Notes from an Agricultural Tour of Kenya

Andrew being interviewed for local radio on day one

Andrew being interviewed for local radio on day one

Where in the world are the best examples of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)?  Following Susie Emmett’s post about why Kenya has lots to inspire us, Andrew Burgess, LEAF Trustee and Director of Agriculture at Produce World, shares with us his notes on the same tour. This is the second post in a short series of posts on IFM in Kenya, subscribe to receive them straight to your inbox!


Day 1

Every day’s a School Day
Set off to the airport to meet 3 other farmers at Birmingham, hadn’t a clue what they looked like.

Didn’t take long to spot the ‘Farmer on Tour Hat’ and we all met up. Then off to Amsterdam to meet the other 6 farmers in the team.  Sat next to Tony on the plane to Nairobi, we got chatting about each other’s farms and business, and the learning began.

The farmers on the trip are all of the ‘learned’ types, Nuffield scholars etc., so a pretty good bunch to bounce theories and ideas around, should lead to a stimulating and useful trip.

After a rough night on the plane and the rigours of Nairobi airport we were determined to stay awake so we went to the Elephant Orphanage and then onto the Nairobi branch of the Farmers Club for a good old fashioned colonial Sunday lunch.

Now arrived at the hotel to meet 2 local radio journalists, it’s a great time to be interviewed having now been up for 36 hours! Team building tonight!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 2

Life after Pesticides

Real IPM with Real IPM
Wow, what a day, I thought my head would explode with new knowledge overload, I’ve seen some fantastic things today which give me great hope that there will be life after pesticides.

We met a fantastic and philanthropic couple (look it up) who hailed from Norfolk and have now made their lives in Kenya, both from an academic research background they have created 2 magnificent but intertwined organisations.

Firstly Real IPM Ltd
They have developed a menu of products to tackle nutrition, pests and diseases using beneficial insects and fungi. I won’t go into massive technical detail other than to say that I left the place hugely inspired and motivated to test these ideas on a field scale in the UK. I think they have the potential to be a big part of pest control in brassica growing and very interesting for Potato Cyst Nematode reduction. Henry and Louise Wainwright had huge credibility the way they explained the research, production and use of these products, which are used on outdoor field scale here in Kenya.

Secondly REAL Impact
Which is a charity, they have developed a range of simple and very low cost solutions to help small Kenyan farmers produce more food, highly nutritious, especially in Vitamin A & Selenium. 1m square vertical gardens, worm farms to recycle food waste back into fertilizers, mini AD plant to run your cooker and hot water, water harvesting & they are training people how to use these things alongside there very affordable bio solutions. (See pictures) This all fits in with their big purpose, which is based on the fact that Aids viral treatments don’t work unless the user has a good diet. To put that into perspective 30% of students at the local university are HIV positive.

There big issue is what to do next, they need capital to role out this fantastic work but they don’t want to sell out to un-ethical corporate business, how about an ethically based crowd funding campaign.

After a fantastic lunch on the veranda we travelled to an Avacodo farm, producing fruit for UK retail, it was out of season but still interesting.

We then crossed the equator en route to our overnight stop, in case you’ve always wandered the water goes clockwise around the hole 20m North and anti-clockwise 20m South and yes, straight down if you’re on the line itself.

I am staying in a tent in the bush 200m from the very remote lodge where the rest of the team is staying, it might be an interesting night!!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 3

Farming in the Wild West
A very different day today, not so mind expanding but much more into farming on the edge.

We met Apollo who is Director of Agriculture and CSR for KHE, Kenyan Horticulture Exports. A very impressive man who was very passionate about his farm, his community and all things Kenyan; he never stopped smiling and laughing all day.

They grow Fine and Runner beans, tender stem broccoli, mange tout, baby corn and will shortly be into year round asparagus production. They export 95% of their crops mostly to UK.

We visited his plant nursery to start, all hand done, compost into trays, seeding etc., They make their own steam sterilised compost with only 30% peat added, so it can be done! Although the plants had a few unhealthy specimens among them.

Then to the fields, again hand planting and weeding, crops were good and it seems performance is improving on the back of new investment after 7 years of lean; it is biblical here!

photo[3]The highlight of the day for me was seeing the new Waitrose foundation maternity hospital, built in the middle of nowhere and servicing a community seemingly forgotten by its own government. They have also built a five classroom sized school and funded the teachers.

The Waitrose Foundation channels money from retail sales and distributors directly back to projects that the communities growing crops for them want. It seemed to me to be a very efficient way of doing good in Africa, little beaurocacy and little chance of people to fiddle a bit of cash for themselves.

We had a great debate about the rights and wrongs of exporting food from Kenya where 4 million people needed food aid last year, I’ll cover this on its own later in the week because I need to put both sides of the debate so you can decide.

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 4

Farming on Mount Kenya
Today we visited Finlay’s farm on the slopes of mount Kenya, although we were virtually on the equator we were also at 2300m altitude so the weather was fresher and suited to UK style cropping. The farm is managed by Marcus Rayner, who worked for Produce World before he moved here 2 years ago.

There has been a lot of investment in reservoirs, the Packhouse and covered growing. The farm felt like a happy place, lots of smiles and waves from the local workers, Marcus travels around the farm every day on a motorbike and is clearly connected to his workforce. He has also improved yields and productivity.

They grow Tender stem broccoli, sugar snap peas, mange tout, fine beans and runner beans, which have supplementary lighting to simulate UK Sumer day length.

Also a fast developing fresh herbs business, mostly in tunnels with bio pest control, the crops looked & tasted wonderful, especially the aniseed flavoured Thai Basil mmmm!

photo 1But it was also had a pioneer feel about it, triumph, (great looking crops) and disaster  (120 mm hail storm in 3 hours) are close cousins in African farming. We then set out on a long drive down a very rough track through some wild grazing country to our overnight stop, we heard a clunking noise so stopped to check and the wheel nuts were all loose, close shave!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 5

Ladies like Orange Roses
A long day today, up at 5am for our first bit of R&R, we went on a short drive around a game reserve, saw rhino, giraffe, buffalo, Jackal and various bok. The scary bit was a big male baboon actually getting inside the van whilst some of the boys were still in it, we’re laughing now but could’ve been nasty.

We visited Ravine Roses today, a very impressive company, owned by a local family with a very philanthropic approach, we learned about rose production using tunnels (on the equator very hot) integrated pest management, producing their own predator bugs, Swahili name dudu.

We also learnt about Fairtrade, I now I finally get it. 10% of the ex farm price is put straight into the farms FT fund, this is administered and spent through a transparent and democratic process run by the workers and community.

To quote Khaled the CEO, it is equally as good as the Waitrose Foundation but run in a different way; in fact we then went to visit a couple of projects where Waitrose Foundation and FT had worked in a joined up way. We visited the nursery funded by the Waitrose Foundation (for infants to 3 years), which is due to be opened next week and the Kindergarten school next door (3-6 years) was funded by FT. We also visited the community centre with library, computer room, doctors and pharmacy, bank and relaxing room.

The business itself is nicely integrated and is LEAF Marque certified, they are rainwater harvesting and have a wetlands reed bed style water purification plant to recycle water from the pack house.

They have a new dairy herd, which to my eye looked very good. Simon our dairy farmer was impressed with the quality of the milking routine and the animal welfare.Ravine roses, dairy 30 cows > AD plant> power fridges & fertility for rose beds!

The muck from the dairy and the green waste from the pack house will be going into an AD plant (under construction) and the gas generated will power the refrigeration unit in the flower pack house, these guys know what they’re doing!

photo[6]I was also very impressed with the team that showed us around, all local and extremely well educated and trained, Peter for instance, as well as being a fantastic communicator, he has a degree in Horticulture, Masters in Agronomy & an MBA, that leaves me for dust!

Anyway folks what you’ve always wandered; Janice (the owner and marketing Director) took us through some UK market research on Roses; did you know that Ladies prefer Orange roses? Before you go rushing out to impress, they still want men to buy them red ones (passion), we suggested a mixed orange and red bunch to cover all bases!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew

[Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his notes with us!]


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 susie@green-shoots.org 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.

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One response to “Notes from an Agricultural Tour of Kenya

  1. Pingback: Spaces available for the March 2014 Agriculture Study Tour to Kenya Green Shoots Productions

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