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ASALs receive smart agriculture technologies

Contracted extension service providers from Isiolo and Marsabit receiving training on seed selection of pasture grass in Meru on September 17, 2020. KALRO also trained them on how to sort the seeds for viability testing before planting for maximum yields. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]

Arid and Semi-arid Land zones are anticipating changes in their ecosystems after receiving 10 pasture and fodder technologies.

The innovative technologies and management of practices that were developed by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) scientists will help to support the production of beef, sheep, goats and camels in the country's rangelands to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The research institution has embarked on a training programme across the country to equip residents of ASALs with natural pasture improvement methods through the reseeding of grasses.

In an effort to reach 200 contracted extension service providers and county government extension officers who will in turn train farmers in their areas, KALRO has trained 160 trainees so far in Kajiado, Tana River, Mandera, Taita Taveta, Isiolo, Marsabit, Laikipia and West Pokot counties.

Some 40 extension service providers from Isiolo and Marsabit counties are undergoing a three-day training exercise in Meru.

The trainees are being equipped with the skills to harvest water for pasture production through range pits, community-based range grass seed bulking and management practices, cost-effective feed conservation structures, the socioeconomics of reseeding range lands in Kenya as well as the estimation of carbon sequestration in rangelands among others.

"The  trainers are expected to train farmers who are members of common interest groups in their respective counties. Adoption of the technologies will help to increase productivity, build community resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said KALRO Director General Eliud Kireger.

The World Bank-funded training programme is expected to directly benefit about 521,500 households that consist of smallholder farmers, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.

Approximately 18,150 households in 1,100 vulnerable and marginalized groups will benefit from the programme.

Beneficiary zones are expected to record increased productivity of livestock resulting from enhanced feed quantity and quality which will be driven by the establishment of new pasture fields and the rehabilitation of degraded rangelands.

According to Kireger, pasture and fodder production in Kenya is constrained by the unavailability of quality seeds which is aggravated by a lack of formal registration of pasture and fodder seeds by KEPHIS. KALRO Kiboko has entered five range pasture grasses in the national performance trials in a bid to address the challenge.

The Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project (KSCAP) once fully rolled out is expected to curb conflict among pastoral communities over pasture and watering holes.

"Resources for livestock are not enough. By improving availability of feed in quality and quantity across ASAL counties will have a positive impact in terms of minimizing conflict," said Dr. Simon Kuria.

The research institution is also advocating for the harvest and utilization of Mathenge weeds by processing the invader crop into flour to feed goats.

"The whole idea of crushing mathenge seeds is to make sure that there is no new growth so that you manage the spread of this species and provide material proteins and energy that is a major limitation to livestock performance within ASALs," added Dr. Kuria.

The commercial production of grass hay, range pasture and fodder seed will also empower families and communities financially and enable them to improve their quality of life.

The programme is further expected to improve school attendance among pupils from pastoral communities who end up losing valuable class time every time their families migrate in search of pasture and water.

County government personnel have also received training and will help to sustain the programme in their respective counties as well as to help farmers generate money from it.

Farmers have also been encouraged to take up the use of farm machinery to improve efficiency and productivity.

Youth and women groups have been encouraged to take advantage of the programme to uplift themselves economically.

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