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").

Friday, January 20, 2006

Macadamia seedlings ready for centralized nursery at Muchui Womens Group Business Centre

By Ken and Teresa Mellish

January 18, 2006

Four thousand macadamia seedlings are ready to be moved to the new Muchui Womens Group Business Centre. When we visited the group today we saw the seedlings where they have been gathered at the farm of one of the members next to the Business Centre. The seedlings were started in the tree nurseries on the farms of the 60 Muchui Womens Group members. The seedlings have been growing for about a year and will be ready for grafting in the next few months.

Before going to the area where the Muchui Women’s Group live we had received reports of very dry weather. The nearest town where we stayed overnight is Meru and in the town there had been adequate rain including a good rain fall on the night we stayed there. We knew this heavy rain had also fallen on the Muchui area the night before. As we approached the turn off from the main road the crops still looked green. The further we travelled the more evidence there was of drought;: the maize became more stunted with smaller ears. After we passed the market town of Barrier there was very little grass. The remaining stalks of maize had recovered and were standing upright as a result of the recent rain. We only travelled half way through the district and were told that there had been some loss of livestock on the upper side of the area. There was no bean crop this season and there will be almost no maize to harvest.

Prior to the previous day’s rain all the water tanks were empty. Farmers Helping Farmers had bought each of the sixty two members a 4,600 litre water tank to collect water from their roofs in 2002. Last year 40 of the members were hooked up to the water supply from the pipe from the top of Mount Kenya. Farmers Helping Farmers paid for the pipes and the women and their families dug the meter deep and miles long trenches required to secure the pipe. This allowed them to fill their tanks in the dry season and also to have some water for their tree seedlings. The water from the pipe must be paid for and the roof water is free and in rainy season is very plentiful. The rain the two days before had filled tanks from half to totally full. It is impossible to convey the gratitude which was expressed to us from the women for having a water system in place.

The tree seedling project had started out as each member having a small nursery as a cottage industry. As the project progressed it became obvious to the women’s group that to have markets and to realize the full potential of the seedling business that another phase had to be developed. They wanted a centralized nursery and to be able to produce grafted seedlings from improved varieties of mango, bananas and forage trees. However, the big market is for Macadamia nut trees. A good grafted Macadamia seedling can sell for 100 Kenya shillings ($1.50 CAD)and when the tree is mature a tree can produce up to $100 worth of nuts each year. The nuts are exported and are in high demand.

The members had started a large number of nut seedlings on their small farms but when they were growing well the women decided they needed a central nursery to provide the higher level of care needed to produce first class plants. They had started a building several years ago. They used money from seedling sales to finish this building. It will be a service area for the central nursery and can also be used as a store for grain and supplies.

Today we sat in while the Muchui Management committee interviewed candidates for manager of the central nursery. Farmers Helping Farmers will pay for this manager for the initial period until the nursery is fully profitable. We interviewed three candidates. The process was stressful, as interviewing in Canada in that we wanted to insure we had the best candidate and the success of the venture depended on the descision. As always the common sense of our Kenyan partners prevailed and after a productive discussion we reached a descision that pleased everyone. More about the Muchui Women’s group when our members return there next week.

In the photo Elizabeth Kirema, Muchui Secretary, shows Ken the macadamia seedlings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kenyan Weather

We were greatly concerned about the dry weather before coming to Kenya. Kenya has two rainy seasons, one in March for two months which is called the long rains and the short rains in December. There has not been sufficient rain in most areas since we were here one year ago. Kenya’s climate is influenced by its mountains. The flat-plains areas are semi arid and we have been told these are very dry. As the moist air from the oceans approaches the mountains it rises and rain can form on the approaches to the mountains. This is where the crops which require rain are grown, including grass for dairy cows. Our dairy projects are consequently located in this region. They also grow coffee, tea and fruits such as bananas, mangos and paupau in this area.

We arrived in Nairobi and the city was dry and the area where we travelled to Mount Kenya was also very dry. We passed many areas where there was no grass and only the trees were green. As we approached the slopes of Mount Kenya and started to climb we began to see signs of some rain. There was some green grass. As we approached the town of Embu the countryside became greener and we saw women cutting grass to feed to cattle. On the next day we travelled from Embu to the town of Meru and we saw a countryside which had received lots of rain and which was green and lush. However, tomorrow we are going to the area where our partners, the Muchui Women’s Group, farm and we have been told that it is very dry there and that they have missed the last two rainy seasons.

We have heard on the news that there are parts of Kenya where it is so dry that cattle are dying and people are on famine rations.

Project between Ruuju Primary School and Farmers Helping Farmers finalized today

January 17, 2006

Today Farmers Helping Farmers representatives, Teresa and Ken Mellish met with the Parents-Teachers Association at the Ruuju Primary School near Marega. The Ruuju Primary School is a Harambee school with 500 students registered in classes from nursery to Standard 8. The Head-Master told us today that there are 90 students in Standard 1.The school had requested support from Farmers Helping Farmers when they visited the school previously in 2004 and 2005.

Farmers Helping Farmers has agreed, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, to provide support to help the school grow vegetables to be used in a lunch feeding program which will be set up. Veseys Seeds in York, PEI have donated vegetable seeds for the project.

Next week, the Mellishes will be joined by Colleen Walton and Heather Angell to begin working with the school.

Photo includes Teresa Mellish, School head master, Joseph Ndungu Waguchu and Ruuju PTA Chairman, Neano Kango M’ibiri along with Ruuju PTA treasurer Damaris Kinya and other Project Management Committee members.

Embu Dairy Cooperative Society signed agreement today with Farmers Helping Farmers for new project in Kenya

January 16, 2006

Farmers Helping Farmers representatives, Ken and Teresa Mellish, met with the Management Board of the Embu Dairy Cooperative Society in Embu to discuss the new project between the two groups.

The Embu Dairy Cooperative Society has 5,000 registered members, of whom 3,000 are active members who ship milk to the society. The members are now shipping 8,000 litres of milk daily; in the rainy season they would ship as much as 12,000 litres daily. Each of the members has 1 or 2 cows and would receive much of their cash income from the sale of milk.

The society had requested support a year ago when Farmers Helping Farmers visited them. Farmers Helping Farmers, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, agreed to assist them in a manner similar to the way they have worked with the Wakulima Self-Help Dairy Group for the past eight years in Mukurwe-ini. Farmers Helping Harmers will provide financial and professional support to help the members increase their milk production and improve the quality of milk production. Funds will be provided for the installation of bulk tanks to cool the milk.

During the day-long meeting the Embu Society appointed a Management Committee for the project which include three men and three women.. Then they interviewed seven Kenyans to select two people who will work on the project to train farmers to feed their cows better and to improve their milk quality.

Next week, Ken Mellish will be joined by Daniel Scothorn, Colleen Walton, John van Leeuwen and Heather Angell to begin working with the farmers. They will hold sessions on farms each day where they will demonstrate to farmers how to get more milk and improve milk quality. They will also distribute fact sheets which were first developed for the Wakulima Group.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Group Expands Efforts in Kenya
CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI -- A team of Prince Edward Islanders with a long
history of working with African farmers is heading back to Kenya in
January to expand its activities. Over the past three years, Farmers
Helping Farmers has been providing professional support to dairy farmers
to help them improve milk production and incomes, and along with
continuing that support, will also be taking on a number of new
"We have achieved a great deal of success in these and other efforts,
and now look forward to building on those achievements," said Janice
Whalen, president of Farmers Helping Farmers. "We will begin working
with an new group of dairy producers, and will also be helping to
establish a school nutrition program along with other efforts to improve
incomes and living conditions."

Veterinarian teachers and students from the Atlantic Veterinary College
have been working with a group of approximately 5000 dairy producers in
Mukurwe-ini, Kenya to help them improve herd health, nutrition and
product quality. Whalen says as a result of improved production and
incomes, more children in the area can now attend school.

Along with continuing to provide that support, Farmers Helping Farmers
will also begin working with a new group, the Embu Dairy Cooperative.
Dr. John van Leeuwen, Ken Mellish and Daniel Scothorn will be assisting
members of the cooperative to improve milk production and quality.

Two other members of the Farmers Helping Farmers group, Colleen Walton
and Heather Angells, will work with staff and parents at the Ruuju
primary school to establish a lunch program for its 400 students,
including the production of vegetables.

In addition to evaluating projects completed to date, Winston Johnston
and Teresa Mellish will be laying the groundwork for future initiatives
in the area. They will also continue their work with a womans' group
in Muchui to produce and market tree seedlings.

Farmers Helping Farmers receives matching financial support from the
Canadian International Development Agency, which contributes $2 for
every one dollar raised by the volunteer organization. It celebrated its
25th anniversary in 2004, and since its inception, has provided
financial support of over $3 million for projects throughout east

"There is certainly an increased awareness of the needs of many
developing countries throughout Africa which are suffering from a host
of social, economic and political problems," said Whalen. "We
welcome financial support to continue our work among African farm
families to improve their standard of living and quality of life."