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The power of technology: 4 major advancements in the agricultural sector

With the latest gadgets and innovations, technology has transformed today’s agriculture. The number of entrepreneurs and investors who are investing their money in agriculture has been rising rapidly. In the future, agriculture will look completely different from what it is today. There have been major advancements in telecommunication, engineering of farm machinery and equipment, and computer software. In Kenya, mobile technology has been used extensively to improve small and large scale farming. It helps in reducing post-harvest and weather-related losses, improving farm operations, comparing different market rates, controlling farm machinery and equipment, monitoring the supplies and in the process making farming more efficient. Some of the major technologies that will take agriculture to another level are sensors, automation and mechanical engineering, and mobile devices.

Mobile devices

Since most farm equipment can be connected to mobile devices most farmers are incorporating mobile devices in their farm operations. There are many apps that perform a wide range of functions such as controlling water meters, checking the weather, collecting field-level information and selling farm products.

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Smart farming

Combining different technologies, farmers can be able to create smart farming systems. Smart farming utilizes internet-connected tools to leverage and capture data required for decision making.

Sensors

Sensors play an important role in farming such as traceability, helping farmers to get real-time information and data regarding their equipment, livestock, and crops. Furthermore, they promote accuracy since the data undergoes complex diagnosis and analysis before a report is given. Today, sensors are connecting to sophisticated systems that analyze the collected data automatically. To grow high-performance crops, farmers are employing high tech systems. Sensors are also used for comparing weather conditions and testing the soil. Some of the sensors used in agriculture include:

Livestock biometrics: Collars with GPS and biometrics can be used to collect and relay real-time information about the livestock automatically.

Soil and Air sensors: These are sensors that can help farmers to understand water, soil and air conditions of their farms.

Crop sensors: These sensors are used to collect information related to the crops. They can help farmers understand the field conditions before fertilizer application and the amount of fertilizer required in the field. Drones can be utilized to monitor the crops’ health and know the correct remedy to prescribe in case the crops are not healthy. For instance, they can identify if the crops have been infested by pests or powdery mildew and relay the information to the farmers for analysis. During irrigation, sensors can be mounted on the irrigation systems to measure the amount of moisture in the soil which can help the farmer to know when there is enough moisture in the soil. Since the rate of irrigation is different in different crops, the information relayed by these sensors can vary. To assess the performance of the crops, drones can be fitted with sensors and GPS technology.

Equipment telematics: This technology is used for communication or from far. For instance, tractors can be started and given a few minutes to warm up before they start working.

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Automation & Mechanical Engineering

In the next few years, farm equipment and machinery will be automated. Automation incorporates the use of robotics, micro-robots, computer applications and systems to monitor and maintain the crops. Some of the recent advancements include:

Variable-rate swath control: This is an advancement of geo-location technologies that help farmers to save on fertilizers, seeds, and herbicides by pre-computing the field size, overlapping inputs and automating tasks such as fertilizer application.

Agricultural robots: These days, tractors can be used to apply to be installed with devices that can be used to apply pesticides and liquid fertilizers to crops in the field. Agricultural robots can be programmed to perform tasks such as seeding and harvesting automatically.

 

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How To Make Farming in Kenya Profitable And Productive

Farming in Kenya is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, employing 70% of the population, and contributing half of Kenya’s export earnings and a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Since most Kenyans live in rural areas and practice farming, raising agriculture incomes – a centerpiece of Kenya’s Agenda 4 plan– is critical to reducing poverty, boosting prosperity and creating jobs, especially for women and youth.

The rising population and growth of incomes have increased the demand for food and agro-processed products. This is putting increased pressure on the environment amid frequent and severe climate conditions, made worse by the continued dependence on rain-fed agriculture. Combined with poor agricultural practices, low technological adoption, insecurity over land ownership, poor access to extension services, low quality inputs, and lack of credit, the report notes that the agriculture sector continues to be hindered from realizing its full potential.

Challenges notwithstanding, Farming in Kenya has enormous potential to transform the economy and make farming much more productive and profitable for Kenyan smallholder farmers. In stark opposition to supply-side constraints, demand-side opportunities for agriculture and food for Kenya and its neighbors are the strongest they have ever been. Booming domestic and regional demand for higher-value foods arising from income growth, urbanization, and dietary shifts offer massive opportunities for Kenyan farmers, and for value chains beyond farm production, and better jobs in agriculture. Other areas of potential identified are developments in agricultural technology and ICT, and various successful agribusiness models that could be up scaled.

Dickson Kahuro an Agronomist and farmer, prioritized the use of technology in his agribusiness when he decided to register his company in 2014.  He designed and developed tools to manage logistics, inventory, cash flow management and also staff management while in office and in the field.

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Basic Policy Action

For Kenya to maximize its potential and take advantage of the opportunity to become a regional agri-food powerhouse, there are strategic decisions and the needs to be addressed in Kenya, and success stories to draw on. There three main areas for policy action and investment namely;

  • commercialization through value-addition and trade;
  • strengthened public institutions and policy, and
  • enhanced resilience of agriculture production and rural livelihoods.

Strengthening the institutional base of agriculture, removing identified distortions, facilitating trade, and enhancing resilience through climate-smart agriculture and low-cost irrigation systems can help closing the potential-performance divide of Kenyan agriculture. High priority actions should be discussed in multi-stakeholder under national coordination in the Agricultural Ministry.

Kenya’s agriculture sector may not be transformed overnight. But making the right adjustments now will be critical to realize the Vision 2030.”

With access to more finance, more efficient farming and climate-smart practices, Kenya will be able to reach its potential in agricultural returns.

 

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Does playing “Music for plants” accelerate Growth?

In the recent past we have heard that playing music help them grow faster. The question we ask rather is, can plants hear sounds? Do plants love music? Experts have expressed several concerns and output on their research regarding this topic.

Can Playing Music Accelerate Plant Growth?

Well, many studies have shown that playing music for plants really does promote faster and healthier growth. An Indian botanist in 1962, conducted several tests on music and plant growth. His conclusion was that certain plants grew 20 percent in height when exposed to music, with a significantly greater growth in biomass. In his findings, he found similar results for agricultural crops such as peanuts, rice and tobacco when played music through speakers placed around the field. Another researcher, a Colorado greenhouse owner experimented with different types of plants and various genres of music. She found that plants under rock music deteriorated quickly and died within a few weeks, while plants thrived when exposed to classical music.

Another one in Illinois was unconvinced that plants respond positively to music and hence engaged in a number of highly controlled greenhouse experiments. Amazingly, he discovered that corn and soy plants exposed to music were greener and thicker with suggestively larger yield. A group of researchers from Canadian university discovered that harvest yield of wheat crops nearly doubled when exposed to high frequency vibrations.

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How does playing Music for plants affect Growth?

Research has found that it isn’t so much about the ‘sounds’ of the music, but more to do with the vibrations created by the sound waves. The vibrations, in simple terms produce movement in the plant cells, stimulating the plant to produce more nutrients. If the plants fail to respond to rock music, it is not because they “hate” rock and “like” classical better. However, it is because the vibrations produced by hard loud rock music create greater pressure that is not conducive to plant growth.

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Music vs Care

University of California researchers are however not so quick to jump into conclusions about the effects of music on plant growth. They argue that so far there is no conclusive scientific evidence proving that playing music for plants helps them grow, and more research need to be conducted to verify such claims. They feel that more scientific experiments are required with rigorous control over growth factors such as water, light and soil composition.

Remarkably, they suggest that plants that are exposed to music may thrive well because they are given top-level care and special attention.

 

 

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Best Practices And What To Consider Before Farming Tomatoes

Tomato is an annual crop that grows in two to three months contingent upon the varieties. In addition, its financial incentive to a farmer, it also has a great nutritive value as it is rich in vitamins C, A and B. This, therefore solves some human health problems, for example, weight reduction, obesity, eye issue, morning sickness as well as constipation. The tomato is also useful for toxic purifying. In this way, on the off chance that you need to yield much from tomatoes, you have to take follow the correct procedure right from the nursery bed, the main garden all through to harvest time. Towards transplanting the following should be done;

  • Select a site with a good drainage
  • Make beyond any doubt the past crop that was harvested isn’t of same family as tomatoes to avoid transfer of diseases.
  • Take soil tests for supplements, soil diseases and pest analysis.
  • Apply compost to enhance soil fruitfulness.
  • Maintain great plant spacing to maintain a strategic distance from rivalry and spreading of diseases.
  • Deep furrow to break hard pans and cups to cover weeds.
  • Only transplant hardened off seedlings, one may not do well.

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How To prepare a nursery bed for tomatoes
Any farmer peering toward a decent reap should know it begins from the nursery bed. You ought to think about the following;

  • Choose a site with great water drainage and raise the beds or seedlings up in a good way.
  • Mix the soil with very well decomposed manure
  • Treat the soil by steaming it.
  • Avoid over watering.
  • Use just certified seeds with good germination rate (around 90%).
  • Plant seeds at a spacing of five to 10 centimeters or one seed for each hole when using trays.
  • Keep the nursery bed free from weeds
  • Provide a shade to the nursery bed
  • A farmer must spray the garden with fundamental fungicide, for example, the creepy crawly pesticides.

Main Factors To Consider Before Investing In Tomato Growing

Tomatoes can yield exceptionally well if taken great care of. A farmer can also make misfortunes on the off chance that he or she neglects to make the best choice for they are exceptionally sensitive. The primary components for tomato developing incorporate;

  • Tomatoes require profound deep soils
  • They require moderate rainfall
  • They require less humid conditions
  • Tomatoes require moderate temperatures
  • They require soil PH running between 6.0 to 7.0, that is marginally acidic
  • Tomatoes require well drained loam soils
  •  Consider capital and information about tomato management in order to dodge related mix-ups.

If the above elements are viewed as then a farmer is prepared to grow tomatoes and profoundly yield from them.

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Common Diseases That Attack Tomatoes

Tomatos being a perishable and highly marketed crop in Uganda has got various challenges during its production. The challenges include pests, diseases and other weather dynamics, below are some of the common diseases.

Tomato wilt
This is one of the most stubborn diseases that have left most tomato growers disappointed.
It is sometimes caused by bacteria which causes the wilting and eventually death of the growing point and upper leaves. It is a soil born bacteria and has no treatment.
Another type of wilt in tomatoes caused by a virus is known as fusarium solani.

Tomato blight
This disease is caused by fungi called alternaria solani and alternata. It is identified by yellowing and scotching of leaves and fruits.
The plant appears burnt and fruits yellow before ripening.

Blossom end rot
This is a physiological infection which attacks tomato fruits due to lack of calcium in a plant.
The lack of calcium in fruits reduces cell membrane permeability hence resulting into swelling of the cells which eventually causes leakage.
It can also be caused by limited root space. This puts a plant at danger of irregular water supply.

Tomato leaf mould
It’s a fungal disease which affects leaves. It’s caused by fungus called passalora fulva. Its attack can be confused with blight.

 

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Kenyan Avocados: Connecting to High-value Export Markets

Kenya is frequently cited as a “bright spot” in African agriculture. Conducive government policy, strong donor support and private-sector leadership have helped to create success stories in exports to the EU. Policy changes supporting this growth include the liberalization of the fertilizer market. Following the removal of price controls and subsidies, increased competition led to lower fertilizer end-prices, triggering a 14 percentage-point increase in adoption rates among smallholders. Today, agriculture amounts to half of Kenyan GDP and employs 75% of the Kenyan workforce. Kenyan policy-makers and agribusiness players continue to prioritize the growth of agricultural exports, both in green beans and other cash crops like avocados. be

Kenya is one of the world’s largest producers of avocados, with production of 200,000 tons in 2017.For comparison, the largest producer is Mexico with about 1 million tons produced annually. Local varieties dominate Kenyan production (about 70% of total), whereas Fuerte and Hass, the varieties suitable for export, make up approximately 20% and 10%, respectively.

 

Kenyan Avocado Export Supply Chain

 

An estimated 70% of Kenyan avocados – even those for export – are produced on smallholder farms. When not linked to exporters through an out-grower scheme, farmers market their avocados through middlemen, either legally government-certified agents or unofficial brokers. These middlemen typically harvest avocados themselves and organize transport to Nairobi packhorses. This initial leg of transport is usually done with small pickup trucks. Once at the factory, avocados are quality-checked, sorted, washed, waxed, pre-cooled and packed in cartons. Once packed, exporters stuff the cartons into refrigerated containers (“reefers”) outside the processing gate, and shipping companies then transport the reefers to the Mombasa port. There, the reefers, which are controlled-atmosphere-treated, are loaded onto a ship and later trans-shipped in Salalah, Oman. Finally, the reefer containers are unloaded in Europe and delivered to importers

Most often vertically integrated with exporters, packers procure and package a 4-kilogram (kg) carton of avocados at a cost of about US$ 4.10. An additional US$ 1.60/carton is required for shipping to Europe by sea in a reefer. With the import price fluctuating around US$ 7-8/carton, the supply chain overall is profitable. This situation was enabled by government-led infrastructure investments, followed by private-sector investment in reefers, which helped to reduce transport costs versus expensive air shipments. Once this tipping point of profitability was reached, investments started to naturally flow into the sector.

Impacts of Supply Chain Barriers and Potential Solutions

Successful initiatives to overcome supply chain barriers are presented, as well as some remaining opportunities to overcome challenges to future growth.

Transport and Communications Infrastructure

Mombasa is the pivotal port for East African countries and is accessed via the main corridor, the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. By the early 1990s, the quality of this road had deteriorated due to high traffic. The Kenyan government, with the help of the World Bank and the EU, decided to invest in rehabilitating the highway.  Investments were made over approximately a decade, ending in 2005. Travel time from Nairobi to Mombasa was reduced by 40%, from 12 to 7-8 hours, and costs decreased as well. Typically, road rehabilitation projects in East Africa drive operational cost reductions of 15%. Although this saving has a marginal impact on the Kenyan avocado industry – less than 1% of the European end price – the incremental benefit is applied to many different value chains. The overall benefit for Kenya and Kenyan agricultural export value chains is thereby important.

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Introduction of reefer container technology has made Europe accessible for Kenyan avocados.

One of the major challenges previously faced by this industry was the lack of suitable transport equipment. If not cooled, avocados ripen faster than the time it takes to ship them to Europe. Exports to Europe, therefore, were only possible through expensive air shipments. Alternatively, transporting by sea was only feasible for the more proximate Middle East, where avocados sell for much less than in Europe.

Recognizing this opportunity, exporters first engaged temperature-controlled, break-bulk vessels to replace expensive air freight. They then approached A.P. Moller-Maersk to present the business case for refrigerated container transport. Shipping companies consider a number of factors when evaluating a value chain for reefer investment. Most importantly, they look at the economics and growth potential of the value chain. In this case, if Kenyan avocados were able to be sold profitably when transported by air, there was a clear case for investment in sea freight, provided quality could be maintained during the journey. In addition, key enablers must be in place to ensure sustainable operations. Fortunately, the Kenyan government had invested in the Mombasa port and was able to provide the necessary infrastructure (e.g. specific plugs, berth capacity) to support reefers. Continuous investments are being made to accompany the growth of reefers in the Mombasa port, including a new berth to open this year.

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Early packing of containers ensures an uninterrupted cold chain. When dealing with perishable produce, maintaining an uninterrupted cold chain is critical for food quality and safety. When reefers were first introduced, exporters preferred to transport avocados to Mombasa in regular trucks and pack the reefers at the port. Over time, exporters realized that they could command a price premium in EU markets if a cold chain was begun as close to the farm as possible. This price premium outweighed the costs of bringing an empty reefer to Nairobi and loading it at the pack house gate. This extended cold-chain-arrangement also simplified logistics by eliminating one touch-point at the port, and is now common practice.

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