Members of the public watch in disbelief at a bull at Blue Dairy stand, that weighs 1.2 tones with a 1.7 height. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Innovators of modern farming technologies went all out to showcase their inventions at the three-day 2024 Eldoret Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) Show.

Most of the latest inventions on display at the annual event that kicked off on Wednesday, are from Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions and universities.

Others are from experienced mechanical gurus, looking to capitalise on low-cost but effective agricultural machinery.

From modern chicken houses to smart beehives to warehouses that use sensors to open and close and to solar-powered water pumps that also work as luggage carriers, the innovations on display at this year's Show did not disappoint. 

Here are highlights of some of the innovations on display.

Smart chicken house

Jessica Mose and Vickson Namayi of The Eldoret National Polytechnic wowed showgoers with a free-range chicken house that is designed to automatically open and close.

The duo, who are General Agriculture students at the institution, said the chicken house would help farmers with busy schedules to run their free-range poultry enterprises without having to employ farmhands to release the birds in the morning and lock them up in the evening.  

The chicken house is modelled on changes in wavelengths.

“Light, such as during sunrise, activates the opening mechanism while darkness triggers the closing mechanism. However, the opening and closure can also be programmed with the use of a digital timer,” explained Mose.

“The first thing a farmer does is to have hens accustomed to leaving the chicken house in the morning and returning at dusk.”

Mose says the modern chicken house is suitable for a free-range farmer who leaves for work early in the morning and returns late in the evening or one who runs many projects within the farm and rarely finds time to open and close doors for their hens.

The technology, however, does not offer a solution to the security of the birds.

“It can’t prevent theft of the chicken. The farmer will need a separate solution for the security issue,” said the students, who were guided by their tutor Humphrey Oyugi.

It cost Mose and Namayi Sh10,500 to design the model chicken house.

Smart beehive 

Eldoret National Polytechnic students who pursue diploma in general agriculture display new modern beehive. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Another innovation enables you to receive information about what is going on in your beehive via a text message or a phone call.

Farmers rarely open a beehive to know the progress of honeycombs and the number of bees inside.

A beehive is mostly opened during the harvesting of honeycombs. Many farmers also harvest the honey in the dark to reduce disturbances in a beehive.

But Daltone Lokalia, an Electrical and Electronic student at The Eldoret National Polytechnic came up with a smart beehive, which uses vibration sensors and communication technology to relay messages and make phone calls to the farmer whenever any activity happens inside or outside the hive.

Lokalia says he designed a "brain" for a beehive to help farmers get information on what is going on in the hive in real-time.

“The technology sends the farmer a text message informing them to harvest the honey, that is when the honeycombs reach maturity weight. When there is external pressure such as shaking of the hive, the 'brain' makes a phone call because that would require urgent intervention,” Lokalia explained.

“When the honeycombs grow, the 'brain' sends a message informing the farmer that the honey processing is ongoing. It helps the farmer to manage beekeeping remotely.”

Lokalia said the innovation uses a GSM module (mobile telephone network) and contains an Arduino board, vibration sensors, and load HX 711 (weight sensors).

He said the technology costs between Sh3,000 and Sh5,000, making it affordable to farmers.

“If a farmer has several beehives, the beehives are coded to enable them to differentiate various messages and calls from the various hives,” he added.

Smart warehouse/store

Two fourth-year students at Kisii University thrilled farmers and agriculture enthusiasts with a modern warehouse/store that automatically opens and closes the door for vehicles delivering farm produce for storage.

Moses Owino and Boniface Masaku, the innovators of the smart warehouse, say the opening and closing technology uses solar power.

Owino said the system can detect if indeed a vehicle is carrying farm produce. If it is not, the gates will not open.

“It uses solar energy. The system is controlled in a way that sensors open doors to selected vehicles for security purposes,” said the Industrial Chemistry student.

He teamed up with Masaku, a Renewable Energy student in designing the innovation.

The duo also developed a solar-powered water pump that also serves as a luggage carrier.

Azolla Pinnata production 

Animal Science and Technology student at Kisii University Policarp Orenda, displays a zolta pond machine used for feeding dairy cows during the first day of Agricultural Society of Kenya Show in Eldoret Uasin Gishu County on Wednesday. March 7, 2024. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

An animal science and technology student, Polycarp Orenda, showcased the easiest way of producing Azolla Pinnata, a nutritious water plant that is yet to gain popularity in the North Rift. 

“It is important to keep Azolla at the rapid multiplication growth phase with the minimum doubling time. Therefore, biomass (around 200g per square meter) should be removed every day or on alternate days to avoid overcrowding,” said Orenda.

“Periodic application of well-decomposed goat manure, which is dry and not acidic, DAP/super phosphate and other macro and micronutrients except nitrogen, will keep the fern multiplying rapidly.”

He said the temperature should be kept below 25°C. “If the temperature goes up the light intensity should be reduced by providing shade. If possible, it is best to place the production unit where it is shady.”

Orenda, a first-year student at Kisii University, said the Azolla fern can be fed to dairy cows, pigs, poultry, rabbits, dairy goats, and sheep as dry matter.

Azolla is rich in protein, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

The fern’s dry matter contains proteins (24-30 per cent), potassium (2-4.5 per cent), and Calcium (0.4-1 per cent), among other nutrients.

“You mix it with dairy feed in a ratio of 1:1. A mature dairy cow with a life weight of 400kg consumes about three kilos per day,” said Orenda. The water plant matures in 48 hours. It multiplies four times within the period.

Hand-loaded baler

Hay baling is a major headache for small-scale dairy farmers. 

A hand-loaded baller, the first crushing grass machine at Rhino farm machinery from Machakos, displayed for sale during the first day of Agricultural Society of Kenya Show in Eldoret Uasin Gishu County on Wednesday. March 7, 2024. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Rhino Farm machinery is showcasing a locally assembled hay baler designed to produce a higher number of bales at a low cost at the event that closes today.

Jeremiah ole Sein, a field officer, the new hand-loaded baler makes up to 16 bales an hour, with each bale weighing between 15kg and 30kg, depending on the water content of the grass.

“The bales are tied manually, and the machine can easily be moved from one side of the farm to the other because it is light,” noted Sein.

“The new machine uses a hydraulic system. It has a hydraulic valve and a petrol pump. Two wooden obstructions are used to ease tying of the bales,” said Geoffrey Kinyua, the designer of the hand-loaded baler.

Giant bull

Apart from the modern technologies, a 1.2-tonne Friesian bull has stolen the show at the annual showcase. 

 [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

The bull named Blackie because of its black fur coat, is owned by Denis Kirwa from Nandi County.

He said the four-year-old bull, which is 1.7 metres tall, only feeds on dry matter, mostly Boma Rhodes and flour.

“I bought it from the Baraton University farm when it was six months old. I never knew it would grow this big,” said Kirwa.

The bull is used for breeding. “The secret was to feed it with dry matter and prevent parasites and diseases,” he said.