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Farming lessons from agriculture-rich Meru

By Phares Mutembei
Meru County Agriculture Executive Carol Mutiga. She says farmers in Meru produce bananas worth Sh6 billion a year. The county government has assisted farmers set up potato, milk and other processors for value addition. Phares Mutembei/Standard

Carol Mutiga, the Meru County Agriculture CEC explains some of the measures the county has put in place to cushion farmers against climate change

Meru is renowned in terms of food production. What is the status of banana production in the county?

The estimated production of bananas in Meru is over 400,000 tonnes a year, valued at Sh6 billion. It is a venture mainly driven by women. In addition to working in the farms, the women have taken a leading role in marketing of the produce.

Bananas do well in the coffee zones such as the three Imenti sub counties, Kiegoi in Igembe South and Michiimikuru in Tigania. We have intervened in various areas, including setting up of tissue culture hardening sheds. We have started nurseries in Akachiu and Nkuene. Banana production is the backbone of agriculture in Meru plus and thanks to this, many families have been able to take their children to school.

Apart from bananas, what other crops are being produced in significant quantities?

We have areas under high value crops such as tea, miraa, coffee, macadamia, vegetables for local market and export, and other staple crops. We also have large flower plantations around the Kisima area in Buuri Sub County. The flower farms are mainly owned by private investors but some local farmers have embraced it.

Agricultural productivity is said to be concentrated in the Imenti region because of the climate. What is the department doing to ensure the drier Meru North region does not lag behind in food sufficiency?

Through a working partnership with the national government and other stakeholders, we have been able to build many water pans across the drier region. The county government has also sunk boreholes and initiated community water projects. We have also introduced drought tolerant crops such as green grams.

 Out of the 130 tonnes of ndengu the department supplied to farmers in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, 83 tonnes went to northern areas where the climate is not very conducive for farming. We supplied over 68,000 avocado and over 20,000 macadamia seedlings to farmers. We have also been training them on water conservation which comes in handy when the rains are not sufficient.

What is the current status of coffee and tea farming?

Coffee is mainly grown in mainly Imenti region and some other parts to a smaller extent. We have been training farmers on agronomy to enable them maximise production. We also encourage production of the Ruiru 11 and Batian varieties which are resistant to diseases.

Farmers have been lamenting about the high cost of various inputs which have affected production and profitability, what is your office doing about it?

It is true inputs are very expensive in Meru just like in other parts of Kenya. We have a situation where it costs a farmer Sh38 to produce a litre of milk, which ends up being sold at Sh30. Our farmers are making losses. But dairy production in Meru is high, at 650, 000 litres daily. The Meru Dairy Union processes 220, 000 litres, or 30 per cent of it, daily. Even in the face of inputs costs, the dairy sector is thriving because milk is valued, and consumed in large quantities here.  We have taken measures to increase production through training and partnering with others to provide coolers, and upgrading rural roads for ease in transport. We encourage farmers to embrace zero grazing as it has led to increased production, because it curbs diseases. We are also promoting livestock insurance.

What technologies are you employing to enable farmers produce enough food?

Our focus is enabling farmers cope with climate change, by adopting technologies that make agriculture sustainable. Our efforts have been directed at promoting conservation agriculture and assisting them to set up water harvesting structures. We have also supplied farmers with banana ripening kit. We have also partnered with World Bank to help provide irrigation kits to farmers.

The dairy sector in Meru is thriving. What can other counties learn from Meru?

In Meru, dairy production is a big success story, even in the face of high costs of inputs and labour. We understand the importance of milk to the family and economy of the region, so efforts have been directed at ensuring the cattle are of good breeds, are well fed and managed. Most people have cows that they religiously take care of, because it is like a culture. The farmers’ dairy societies have played a key role in production.

What are some of the value addition projects you have launched in Meru?

We have also assisted farmers to set up value addition mechanisms. We partnered with the national government and others to set up a potato processing factory at Maua where they produce bread, cakes, crisps and other products. Banana Sacco also has a winery. There is also a mango processor coming up at Chaaria in Central Imenti

What happened to the earthworms and black flies project?

It is a technology that was meant to reduce the cost of feeds and increase food production. Farmers were operating at losses hence the idea of a project to enable them produce their own feeds but I’m not able to give more details on this at the moment.

What are some of the agribusiness opportunities in Meru?

 Opportunities exist in processing of fruits such as bananas, mangoes and others. We produce irish potatoes in big quantities, mainly in Buuri and Central Imenti sub counties, so there is an opportunity for investment in production of certified seeds. There is also great opportunities in northern Meru in tanning. We produce over 200,000 units of hides and skins monthly. They are sold to brokers at throwaway prices or are just thrown away. There is a big potential for investors thinking of a tannery.  

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