Where in the world are the best examples of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)? Susie Emmett, just back from guiding a group of UK farmers on a study tour of Kenya, blogs about why Kenya has lots to inspire us. This is the first post in a short series of posts on IFM in Kenya, subscribe to receive them straight to your inbox!
Nine UK farmers, two buses, six days, 1,500 kilometres of ground-travel, tours of seven farming businesses, eight crossings of the equator and hours and hours of stimulating in-depth discussions. The result: so many sights and stories to share with farmers, family and friends at home.
Agricultural Tour of Kenya with Green Shoots
Equatorial Africa may not spring to mind for a tour of exceptionally good agricultural practice. But, as I have often seen on and near the Equator in central Kenya, the day length of about 12 hours, the average temperature and availability of water make growing conditions perfect for a wide range of crops from coffee to cabbages. The fantastic conditions do not just bring out the best in the crops, they bring out the best in certain farmers and scientists too. And it’s why I chose Kenya as the destination for a group of UK farmers to see excellent IFM in action.
Biopesticides: can’t beat them
Amidst rolling hills covered with fragrant, blossom-heavy coffee near Thika is the Kenyan business, RealIPM, leading a global agricultural revolution. Owners Dr Henry Wainwright and Louise Labuschagne are wedded to biological pest control, as well as to each other.
With an eye glass we can see the miniscule predatory insects, Phytoseiulus. RealIPM breeds these for sale and shipping in their billions to flower farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia and beyond to eat spider mite, enabling dramatic reductions in chemical pesticide use.
Their field-scale products are impressive too, evident in the magnificent cabbages and carrots knee high around us. Dosed with a beneficial soil microbe, Trichoderma asperellum, they grow bigger, faster – and fight off pests for themselves.
RealIPM have pioneered the use of another soil fungus to kill adult insect pests in banana plants. Using bee power to deliver this bio-pesticide to where it’s needed to kill thrips.
Europe lags behind latest IPM techniques
Africa and the Americas are catching on and adopting these new techniques to control pests effectively and boost crop health and yields, but according to Louise Labuschagne, Europe, with the exception of Denmark is lagging far, far behind. And to her frustration, Louise tells us how she hears leading researchers say the only route to boost food production is with genetic modification. “It’s not. I’m sorry if I sound angry. I am.”, she tells us, “What African agriculture is doing with bio-pesticides and other tools is so exciting. We’re just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with these solutions.”
Seeing all this was “mind expanding” for the farmers on the tour, leaving them full of respect for these trail blazers and buzzing with thoughts of how such innovations can become part of IFM back home. Andrew Burgess of Produce World used his blog (http://www.fruitnet.com/fpj/article/159929/blog-andrew-burgesss-journeys-of-discovery-kenya) on tour to share his impressions and is offering to host the first UK trials of some of the techniques seen.
Saying it with flowers: Blooming marvellous IFM
In the quiet Kenyan hill town of Eldema Ravine, a rose farm producing 80 million blooms a year nestles in the patchwork of homesteads of the 1,200 workers employed in the fastidious business of growing perfection. It’s a LEAF Marque certified farm. General Manager Peter Kamuren describes the rigorous and smooth-running quality standards system oiled by the high morale of staff and highest standards of management. The display board at the intake to the pack house displaying the day’s statistics of above 95% perfection in over 18,000 blooms picked for packing that day is much admired.
IFM with community at its heart
The Ravine Roses team consistently supply excellent fresh flowers to four continents: fair dues to their agronomic, ergonomic, and economic skills and the high environmental performance with bio-bed waste water treatment, AD energy generation plant and so on. But it is fair trade and how the farm integrates business ambition with the improvement of quality of life for the surrounding community that is truly awe inspiring. Over half the flowers they sell are fairtrade. The 10% Fairtrade premium, combined with proceeds from Waitrose Foundation, goes not into the farm, but to the community-elected board to invest in facilities such as school classrooms and a community centre with a bank, clinic, IT centre, snooker room and library.
Yes, Kenyan agriculture has problems. Serious problems, I agree. But what the Kenyan farming businesses I describe here demonstrate, is the true essence of ‘smart farming’ or ‘sustainable intensification’ or ‘Integrated Farm Management’ in perfect practice.
The farmers who came on tour agree with me. It’s inspiring. It’s amazing. It’s humbling. See their blogs, and subscribe to this blog for more updates. We’re left buzzing with ideas about what a truly integrated farming business really is. It’s also a jolt and a wake-up call. In the UK more of us need to get the highest level of IFM in principle and then we need to get it into action in our fields, in our food supply chain and in our society.
One key trait in the very best of IFM practitioners is an enthusiasm for helping others to achieve the same high standard. I think it’s great that these Kenyan businesses are prepared to share and show us the way ahead.
Join Agri-Tour Kenya 2014: nine UK farmers wanted
If you would like to be considered for a place for the next tour of good agricultural practice in Kenya then contact Susie Emmett email@example.com for details of how to apply for the next AgriTour Kenya (http://www.green-shoots.org/agri-tour-kenya-2014/) in March 2014.
Agri-Tour Kenya is organised by Green Shoots for Smiths Gore with financial support from RDPE.
Green Shoots Productions is a specialist communication and production company helping farmers and others to to inform, influence and inspire.