Category Archives: Farmers

Agro-ecology Explained

This week there was a Webicafe session arranged by the Route to Food Initiative on Agro-ecology. Route to Food has championed a petition in Kenya’s Parliament calling for the removal of harmful chemical pesticides that are sold in the country.

The session featured two experts; Dr David Amudavi of the Biovision Africa Trust and Nicholas Syano of the Drylands Natural Resources Centre (DNRC). Biovision Africa works with smallholder farmers in 13 counties to disseminate useful and practical scientific information through various channels, and they also have a program with the African Union working with 35 partners in 9 countries. The DNRC works with 800 farmers in Makueni county, training them on and sustainable agricultural practices such as indigenous plants and rainwater harvesting.

The organizations are all trying to ensure farmers can work with nature to achieve food security. This is at a time small scale farmers, who produce most food for the country, are most affected by climate change and get the least support from the Government.

Excerpts:

  • Agro-ecology is not a new concept. Agro-ecology is as old as agriculture. It borrows a lot from indigenous knowledge of agricultural practices, and it is only the term that is new.
  • Agro-ecology is not organic farming. Indeed, organic is just one of the ways in which farmers can apply agro-ecology practices, which all seek to promote the use of alternatives such as minimum tillage, conservation agriculture, crop-rotation, manure, inter-cropping, mulching, permaculture, agroforestry, and organic – that can all improve soil health and fertility through less, or no, use of chemical inputs in food production.
  • Agro-ecology as a science looks at how plants and animals get manipulated by man to stimulate production and consumption. There is a balance in the interaction of plants, animals and humans – and anything harmful to any of the three, or the environment, is not acceptable in agro-ecology.
  • Agro-ecology means food security: If you compare communities that rely on agro-ecology and those on monoculture, the ones that engage in diversified farming are more resilient to economic shocks – and governments should direct more research there to ensure food security and sustainable agriculture.
  • Challenges include low awareness and funding. Agro-economy can feed the nation., but agriculture gets a tiny share of the national budget devoted to research funding and even smaller for agro-ecology (estimated 2% of agricultural funding). Currently, most-research funding goes to mono-culture, industrial-based, crop farming that is also supported by political voices. This is compounded further by a lack of data on the uptake of agro-ecology. as well as people who can write well about agro-ecology.
  • In agro-ecology, if you plant trees, grow as many varieties of trees. In Makueni, DNRC has re-planted trees that had vanished – lost varieties of fruit, dry land species and nitrogen-fixing trees. They also plant acacia that grows very fast and is useful for honey farming and charcoal. Individual farmers bring in their small honey harvests and the organization sells them as a collective and share the money out. They also make green charcoal in a special kiln using pruned acacia wood. Over the last decade, DNRC has planted Moringa trees – and with the outbreak of COVID this year, they have seen great demand for Moringa seedlings, oil and powder.
  • One good agro-ecology practice is to have African farmers use seeds adapted to local conditions. These can be sold, re-used, and exchanged while avoiding some monopoly seed laws that restrict what farmers can do with their seeds and multinational intellectual property disputes.

Toxic Business: Banned in the European Union, poisoning Kenya

Agriculture is one of Kenya’s key income earners contributing 24% of GDP and employing 75% of the population either directly or indirectly. As a result, the demand for pesticides is high and increasing with the need to increase agricultural production to keep up with population increase. Imported chemical pesticides in the market account for 87% and has more than doubled in four years from 6,400 tonnes to 15,600 tonnes in 2018, yet there are few safeguards to control application.

Every year fresh produce from Kenya is rejected by the European market when it is found to have harmful levels of chemical residue. When returned it finds its way to local fresh produce markets and consumed by unsuspecting Kenyans. The result is a huge healthcare burden on households as more people, especially children, fall ill.

A report by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) showed that 46% of the fresh vegetables sold in Kenyan fresh produce markets have high levels of pesticides with harmful active ingredients, with Kale (94%) having the highest level of pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to human and animal health.

A small-scale farmer Joseph, who has adequate training in the handling of pesticides, prepares to spray his crops by mixing the chemical with water in a backpack sprayer pump, using his bare hands and no protective mask or clothing, he gives the pump a firm shake to mix the ingredients in it and then proceeds to splash water on the exterior of the sprayer pack to rinse off the chemical overspill with his hands. The small quarter acre, gently-sloping vegetable garden surrounds his family’s house, which further exposes his family to harmful chemicals. He is not aware of the danger of handling these pesticides, only focusing on their efficacy in pest control.

At the local roadside Market, Daniel Maingi of Kenya Food Rights Alliance purchases green capsicum and spinach to take for testing at the University of Nairobi’s Pharmacology & Toxicology Laboratory at the Department of Public Health, where Professor Mbaria confirms harmful levels of chemicals containing toxic active ingredients on the sample vegetables.

The “Pesticides In Kenya: Why our health, environment and food security is at stake” report by Route To Food Initiative (RTFI), makes a distinction between the toxicity of the active ingredient and the toxicity of the chemical product. In the European market, the manufacturer of a chemical product first registers the active ingredient, which is then tested and must be identified by name on the product label.

Of the “247 active ingredients registered in Kenya, 150 are approved in Europe, 11 are not listed in the European Database and 78 have been withdrawn from the European market or are heavily restricted in use due to potential chronic health effects, environmental persistence, and high toxicity to wildlife.”

In a case of double morality standards, these chemicals are available to Kenyan farmers threatening the health of both citizens and the environment by contaminating the soil and water. Most of these pesticides take years to degrade and therefore persist in the environment for many years and many are acutely toxic causing severe long-term toxic effects, disrupting the human endocrine system, harming wildlife and other non-target organisms that are crucial to the ecology.

The Pesticide Control Products Board (PCPB) set up by the Government of Kenya under the Pest Control Products Act of 1982 regulates the importation, manufacture, distribution and exportation of pest control products. PCPB has registered 247 active ingredients in 699 horticultural chemical products, with more products registered than active ingredients as one active ingredient can be by several companies. Of these, a quarter are banned in Europe and they include big brand names such as Syngenta, Bayer and BASF.

In Kenya, chemical companies host robust carnival-like events where smallholder farmers are bussed in from across the country and paid a stipend to attend. Throughout the festival, no mention is made to farmers about safe handling or protective clothing when mixing the chemicals for application on the crops. The farmers appear to completely trust the chemical companies to have their best interests at heart and do not ask any questions. At these marketing events, several chemicals are presented as solving multiple problems and are touted as the best in the market.

Glyphosate-based agrichemicals have received an enormous pushback globally for its carcinogenic properties. However, there are other harmful ingredients that should attract much more attention in use in Kenya, but banned in the European Union. Carcinogenic active ingredients include Chlorothalonil, Clodinafop, Oxyfluorfen and Pymetrozine. Mutagenic active ingredients include Cabendazim, Dichlorrvos and Trichlorfon. Endocrine disruptor pesticide active ingredients include Acephate, Carbofuran, Deltamethrin, Omethoate and Thiacloprid. Active ingredients that hamper development and are harmful to reproductive health include Abamectin, Carbendazim, Carbofuran, Gamma-cyhalothrin, Oxydemeton-methyla and Thiacloprid. Neurotoxic active ingredients include Abamectin, Acephate, Dichlorvos, Glufosinate-ammonium, Omethoate, Permethrin and Thiacloprid.

Before the advent of chemical herbicides, farmers would weed their farms by hand and using hand hoes, this has been increasingly replaced by pesticides even for the smallholder farms under five acres. Mono-cropping or monoculture where one crop is planted year in year out, depleting the soil of nutrients and necessitating the increased use of fertilizers to improve yields with each subsequent year, also encourages the spread of crop pests which require chemicals to treat. Another area that receives little focus is post-harvest storage pesticides. If fertilizers are subsidized, why not include hermetic storage technology (HST) storage bags that provide moisture and insect controls, without pesticides, in this policy?

If we continue to consume chemicals, consciously or subconsciously through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, then the next generation we produce will be of a lesser quality than ourselves, as will subsequent generations.

A guest post by Velma Kiome 

Digital App Loans: Understanding Borrower Behavior

An Interesting conversation was started by a tweet by Francis Waithaka on the true borrowing of costs of app loans that hundreds of Kenyans take every day by making a few clicks on their phones.

It elicited a lot of comments on the cost of finance offers to Kenyans, since an interest capping law passed in 2016 that restrict banks to lend at a maximum of 14%, the lack of regulation of app loans who may be taking advance of Kenyans by charging usurious rates etc. It also led to a mention of a research report from Micro Save about the digital credit landscape in Kenya that was shared by one of the authors.

The Microsave Report (PDF) titled “Where Credit Is Due: Customer Experience of Digital Credit In Kenya”  had lots of insights. It was drawn from feedback from 1,009 farmers located in 50 villages, equally split between Central Kenya and Western Kenya, and also with an equal number of men and women in the study.

At the end of it, the report makes some recommendations to the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya – such as to control the type of messaging sent by text to consumers, and to require app loan companies to share information and to list all defaulters, respectively.

Habits of Borrowers 

  • There is a preference for Chama’ s, SACCO’s and M-Shwari as a source of funding. App loan amounts are too small for significant investments.
  • Majority of the customers took up loans to smooth consumption, emergencies or to boost business.
  • They don’t understand terms and conditions of app loans and they don’t understand credit reference.
  • There are three types of borrowers: repayers (who pay loans on time), defaulters  (who don’t understand the consequences of being listed), and jugglers who take both traditional and app loans – but if they are financially stretched, they are more likely to repay the traditional loans.
  • Customers have learned to game the system through timely repayment of loans and juggling multiple borrowers.
  • There is no extra “PIN” required to request and withdraw an app loan and some family members have done this in secret leading the phone owner to default on a loan.
  • Digital credit usage doubled in Kenya between 2015 and 2016, with awareness and usage of digital credit by far lower in rural Kenya.
  • Digital credit, which offers privacy, is replacing shop credit and family/ friends as financiers.
  • The simplicity of the loan application procedures matters;  too much information requested or if there are too many variables that make it confusing, makes potential borrowers drop off.

Phone Types 

Download a loan app or use USSd

  • App usage is rather low – and this probably related to lower usage of smartphones as their batteries rarely last a full day as compared to cheaper feature phones that retain battery charge for several days of use.
  • Phones are mainly used for money transfer,  deposits, and withdrawals. There is little usage to get information or to browse the internet
  • 64% of respondents in the survey had a basic phone (57% in 2015). Smartphones were 14%, growing slightly and off-setting feature phones which declined slightly to 26%.
  • Loss of a phone may result in a  borrower defaulting on repayment.

Credit Reference Bureaus

  • Formal lenders require clearance from a credit reference bureau (CRB) which costs $22 (i.e Kshs 2,200) and that may exclude borrowers from formal finance. App loans don’t require this, e except that borrowers have not been black-listed.
  • One concern is there is little understanding of credit reference bureaus, and of channels for redress of any disputes.
  • Not all fintech’s report loans to credit reference bureaus.

App loan costs

  • High loan/interest charges are not a concern as they are comparable to other informal money lenders

At the time of the survey, M-Shwari issued 62 million loans (worth Kshs 1.3 trillion), while Equitel and KCB about 4 million each. In comments to accompany the release of their 2017 bank results last month, KCB had 13 million mobile customers, Equity Bank has 12.1 million, while a  CBA statement noted that the bank also serves 33 million mobile savings & loans customers, in East Africa, in partnership with mobile money operators.

Kenya Tea Trade Monopoly Pricing Rejected

The Competition Authority of Kenya has rejected an application for exemption by the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) to set brokerage commission and warehouse prices. EATTA, which operates the weekly Mombasa Tea Auction, had sought to be exempted from the provisions of section 21 and 22 of the Competition Act No. 12 of 2010 (the Act) on some of its activities for an indefinite period.

The rejection was premised on:

  • The setting of broker fees and commissions under the auspices of the EATTA was a hardcore contravention under Section 22 (1) (b) of the Act as it is a form of price fixing;
  • The setting of brokerage fees was beneficial to the brokers with no express benefits to consumers and tea producers;
  • The Kenyan brokerage fees were higher compared to those in Sri Lanka and India and have remained unchanged for a long period of time;
  • Warehousing is an important element in the tea value chain and that fixing of warehouse fees would undermine innovation and improvement of value preposition to customers given that warehousemen will be assured of the minimum fees set by EATTA. This the Authority concluded that it will encourage inefficiencies in warehousing thus impacting on the trade negatively.

However, the Authority allowed, for a period of three (3) years), the trading to be permitted amongst membership.

Extract from the Kenya Gazette

Other

  • Kenya’s largest foreign exchange earner isn’t tea or tourism but diaspora remittances – @coldtusker
  • During tea processing, 4 kilos of green leaf are required to make one kilo of tea – @dailynation
  • Kenya has the largest tea auction in the world with plans for a tea futures market to get predictability for farmers – Stuart – @INTLFCStone

Kenya Markets & Agriculture Pricing of Maize, Potatoes, and Milk

What drives the agriculture pricing of maize, potatoes, and milk in Kenya? Part I of a post by  @kwambokalinda of M-Farm

In commercial agriculture, as in any business venture, the aim is to make a profit on an investment, within the environmental and policy framework available for the sector. It is, however, not in question that there exist unsavoury practices practically the world over. Recent potato, maize and milk shortages in the weeks between March 2017 and the present day illustrate as much.

That said, it is pertinent that fault is placed where it lies, and speaking to traders in the Kenyan potato, milk and maize value chains, it was gathered that low rainfall in November 2016, as well as with the rains in April, led to price fluctuations in the weeks after February 2017. Mitigating circumstances lowered prices during the same period, when traders sourced their produce in areas that had rainfall in November 2016, such as;

  • In the case of potatoes, this included Narok and Mau Narok, which are blessed with forest rains and fertile lands in Tanzania.
  • With milk, rains in April meant that costs to access to main roads went up – and with farmers unable or unwilling to ease traders’ burden, the costs are being transferred on to consumers.
  • As for maize, a 90-kilo bag which a farmer sold at Kshs 2,200 in December, had doubled by March 2017: Meanwhile, millers have been consistently buying the maize at Kshs 4,700 per bag

We have to remember to factor such matters into our plans and budgets as Kenyans. Also, we have learned that it takes the government a lengthy period to act or even plan for such occurrences. It would help to have neutral sources of data alongside that of the government to help shape the response to food security challenges in Kenya.

See also, Secrets of a Farm Middle Man 

$1 = Khs 103