Egerton University and ICRISAT in collaboration with counties to improve drought tolerant crops productivity and nutrition and Health in Drylands of Kenya
Egerton University and ICRISAT have been engaged in improving production and productivty enhancement of dryland crops mainly sorghum, millets, groundnuts and greengrams in six counties dryland counties in Kenya which include Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, Kitui, Siaya, Busia and Elgeyo Marakwet, through funding support from USAID Feed the Future-FtF, Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD). The harse conditions in these counties have resulted in the high incidence of malnutrition in children aged under five, higher than in other counties of Kenya. In this regions, one of the significant pathways to food security and nutrition is through dryland cereals and pulses—sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, pigeon pea, green gram, groundnut and cowpea, which are drought tolerant and nutritious. These crops account for four of the five food groups that make up a diet with minimum diversity. However, it is recommended that a diverse diet comprises of foods from 10 food groups. These crops facilitate sustainable farming by fixing nitrogen in the soil, which substitutes inorganic fertilizer. However, lack of technologies innovations and management practices (TIMPS), seed systems and formal and farmer-based organizations are constraints to the development of these crops. To mitigate against this constraints, extension, input supply, storage and marketing, value addition to enhancement and utilization are key constraints. Consequently, production has remained at subsistence level. Interventions and innovations like the whole value chain approach have globally proven to be the only way to eliminate these constraints and develop these farming value chains into profitable businesses.
During the first phase of the project (2015-2018) Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, Kitui, Siaya, Busia and Elgeyo Marakwet weere participating counties, while in the second phase (2019-2021) three counties of Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, Kitui and Taita Taveta are participating. The objectives of the project were tonhance access to quality and affordable seed for the target crops (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, pigeon pea, cowpea and green gram; improve access to information on markets, crop and post-harvest management 3). Increase market margins for the different value chain actors through improved linkages to input and product markets as well as business development services; enhance utilization and consumption of nutritious and safe foods by children, women of reproductive age and general households and support County Governments to develop strategies and enabling policies for sustainable input supply and product markets as well as for the integration of the project interventions in County programs. During Phase 2 of the project. The project impacts include reaching over 37,000 farmers with technologies innovations management practices (TIMPs) including establishment of community seed banks, which enhance productivity and resilience of small-holder farmers. The major varieties with high farmer preferences distributed to farmers included Ndovu (large seeded) and Mwangaza (Red seeded) (groundnuts), Egerton sorghum 1, Snapping finger millets, SEC 915 fingermillets, KS20 greengrams and IESV24029 red sorghum. The project developed the capacity of total of 72 extension staff and 18 lead farmers on use of digital tools for extension and online marketing; strengthened institutional capacity of 7 farmer producer organization per county, 7 (FPOs); supported development and refining of business plans and linkage with credit agencies of a total 60 SMEs and also enhanced knowledge on utilization and access to safe diverse foods through working with 2890 community health volunteers and county health officials in the 6 counties. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 stopped all other field activities and the field staffs have been working from home with minimal visits to the field. However, the dissemination of project technologies still continued using the ICT digital platform-SourceTrace DATAGREEN developed by ICRISAT. The SourceTrace team ensured the activities were not interrupted by training the field staff and the extension staff on operation of the digital application which involve use of mobilephones by the extension and farmers. The SMS messages on GAPs, PHH, weather and nutrition diversification were formulated and disseminated through the platform on weekly basis.
One of the success stories from the project is on “groundnut mechanization and market linkage with a processing company (Green Forest) in Elgeyo Marakwet” said project PI Prof Paul Kimurto. Farmers main challenge has been shelling groundnuts, which is done manually using neighbors, kids, public barazas etc where they get back shelled grain of 15-20kgs/bag instead of 30-33kgs per 90kgs of unshelled nuts. Prof Kimurto noted that, so serious was the problem that farmers shell it manually slowly with trusted neighbors from November (harvesting) up next season (April -8months) as they sell pits by pits to avoid loses. This brought another challenge of lack of organized market and farmers sell their produce to brokers at Kapkayo local market every Thursday since family cant shell large quantities at once. The brokers then collude to exploit farmers through low prices ranging between Ksh 40-100 per kilo instead of Ksh 80-100. . Linking Green forest to Kapkayo farmers with support of County government enabled the farmers to sell the unshelled nuts at prices higher then the brokers shelled nuts of Ksh 70 in-shelled, buying was bulk and every day since Aggregation storage was opened by the project for Green forest. Several FPOs were formed which include NAFAKA Cooperative in Taita Taveta, Wikivuvwa cooperative in Kitui, Mulala Farmers’ Cooperative in Machakos, and Kapkayo cooperative in Elgeyo Marakwet. These FPOs benefited from AVCD on capacity building on group dynamics, contract farming and negotiation, marketing and branding, collective action/warehousing receipt system (WRS), access to finance and Business planning, strategic planning, ICT for agribusiness and proposal writing. Other partners in the project included KALRO, USAID, FAO, KEPHIS, KCEAP project, Seed companies (Leldet, Agrosoy, Dryland seeds, Faida seeds), County Governments, various stakeholders along DTC production and delivery pathway.
The intense nutrition activities done by at nutrition team led by Dr Maureen Cheserek and and nutrition team at community level was noted to have contributed to the reduction in the levels of stunting from 41% to 37% mainly in Kitui to due to consumption of DTCs mainly sorghum, pigeonpea, pearl millet, groundnut, greengram and cowpea. Other food sources and their nutrition benefits discussed were tubers, nuts and seeds, dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, organ meats, orange/yellow fruits and vegetables, dark green vegetables and other fruits and vegetables. In 2021, the Dr Maureen also incoorporated the exchange students (interns) from Boitekanelo College in Botswana who are at Egerton on training. The team and students enngaged cial support in empowering women (pregnant and breastfeeding mothers) to prepare diverse, locally nutritious foods within dry regions and embrace embracing diverse nutrition fully to offer quality diets. The students engaged the farmers in the participatory cooking of diverse diets from DTCs and other food groups to reinforce learning.
Dr Maureen Cheserek, the Nutrition and Dietetics Internship Programme Coordinator and the DTCs Nutrition Specialist, said, “training will go a long way in enhancing women’s knowledge and skills and contributing towards improving nutrition outcomes of women and children in these dryland regions where stunting among young children is a major public health concern”.
The AVCD Programme through ICRISAT and Egerton University has trained community health volunteers across seven counties in Kenya to teach farmers using community dialogue cards. As a result, locally available nutritious and healthy foods are utilized through value addition, enriching and preparing them to fill the nutritional gaps in the target regions. The farmers were also provided with sample recipes and menus of diverse diets and encouraged to incorporate into their daily family meals. Project areas were Kivou Ward, Ithumbi Location, in Kitui County, and Chala Ward, Taita Taveta County and Arror, Kapkayo and Biretwo in Elgeyo Marakwet County.
Speaking to the Egerton team, Mrs Rose Mulyongi, a pigeon peas farmer and Community Health Volunteer (CHV) from Kivou Ward said she was pleased that Egerton University and ICRISAT had given her a platform to start her own business through training as a CHV and how to add value to her farm products which were well displayed in her shop near the Chief’s Camp.
To ensure value chain sustainability of DTCs, several industry partners where linked to the Produce organizations for supply of produce through contract farming. These included Unilever Limited through the Upfield Kenya (processors of Butternut and BlueBand), East Africa Malt Limited (EMAL), Greenforest Ltd, Kilimo Trust, Nutrifoods and Chandaria Industries-INSTA Products Ltd. Other project partners were Dr Moses Siambi. Dr Gangarao Rao, Edward Mutai and Christine Ngari of ICRISAT; Mr Towett and Dr Miriam Karwitha from Egerton University.
The Vice chancellor and University Management Board wishes to thank USAID-AVCD program for funding the project and thank Prof Paul Kimurto (PI) and Dr Maureen Cheserek (led Nutrition) for successfully implementing the project for the benefit of farmers in the six counties in Kenya.