Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Impact of the Drought -- No Rain Since February 2005 - Donate

Submitted by Colleen Walton
January 31, 2006

Muchui Womens Group members greeted Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers in January with their traditional fanfare and generosity. However, the impact of the African drought on these women, and their families, could not be overlooked.

In previous years, good crops of maize, beans and vegetables were always present when we visited. While visiting the women in 2006 we found that maize, beans and vegetable crops have failed to thrive as there has been no sustained rain since February 2005. The women have little food or water on their shambas and virtually no maize or beans to harvest. As well, many of them do not have the money to purchase water and consequently some tree seedlings have died.

There is optimism that rains will come in March, however with no crop to harvest and no cash from seedling sales, they have no seeds to plant.

In order to see this group of hardworking good farmers meet their long term goals, despite this “cash flow” problem, the FHF volunteers felt compelled to help. We organized to provide two types of maize seed; certified, drought resistant and non–hybrid seed to provide seed to save, bean seeds and fertilizer for the March planting. In addition to support the neediest families, about 40 of the 62, will receive two 90 kg bags of maize (for food) and have their water tanks filled. This will see these families through this difficult time and allow them to resume their entrepreneurial activities of raising seedlings, raising crops for food and cash and generally improving their lives. Pictured: Jeff Wichtel is presenting the Muchui women with some maize seeds.

This initiative was presented to the women’s group while the FHF volunteers were in Kenya. While the seed was ‘appreciated’ the provision of food and water, “to make the women strong for the planting season” was greeted with uproarious applause and in some cases tears.

FHF volunteers working with the group in Kenya in Feb 2006 have pledged significant personal funds to this initiative. In addition we are asking for your generosity in supporting these women during this difficult period in their lives. $130 will cover the cost of providing food, water, seed and fertilizer to a family of ten to get them on their feet again. While FHF traditionally involves itself in sustainable development initiatives, this request is really a short term solution to getting these energetic and strong women on their feet to continue on their path to self sufficiency.

We thank you in advance for your support. If you would like to support our cause please click here to donate.

The Veterinary Students at Work

Submitted by Lawana Adepoju
January 30, 2006

Well today the veterinary students were let loose. After a week of watching and learning, the three veterinary students presented their first agriculture seminars today (Monday, January 30, 2006). After returning from Meru and our visit with the Muchui Women’s Group on the weekend, it was back to work today.

At our first destination, there was no group present. The local people rise with the sun and try to get as much work done as possible, such as gathering Napier grass and food, before the Kenyan sun becomes too hot. Also people travel great distances to come for our information sessions, so an early morning meeting doesn’t always work out. So sawa sawa (which means basically "no problem" in Swahili) we moved onto the next farm visit. Here twenty-four eager listeners were waiting to here what we had to tell them. Although these people have limited resources they are very willing to improve their shambas (farms) as much as possible.

The questions were as expected and don’t change that drastically from farm to farm. We always try to incorporate information regarding mastitis prevention and nutrition in our talks as this is very important in this area. Other major areas of concern include how to get their cows pregnant quicker after calving, and how to prevent abortion and tick-borne diseases.

Matthew led the first session which prompted many interesting questions, and we left the farm after the farmer presented Matthew with a papaya in thanks. We then returned to the first farm that had been a no show and about twenty people were waiting for us. I presented this seminar which was an interesting experience. The listeners are so eager to hear what you have to say and they hang on your every word. We didn’t have a lot of time, so I answered just a few questions and went over the basics. At the end, the farm owner stood up and talked about how grateful he was for our visit and our information. It is really moving to see how much the people enjoy our visits. At this point the farmers are just trying to survive until the rainy season begins in March. We are all praying for rain, but they always tell us that they are praying for our safe travel and our return. Krista led the last session of the day in the afternoon.

When we are talking the sun is hot and there are long pauses for translation, but the effort is well worth it. We are now coming to understand the local language (Kikuyu) much better and can discern what people are saying. The people are so nice, and laugh when they hear us speak in Kikuyu. We are so glad that we can entertain them, and we laugh too. All in all the day was wonderful.

Lawana giving her first seminar at a Kenyan shamba

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Veterinarian’s Point of View

Matthew Walker
January 28, 2006

The first day of actual veterinary practice took place on Tuesday, January 23. We are now into the routine, in terms of farm visits. The farms are very small with the average Kenyan farmer having two cows. The cattle are raised primarily on Napier grass which is cut daily. There is usually little or no grain fed. Housing for cows in Kenya consists of dirt stalls surrounded with a wooden building with a tin roof. We have been able to visit four to five farms daily. The cattle are small in comparison to Canadian cows. The Guernsey breed appears to be the most popular breed. In Canada, this breed makes up less than one percent of the total cow population.

The roads leading to the Kenyan farms are quite bumpy and hilly, with no pavement to be seen. The farm families come out to greet you with enthusiasm, saying "Jambo Jambo" (Hello Hello!!) and shaking your hand to make sure you feel welcome. They are extremely pleased that we have come to visit their cows. These animals are truly their lives. We held information sessions on various farms involving topics such as mastitis prevention, nutrition, and most of all disease control. Farmers would walk for many kilometers to attend these sessions. They absorb every word that leaves your lips, giving us the extreme feeling of warmth and respect.

We have seen several foreign diseases that I have had to review, especially East Coast Fever, a fatal tick borne disease. Ticks, although not a common problem in Canada, are an issue to Kenyan farmers and must be dealt with on a daily basis. They must dip their animals every seven to ten days with a parasiticidal treatment. So needless to say, I am getting good at identifying ticks and other "exotic" creepy, crawlers. Another major difference in disease pressure, compared to Canada, is the high occurrence of blood borne diseases. Diseases like Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis are more common here. Those are enough technical details for now. We are beginning to adjust to the challenges of working and participating in a rural African community. Hope all is WARM in the Maritimes.

Silage-making Kenyan Style

Winston Johnston
January 27, 2006

Many parts of Kenya are currently undergoing the most severe drought experienced since 1984. Many Kenyan dairy farmers are experiencing significant decreases in milk production due to the resultant drop in forage production.

Harvesting and storing forage during the summer for use during the following winter is second nature to Island farmers. However, harvesting cattle feed during the wet season for use in the dry season, for Kenyan dairy farmers, is a new concept. In Kenya, to alleviate drought induced forage shortages, Farmers Helping Farmers is encouraging adoption of storage methods using plastic bags to store Napier Grass, instead of corn, as on Prince Edward Island. Currently, approximately ten percent of Kenya dairy farmers in Farmers Helping Farmers project areas are developing their own system of silage making, using all hand labour instead of farm machinery as on Prince Edward Island.

This week while visiting farms near Mukurwe-ini in the central part of Kenya, I had the opportunity of observing silage making using the labour of a team of nine men instead of one or two workers with the benefit of farm equipment as on PEI. Here in Kenya, two workers cut the Napier grass with sickles and then carried it to the silage making site at the barn for drying in large sheaves which probably weigh forty kilograms each. From this site, another man carried the material to a hand operated chaff cutter where it was cut into pieces about 2 – 4 centimeters long. From here the chopped silage was placed in jute bags to again be carried to the storage area. Here the silage was placed on a plastic tarp and then dressed with molasses with a thorough mixing by hand by another two men.

Using narrow strips of rubber from tire inner tubes, one end of a large plastic tube is tied off and the resultant bag turned inside out leaving the knot on the inside. Another worker placed the dressed silage in a large plastic tub and carried it to the bag where an additional worker tramped the silage to pack the bag and eliminate air. After completely filling the bag with tramped silage, the top is twisted and tied with a second strip of inner tube rubber. The resultant product was a bag of silage weighing some 500 kilograms, and by all accounts, good storability.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Teaching Dairy Cattle Feeding and Milk Quality Tips

Daniel Scothorn
January 25, 2006

We traveled to a community called Kamwangi, which is southeast of Mt. Kenya. The scenery was beautiful, as well as the weather; about 25 Celsius with a light breeze. The objective of the day was to teach the people improved dairy cattle feeding and milk quality tips.

The first stop was at Embu Dairy Co-op, where we managed to fill the van to capacity with our own group (Heather, Daniel, Ken) along with John (manager of Embu Dairy) and three local producers. We then headed to Kamwangi, about 30 km, which took about 45 minutes. The potholes, ruts, furrows and channels were not a challenge for our driver Clement though, who later acknowledged, "They were not bad". The only scare was coming upon an overturned coffee bean truck, though surprisingly on a better section of the roadway.

Upon arriving at the teaching site, a small coffee bean factory, we received introductions to several young- well dressed gentlemen who gave us a quick tour of the factory. The spectators quickly grew in number, when we started showing our personal photos of Canada. By about eleven in the morning some 80 people had shown up, and we started the presentations. Ken and I discussed feeding while Coleen and Regina followed with the topic of milk quality. One hundred people showed up by noon hour and the audience was both interested and inquisitive. We discovered that most of the people had one or two cows with daily production ranging from two to ten litres. Most producers had improved genetics though, so we explained the high potential (20 to 30 litres) these animals had, and how this could be attained. The teaching was preceded and concluded with a grace. The lessons wrapped up at two in the afternoon, and we headed back to Embu Dairy.

The audience was very thankful and endlessly expressed their gratitude. Many people walked for miles in order to attend our presentation. Personally, I was amazed of their passion to learn, the gender balance, and the diversity of age groups in attendance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


By Heather Angell
January 23, 2006

Ken Mellish, Shaad Lingo, and I today began the task of sourcing seed for two of the Farming Helping Farmers projects; Ruuju School Feeding Project and Muchui Women’s Self Help Group. Our first stop was a retail outlet in Nairobi, Simlaws Seeds. The business carries a variety of agricultural products such as gardening tools, pesticides, backpack sprayers, and a whole host of vegetable, flower, and staple seed products e.g. maize, beans, etc. It was a modest store with little reference material in the way of seed catalogs or brochures but offered a wide selection of certified seed varieties and technologies. Seed packaging is done on a much smaller scale than Canada to better compliment the need of the numerous small subsistence shambas (farm in Swahili). We purchased three excellent resource books that covered production methods for over 60 different types of crops and for the animal husbandry to be stationed at the different project sites.

The store featured several seed suppliers with Kenya Seed Company Ltd. being one of the largest. The sales representative offered excellent recommendations as we discussed varietal options based on our criteria of drought resistance, yield potential, altitude, and soil regions. Unlike Canada, the store had many employees bustling about, as labor costs are inexpensive. Requesting a performa (invoice) in Kenya was an interesting ordeal. The request moved through many channels. It was manually typed and signed off by several persons before making its way back to the customer. This took about an hour instead of a quick automatic computer print off. It is then time to set up a meeting with the manager to discuss potential seed volume discounts and delivery options.

Drought has plagued many regions of Kenya this year from missed seasonal rains. The Muchui Women’s Group at Meru is included in the drought affected areas. From initial visits by Ken and Teresa it was discovered that seed stocks for next year were already gone to meet the short term food demands. The goal of the seed purchase was to obtain enough seed for the upcoming planting season (mid-March). We want to ensure that the women will have enough food for the next year and to introduce new food types to the area that provide good nutritional value and are well suited to dry conditions. Seed purchased will be distributed among 62 farms in the area. Seed was also purchased for the Ruuju School Feeding Project to compliment seeds previously donated by Vesey Seeds Ltd.

Seed Varieties:
Muchui Women’s Group:
DH02 & DH04 - hybrid variety with high yield potential for a short season crop and well suited for dry areas
Katumani- open pollinated variety with slightly lower yield potential but the option of keeping reserve seed stock for future use so it is not necessary to purchase new seed each year.
Dry Beans:
Mwitemania- women familiar with variety, good cooking features, and blight tolerant
New Mwezi Moja - new improved variety with drought tolerance
Green Grams (similar to the desi chickpea) and a hybrid sunflower variety (Hybrid 8998) are not currently being grown in the area but were purchased to experiment with because of their nutritional value, oilseed content, and most of all drought heartiness.

Rujuu School Feeding Project:
Dry Beans (same varieties as Muchui), maize (Hybrid 516 for higher elevations) and Cow Peas were purchased. Cow peas are very beneficial as both the leaves and beans are high in nutritional value.

In summary, one morning in the local seed shop has given us the ability to replenish desperately need staple food sources as well as to provide new varietal opportunities with which the women can experiment.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Our Introduction to Kenyan Agriculture

By Jeff Wichtel
January 22, 2006

We’re all here! This was the first full day in Kenya for the Agricultural Team. Colleen Walton, Winston Johnson, Mary Driscoll, Daniel Scothorn, Krista Toner, Lawana Adepijou, Matt Walker, John Van Leeuwen and Jeff Wichtel arrived uneventfully at Nairobi Airport, joining Teresa and Ken Mellish, and Heather Angell. The disadvantage of an uneventful trip is that there are no good disaster stories to be told – all our flights and connections went according to plan. However, we were accompanied by an unseemly amount of luggage; of course most of the contents was not for us – with over $40,000 in pharmaceuticals, seeds and other ag-related items to be donated to the projects, we made quite a caravan going through customs. Luckily Henry was there to make it all go smoothly.

Our first day was intended to be an introduction to Kenyan agriculture. Our trusty combi drivers, Simon and Clement, drove us to Rimpa Estates, a 1000-acre beef cattle operation just outside of Nairobi. This property is managed by Nicholas and Rhona Sanayo Ole Sein. This is a large beef farm in comparison to many in Kenya – they run 400 head of cattle, mostly Simmental. The sparse grazing (it has been an extremely dry season) is shared with sheep, goats and an impressive variety of wildlife that have wandered onto the property from the nearby National Park, looking for better forage. The large numbers of ostriches, Thompson gazelle, zebra, giraffe, impala and hartebeest would, we thought, have a very detrimental effect on farm income. But Nicholas seemed surprisingly unconcerned, and pointed out that his farm has the largest population in Kenya of an endangered species of gazelle – and he was quite proud of this!

We learned of the many constraints to agriculture in this part of the world: the arid climate (they typically have rain only twice a year, and the rains have failed this past year), the low price received for market beef (about half of what is received by Canadian producers), disease (tick-borne diseases and internal parasites are a constant threat), and the risk of predators (both human and animal). They have pipes for irrigation, but have not been able to use them for some years because the illegal overuse of river water upstream has reduced the river to a completely dry gully.

We were fascinated to learn that the herds and flocks were accompanied by Maasai shepherds during the entire daylight grazing period, that they must be walked to a pond on the property at least every second day for water, and that all animals were returned to corrals near the house at night for protection. We were also interested in the tick control methods which require total immersion dipping in a pyrethrin solution every ten days.

Making a living from cattle, as Nicholas and Rhona do, is not easy in Kenya. Like many farmers in Canada, they are relatively asset rich but cash poor; clearly they put everything they have into their farm and family. All the Sanayo Ole Sein family are well-educated and, although they have little, they are managing to send their young boy to private school.

We left Rimpa Estates with a much better knowledge of the issues facing farmers in Kenya and a great respect for what this family has achieved. And we are all praying for rain – you know it is a serious drought when the Maasai are driving their herds into the city suburbs to graze vacant land, parks and cemeteries!

Dorper sheep at Rimpa Estates, grazing dry pasture with the Ngong Hills in back (featured in the movie "Out of Africa").