Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Teaching Dairy Cow Management with our partners in Kenya.

Daniel Scothorn and I had the opportunity to teach a number of sessions on dairy cow management to the members of our partner dairies in Kenya. The usual daily session would be something like this. We would travel from our accommodations in Ischamara to the dairy in Othaya and prepare for the day. The arrangements would have been made by Othaya staff. Usually this would have been the milk quality staff person ,Leah and the Dairy Manager. A farm would have been selected in a new area and farmers contacted to tell them of time and place. We would prepare by assembling our “Fact Sheets”. These are a series of one to three page information sheets on topics like cow feeding, milk quality, and calf rearing. We wrote these information sheets to meet the demand for information by the farmers. We check to see if we have samples of the crops we use to illustrate our talk or if these can be found on the farm. These include Napier Grass, Desmodium and forage trees. After we get our materials in order we usually have a quick “cup of tea” at the local restaurant. This is usually consists of tea, semosas, sausages and a donut!
We travel to the farm in the “Combi”. The drive can be from 15 min to a half an hour and we may have to walk the last bit if the road is too narrow. When we arrive at the farm there has been some canopy in place to provide shade. We are on the equator and at a high elevation so both us and the farmers need shade. We usually tour the farm and see the cow housing and determine how we can use it on our talk on cow comfort. At this time farmers start to arrive. They usually come after they see us travel to the farm. There is always an interesting mix of farmers. Some will be women, some will be older gentlemen, some will be young farmers and all will be keen to find out better ways of feeding their cows. We always talk to the farmers as they arrive. This lets them know that we are also farmers and that we care about their cows. Also, we try to find out how they manage their cows so we can adjust our talk to fit their farm situation.
We use a flip chart with an outline of our talk. We make some basic points. Forage has a higher nutrient content when the plants are immature, home grown feeds are more economical than purchased feeds , and feeding cows in early lactation results in maximum milk production. Although many of the farmers understand English we work through a translator who is usually a staff or board member of the dairy. Translation is necessary but it slows the amount of information we can present. We are always aware that we have to repeat each point several times, use illustrations, and watch for feedback to see if we are understood. After the talk on feeding we go to the “zero grazing” or cow housing to discuss cow comfort. We normally put on our rubber boots and go into the cattle housing to show we are familiar with working with cows. Usually the situation is the same as in Canada ,where the cows tell us if they are comfortable in their stalls. Normally we observe they need bigger stalls, more bedding and more accessible feed bunks. After this we return to the teaching site where Leah gives her talk on how to produce clean milk and answer questions to complete the day.

After wards we share tea prepared by the host. The tea is usually accompanied by boiled eggs, bread, and boiled arrow roots. This an excellent time to talk informally about feeding cows and answer questions about how we farm in Canada.
We are always impressed with how interested the farmers are in gaining new information for managing their cows. We are impressed on how they put these ideas to work. We see improvements in milk production within days of making suggestions for improvements. We are impressed with demand for written information. We provide hand outs and this time we also gave all the women a back copy of the American publication Hoard’s Dairyman. These were in great demand. Milk production in Kenya is one of the few profitable farm enterprises and farmers are willing to work hard to make their cows profitable.
The days we teach on the farms are the best days in Kenya.

Cookhouse at Kinyinjere School funded by Souris Village Feast

Submitted by Teresa Mellish

On November 2, 2008, we attended the official opening of the cookhouse at the Kinyinjere Primary School. Local dignitaries attended along with the students of the school children and their parents and, of course, the members of the Muchui Womens Group. I had the privilege of cutting the ribbon which officially opened the cookhouse.

The cookhouse is about 15 feet by 60 feet in size. It includes an area to cook the food with three Botto-Solar cookers which use a fraction of the wood normally used in open fires. Also the smoke is vented outside. There is also an area to store the maize and beans provided by the parents. In addition there is a washing area under cover outside and a room for an office. The school already has a cook who will prepare the porridge for the nursery age children and the githeri for the older children.

I’d like to recognize Elizabeth Kirema who initiated this project. She is a teacher at the school who told us that the school needed cookhouse like the one she saw at the Ruuju school. She is also the Vice-Chairperson of the Muchui Womens Group.

There is a plaque on the outside of the cookhouse recognizing the funds raised by the Souris Village Feast. During the opening festivities I made a presentation about the people of Souris. I showed photos of Souris - which I left at the school.

We know this will make such a difference to the school children. They will have a hot lunch which will allow them to do better in their school work. Many of these children would not otherwise have lunch.

Thank you to the organizers of the Souris Village Feast for their hard work and generosity.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas in October

Submitted by:
Winston Johnston

Late in 2007 someone on Prince Edward Island made a donation in support of the Farmers Helping Farmers Christmas program, to provide a small plastic screen house (a greenhouse with screen walls) for one of the women in the Ruuju Womens Self Help Group, near Mikinduri, Kenya.

On the 27th of October of this year I inspected one such screen house on a small three acre farm operated by Mrs. Regina Kanja Mung’athia. From this farm land Regina must support a family of six, including herself. With the financial support provided by the Island donor and technical help from Farmers Helping Farmers, Regina was able to construct a 6 x 9 metre plastic screen house, supported by wooden posts, into which on 21st of July of this year she transplanted 180 climbing tomato plants. Regina then purchased a five gallon plastic container and drip irrigation lines to deliver the necessary water to the tomato plants. This watering system uses much less water than conventional irrigation, much to Regina’s advantage as each day she has to carry water to use in the screen house.

Beginning the first of October Regina began to use tomatoes in the preparation of her family’s meals and will do so for the next eight months when the crop will be finished. In addition, weekly trips are being made to the local market to sell tomatoes which will provide the family with an income of some 500 Kenyan shillings (about $8.25 CDN) per week. Thus, the donation made to the 2007 Christmas program brought Christmas to Regina by increasing her family’s annual income by about 16,000 Kenyan shillings ($250 Canadian), while at the same time improving the nutrition of her family.

Photo - Regina standing in screen house showing ripe tomatoes in the background

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How Kenyans Benefit from Farmers Helping Farmers Projects

The development project initiated by Farmers Helping Farmers with the Muchui Womens Group was designed to bring new technologies in vegetable production to an area suffering from the lack of water. The Muchui business centre, constructed around a screenhouse (a greenhouse with a plastic roof and sides of screen), was designed to serve as a demonstration site where members of the group could come and see how new cultivars and production techniques could increase crop yields, and improve the lives of their families. One such technique is the production of climbing tomatoes in the screenhouse using drip irrigation. This method of watering plants delivers a small amount of water to the base of each plant enabling farmers to transplant tomatoes at any chosen time. This facilitates harvesting tomatoes in the off season when prices are higher, than field produced crops. Staffed by Muchui employees Salome Ntinyari and Martin Gikunda, this centre has become a place where not only members, but people from the entire region come to see new production methods.

A few months ago the Muchui business centre held an open house day and invited all people living in the district. The program was televised and presented by the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Citizen Television Stations. Some observers from Meru who did not come to the site, watched the program on their televisions at home and found it very interesting and contacted Martin and Salome for additional information. Some came to the centre to meet the staff and observe for themselves the screenhouse and production of tomatoes. One resident of Meru town, Mr and Mrs Muthee, came to the centre and received all the necessary details on requirements for greenhouse production of climbing tomatoes. Soon, a new greenhouse measuring 10 x 20 metres was being built at his home in Meru Town, large enough to hold 800 Anna F1 tomato plants. Using one water tank and collected rainwater distributed by drip irrigation, the tomatoes will mature in the off season beginning in next January when prices are at their highest.
The total building costs were close to 150,000 Kenyan shillings (about $2,500 CDN). With the current and projected price of tomatoes at maturity, the expected income for the entire crop will be from 120,000 to 180,000 shillings ($2,000 - $3,000 CDN). In addition to this income, the family will have tomatoes to eat until August 2009. By building a greenhouse that will last about ten years, Rose Muthee, just one of the seven local residents to adopt such technology, will have sufficient income to pay school fees for her daughter’s education. Thus the objective of extending the work of the Muchui Womens Group to all members of the community is becoming a reality. Winston.

Photo: Daughter, Ms Jane Gitonga standing in the tomatoes.