers will decline very soon.”
KWS officials say they are trying to solve the problem by relocating the Nairobi leopard into other habitats like Meru national park.
However, this is proving difficult because the newcomers must fight for acceptance in the new habitat.
Oftentimes, the bullied cats stray into communities leading to increased human-wildlife conflict, argues Geoffrey Bundotich, an official at the Meru national park.
“The communities are against the re-introduction of leopards from other parks because the cats often move and resettle outside the parks,” explains Bundotich.
It is a challenge that KWS is grappling with, and according to Yamane, there is no solution in sight since the leopard is very difficult to monitor.
However, Edin Kara, KWS officer in charge of parks and reserves, says the important thing is continued monitoring to find out how the re-introduced animals can be able to adopt.

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Drought is breeding new pests, scientists warn

By David Njagi

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Farmers should brace for tougher times ahead following a surge of new generation pests, scientists have warned.
Destructive pests like the white fly, thrips and spider mites are evolving into new bugs for every slight increase in temperatures, according to the Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture (AIRCA).
But there is no solution is sight, argued AIRCA chairman, Dr. Dyno Keatinge, during the Global Action Plan for Agriculture Diversification in Nairobi.
“This is something the government, the Ministry of Agriculture. Livestock and fisheries, and research firms need to be concerned about,” said Dr. Keatinge.
For instance, he says, as the temperature rises, the white fly is able to evolve into two or three generations each year.
According to him, Kenyan farmers should diversify into other crops to cushion them from the ever increasing problem of pests and diseases.
Research institutions should also share and transfer new technologies to subsistence farmers, he added.
“Farmers need to have information on how to deal with pests and disease,” Dr. Keatinge. “But the bitter truth is that meteorological data in Africa as a whole is of very poor quality.”
However, Dr. James Nyoro, the government advisor on agriculture, says Kenya is well positioned to deal with emerging pests because there is a lot of research being done of water tolerant crop varieties.
According to him, farmers should be encouraged to practice climate smart agriculture by feeding them with alerts on new pests.
This, he says, will enable researchers to develop new pesticides, but more importantly, develop predators that can feed on new infestations.
“One of the ways of dealing with adverse climate change effects is technology development,” argues Dr. Nyoro. “We need to put our money where our mouth is in terms of generating research and development.”
Scientists say Africa experiences a rise in temperatures of about two to 2.5 degrees centigrade every year. But this varies with different locations.

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Love children with mental disabilities

By David Njagi

mental-illnessParents who react negatively to children with psychosocial disorders may discourage them from seeking treatment.

Case studies shared during a Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Kenya (USP Kenya) media workshop reveal that children who are shown love by their families are more likely to adhere to treatment than those who are shunned.

In cases where parents are hostile to psychosocial disorders in the family, the children are even likely to become suicidal.

“I have tried to commit suicide twice because my family could not understand my bipolar condition,” said Tabitha. “They even took me to a police station to force me to take medicine.”

USP Kenya officials say such conflict can be solved by providing mental health services within the communities instead of restricting them to mental health institutions.

According to Michael Njenga, an official with the organization, treating psychosocial disorders is not only about medication, but it also requires family support and care.

“Family support is very important in mental health treatment because when someone is going through a traumatic experience one needs to go through counseling,” says Njenga.

Human rights activists accuse the society of stigmatizing people living with mental disability. This could explain why the hostility is extended to the family level.

“Tracking people living with mental disabilities for treatment becomes very difficult in Kenya because they are stigmatized by both the society and the family,” says Elizabeth Kamundia, a human rights activist. “This is why most of them are locked away from the public by the family.”

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Tusk power: No end in sight

By David Njagi

Ivory burn NairobiIt could be a game changer, but Nairobi’s recent ivory burn will need more than stoking to save Kenya’s decade long struggle with the poaching fix.

The event, held at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) at the end of April, was cheered by world leaders. But even with such a show of solidarity, Africa’s own leaders are not convinced that burning trophy will stump out wildlife crime.

Barely had the smoke cleared from the Nairobi skyline, Kenya’s opposition leader, Raila Odinga, dismissed the burn as a pale spin.

The fiery politician figures President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government can do better by training security personnel on anti poaching skills. But his imagination blurs when fielding the question of permanently wiping out wildlife crime.

Some countries like South Africa and Namibia would rather hoard their ivory stocks for a future legal sale. Botswana insists on trading its ivory as artwork, educational tools, or museum displays.

Kenya is upset with Tanzania, for what it alleges is the neigbouring country’s refusal to tighten its laws on wildlife crime, making it a safe haven for poachers fleeing Kenya’s widening crackdown.

Uganda appears drained of ideas on how it can corner Joseph Kony, who is obsessed with kidnapping young boys and recruiting them into poaching to finance his militia, the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA).

Yet the world agrees that the elephant and the rhino – two of the most targeted marks for their ivory and horn respectively – are an endangered species.

The U.S State Department records estimate that out of five elephants, one was killed for its tusks during the last decade, leaving the world with around 400,000 of the attraction. Of the estimated 25,600 black and white rhinos, 1,338 were killed for their horn last year.

But the cloud should not obscure the silver lining. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is certain Kenya is making headways in taming the poaching menace.

A Wildlife Conservation and Management Act that the country enforced in 2013 sentences offenders to a life imprisonment for a six kilogrammes of ivory charge, or a fine of 63 million Kenya shillings (about US$ 630,000).

In May last year, a genetic and forensic laboratory that was launched at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi, now analyses DNA samples from recovered trophy, enabling investigators to identify the poached animal species.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Kenya and the U.S. in January this year, has added an international spark to the list of strategies the East African country is developing to fight wildlife crime.

“The MOU does not specifically deal with criminal prosecutions but deals more with technical expertise and the sharing of information,” said United State Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, who graced the event.

Going by IFAW’s analysis on Kenya’s advances to fight poaching, the outlook appears promising. But the International Police Organization (INTERPOL) is sure there is a missing layer – scrutiny on financial crime.

Crippling the ivory and rhino horns end markets in Asia and the U.S. would deal a heavy blow to poaching. But a thriving arms market and illicit financial flows will keep wildlife crime bouncing back, argues Henri FOURNEL, coordinator project WISDOM at INTERPOL. http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Environmental-crime/Projects/Project-Wisdom.

Serving at the organization has enabled him spot a pattern – that 99.99 per cent of criminals are active for money. They can be fixed by disrupting illegal money flows, he figures.

“These are crimes linked to poaching,” he argues. “We can also provide assistance and training to Africa in the field of financial crime to disrupt the poaching networks.”

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Nairobi to host first data portal to track Africa’s SDGs footprint

By David Njagi

A teen practices computer skills in Masalani, Northern Kenya.

A teen practices computer skills in Masalani, Northern Kenya.

Kenya is set to host the first continental data portal on agriculture water, environment, disaster risk reduction and gender equality.
The Local Development Research Institute (LDRI) first tested the African Data Observatory (ADO) in December last year ahead of its launch in 2016.
ADO is expected to track progress on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among Africa Union (AU) member countries.
“The portal will be managed from Nairobi,” explains Muchiri Nyaga, the executive director LDRI. “Its focus will be to track achievement of development goals among African Union member states.”
For it to be operational, the 10 year research product will run on a budget of about half a million dollars annually in the next four years, a kitty that LDRI is funding.
Officials say the purpose of the portal is to identify specific needs and support in regard to collection and dissemination of data, to enable countries understand where they need to invest their resources.
“ADO will enable the setting of budgets that national statistics offices need, skills, and infrastructure to collect data faster and cheaply and feed it to the public sector,” explains Nyaga.
In the past few years, governments have been aligning their growth agenda to energy efficiency, food security and water sufficiency in a way that reduces pressure on the environment.
Few however have posted updated data on their websites, a setback that denies the public access to useful information, argues Eric Chinje, the chief executive officer, Africa Media Initiative (AMI).
In Kenya, the government’s open data website has raised public confidence due to its wide feed on many sectors, but it still lacks updated data.
Other reliable sources of information include the World Bank and Africa Development Bank (AfDB) websites.
“The public need information on agriculture and energy most,” argues Chinje. “This is because agriculture feeds the nation while energy feeds the economy.”
According to a recent report by Development Initiatives (DI), the lack of data among African governments means that ending poverty over the next 15 years will be a much difficult task than halving it has been.
The Investments to End Poverty report 2015 (ITEP II), which was launched at a side event during September’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, argues that low spending on data management is the reason sub Saharan Africa is struggling with insecurity and environmental upsets.
“The data that Africa currently has on poverty and resources is not fit to get poverty to zero, argues the report. “National institutions that are the main drivers of poverty eradication have fewer resources especially in data collection and management.”
Meanwhile, LDRI says the public will be able to access the ADO data portal free of charge.
“If the public do not have data they cannot plan for themselves. And if they cannot plan for themselves then everything they do is spend money through guesswork. Africa cannot afford to play guesswork with the public’s financial resources,” argues Nyaga.

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