A nice harvest of hybrid maize (corn). Notice that it is white. In the US corn is yellow. In 1963 President Kennedy sent US surplus corn during a famine and I was told that some Kenyans refused to eat the corn because it was yellow. In developing new and improved varieties of crops one of the difficulties is the cultural one of what people are accustomed to. Currently the agricultural research stations are trying to make sweet potatoes more nutritious by adding carotene – this will make the traditional sweet potatoes which are white become yellow. Will Kenyans be willing to eat yellow sweet potatoes? Picture from Arthur Kihima’s facebook page.

There are numerous methods by which Kenyan small scale farmers can improve their productivity – sometimes dramatically. Obviously removing the constraints that I mentioned in my last postings (see http://davidzarembka.com/2018/08/22/514-constraints-on-small-scale-farmers/) would be extremely helpful. There are also many other activities that can be done. These can be divided into two categories – improvements that are developed by outside others and improvements of the agricultural practices of the farmers themselves. This Report from Kenya covers some outside improvements and the next one in this series will focus on how farmers themselves can improve their practices for increased output.

The most obvious example for external improvements is the development of better crops. These can include drought resistant varieties including those that mature more quickly. For example, Janet, my sister-in-law, just gave us six cuttings of a new variety of sweet potato that matures more quickly – three months instead of the usual up to six months. We have planted it to see how it does. We will then use the vines we have produced next growing season in a larger area. Other new varieties of plants can be resistance to disease or pests and/or be more nutritious. There are a number of government-sponsored, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies in Kenya that develop and promote improved agricultural crops. The latest need is to control the extremely destructive army worm that has just been imported from the United States and has spread over much of sub-Saharan Africa. Army worm-resistant varieties are in the process of being developed, but in the meantime maize and other grain harvests may be substantially decreased. We have not yet found any army worms in our maize fields.

Let me give three examples of innovations that we do on our plot.

Here our farmer manager, Mudavadi, has filled up a cloth sack with dirt that has one hundred holes in the sides where crops can be grown. This allows four to five times the output of plants on the ground. This is useful for people who have very small areas. I have seen this sack farming in Nairobi. But the sack costs 10,000 /- ($10). Rather than buy this bag that can be used over and over again, some people just cut holes in the sides of the normal 100 kilogram (220 pound) bag, used for storing maize and other grain.

Here is that same bag about a month later with 100 swiss chard plants growing out of the holes.

This is another innovation that has recently become available. This bag can hold 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of maize or other grain. Notice the two plastic bags. The grain is put in the inner plastic bag and tied, then the second plastic bag is tied, and lastly the outside white bag is tied. This produces an airtight container so that moisture cannot enter the storage bag. This also keeps out oxygen so that any insects in the grain suffocate. Consequently, insecticide does not need to be put into the bag as has been done traditionally. When we gave out surplus government food during the 2008 post-election violence, we found that young children, sick people, and the elderly could not eat the stored grain because the insecticide gave them diarrhea. So the lack of insecticide is clearly a great health benefit. This bag, obtained here in Lumakanda, at the local agricultural/livestock store, cost 280/- ($2.80), but can be used for at least five years. The usual bags cost 50/- ($0.50) plus the cost of the insecticide. This is the first year for us to see these bags available. We will use them to store our maize from this harvest to see how well it works.

This is a picture of the traditional three stone fireplace inside most kitchens in rural areas. Because of the smoke these are placed in a separate building outside of the main house. Our outside kitchen has a chimney which many traditional kitchens do not, but nonetheless the room is frequently quite smoky.

This is a picture of a newly developed more efficient wood stove. It is advertized as using half the firewood and giving one-third the smoke as the traditional three-stone method. One of the promotions on the side of the box that the stove came in is that it was invented in America. It is sold in the supermarkets in Eldoret for 3,890/- ($38.90). We also bought a similar more efficient charcoal stove. Loreen, our niece, said that when she is cooking chapatti, she prefers this new stove to the traditional charcoal stove because, since the fire is confined to the pot on top of the burner, she does not sweat from the wasted heat given off by the traditional stove.

These are just three examples of the many, many innovations that have been developed. I am certain that many more will also be developed to increase the productivity and decrease wastage for the small scale farmer.

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David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

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