Mwajumbe Mwabedarusi, a  seaweed farmer drying seaweed at the innovative drying site. Photo credit, Tebby Otieno

Technology assists fisher folks avoid post-harvest fish spoilage

By Tebby Otieno and Ruth Keah

Mwajumbe Mwabedarusi, a seaweed farmer drying seaweed at the innovative drying site. Photo credit, Tebby Otieno

A new fish preservation technological intervention is set to assist fisherfolk reduce the possibility of fish spoilage. Set up in Kwale County, the SolCoolDry system, which stands for Solar Cooling and Drying system, is an innovation that consists of a small cold room and an ice-making machine.

Dr Linus Kosambo of the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), said a research assessment revealed a lot of post-harvest fish spoilage was due to poor handling, lack of equipment and a lack of ice to preserve fish. Hence the invention of solar-powered technology that can generate ice for 24 hours.

“The ice is to ensure quality handling of fish from the time it is caught in the deep seas to the time it is brought to the shore to the time it is delivered to the market and even on our tables,” Dr Kosambo said during an exclusive interview.

While the researchers had the option of setting up a cold room for fish storage before sale, they felt it was necessary to provide fish dealers with ice through the SolCoolDry system to transport to their fishing spots. They say the decision was reached after their findings showed that storage was not a major issue in the area due to high demand for fish.

“It is important to supply fish dealers with ice so they can maintain the quality of fish throughout the supply chain. This can also be used in supermarkets,” Dr Kosambo noted.

After observing difficulties during the rainy season, which coincided with high spoilage rate, the researchers came up with the drying component. The system has inbuilt thermal collectors and can dry fish even during the wet season when covered. The system can also be integrated for 24-hour drying.

“Most of fishermen are off-grid as the landing beaches don’t have power supply; therefore, even if they have the technology, they don’t have the power to plug in. We thought we should get 100 per cent off-grid system to help the fishermen do some basic good handling and preservation of fish,” he explained.

Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) initiated the SolCoolDry system, in collaboration with AgriF1, Institute of Solar Energy, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), and Technical University of Mombasa.

Hussein Hasan, 41, a member of the Mwazaro self-help group and a fisherman, hopes that the innovation will increase his sales by not limiting the number of hours he spends fishing. For example, without access to ice, he stops fishing at 9am so that he can supply fish to retailers before the temperature rise. A challenge, he says, has been solved with the availability of the SolCoolDry system.

“This ice helps me because I come here to buy it when I go fishing. When I catch fish, I put them in ice to keep them from spoiling,” he says.

Neema Abdallah, another member of the group, agrees with him. She says the SolCoolDry system aids her husband, a fisherman, who nearly lost all of the fish he caught one day.

“I recall my husband returning home one day with a total of five large fish, but because they had gone so long without ice, they were all spoilt,” she says.

Neema adds that each fish weighed about 5kg and would have fetched Sh250 in the market had they not gone bad. Instead of throwing them, they found an alternative in drying them first before selling at between Sh100 and Sh150 each. Neema says her husband has become a frequent visitor since the installation of the SolCoolDry system, stopping by to buy ice before heading to the ocean to fish.

‘This ice has aided a lot of fishermen here; we have not heard any complaints about their fish going bad recently. I can say that this project has benefited a lot of fishermen,’ she says.

The SolCoolDry system also looks forward to addressing barriers faced by women eking a living from the ocean including those engaged in seaweed farming. One of such farmer is Mwajumbe Mwabedarusi, who got into seaweed farming as an opportunity to make some money. She later learned of other women practicing the same farming and they formed a group.

While they make a living from seaweed farming, she admits that drying them has been difficult. It was until recently this challenges were reduced in the two months the SolCoolDry system has been in place, thanks to the project’s technological drying site.

“After we harvest the seaweed, we put them in a sack and transport them here to dry. Before, we used to spread mats at homes and dry them. When it rained we would have to remove, else they get destroyed,” says Mwajumbe.

The SolCoolDry system and the drying site are located at the Mwazaro in Kwale county because it is easily accessible to the community and researchers.

Meanwhile, another initiative has been reached in Kwale and Kilifi. Dubbed the, Blue Empowerment project and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the system aims to develop an innovative and integrated technological model that will allow women to grow seaweed and rear fish in a controlled set-up along the Indian Ocean shore.

“Right now, it is becoming worse for people in the Coastal region, especially those who depend on natural resources, because climate variability affects them more. They need a solution that can build their capacity to endure them, and that is what we are doing,” says Dr. Joel Onyango from the African Centre for Technology Studies and the project lead for the Blue Empowerment Project.

Blue Empowerment Project aims to address barriers fisher women in the Coastal region face through adaptation of climate-smart Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture technology.


COP27: New report urges innovative building solutions as Africa’s response to reducing greenhouse gases

Despite an increase in energy efficiency investment and lower energy intensity, the building and construction sector’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions have rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic to an all-time high, a new report finds.

Released at the latest round of climate talks in Egypt, COP27, the 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) finds that the sector accounted for over 34 per cent of energy demand and around 37 per cent of energy and process-related CO2 emissions in 2021.

The sector’s operational energy-related CO2 emissions reached ten gigatons of CO2 equivalent – five per cent over 2020 levels and two per cent over the pre-pandemic peak in 2019. In 2021, operational energy demand for heating, cooling, lighting and equipment in buildings increased by around four per cent from 2020 and three per cent from 2019.

This, according to the report from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), means that the gap between the climate performance of the sector and the 2050 decarbonization pathway is widening.

Reacting on the report, Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) observed that years of warnings about the impacts of climate change have become a reality. “If we do not rapidly cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, we will be in deeper trouble,” she said.

The Paris Agreement deals with GHG emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance, the headline principle being to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. To put it in more relatable terms, the agreement aims to cut global emissions to zero by the end of this century.

Currently, real estate is in the sights of governments when forming new carbon reduction policy and will be particularly affected by new targets and the resulting regulatory impacts over time.

Energy efficiency

Decarbonizing the buildings sector by 2050 is critical to delivering these cuts. To reduce overall emissions, the sector must improve building energy performance, decrease building materials’ carbon footprint, multiply policy commitments alongside action and increase investment in energy efficiency.

The report says that investments in energy efficiency must be sustained in the face of growing crises – such as the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis, and the cost-of-living crisis – to reduce energy demand, avoiding CO2 emissions and dampen energy cost volatility. The buildings sector represents 40 per cent of Europe’s energy demand, 80 per cent of it from fossil fuels. This makes the sector an area for immediate action, investment and policies to promote short and long-term energy security.

However, it shows that the sector can still change. For example, rising fossil fuel costs due to the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis are providing incentives to invest in energy efficiency – although the erosion of purchasing power and the impact of labor and materials may slow investment.

“The solution may lie in governments directing relief towards low and zero-carbon building investment activities through financial and non-financial incentives,” said Andersen.

Also, critical to reducing the sector’s emissions are including buildings in climate pledges under the Paris Agreement – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – and mandatory building energy codes.

In Africa, experts point out that raw resource use is predicted to double by 2060 – with steel, concrete and cement already major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Materials used in the construction of buildings already account for around nine per cent of overall energy-related CO2 emissions.

Embodied carbon in buildings – the emissions associated with materials and construction processes – needs to be tackled to avoid undermining energy-saving measures. However, the sector can reduce its impact by, for example, looking at alternative materials and decarbonizing conventional materials such as cement.

Use of alternative materials relevant for Africa.

The African population is expected to reach 2.4 billion people in 2050 and 80 per cent of this growth will occur in cities. An estimated 70 per of the African building stock expected for 2040 has yet to be built.

To avoid increasing emissions while building the stock necessary to move people out of informal settlements, and to create buildings that are resilient to the impacts of climate change, experts recommend the African sector to look at sustainable construction materials and design techniques, in which the continent is rich.

Africa is also rich in renewable energy sources, solar and wind, which nations can use to power their buildings sustainably, the report said.

To mitigate these impacts, experts recommend to African Governments, especially cities, to implement policies that promote the shift to ‘circular material economies’.

The construction and real estate industries must implement zero-carbon strategies for new and existing buildings, it said.

Some of the avocados packed for the export market in China. (Credit_ Tebby Otieno)

Kenya’s first batch of fresh avocados land in Chinese market 26 days after departure

By Tebby Otieno

The first batch of Kenya’s fresh avocado exports has finally landed in the Chinese market.

The arrival comes 26 days after Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) David Osiany flagged off a lorry with fresh avocados from the Sunripe export farm in Limuru, Kiambu County.

In a press statement by Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency (KEPROBA), the official handover ceremony was graced by Kenya’s Ambassador to China Muthoni Gichohi in Beijing.

The entrance of the fresh avocado into the Chinese market also marked the first export of such fruits from Africa.

Amb Gichohi applauded the efforts made by the two governments and affirmed Kenya’s commitment to supporting the business communities in both countries as they look forward to enhancing trade facilitation as well as market access to their products and services to China.

Other fresh prioritised agricultural products the two countries aim to fast-track for export clearance include legumes, flowers, vegetables, herbs, mangoes, peanuts, meat, hides, skins, bixa, gum Arabica and myrr.

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KEPROBA’s Chief Executive Officer Wilfred Marube described the Chinese market as a big win for Kenya.

“China has the potential to pull Kenya’s economic growth through one export of avocado. The factor endowment for production favours Kenya. With the high population, exports to China will additionally increase foreign exchange earnings as well as youth and women employment,” Dr Malube said.


He urged Kenyans to popularise avocados and satisfy the Chinese market, noting that by so doing, many people’s lives will be improved.


“Kenya aims to export over 100,000 tonnes of avocados. The 1.4 billion population in China is a huge market for Kenya not only for avocados but also for other fresh produce such as mangoes and bananas,” said Dr Marube.


KEPROBA is a State corporation established after the merger of the Export Promotion Council and Brand Kenya Board. Its mandate is to implement export promotion and nation branding initiatives and policies to promote Kenya’s export of goods and services.


Kenya is currently the world’s sixth largest producer of avocados and the largest in Africa. The fruits are mainly grown by small-scale farmers.


The export of avocados to China has huge potential and experts estimate that the exports could account for up to 40 per cent of Kenya’s total avocado output. The market opportunity is also very huge as close to 400 tonnes can be shipped each week.




Some of the avocados packed for the export market in China. (Credit_ Tebby Otieno)

Farmers roll their sleeves as Kenya flags off its first batch of fresh avocados to China

By Tebby Otieno (

Grace Karanja could not hide her excitement as she witnessed the departure of a lorry transporting the first batch of fresh avocados to the Mombasa port for export to China. Crates of avocados from her medium-size Karakuta Fresh Produce Farm were in this lorry.

She had worked towards this day so much that when it finally came, not even the early morning light showers could stop her from travelling almost 60 kilometres from her farm in Kiambu, Central Kenya, to Sunripe, a fresh produce exporter in Limuru.

So, when Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) David Osiany flagged off this lorry on August 2, Ms Karanja and many other farmers present could do nothing but celebrate.

Karanja said the journey had not been easy, as they had to put in extra effort to meet the quality standards for the export market.

“During harvesting, the quality controller, who had trained my team on minimising post-harvest losses, was there to ensure that whatever came from the trees meet the standard required by the buyers,” said Ms Karanja.

She said even the mode of transporting fresh avocados for export from the farm is different.

“We no longer send avocados in Toyota Probox vans or pick-up trucks because that increases your damages. We send them in crates, in vehicles packed in minimum quantities per crate so that they do not rub against each other and on the surface,” she explains.

The journey for Karanja’s farm started in 2017 after she resigned from a corporate job to venture into agriculture. Her team’s first harvest missed the mark but they learnt from the experience and improved the following season.

“When we had our first harvest, we had a lot of horrible fruits. We could not even get them to the market. We are now getting better because we now understand that to get these markets, you need really good sizes and qualities,” she said.

Karanja is optimistic that the global market for fresh avocados is just the beginning of better opportunities for local farmers. She admits that despite most people in the country producing avocados, not all of them are producing the right quality for export.

However, she says the China market will be a motivation towards meeting export standards by many smallholder farmers, who initially did not understand what is required of them.

Late last year, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), which resulted in a Phytosanitary protocol for exporting fresh avocados to China signed in January this year by both countries’ ministers.

KEPHIS has since approved 15 orchards, 10 pack houses, and one fumigation facility and communicated to GACC who have also published them on their website. This followed satisfaction of the GACC remote auditors that they are good at quarantine pest management and meet the requirements for the export of fresh avocados to China.

Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) David Osiany flags off a lorry carrying avocados ready for export to China, at Sunripe in Limuru, Kenya, on August 2, 2022.

“This is the first group of exporters allowed to export fresh avocados to China. However, we are continuing with audits so that we can add other growers of avocados who meet the requirements,” said Prof Theophilus Mutui, the KEPHIS Managing Director.

“Agriculture is the foundation of Kenya’s economic and social development. It has a direct significant bearing on food security, economic growth, and social stability. Therefore, such opportunities have to be treated with the highest attention and care so that our trade is enhanced and the foreign exchange is increased.”

The management at Sunripe company in Limuru hopes that the Standard Gauge Railway will in the future be used to transport fresh avocados to the Port of Mombasa for onward export to China. This will significantly the time taken on the road.

For example, the first batch of fresh avocados is expected to arrive in China in 24 days. This means that the Chinese will eat Kenyan avocados in the first week of September.

With Sunripe and Kakuzi companies being the only two fresh produce export companies cleared so far, officials said that access to the market and capital with a high-quality product is important.

They called on avocado farmers to invest more money in orchard management and produce very high-quality fruit, even as they consider value addition that will see them produce avocado oils and lotions.

Mr Osiany described the exportation as a bold move and a step towards forging deeper cooperation and collaboration between the public and private sectors. He said the futuristic event seeks to harness the enormous economic prospects between Kenya and her international markets to strengthen the ties among business communities.

“Fresh horticulture exports from Kenya have played a big role in the last 50 years and placed Kenya on the global map. Avocados have become a very big product for Kenya and Kenya is now the 6th largest exporter in the world and Africa’s largest exporter for two years running,” he said.

According to Osiany, the global market for fresh avocado indicates the existence of opportunities for both countries to increase their trade volumes as well as narrow the trade balance gap.

“As the global market continues to grow, the production in Kenya increases annually, thus the need to open new markets. As per the projection, Kenya looks forward to exporting over a hundred thousand tonnes of avocado in the next couple of years, and this figure may double in a decade’s time,” he said.

Kenya’s export to China last year amounted to about US$199.6 million against an import from China of about $4 billion. Osiany urged the China’s Minister for Council to reduce the seven per cent import duty China is charging.

The journey to sell fresh avocado in China started in 2018 when the Asian country hosted the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. The high-level visit saw the signing of MoU on the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) protocol.

The first attempt after the agreement saw Kenya become the first country in Africa to export frozen avocados to China after it failed to meet the set standards for fresh avocados.

The business deal between the two countries is geared towards granting market access to 13 prioritised agricultural products. They include fresh avocados, green beans, legumes, flowers, herbs, vegetables, fruits, pickers, peanuts, and macadamia nuts.

Avocados in Kenya grow from the sea level to 3,000 metres, and with the two rainy seasons a year, experts say they are more organic.  


Dr. Sanni Kayode, AATF Rice Project Manager at a Hybrid Rice Farm in Central Kenya Photo Courtesy: AATF

Embrace agri-technology to be food secure, farmers told

By Ruth Keah I

Lack of infrastructure and limited use of technology for crop production stifle attainment of food security in Africa, seed experts have said.

Speaking virtually on the third day of the Fifth African Conference for Science Journalists held recently, Mr Amos Rutherfold, a seed man from Legacy Seeds in Ghana and Dr Kayode Sanni, who is the Rice Project Manager and Director of the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa, (AHyRA), said that besides the factors above, there was need for African countries to rethink ways of financing the sector to enable farmers to produce adequate food.

While speaking at the same conference, Dr. Maxwell Darko Asante, a Principal Research scientist at the CSIR-Crops Research Institute, Kumasi, Ghana and who specialises in rice breeding, Africa has the potential to feed itself if technology and other logistical issues were sorted out.

“We need to look at our financial structure. How are we going to fund agriculture in the continent in order to know how we are going to produce enough food to feed our African population,” said Rutherford.

He noted that if farmers secured adequate funds, they can solve these challenges, which include poor quality seeds, inadequate crop protection inputs and plant nutrition inputs, agricultural drought, land tenure system issues, pests and diseases, unstructured market system and weak financial architecture.

He said over the years, governments had tried to impose methodologies that small-scale farmers should use, but which are normally not convenient for farmers to use for production. He said there was need for sustainable crop production in Africa.

“We are the youngest population in the continent; so we must produce enough food to feed our  people,” he said.

Addressing journalists and communication experts attending the conference, Dr Kayode Sanni, Rice Project Manager and Director of the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa, (AHyRA), urged farmers to embrace the growing technology in farming to enhance food security.

He said many western countries had adopted new agri-technologies in producing different farm produce, while Africa is still lagging behind, hence the food insecurity.


He expressed confidence that the continent had all the variables and technology to become self-sufficient in rice production by increasing productivity, planting climate-resilient varieties, improving crop management, and market linkages along the value chain.

 “Currently, in Africa, we are at the level of 26 million metric tonnes of consumption, and we barely produce half of that. This has left us with a deficit of nearly 13 million metric tonnes,” he said.

According to Dr Kayode, Africa spends over $6 billion in rice importation only. He acknowledged that it is a challenge for African countries, but on the other hand an opportunity to use agri-technology and fill the gap.

“At the end of the day it will improve the livelihoods of the farmers, improve business and increase income, which goes to farmers’ households,” he said.

He added that out of the more than 50 countries in Africa, only three – Tanzania, Madagascar and Mali – are rice self-sufficient. Countries that are still behind are Angola, which is still at 7 per cent of production. Kenya is at 10 per cent.

He urged farmers to take advantage of the situation and adopt new agri-technologies and build capacity of private and public sectors to meet what is needed in achieving food security. He also urged farmers to embrace the new technology to not only produce food, among them rice, for eating, but also for exportation.

“With the shortage here, what we mean is that there is a lot of opportunities if technologies are adopted in producing rice in Africa,” he said.

With effects of climate change being experienced globally, Dr Kayode also urged farmers to plant resilient crops. This, he said, will also increase the chances of being food secure.

“We need to plant climate resilient varieties that can survive drought, disease outbreak or even flooding,” he observed.

The conference was organised by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA).

Dr Ed Mabaya during the launch of the tool to aid access to seed information at the AFSTA Congress 2022.

New tool to facilitate easy access to seeds now available

By Christine Ochogo|

Farmers in Africa now have an easy-to-use, digitised seed information tool that facilitates access to data that supports seed system development. Development Gateway – an IREX Venture (DG), The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), and Cornell University started developing the dashboard in 2019 to support policy reform by government, investment priorities by development partners, and strategy by private companies working in Africa’s formal seed sector. The new interactive digital tool dubbed Visualising Information on Seeds Using Technology in Africa (TASAI-VISTA) Dashboard will visualise and use data to support a fully functional formal seed system. Speaking during the launch of the tool at the 22nd African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) congress in Djerba, Tunisia, a fortnight ago, Mainza Mugoya, TASAI Regional Coordinator, said the tool will enhance access to improved seeds by smallholder farmers in Africa.

The CEO of Development Gateway (DG), Mr Joshua Powell, added that the new interactive digital tool includes data from 17 African countries and displays 22 different indicators such as number of active breeders by crop, availability of basic seed, number of active seed companies/producers, number of varieties sold, and number of seed inspectors. He said that the quality and availability of seeds is a crucial component of supporting smallholder farmers to increase food security in these African countries, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, Mozambique, Mali, Malawi, Madagascar, Ghana, Ethiopia, DR Congo and Burkina Faso. “By providing clear data and insights on country seed systems, the TASAI-VISTA dashboard helps partners identify where and how to create policies and investments that support farmers and their crops,” said Mr Powell. Dr Ed Mabaya, Research Professor in Global Development at Cornell University and Chief Scientific Adviser to TASAI, mentioned rising populations, climate change and other environmental aspects as key factors threatening food and nutritional security in many subSaharan African countries.

He emphasised the need to improve seed quality, this being one factor that can help in addressing these challenges and that decision makers need information on where and how seed quality and availability are lagging. This dashboard, he said, is one step towards making that information more easily accessible, user-friendly and actionable. “The TASAI team has been collecting country-level seed sector data since 2015, and we are excited to share this wealth of information in this new digital format.”

Seed sector stakeholders already rely on TASAI country reports as a source of valuable information, but the new dashboard will expand their access and allow for comparisons across time and space that were difficult to do previously,” Dr Mabaya said. He explained that the TASAIVISTA Dashboard was developed after an initial assessment of stakeholders in the seed sector. Following the assessment, Development Gateway and TASAI held a co-design workshop to get feedback and to validate initial findings before incorporating user responses into the final design. “Along with the public dashboard, DG and TASAI have developed survey tools for internal use by TASAI researchers, which have allowed the team to digitise their data collection and validation process. Data collected through the new tool is published on the dashboard after final validation,” said Dr Mabaya. For much of sub-Saharan Africa, rising populations combined with climate change and other environmental factors are threatening food and nutritional security.

Experts say timely availability of improved seeds at affordable prices is critical to improving food security, resilience, and livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Africa. Improved seeds, they observe, can deliver state-of-the-art technology to farmers, including higher yields, disease and pest resistance, climate change adaptation, and improved nutrition. According to Duncan Onduu, the Executive Secretary at Seed Trade Association of Kenya, over the last two decades, formal seed systems in Africa have been gradually liberalised, resulting in increased participation of private seed enterprises. His counterpart in Ghana, Augusta Clottey, welcomed the dashboard, saying that a competitive seed sector will ensure famers access quality seeds of improved, appropriate varieties at affordable prices to help attain food security in Africa.

The launch of the tool comes amidst findings of a recent report that stated that Africa still trades in both old and new varieties.

One Health the gateway to human, animal and environment wellbeing, say experts

Applied research through the One Health approach will lead to health investments that will accelerate economic development and reduce social inequalities, experts have advised.

Speaking to science, health and environment journalists, Delia Randolph, professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute in the UK, said One Health allows for integrated thinking across three sectors – human health, animal health and environment health.

Randolph, also a contributing scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said One Health is therefore a collaborative, multisectoral, trans-disciplinary approach that cuts across the local, regional, national and global levels.

Bernard Bett from the One Health Research, Education and Outreach Centre (OHRECA) said One Health and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are closely linked.

One Health, he said, contributes to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 12 and 17 (no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, partnership). More so, the One Health approach contributes to SDGs 5, 6, 10, 15 (gender equality, water and sanitation, reduced inequality, life on land).

“Ending poverty and other deprivations goes hand in hand with improvements on health, education, reduced inequalities and economic growth,” said Mr Bett.

He said based on the One Health approach, genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has boosted the capacity of COVID surveillance in Kenya.

In this regard, he said, testing for SARS-CoV-2 using qPCR has been ongoing at ILRI since 2020. A total of 24,398 samples have been tested and results shared with the Ministry of Health (MoH).

The ILRI laboratory where genomic analysis is ongoing is part of a network of facilities in the country that is supporting COVID-19 genomic surveillance.

Genomic analysis is the identification, measurement or comparison of genomic features such as DNA sequence, structural variation and gene expression. Essentially, genomics is the study of genes that makes it possible to predict, diagnose and treat diseases more precisely.

Bett said the genomics laboratory “has received additional funding to the tune of $1 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to support genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in the Eastern Africa region.

He also delved into intersectoral collaborations for rabies control in Machakos, saying that Kenya has increased coverage of control measures.

This is a step in the right direction as rabies remains a serious public health issue. Canine rabies, he said, causes an estimated 55,000 deaths annually across Africa and Asia.

As such, with the most effective strategy towards minimising human exposure being controlling rabies in dogs, OHRECA and VSF Germany are in collaboration to develop sustainable and scalable vaccination strategies for rabies through the One Health approach. Bett said that through the collaboration, the target is to vaccinate 200,000 dogs per year.

“New knowledge on the impact of climate and land use change on zoonotic diseases occurrence is being used for contingency planning,” he said.

OHRECA is leading studies to identify drivers of Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever in Burkina Faso and Rift Valley in Kenya.

On institutionalising One Health in Kenya, Dr Athman Mwatondo, who is the co-head of Zoonotic Disease Unit at the Ministry of Health, said the Unit was formed between line ministries of human and animal health.

Established in 2012 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Unit’s structural office is in Kenyatta National Hospital grounds, at the MoH grounds.

The Zoonotic Unit, Mwatondo said, has a mission to “establish and maintain active collaboration at the animal, human, and ecosystem interface towards better prevention and control of zoonotic disease.”

The Unit’s priority areas of outbreak investigation and response include the Rift Valley fever, anthrax and rabies, with a view to particularly eliminating rabies.

Mwatondo spoke of the need to create sustainable county level One Health platforms that will facilitate the devolution of the One Health approach.

Progress thus far includes the epidemiological investigation of a Rift Valley fever outbreak in humans and livestock in Kenya in 2018. Outbreaks of the Rift Valley fever were recorded in Wajir and Siaya counties in 2018, Murang’a from 2019 to 2021 and Isiolo in 2020 and 2021.

There was also an investigation of recurrent anthrax outbreaks in humans, livestock and wildlife from 2014 to 2017.

Mwatondo said rabies elimination activities include improving access to post-exposure prophylaxis and rabies education and awareness. Thus far, he said, there has been coordinated mass dog vaccinations in two pilot counties.

Mwatondo said the challenges in implementing the One Health approach include difficulties in coordinating multiple partners and operationalisation difficulties such as high staff turnover.

He said there is a need for domestic funding of One Health activities for sustainability purposes and to understand and adapt because the One Health approach is not a one size fits all.

By Joyce Chimbi


Weather forecast app to help farmers reduce losses

The unpredictable weather conditions caused by climate change has become prevalent, forcing farmers to rely on speculations while farming. This has greatly affected crop yields and lowered productivity.

With over 80 percent of farmers dependent on rain-fed agriculture, there is a need to be able to predict the weather patterns in order to plan accordingly.
To address the issue, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has developed a digital app to help farmers easily access weather information.

Researchers believe if farmers use the online weather platform, it is possible to adapt or mitigate the effects of adverse weather conditions through predicted weather forecast.
Irene Kimani, KALRO ICT specialist, says the Kenya Agricultural Observation Platform (KAOP) is a forecasting tool that assists farmers to monitor weather through their mobile phones.

She says KAOP is able to provide data on previous rainy days and predict long-term trends.
“KAOP is an app that has been giving me accurate information on weather forecast and some agronomy advisory services. Some of the information I have been getting is like the rainfall amount to be expecting and when to plant, harvest and what to grow at a particular season,” says Margret Wambui, a farmer in Njoro, Nakuru County.

Wambui, who is also an agrovet shop attendant, says since she started using the app, she has advised many farmers visiting her shop using the application.
“I share the information I get from KAOP with my customers when they come to buy seeds or chemicals. I ask them where and when they want to plant and I check on weather conditions for that particular day because some chemicals work best with minimal rainfall, otherwise they will incur losses and blame the chemical for not working,” she says.

Using the online application, farmers can now get weather information for seven days before and after.
Kimani says the application is designed to provide agronomic advisory services to farmers by providing information on actions they need to take in the various stages of farming, including soil preparation, sowing, adding manure and fertilisers, irrigation, harvesting and storage, as well as marketing period based on the weather conditions predicted.
Collins Kipchumba, a farmer in Njoro Rumwe farm, says since he started using the app, his production of Nyota beans has doubled.

“I learnt about the app in a farmers’ platform and since I started using it my bean production has increased from four bags per acre to eight bags per acre. For instance, if I want to spray, the app will indicate the strength of the wind in a particular day. If it is windy I will postpone my spraying to a calmer day to avoid losses, says Kipchumba.

“When I want to harvest, I use the app to check weather conditions to avoid post-harvest losses that maybe caused by rains.”
John Maina, Agriculture Chief Officer in Nakuru County, says the county has introduced this platform to farmers.

“By embracing the technology they have been able to bring the youth onboard who are particularly encouraged to download the app and use the information to do farming,” Maina says.

“This technology is assisting to know or predict how the weather is going to be in good time and give the farmers an opportunity to plan their production.”
The ICT specialist notes that the technology is 95 percent accurate, has the capability of forecasting weather within a radius of 9km and can zero-in on an individual farmer’s farm.

“Through the system, farmers get advisory services in time, hence alleviating losses they incur because of climate change. In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, and at a time when traditional in-person farmers’ visits have been severely constrained, such phone-based advice is cost-effective and plays a key role in improving the productivity in farmers’ fields,” says Maina.

The tool developed by KALRO is among the ICT-based applications that KALRO is leveraging to bridge the gap of access to information between researchers and farmers, especially during Covid-19.
Since its launch, there has been increase of downloads by over 5,000 and 2.7 million website visits.

This indicates that the uptake is good and that farmers now have an easier way of seeking assistance from agricultural experts through the incorporation of digital technology into agricultural research.

Besides the KAOP technology, there are over 30 mobile applications that have previously been launched by KALRO to assist farmers with systematic information on how to manage crops. In addition, other apps address fall armyworm reporting and mapping, grey leaf spot disease resistance maize varieties and maize lethal necrosis disease control.

The technology is 95 percent accurate, has the capability of forecasting weather within a radius of 9km and can zero-in on an individual’s farm.


How to access: KAOP is easily accessible as a mobile app via google play store by downloading on or through a website .


New maize variety set to uplift farmers’ fortunes in Africa

By Christine Ochogo I

For the second day in a row, Jerry Oyoo, a western Kenyan farmer from Nyagowa Village, Karachuonyo Constituency has just returned home with a sack of maize from his Kimira wetland farm.

“This is a huge waste of time, energy and money,” Mr Oyoo tells me sounding as if he needs some psycho-social support.

“I spent Ksh 5000 (USD50) to pay for the tractor man to till my land. I spent a further Ksh 3000 (USD30) to pay farm labourers for the first weeding plus a further Ksh 2500 (USD25) for the second weeding, and today I have just paid Ksh 1000 (USD10) to helpers to harvest the produce,” he says looking forlorn and dejected.

In all his calculations he spent Ksh 11,500 (USD115) only to return home with three sacks of maize all valued at Ksh 9,000 (USD90). As he brought home his last sack of maize harvest, Oyoo had just incurred a loss of Ksh 2500 (USD 25) without taking into consideration other inputs and time spent on the farm.

While addressing journalists allied to the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) in a virtual conference, Dr Sylvester Oikeh, a maize scientist, says farmers like Oyoo need not give up on farming asserting that biotechnology is the way to go in addressing the challenges brought along by effects of climate change, ever growing population leading to shrinking land for cultivation and biological challenges like pests and diseases. He added that biotechnology remains a strong investment for farmers like Oyoo.

The conference brought together 100 journalists from 30 African countries.

“Globally, for each dollar invested in biotech crop seeds, farmers gained an average $3.49. In 2016, farmers in developing countries received $5.06 for each extra dollar invested in biotech crop seeds, whereas farmers in developed countries received $2.70 for each extra dollar invested in biotech crop seeds,” Dr Oikeh said.

To show that scientists are not sleeping on the job, the maize guru said that his organisation, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation with other partners such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation  (KALRO) have been working towards getting transgenic drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties to farmers to enhance food security in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We work on a project called TELA maize which seeks to ensure farmers who access the variety will be able to mitigate effects of climate change especially moderate drought and losses to insects such as stem borers and fall armyworm,” said Dr. Oikeh who is the Project Manager at AATF.

Dr. Oikeh spoke on the Status on development and commercialization of transgenic TELA maize for African farmers in a virtual conference that brought together nearly 200 science journalists from 30 African countries and beyond to discuss conservation, climate change, agriculture, and health to bolster factual reporting on science.

“When farmers have access to the TELA maize varieties they will be able to mitigate effects of climate change especially moderate drought and losses to insects such as stem borers and fall armyworm,” said the expert who boasts of over 30 years research trail on maize in the continent.

TELA Bt maize hybrid varieties were released to smallholder farmers in South Africa in 2016 and has been granted environmental release to proceed to national performance trials in Kenya.

“National performance trials (NPTs) are carried out in Kenya by the Kenya Plant Health and Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) to determine the agronomic potential and adaptability of new varieties relative to those currently in the market,” said Dr Mwimali Murenga from KALRO. He added that they have already planted in Alupe, Kakamega and Kibos. Other sites Embu, Mwea and thika will be planted from mid Oct 2020 during the short rains season.

The NPTs are carried out to evaluate maize hybrids that have potential for commercialization. Experimental material under test are usually compared to those in the market. Several sites from a minimum of 6 sites to a maximum 10 sites are usually planted depending on the growing zones, added Dr Murenga.

Bt maize gave positive and significant effect on yield across varieties and trials with 52 per cent yield advantage over non-Bt maize in Kenya and Uganda,” said Dr. Oikeh, noting that full adoption of Bt maize in Kenya could save the country a whopping 400,000 tonnes equivalent to US 90 million that is lost to stemborer damage annually.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a microbe naturally found in soil and that has been used as a biological pesticide for several decades to control insect damage mostly in the horticulture industry. Usually used as a spray, scientists found a way to incorporate Bt proteins (genes) into the plant to give the plant protection against certain insect pests such as stem borer and fall armyworm without spraying the plant.

While responding to a question on safety concerns on the technology, Dr. Oikeh re-affirmed the safety of biotech products, noting that farmers from other regions across the world are enjoying the benefits of the technology.

“Several global authorities including World Health Organization (WHO); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and many Academies of Sciences have all indicated the GM food that have been evaluated and passed through regulatory scrutiny and approved are safe to eat,” he emphasized.

In Africa, nine countries including Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan have approved and released transgenic cotton, cowpea, maize and soybean. Globally, 67 countries are either growing or trading with biotech crops.

The TELA Maize Project works with governments in seven African countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda – to deliver the new TELA maize varieties to farmers. All TELA maize varieties will be made available to smallholder farmers through local seed companies after assessment by national authorities according to the country’s regulatory requirements.


Malawi farmers record huge harvest from genetically modified cotton

By Suzgo Chitete I

After years of research and scientific approvals, the Malawi government in November last year released genetically modified cotton seeds for commercial cultivation. 

The farmers who planted Bt cotton for the first time in the last growing season took a gamble to depart from tradition.

France Thole, a cotton farmer in Chikwawa, Southern Malawi, was among the few farmers who were part of the field trials of the new cotton varieties, which have performed wonders elsewhere.

Through the trials, farmers had a feel of the new technology and were convinced this could be the way to go. But it was a real gamble, according to Thole.

“There was a lot of negativity from community members when we told them we wanted to try Bt cotton. In as much as we were convinced that the new cotton variety was better than the traditional seeds, we were still not sure if we would be successful,” says Thole, 60, who has been growing cotton for almost half his age. 

 “I can tell you the quality of the new variety is impressive; one plant gives you up to 150 bolls when the local variety would give 40-50 bolls. The cotton is thick and good looking.”  

Bt cotton seed has been genetically engineered to make the crop resistant to bollworm. Scientists say this resistance significantly reduces the cost of production as one does not need pesticides now and again. 

“If you follow instructions properly you gain more with this new variety. You can produce up to 3,000  bags per hectare while the old variety would you give you 1,000 -1,500 and yet it is also labor intensive because it requires frequent spraying of pesticides,” says Allan Tchalison, another farmer in the Lowershire zone.

Apart from his modern, fully electrified house, some herds of cattle, chickens, and goats, Tchalison sponsors his grandchildren’s education. His son’s daughter is in the second year pursuing an engineering course at the University of Malawi’s Polytechnic. Others are in secondary schools.

Tchalison vouches for Bt cotton as the best so far but pleads for improved extension work. He says at this stage farmers need close supervision because of their unfamiliarity with the new technology, which he believes is a game-changer if well handled.

Another cotton farmer, Mwayi Joseph Chirwa, a primary school teacher in Salima, Central of Malawi, 120 kilometers from the Capital Lilongwe, attests to the scientific claim that Bt cotton significantly reduces the cost of production and has a high yield. She estimates that from her piece of land she has been able to harvest double the usual yield.

“I followed instructions throughout, based on leaflets that I was given and also the advice from the extension workers but I could have missed a step or two…because it is new. I think if one follows the guidelines to the letter they can get more than double,” said Chirwa.

Malawi is among new entrants in a growing list of countries that have commercialized cotton in Africa which include South Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan are other examples. Kenya is yet to get its first harvest and so is Nigeria though they have commercialized the crop too. According to the Seed Trade Association of Malawi, 20,000 Malawian farmers planted the Bt cotton seed last season which just ended last month. 

Cotton is one of the strategic crops in the national export strategy and if well managed, the genetically modified variety can significantly improve productivity, which has dropped at an alarming rate due to lack of investment.

With an allocation of K1.6 billion (USD2.2 million) in the 2011/12 financial year, Malawi was able to produce a record of 100,000 metric tonnes that year. Over the years,  this figure has drastically dropped;  the Cotton Council of Malawi estimates that on average the country is now producing about 15,000 MT per year, which rakes in K10 billion (USD13.5 million) against a ginning capacity of 600,000 metric tonnes. With the adoption of the new technology in Malawi, it is estimated that the country will soon produce nearly 40,000 MT. 

According to the Chairman of STAM, Mr. John Lungu, stakeholders are now putting their heads together to ensure that the market for the bumper harvest is secured to ensure that farmers benefit wholly from their sweat.

“We hope the government may consider subsidizing the seeds just to boost cotton farming in Malawi. With this new variety which has shown that it has a higher yield, we expect more farmers to come on board and adopt it. So my appeal to government is to liaise with the seed making company to make the seeds available at an affordable price,” pleaded Rodgers Manjawira another farmer from Salima.

The African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC), an NGO which has been pushing for improved cotton in Malawi, equally thinks one way of helping farmers is to have the seeds for Bt cotton subsidized and also strengthen extension work so that farmers have up to date information on Bt cotton.  

AICC Chief Executive Officer, Felix Lombe, said: “We need to improve cotton production because it is a strategic crop for exports. The economy stands to benefit from cotton which has a ready market locally and internationally.”