Researchers seek ways to end drought emergencies in Asals

Stephen Kipchirchir

Stephen Kipchirchir makes a presentation about his research on the use of dolichos beans (Njahi) mutants as a way to enhance food security

Photo credit: Rachel Kibui | Nation Media Group

It is a busy week in one of the hotels along Lake Naivasha’s south coast. Conference rooms are well labelled to show which particular meetings are going on. In one of the rooms though, is a one of a kind meeting.

Here, a group of researchers who are pursuing their PhDs are presenting their research journeys and findings to a group of stakeholders.

The six researchers were funded by National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) to the tune of Sh8 million, an initiative which was supported by the European Union (EU).

One of the researchers, Stephen Kipchirchir, made a presentation about his research on the use of dolichos beans mutants as a way to enhance food security especially in the arid and semi-arid lands (Asals).

Stakeholders listen

Stakeholders listen as a group of researchers who are pursuing their PhDs present their findings during a conference in Naivasha. The six researchers were funded by NDMA in an initiative which was supported by EU.

Photo credit: Rachel Kibui | Nation Media Group

Beans research

A technical expert at the University of Eldoret, Kipchirchir has been working on beans research and breeding since 2013.

For this particular study, he says, he was inspired by the fact that there is a gradual decline in the use of dolichos beans, commonly known as njahi. This is despite their being rich in nutrients.

“Dolichos are very important and can serve as an alternative source of proteins if well utilised,” says Kipchirchir.

In addition to this, the plants are quite leafy and can, therefore, serve as fodder for animals especially in dry areas where there is often a shortage of pasture.

His research dates back to 2018 and he now has a fourth generation of the mutants which he describes as higher yielding and faster maturing compared to the indigenous varieties.

“I have identified the M4 as a stable mutant as it yields twice as much compared with the indigenous varieties, has 28 per cent crude protein and is well adoptable to Asals,” says Kipchirchir

While the indigenous varieties yield about two tons per acre, the M4 has been found to yield double, at four tons for the same size of land.

Aflatoxin menace

Another researcher sought to get a solution to the aflatoxin menace which has caused diseases, deaths and post-harvest and economic losses.

Hannah Kamano’s research sought to study the use of plasma technology in getting a solution to aflatoxin which is associated with loss of about 25 per cent of maize harvest.

A research scientist at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (Kirdi), Ms Kamano says she was inspired by the high cases of aflatoxin infection and why there has not been a successful intervention.

“I thought about how the plasma technology could be used to decontaminate maize at early stages by destroying aspergillus fungi which causes aflatoxin,” says Ms Kamano, adding that she found this technology to be 80 per cent effective.

Having done this study at an experimental level, she hopes for its piloting, further analysis and rollout in a bid to bring a lasting and sustainable solution to the aflatoxin material.

While considering water shortage as a key challenge in the Asals and at the same time traditional vegetables as important food, another researcher sought to use technology which can increase production of African leafy vegetables in Asals, with a case study of Kitui.

Improve food production

In her study, Dorcas Benard sought to find out the effect of Super Absorbent (SAP) in a greenhouse setting in a bid to try to improve food production using scarce water resources.

Although indigenous vegetables are more nutritious than the exotic varieties, they are often neglected and treated as weeds or grown just in small scale in kitchen gardens.

As much as consumption of these traditional vegetables should be encouraged, production in Asals is highly affected owing to low access to water.

“I found out that SAP can really improve on food production and higher performance in terms of stem diameter, plant height and number of leaves,” says Ms Benard.

However, SAP is expensive, with a kilogramme going for Sh3,600 and an acre needing four kilos.

Ms Benard hopes to do a long term research on SAP and some issues like its effects on the soil.

Speaking during the seminar on dissemination of research findings, NDMA Board Chairman Raphael Nzomo termed the studies as a big achievement in breaking down barriers between the academia and drought risk management practitioners.

End drought emergencies

Research, Mr Nzomo added, will enable NDMA to have a more structured approach to the attempt to end drought emergencies.

“We want to generate evidence to inform our drought risk management interventions,” said he, adding, “We are, therefore, taking a more scientific approach to dealing with the challenges posed by drought.”

Research allows in-depth study of existing challenges and recommends possible real time solutions. It brings out data and testable outcomes which come as a sure bet.

Amid climate change and its effects, Mr Nzomo noted, it is time to invest in scientific approaches to enable NDMA come up with sustainable solutions which will impact on current and future generations. This way, he added, Africa will have ample food for domestic consumption and for export.

When asked if these, like other researches, would end up as papers in shelves, Mr Nzomo said he had personally dedicated time to be involved and internalise these research findings.

NDMA Board Chairman Raphael Nzomo

NDMA Board Chairman Raphael Nzomo who termed the studies as a big achievement in breaking down barriers between the academia and drought risk management practitioners.

Photo credit: Rachel Kibui | Nation Media Group

Apply new technologies

NDMA board, he added, is determined to realise the results which these researches are aimed at achieving. This way, NDMA will be contributing immensely to innovation and application of new technologies in dealing with challenges encountered in the Asals.

Noting that a large portion of the research topics presented was very agriculturally directed, Mr Nzomo said implementation of the findings could create opportunities for the youth in agriculture and encourage young people to go back to the farms.

From a total of six researchers, four of them are undertaking PHD courses at the University of Nairobi while the other two are studying at Kenyatta University and the University of Eldoret.