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Innovations offer farmers tips on scaling up profits

By Lydiah Nyawira | Published Sat, September 15th 2018 at 00:00, Updated September 14th 2018 at 22:04 GMT +3
JKUAT Student Kelvin Ombati demonstrates how his zero energy cold store works using only pumice stones and evaporation and transpiration at the Nyeri ASK Show. [Kibata Kihu/ Standard]

In summary

  • Attendees at the Central Kenya Agricultural Show get to sample latest technologies developed for small holder farmers

The Central Kenya Agricultural Show kicked off in earnest in Nyeri County this week with 120 exhibitors showcasing products and services to farmers and other stakeholders.

Among the top exhibitors was Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) which showcased their latest innovations from combined efforts by students and lecturers.

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Here are some of the top innovations from the university’s stand that excited farmers.

Three in one chaff miller

One of the key challenges for livestock farmers has been access to animal feeds which often increase the cost of production.

Most livestock farmers may have access to a chaff cutter within their farms to help cutting maize stalks into small pieces for their animals.

An exciting new innovation from JKUAT may change ordinary farmers into feed suppliers by turning an ordinary farm equipment into a money spinner.

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Simon Gatagia, an engineer at JKUAT is the brains behind this innovation.

Three years ago, Gatagia came up with a chaff cutter that could be used to mill cereals and animal feeds.

The three in one chaff miller allows farmers to convert any plants he would like to preserve or feed to his animals into a fine meal for his animals.

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“Currently farmers normally buy large amounts of maize stalks or Napier grass and pay for transport to their farms, however with this machine, one pickup of maize stalks can be processed into three sacks of animal feeds,” Gatangia told showgoers.

Farmers can also use the three in one chaff miller to process other animal feeds that can afterwards be supplied to farmers at a cost.

“This is a business venture that a farmer can engage in with little to no cost to him in terms of production. It transforms an ordinary farmer into an animal feeds supplier,” he notes. Gatangia says he designed and patented the chaff miller and has already sold 25 units to farmers.

“It would be great if counties would buy these for small scale farmers as an income generating opportunity, and my target market is also small and medium size enterprises,” Gatangia explains.The machine costs between Sh100,000 to Sh120,000 depending on specifications.

JKUAT's Prof Mary Abukutsa-Onyango is the principal investigator and pioneer of African Indigenous Vegetable for the last three decades and developed seeds for nine varieties of AIV. [Kibata Kihu/Standard]

African indigenous vegetables

JKUAT’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research, Production and Extension) Prof Mary Abukutsa-Onyango’s name is synonymous with African Indigenous Vegetables (AIV). She has for the last three decades done extensive research on these vegetables and by so doing promoting their production and consumption.

At the show, several African Indigenous Vegetables were on display to encourage farmers to start growing them on their farms.

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Quality seeds

Prof Abukutsa has been researching on indigenous vegetables since 1992, and some of the challenges she discovered were hindering the growth of the vegetables was the lack of seeds or poor quality seeds in the market.

“I embarked on research to come up with ways to produce quality seeds. By working with stakeholders such as farmers, and State institutions such as Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) we came up with nine seed varieties in 2016,” Prof Abukutsa says.

Some of the varieties developed were Jew’s mallow (mrenda), Spiderplant (mwangani) Slenderleaf (marejea) Amaranth (mchicha) Cowpeas (kunde), and Nightshade (managu).

Even with the certified seeds, the farmers needed the technical expertise to farm the crops as most relied on broadcasting the seeds on their farm.

Tips on best practice

At the show, farmers got tips on how to grow the vegetables, the best soils and climatic conditions to get maximum yields.

Why AIVs?

“The African Indigenous Vegetables have more nutritional value compared to exotic vegetables. Even as we encourage farmers to grow them, we also had to provide them with recipes on how how to cook them,” the celebrated researcher says.

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JKUAT researchers are also working with partners to preserve the vegetables through drying and ensure they can be stored for longer when produced in excess.

“It is important to popularise the AIVs because they can contribute to food security and nutrition. They also have commercial benefits to farmers,” Prof Abukutsa points out.

JKUAT research team showcases insect delicacies including cricket flour,, porridge and cookies as well as termite noodles at the Nyeri ASK show. [Kibata Kihu/ Standard]

Snack time.... Cricket Cookies or termite Noodles anyone?

Insect farming is yet to gain traction among Kenyan farmers even as efforts to sensitise them on the venture continue.

However, while crickets have been accepted as animal feeds, few have explored the possibility of embracing them as human food. In an effort to popularise crickets as rich and healthy food, JKUAT has come up with innovative ways to prepare it.

At the exhibition, a variety of attractive products were on display including, porridge flour, cookies and other cricket bitings.

By preparing attractive snacks from cricket flour, the whole idea is to help people deal with wrong perceptions, myths and biases and embrace cricket as food with an open mind.

Other insects that are now part of the programme are termites which are popular in Western Kenya.

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Also on offer were termite noodles that have higher nutritional value compared to other ordinary noodles.

Converting waste rice husks into high quality silica gel for industrial use

Millions of tonnes of rice husks are produced in rice growing areas in the country that are considered waste and a nuisance to farmers. JKUAT researchers Raphael Kungu, Paul Njogu and Professor Robert Kinyua have discovered an innovative way to turn rice husks waste into high value industrial grade silica.

Some of the products produced from the rice husks are silica, liquid sodium silicate, activated carbon and silica gel.

Silica is used in industries for manufacturing glass, ceramics, paints, rubber and electronics, while liquid sodium silicate is used in soap and detergent making. Activated carbon is used in air purification while silica gel is used as a desiccant to dry the air in industrial compressed air systems.

The numbers

1,000 kgs of rice husks can produce 220 kgs of silica.

100 kg of rich husks can produce 120kgs of sodium silicate

1,000 kgs of rice husks can produce 120 kgs of silica gel.

The current market prices are 1 tonne of sodium silicate costs Sh46,700.

While 1 tonne of sodium gel is Sh580,000 and 120kgs of sodium silicate is valued at Sh5604

And 120kgs of silica gel is Sh69,600.

Zero energy cold store

Farmers who deal in perishable produce have often complained of lack of affordable and effective storage facilities, leading to massive post harvest losses. Prof Urbanus Mutwiwa and Kelvin Ombati, a 5th year agricultural biosystems engineering student, have come up with a unique way to preserve fresh produce for more than a week.

Their zero energy cold store relies on the principles of evaporation and transpiration.

A metal mesh cage is constructed and filled with pumice stones that surround the metal cage. These stones are then soaked in water through a small pipe laid ontop of the metal box the pumice stones retain the coolness of the water and release cool air into the metal box creating a small cold box in the centre.

The gadget can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables for upto seven days.

It requires no energy unlike modern coolers or refrigerators and is safe and affordable for farmers in need of such facilities.

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