A murram road snakes through Kibimbi trading centre in Mwea, Kirinyaga County, to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation (Kalro) Industrial Crop Centre.
The facility, located some 700 metres off the Nairobi-Embu highway, is a rice, cotton, jute and sisal research station.
One drives through a cabro-paved driveway once they enter the centre’s gate. It is here that Seeds of Gold held its tenth farm clinic last Saturday.
The gates opened at 8 am and farmers from various parts of the country flocked the centre armed with books, pens and questions ready to quench their thirst for agricultural information.
Ready to attend to them were dozens of agriculture experts. And various modern agricultural technologies were also on display, ranging from farm equipment and machinery, new seed varieties and fertilisers.
Dr Emily Gichuhi, a researcher at the Kalro centre, took farmers through best rice farming practices, from planting to harvesting and storage.
“Conducting a soil test is important. It enables one to know nutritional status of their farm and the kind of fertiliser ingredients one needs such as nitrogen, potassium and calcium,” advised the expert. Soil samples, explained Dr Gichuhi, should be extracted from at least three different parts of a farm.
"Dig between 0–30cm and collect the soil. Then put in a well-labelled envelop and bring to us or any other institution for analysis," she said.
To grow rice, according to her, it is first raised in a nursery for 21days. The seedlings are then transplanted in a well-prepared and levelled field.
Basal fertiliser like DAP is then applied. And then first and second topdressing would be done using fertiliser rich in nitrogen at 21 and 42 days after transplanting, respectively.
According to Dr Gichuhi, the rice field should be kept flooded with 2-3cm (depth) of water until it reaches physiological maturity.
Water is then drained to allow ripening and drying of the grains for two weeks before harvesting. Common rice disease is blast, while pest is the stalk borer.
She asked farmers to embrace combine harvesters to reduce post-harvest losses as opposed to doing it manually.
Ann Kimani, a fruit farmer in Ndia, Kirinyaga, asked how one can control mealybugs. She was afraid of losing fruits worth over Sh200,000 to the pest.
Julius Macharia, a Kalro expert, asked farmers to enhance farm hygiene and adopt preventive measures like scouting of crops for pests to curb invasion . He promised to send extension officers to Ann’s farm for effective elimination of the pests.
Dominic Chepkwony, a research technician at Kalro, explained to farmers the importance of growing an improved dry land cassava to reverse the effects of drought being experienced.
He identified Muceceri, KME2 and ex-Ndolo cassava varieties as the best, noting they have a maturing rate of between 12 and 14 months.
“The age of maturity does not matter as they can stay on the farm for a long time and still flourish. With proper farm management practice, these will solve hunger in many households,” he said.
According to him, Muceceri produces 12 to 10 tonnes per acre while KME-2 18. For preparation, a farmer needs to till their land in two stages and plant after the first rains with a spacing of one by one metre.
One can opt to plant the stalk in the soil at 45 degrees or horizontally where a farmer can dig a small fallow and plant the stalk with a maximum of three nodes and cover with soil.
“We encourage the sourcing of clean planting materials from authorised dealers to prevent manifestation of leaf mosaic and brown streak diseases,” he said, adding that one can tell when the cassava is infested through stunted growth.
Stihl East Africa regional relationship manager Domitilia Kavesa asked farmers to embrace mechanised agriculture noting it is cost-effective. Tillers, cultivators, tea pruners, earth augers, bush cutters and sprayers are among the machines the firm showcased.
“Our aim is to make small farmers with about an acre to two to mechanise their production. The prices start from Sh10,000."
Bernard Ngare, a scientist at Kalro, identified two cotton varieties – Hact 89M and KSA81M – that are drought resistant. The varieties can do well in Eastern, Coast, Western and parts of Central Kenya.
The hybrid Bt cotton, he noted, can only be grown once, with a farmer planting 1,000 seeds to harvest about 3,000 kilos of cotton.
“Currently, the market is buying cotton at Sh62 per kilo. It takes about four months to mature and it is drought resistant,” he said.
Farmers decried increased cost of production. Beatrice Muriuki, a rice grower in Mwea, said she leased an acre this season but was unable to sow because of high production costs. Equally, water has become scarcer, making rice production much expensive, she added.
Victoria Kibati said she planned to farm watermelons thanks to the clinic after burning her fingers growing tomatoes.
“I have changed my mind after meeting here a farmer doing indigenous crops. I am now certain that is the direction I should take,” stated the farmer.
For Fredrick Kinyanjui, who grows avocado, mango and custard apples, he was happy to have learnt about dragon fruits, which he said he was going to farm.
A kilo of dragon fruits retails at Sh1,000 in local supermarkets, an opportunity the farmer saw.
Acknowledging the role played by the clinic, whose theme was "Adopting effective technologies to improve production", Dr Ruth Musila, Kalro Mwea centre director, said the clinic created a platform for farmers to learn new products in the market.
“In such forums one learns new technologies in farming, innovations on production of food and cash crops, horticultural and extension services thus increasing production,” observed
Dr Musila cited climate change as one of the biggest challenges facing farmers as she asked them to embrace improved seed varieties as a mitigation measure.
“Though the ancient seeds are readily available, they are not high-yielding. Climate change is real, and with the erratic rains we receive, we need to migrate to the improved varieties, which are not only productive, but tolerant to drought, pests and diseases,” she explained.
Apart from Mwea, other rice producing zones in the country are Ahero, Bunyala and Tana Delta.
Kalro has released new varieties for upland and low lands (irrigated) ecologies, which include Nerica and Komboka. The expo was organised by Nation Media Group (NMG) in partnership with various actors. The sponsors of the event were CMC Motors (New Holland Tractors), CFAO Kenya (Case IH Tractors), STIHL, Pan Agric, Davis and Shirtliff and New Down Town Ltd
“The clinic is back and we are looking forward to farmers engaging with stakeholders in the industry, as they derive value from the engagements,” said Rose Wanjohi, the NMG’s Business Solutions Manager.