Dissemination Update from West Kenya

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BNF dissemination activities in west Kenya are entering their second year and are built around some great new legume varieties, recently commercialized rhizobium inoculant and some key accompanying technologies. During its first year, the project mobilized the efforts of 14 grassroots farmer associations and local NGOs to install 87 grain legume technology demonstrations and conduct 3410 on-farm BNF technology tests. During the second year, the number of collaborators will increase to 23 grassroots groups and 4000 new farmers examining soybean (SB 19 and 24) and climbing bean (cv. Tamu). MEA Ltd., a Kenyan-based fertilizer company, has licensed production of BIOFIX inoculant from the University of Nairobi MIRCEN and is meeting the project’s needs through a series of advance orders. MEA is also blending a fertilizer formulated by the project for symbiotic legumes (SYMPAL 0-23-16+) composed of 7 parts TSP, 7 parts SSP, 5 parts KCl and one part MgSO4. This blend is packaged into two kg bags and distributed with one kg of legume seed and 20 g of BIOFIX inoculant to farmers joining the project. Clearly, all the necessary components are in place to promote BNF and grain legume enterprise and the challenge before us is to assist farmers to adopt these technologies on a large scale.

An exciting new dimension to the activities in west Kenya is the recent participation of Promasidor Ltd., a company that produces a textured meat substitute SOSSI at a factory outside of Nairobi. In the past, Promasidor has relied entirely upon imported soybeans but recently announced two tenders for locally-supplied soy, 3,000 tons for July 2011 and 10,000 for February 2012. It has recruited a local company Smart Logistics to arrange for collection, transportation and quality assurance. Soybeans must contain >20% crude protein, <18% oil, <10% low-quality seed (e.g. off-color, insect damaged) and < 1% foreign matter. Interestingly, the varieties selected last year for promotion, together with some sensible post-harvest handling by farmers, easily meet these specifications while several of Kenya’s older varieties contain too much oil to form a solid product. With some good fortune and suitable varieties, we now have a reliable market to help drive farmer adoption.

Much of our dissemination efforts over the next year will be directed toward helping our cooperators participate in the Promasidor soy tender. One group of 400 farmers, led by Kleen Homes and Gardens in Butare, bulked 10 kg of seed each, and planted ½ acre (2000 m2) of soybean this season and are expecting to produce 100 tons of soy worth $38,000. N2Africa assisted them by providing inoculants and extension literature. The Kenya Soybean Farmers Association (KESOFA) has organized a similar effort. N2Africa is also helping these groups to design post-harvest protocols that meet industry standards and to establish efficiently operating collection points. Our larger goal is to assist thousands of more farmers to bulk seed in the current season and then participate in the larger tender next growing season. Briefly, a farmer receiving one kg of seed this season plants 200 m2 producing 20 kg of soybeans that are planted the following season on one acre (4000 m2) producing about 750 kg of soybeans worth $280 at the local collection point. In this way, we can produce 3000 tons of soybean worth $1.13 million. Incidentally, Smart Logistics has established an innovative repayment system based upon mobile telephone money transfer, relieving us of the headache of supervising cash flows. 

That is all for now from the West Kenya BNF technology dissemination team. In the next issue we will update readers on the soybean tenders, our efforts to promote climbing beans among resource-limited households and how we respond to the outbreak of pest and disease on our improved legume varieties.