Kenya has made strides in agricultural transformation thanks to enhanced bilateral ties with China in a sector that contributes over one quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Partnerships in promoting agriculture-related research and technologies coupled with better farming practices have been more broadly enhanced especially in the last decade with Kenyan farmers being the principal beneficiaries.
Kungu Gitau, a large scale farmer in Bahati area of Nakuru County in the Rift valley region, is among hundreds of beneficiaries.
Through outreach farmer trainings and visits conducted by a Chinese professor in horticultural production, Kungu has mastered viable methods of selecting pesticides and applying them in an appropriate manner.
Liu Gaoqiong is the Chinese professor who joined the department of Crops, Soils and Horticulture at Egerton University 16 years ago from Nanjing Agricultural University and since then he has been instrumental in research on improved farming technologies such as use of greenhouses that are found on the university’s demonstration plots, crop varieties and pest management.
Liu currently leads the agriculture outreach programme run by the Confucius Institute at the Egerton University.
The agriculture-oriented institute was established in 2013 out of ongoing collaboration between the China-based Nanjing Agricultural University and Kenya’s Egerton University.
Kungu is among many farmers in Nakuru County who have benefitted from Liu’s agri-information and skills imparting sessions.
“I became an informed farmer on use of pesticides since I attended a training session by Liu sometime in 2006. I have applied that knowledge since then in growing my tomatoes, cabbages, maize and beans,” Kungu told Xinhua during an interview earlier this week.
Kungu has been eking out a living from farming for two decades and is now growing at least three different types of crops in his farm measuring 15 acres at any given planting season.
Armed with the knowledge on pest management, Kungu said he has become more strategic in controlling invasion of cutworms, thrips and whiteflies.
“I take a keen look at the leaves and I immediately spray the crops if I see anything that looks like a larva or some whitish trail on the covers,” said Kungu.
From the outreach session, the farmer said he learnt how to check for any pest or disease attack and decide on appropriate agrochemical to use. Also, the right time and best way to apply the chemicals.
“Now I can comfortably advice other farmers on how to use the pesticides and they come back for more guidance or refer others to me. It always feels great when I assist a fellow farmer to avoid losing his crops because pests can make you lose hope in farming,” he said.
Kenya is largely an agriculture-driven economy with the government pegging hopes on its expansion to raise annual growth by at least 5 points to hit the 10 percent mark. The country is presently riding on an average annual growth of 5.9 percent.
Over the years, agriculture has maintained a steady share of not less than 24 percent contribution to the GDP despite the harsh weather conditions and emergence of destructive diseases and pests.
Over 80 percent of the Kenyan population derives their source of living from agriculture either directly or indirectly.
The food grown by small and large scale farmers ends up in stores of groceries in towns thereby creating a means of income for those off-farms.
Information is very important to farmers, said Liu, adding the outreach programme which since its inception has reached out to more than 400 farmers and agricultural extension officers across five counties.
“Farmers may be aware of a new farming technology or even gained access to it but how to use it comes in as a major challenge,” said Liu.
The horticultural expert said their efforts of extending agricultural services has yielded fruits as many farmers have managed to boost their harvests by efficiently adopting high return farming systems particularly greenhouses and following best crop management practices.
Liu said they conduct the outreach programme together with Kenyan crop scientists and a backup of fellow experts from Nanjing Agricultural University.
This collaboration between the two universities has also yielded to establishment of a crop molecular laboratory at Egerton, launched in 2015.
The lab is aiding in carrying out research on crop varieties and pests in addition to instructing students who are then interned with farmers and as a result transfer the knowledge to the key targets of the research activities, said Morwani Gesimba, chairperson of Egerton University’s Department of Crop, Horticulture and Soils.
“We have a cutting edge lab, the best in the region; which we are using to train students who upon graduation go into working in the public and private sector,” he said.
Through collaborative research, Gesimba said they have developed new technologies such as mushroom production and high return greenhouses.
These are displayed in the demonstration fields at Egerton University and farmers from different parts of the country frequently visit them to gain practical experience on their performance, he said. Enditem