Home Agribusiness Assorted

Francis Mwika, Mugae Location, Meru County, Kenya

Located on the eastern side of Meru County, Mugae location is characterized by a sparse population with low and erratic rainfall resulting in an increase in food insecurity, environmental degradation and poverty levels in the county. Massive wind storms carry away the soil from the bare land making agriculture a debatable investment. This however, is home to Francis Mwika, a 47-year-old livestock farmer. Mwika has witnessed crop failures and droughts over the years. He has had to find a way to mitigate the drought effects for the wellbeing of his family of one wife and eight children. He resorted to livestock farming as a source of income. The amount he earned from his sales was used to pay school fees for his children and provide basic household needs, leaving little, if any, for savings. He had not realized the full potential of livestock farming as a business up until he was selected to be a facilitator for Farmer Field Schools (FFSs).

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mwika received training as a FFSs facilitator through the Kenya Semi-Arid Enhancement Support (K-SALES) project. The four-year project, implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, seeks to increase agricultural productivity and expand trade in livestock products. Through K-SALES, Mwika was equipped with the necessary knowledge to train other farmers in the FFSs on farm management and improved livestock production techniques. Mwika has formed and trained over 10 FFSs in his area comprising of 384 farmers.

 

“After the training, I realized that I had taken for granted my livestock over the years. If only I knew some of the things I know now, I would have benefited a lot from my livestock then,” he says. As luck would have it, Mwika, had a chance to invest in his livestock for business. “I had to make some changes in my own home on how I reared my livestock in order to set an example to the farmers I trained.”

 

untitled-4Mwika is one of the 150 farmers benefiting from Maji ya Chumvi spraying and vaccination crush, which is less than 2km away and was constructed by K-SALES. “Before the training, we never used to spray or vaccinate our animals unless they fell sick. We are very grateful for the crush constructed by K-SALES for our community, as we can now spray and vaccinate our animals regularly with ease.” Currently, Mwika sprays his livestock at least thrice every month and noted the minimized illnesses brought about by pests and diseases.

 

He has embraced several lessons to help improve his livestock in terms of breeding. Last year, in order to upgrade his own local sheep, he bought an improved sheep breed, a dorper, which is hardy, fertile and fast-growing. The ewe has since given birth to lambs that are growing rather fast and fetching a higher price at the market. “Just last month, I fetched 3,000 shillings for a one-month-old lamb,” he stated. From these sales, Mwika has since acknowledged that livestock rearing is indeed rewarding, and he plans to increase the number of sheep he owns, adding that they can reproduce as often as three times in a year.

 

With the dry season around the corner, Mwika has plans to pursue fodder storage as a business especially now that there is a looming food shortage in his area. He had recently stashed fodder for his own animals, but he sold it to another livestock farmer. “I knew fodder could earn me an income but not this much,” he says. “The quantity of the fodder wasn’t much but the buyer surprisingly paid 20,000 shillings for it. I was amazed, and that is when I realized there is a lot of potential in the hay business.” He also received training on financial literacy and plans to borrow a loan from Centenary Sacco, where he is an active member, to enable him to construct a proper hay barn to store his hay for sale.

 

Mwika is one fortunate farmer that is headed in the right direction. However, not many people in Kenya are as fortunate as Mwika. They lack access to the required information to scale up from subsistence farming to commercial farming. By providing the required knowledge in improved livestock production techniques and technologies, more farmers can see the benefits of keeping livestock as a business venture.

 

This story is brought to you by USDA and Land O’Lakes

 

For media and advertising inquired contact Alexander Hitzemann at alex@africaag.org

By Nawa Mutumweno

Zambia Sugar Company is reducing its sugar exports into the European Union (EU) to the regional market in view of the sugar reforms in the bloc to be effected in September 2017.

The agribusiness company will this year reduce sales to the EU from 22 percent to 14 percent as it explores Africa’s regional markets, both traditional and new markets.

According to managing director, Rebecca Katowa, this follows the sugar reforms that have impacted on the sugar regime and resulted in prices in the EU converging into global prices.

The prices are below the cost of production and reflect residual markets and key players, namely Brazil, Thailand and India, who put sugar on that market with India’s sugar being subsidized.

’’The strategy is to move volumes away from the EU to regional markets because the regional market provides valuable alternatives. Shifting export sales away from the EU to the region is expected because realisations in these markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements,’’ she elaborated at a stakeholders’ breakfast meeting in Lusaka recently.

The prices of sugar are expected to remain above world levels within the region despite increasing levels of competition among regional producers, Mrs. Katowa added.

The company is looking to expanding exports to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other African markets.

Meanwhile, Zambia Sugar will this month-end commission the over K500 million refinery which is projected to more than double sugar production to 90 000 tonnes annually, reaffirming the firm’s position as the largest producer in Africa.

Currently, the sugar agribusiness company produces 40 000 tonnes of sugar per annum.

‘’The project was launched last year and will be on stream at the end of the month and contribute to our growth strategy,’’ she said.

Meanwhile, the company’s Commentary for the Year Ended March 31, 2016 says a number of factors impacted adversely on sugar production in the period under review. These included dry climatic conditions in November and December 2015, power interruptions to irrigation and the outbreak of yellow sugarcane aphids which reduced sugarcane yields by 11 percent across the entire harvest area.
This yield decline was partly offset by a 2 percent increase in area under cane delivered. Smallholder schemes supplied 10 percent of the total 3.102 million tons of cane crushed by the Nakambala mill. Consequently, sugar made was reduced by 10 percent from 424 000 tonnes achieved last year to 380 400 tonnes.

‘’The reduced sucrose in cane was partially offset by improved sugar recoveries in the mill. Refined sugar production also increased to meet growing demand. The season saw a significant improvement in factory throughput, reflecting the benefit of improved equipment reliability and preventive maintenance practices together with a sustained focus on continuous improvement initiatives,’’ the Commentary reads in part.

Total revenue grew by 6 percent year on year, from K1.91 billion to K2.02 billion, largely due to continued growth in the domestic market where direct consumption increased by 7 percent and industrial consumption grew by 4 percent. In order to maximize revenues from reduced production, the sales mix was adjusted by reducing bulk EU exports by 45 percent. The remaining sugar was sold into Africa’s regional markets where prices remained under pressure from world market sugar.

Prospects

The factory commenced crushing in the third week of April and operations have quickly stabilized. Early season, sugarcane yields are at expected levels and should improve as the crop matures.

Sugar cane yields and sucrose in cane are expected to remain relatively unchanged in the 2016/17 production season. The crop has been negatively affected by drought conditions, power shortages, the low water levels in the Kafue River and pest infestations due to drought stressed cane. Production is, therefore, expected to match the previous season.

Sugar production is, therefore, expected to match the previous season. Reasonably strong growth is expected in the local market. However, margins in the regional export markets are expected to remain under pressure from surplus sugar stocks on the world market.

‘’Realizations in these export markets will continue to be influenced by exchange rate movements. The new expanded sugar refinery will help the company take advantage of the growth in the local and regional industrial sugar markets,’’ it adds.

Vongai Musembwa’s eyes light up as she scoops up healthy white grains from a metal bin she uses to store newly harvested maize. Happily, they’re free of a naturally occurring poison — aflatoxin — that can contaminate crops in the field, before or after harvest and during storage.

The metal silo protects the grains from aflatoxin — produced by certain fungi that grow on food crops like maize, millet, sorghum, groundnuts, cassava and rice.

 Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana


Farmer, Vongai Musembwa from Makoni District in Zimbabwe stores her maize grain in a metal silo, an effective method in preventing aflatoxin contamination, Photo credit, Busani Bafana

Ms. Musembwa is one of more than 260 smallholder farmers in Makoni District, east of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, who have switched to non-chemical hermetic storage to prevent food from contamination. Musembwa received her metal silo from a local organization, under a multi-partner project seeking to prevent aflatoxins contamination of maize grain.

The Makoni District farmers are participants in a two-year project worth $1.6 million supported by the Cultivate Africa’s Future programme, an initiative funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research. Under the project, Zimbabwean farmers are given access to metal silos and thick plastic “superbags” to determine if improved storage can reduce aflatoxin contamination in local maize grain.

Crops contaminated by aflatoxins develop moulds and acquire a dark colour. Livestock and humans can fall sick or die after eating contaminated food grains. It has also been linked to childhood stunting, liver cancer and immune suppression in adults.

 Scientists warn that extreme weather is increasing the level of health-damaging toxic chemicals in crops, including staple foods which are key to food, nutrition and trade security in Africa. To protect themselves against extreme weather, plants generate aflatoxins, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

“Aflatoxins are pervasive in African food systems negatively impacting health of women and children, income from agriculture value chains, and food safety and security of nations,” says Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, a senior plant pathologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), where he guides research and development activities on crop diseases and poisonous chemicals produced by certain fungi known as mycotoxins.

Bandyopadhyay, said people fall sick, farmers lose income, grains are destroyed, food prices soar, profitability of animal industries declines, reputation of African exports are tainted and nations become less food secure due to aflatoxin contamination.

“Aflatoxin contamination presents a barrier to trade and economic growth and is a serious obstacle to programmes designed to improve nutrition and agricultural production while linking smallholder farmers to markets,” Bandyopadhyay said. “The extent of contamination varies by seasons, crops and regions and can be anywhere from none to 100% and often hovers around 25%.”

Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the AUC’s commissioner for rural economy and agriculture said curbing the menace of aflatoxin contamination was critical to improving child and maternal nutrition and health as well as achieving Africa’s goal to transform its agriculture.

Farmers are particularly vulnerable to fungal poisons, according to a 2015 baseline study to reduce maize-based aflatoxin contamination and exposure in humans in Zimbabwe by researchers from the University of Zimbabwe and the international humanitarian organization, Action Contre la Faim.

Dr. Loveness Nyanga, the project principal investigator and researcher at the University of Zimbabwe, notes that the high-level of aflatoxin contamination is a public health concern because Zimbabweans eat maize and legumes on a daily basis.

The existence of aflatoxins has other consequences to Africa’s economy. The continent is losing more than $450 million annually when its commodities are rejected on global markets because of high contamination levels, says the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), an initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC) whose aim is to protect crops, livestock and people from the effects of aflatoxins.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirmed that aflatoxins affect 25% of the world’s food crops and hurt trade. About US$1.2 billion is lost in global commerce annually as a result of aflatoxins, according to IITA. While the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) notes that the World Food Programme has sharply reduced the quantities of maize it has been able to buy locally in Africa since 2007 because of aflatoxin contamination.

Africa also faces a health burden associated with humans’ exposure to contamination.

Harming our health

An estimated 26,000 people die annually in sub-Saharan Africa from liver cancer resulting from chronic aflatoxin exposure, according to a 2013 research by IFPRI.

Globally, 5% to 30% of all liver cancer cases are linked to aflatoxin exposure, with the highest incidences occurring in Africa, according to the Platform for African-European Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), an eight-year project sponsored by the European Commission.

In Mozambique, a high prevalence of liver cancer in southern part of the country has been associated with consumption of aflatoxin contaminated food, especially from groundnuts.

Sustainable solutions

Cultivate Africa’s Future is one of several ongoing efforts to contain aflatoxin contamination. If experiments with the plastic “super bags” are effective against contamination, they will be a highly sought after item by Zimbabwean farmers who lose up to 30% of harvested maize every year to pests and poor post-harvest handling.

More than $50 million worth of maize, the staple food, is lost annually during storage alone, says Ringson Chitsiko, the permanent secretary in Zimbabwe’s ministry of agriculture.

To fight aflatoxins contamination and maintain food quality and safety, scientists recommend an integrated approach, including, among other techniques, timely planting and harvesting, proper plant density and managing insects. This is in addition to crop rotation, shelling, enhancement of proper plant health and nutrition, rapid drying of grains in the sun for days, or with driers to reduce the moisture content and proper storage.

Bandyopadhyay leads Africa-wide efforts on the development and scaling-up of the aflatoxin biocontrol technology known as Aflasafe, a novel biological product developed by the IITA to fight pre-and post-harvest aflatoxin contamination.

Already the IITA has a programme to develop Aflasafe in Malawi where between 40% and 100% of the country’s groundnut-based commodities contain unsafe toxin levels. Aflasafe has also been tested in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal since 2009. About 30,000 farmers in Nigeria, Senegal, The Gambia and Kenya are using Aflasafe and getting 200 to 500% return on investment, Bandyopadhyay said.

Tanzania in June 2016 announced that it was undertaking field trials in the use of Alfasafe targeting four regions. A 2012 study in Tanzania established high incidents of aflatoxin contamination in maize and groundnuts in the country.

The Africa Aflatoxin Information Management System platform spearheaded by PACA is creating a “one stop shop” database for aflatoxin-related information in the health, trade and agriculture sectors as a way to raise awareness and prevent contamination.

The Aflasafe product has been registered in Senegal and Gambia where aflatoxin contamination is a major deterrent for groundnut exports. Bandyopadhyay said aflatoxin exposure in humans is rampant in West Africa with the toxin found in the body fluids of 100% Senegalese and The Gambian people in a few instances.

In 2005 the World Bank estimated that investments in aflatoxin control can add $281 million to the Senegalese economy from increased export volume and price differential of aflatoxin-safe crops.

A key impediment is the level of aflatoxin awareness among farmers and consumers. Because of poor policing of food safety standards in many African countries, researchers say that many people eat contaminated foods, especially the staples such as maize, legumes and groundnuts, without checking for signs of aflatoxins.

Researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in  June 2016 announced the decoding of the DNA of the ground nut or peanut (Arachis hypogaea), an oil and protein rich crop of global importance with the annual production of 42.3 million metric tonnes.

Rajeev Varshney, the Research Programme Director- Genetic Gains at ICRISAT said in an online interview that groundnuts, though an important crop in terms of nutrition and income in Asia and Africa, face low productivity as compared to Americas. The current pace of developing improved peanut varieties and their productivity may not be able to meet the demand of ever increasing global population, especially in Asia and Africa where in some countries productivity is less than one tonne per hectare. According to the FAO, the world average productivity of groundnuts is 1, 6 tonnes per hectare.

Varshney said the gene resources generated through this breakthrough provide an opportunity for scientists to prepare an efficient road map for developing improved groundnut varieties with increased productivity and quality.

“Peanuts produced from African countries and India have high level of aflatoxin contamination,” said Varshney. “This makes peanut produce unsuitable for export to Europe and Americas. Therefore it is really important to work in the direction of producing varieties with minimal aflatoxin contamination.”

Manish Pandey, a groundnut genomics Scientist at ICRISAT said the availability of the DNA sequence will accelerate basic research to answer important biological questions about groundnuts and help crop improvement programmes around the world.