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Daily Nation : February 23rd 2014
SUNDAY NATION February 23, 2014 DIVERSIFICATION | Growers also rear two dairy cattle that produce 42 litres of milk a day Renewed hope for sugarcane farmers A BY JOHN SHILITSA email@example.com katu Opiyo Odhiambo, from Shirotsa in Butere, was among several farm- ers who abandoned sugarcane farming because of diminishing returns. The expense involved in preparing land and buying fertiliser and cane seed was beyond his reach, a misfortune made worse by exhausted soils that stunted production, cutting yields and producing huge losses. But the introduction of early maturing and disease-resistant cane seed variety in the area by the Kenya Sugarcane Research Foundation (Kesref) saw Opiyo and many farmers who had earlier been rendered insolvent go back to the crop. The new varieties include 36 tons Gross weight of cane that Opiyo harvested from his 0.22 acre farm last month CO945 unveiled three years ago that matures in between 16–18 months and promises higher yields, according to experts. Others are CO617, CO83737 and EAK73335, well-known for their weight when compared to the rest. But the CO83737 variety is disliked by farmers as it has been found to drop yields in the second and third plantings. But Mumias Sugar managing director Peter Kebati says the variety is not as bad as farmers think and that “under good management, it can give higher yields than imagined. On average, the varieties mentioned above could give farmers between 90–150 metric tonnes per acre if recommended management practices are observed. Mr Opiyo, whose 0.22 acre parcel of land gave him an ‘abnormal’ 36 metric tonnes of cane last month, shares Kebati’s views. “I was called by the sugar firm about the unusual tonnage my land produced. No one expected it to yield so much.” A local sugar firm pays grow- ers Sh3, 385 per ton, and Opiyo anticipate some Sh120,000 for the cane he delivered. “There is room for improve- ment and farmers can earn more,” Mr Kebati said. Kenya National Sugarcane Farmers Union secretarygeneral Simon Wesechele says on average an acre of land can yield as much as 50 tonnes. “What this means is that Opiyo is one of the few committed cane growers in the sugar zone,” he said. But that is not all. Through diversification, Opiyo has managed to expand his income base. In addition to what he earns from cane farming, the farmer also earns extra from 42 litres of milk he gets from his two dairy cows in a day, translating into Sh2,500. He has been applying at least 48,000 litres of slurry on his farm every month to reclaim its fertility. “Sometimes I use both artificial and natural manure to boost yields, and I haven’t been disappointed.” Mr Opiyo is among nine outstanding farmers who have benefited from the Mumias multi-million-shilling dairy project initiative launched about two years ago. Beneficiaries received a dairy shed and an in-calf dairy cow each. His wife Jackline brags about the huge strides her husband has made in a short time. Initially, she would spend Sh50 on firewood every day but not anymore. Nowadays, she uses only biogas. The couple never went beyond Class Seven but are happy with the kind of life they are leading. “All our eight children are in school and have everything they need because of farming,” she said. Mr Opiyo is contem- plating selling biogas to neighbours. “They can come around and prepare meals at a fee,” he said. He says what most farmers lack is a passion for farming, which leads to poor management practices, and by extension poor yields. Unlike maize, he said sugarcane was Business 39 profitable since the crop attracts a ready market. He says the lack of a reliable agricultural extension service is a drawback for farmers. As a solution, Mr Kebati says experts had been dispatched to assist the growers to ensure project continuity. I was called by the sugar firm about the unusual tonnage my land produced. It was unexpected” Akatu Opiyo Odhiambo, cane farmer FILE | NATION The introduction of early-maturing, disease-resistant cane seed varieties has seen farmers who had quit cane farming make a comeback into the sugar industry.
February 22nd 2014
February 24th 2014