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Kenyan pastoralists are farming chickens in Kajiado County

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- At Osiligi Farm in Kajiado County, south of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, tens of indigenous cattle roamed freely in the paddocks.

At a section of the farm located in the pastoralism zone occupied by the Maasai, some hybrid dairy cows chewed the cud while others fed on silage.

But away from the cattle in a house made of wood, chickens squawked and others crowed.

The chickens of the Kuroiler breed are the latest addition to the farm as the owner, a Maasai, diversifies his livestock venture amid climate change.

Initially kept by other communities, especially those living in western Kenya, the chickens are finding space on farms in Kajiado and other counties where pastoralists live as the communities seek to mitigate effects of climate change, boost food security and incomes.

In pastoralist zones like Kajiado, biting drought has seen cattle keepers over the years lose their herd due to lack of pasture.

This is besides the changing land use where houses are taking most of the spaces and increased subdivision of land, with sizes getting smaller.

"We decided to keep chickens because the hot weather in this region is favorable.

"The chickens are less prone to diseases thus the cost of production is lower," Paul Sosoika, the manager of the farm said in a recent interview, adding market for eggs is also readily available.

The chickens are less than eight months old on the farm, with Sosoika noting that they are learning on job.

"We have never kept chickens before because traditionally they are not one of our livestock.

"We mainly keep cattle but we have to change with times.

"Things are not the way they used to be, especially the weather," he said.

Dozens of families in the county have also embraced chickens, with women leading from the front.

Some 1,200 women in Orgira, Kajiado County are currently keeping indigenous chickens thanks to a program by a non-state organization.

The chickens are helping them build resilience especially in the face of erratic rains and enabling them to be food secure and get income.

"In our culture, livestock like cattle, sheep and goats are a man’s property, but chickens are now ours.

"We can sell eggs and the birds themselves without men asking us," Caroline Naserian said.

The owner of 40 chickens noted that the birds give her eggs and are a source of income not only for her, but also her family.

Naserian said that the community has not only embraced chickens in terms of keeping, they are also eating, a change from cattle and goat meat they have been used to for several decades.

Peter Oduor, an animal health specialist from Egerton University, noted that chickens are the best bet in helping pastoralists mitigate effects of climate change and cope with changing times.

"They don’t require much space to keep, unlike cattle.

"When it comes to feeding, when kept alongside cattle, one can easily raise worms using dung and feed them," he said.

He added that the hot weather in semi-arid regions is favorable for chickens, unlike the cold weather in highlands, which comes with diseases.

"Most farmers in the region are grappling with the consequences of erratic rains, rising temperatures and drought, which are effects of climate change.

"Keeping chickens is good way to help pastoralists mitigate some of these challenges," he said.


Kenyans enjoy fresh produce price drop amid heavy rains

by Robert Manyara KITALE (Xinhua) -- John Karanja, a hotelier in the northwestern Kenyan town of Kitale, had for the better part of this year grappled with high costs of fresh vegetables.

The prolonged dry spell experienced in Kenya and the greater Horn of Africa region from January to late April suppressed food production even in the traditional bread baskets like Kitale town where Karanja resides.

Only a handful of farmers managed to produce vegetable through irrigation.

The situation forced Karanja to spend more on vegetable to maintain his hotel business.

The drought fueled a serious shortage of vegetable such as kale, cabbage, tomatoes and traditional vegetable such as African nightshades.

Karanja like other hoteliers had to contend with the skyrocketing prices of vegetable occasioned by low supply.

"I used to spend a lot of money on vegetable since my supplier had doubled the prices due to shortages," Karanja told Xinhua in an interview on Tuesday.

The price of a sack of kale was going at 2,800 Kenyan shillings (28 U.S. dollars), up from 12 dollars while the of cabbage rose from 0.2 dollars to a dollar per piece.

But since last week, vegetable supply has increased, courtesy of heavy rains pounding different parts of the country.

The rains have enabled farmers to grow vegetable which has since improved supply.

"It is a relief to us.

"The cost of vegetables has gone down and it is affordable.

"My returns are better than the previous months when I spent more on the produce," said Karanja.

The improved vegetable supply is not only a relief for hoteliers but also the inhabitants of Kitale town. Grace Wambui admits that the high costs of vegetable had burdened her purse.

"Previously I used to spend 0.3 U.S. dollar to buy kale for supper for my family but after the supply dwindled and price shot up I had to spend 0.7 U.S. dollar," said Wambui, a civil servant.

Eric Mboya, a technician in Kitale town said that the rains have been a blessing to residents in the greater North Rift region.

"The high cost of food had in the past weeks emptied my wallet.

"Imagine spending over one U.S dollar on vegetable.

"Vegetable supply has increased and we are spending less money," said Mboya, a father of six.

Expert advises Kenya to promote smallholder farming for food security

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- An agricultural expert on Tuesday called on the Kenyan government to promote smallholder farming in order to address the issue of food insecurity in the country.

Layla Liebetrau with the Route to Food Initiative said there are many economic advantages in farming on a small scale land that can boost food security.

"Since there are few farmers who own large tracts of land to support industrial and large scale farming, small scale agriculture is the way to go if food security is to be realized in the country," said Liebetrau.

"What the government needs to do is ensure that there are as many water points as possible to the smallholders which they can use to irrigate their crops," she added.

Liebetrau said budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector was trimmed despite the sector is contributing about 25 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

"The allocation to agriculture and food is only 2.9 percent of the total budget, which is much lower than the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security that stipulated that 10 percent of national budget allocation should be allocated to agriculture development," she said.



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