Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kenya Silage Making II

Submitted by: Winston Johnston

In 2006 I took part in a silage making exercise in Kenya where feed for dairy cattle was preserved in plastic silage bags similar to those used on Prince Edward Island. In this instance all labour was by hand and silage made from Napier Grass. During my recent trip to Kenya in February 2010, I was a witness to another method of making silage for milking cows, this time using a system similar to what we would call a bunker silo method. The silage making was still dependent on an all hand-labour system, and at completion, the farmer will have a source of silage to feed milk cows during the dry Kenyan summer.

Maize, corn to Islanders, was harvested by hand in the field and brought to a central point near the cattle barn. Here it was chopped by hand into small bits on a board using machetes and a four-person team. The silo site had already been prepared by digging a shallow trench about twenty feet long and perhaps twelve feet wide. This was lined with a black plastic sheet and after mixing the chopped maize with molasses diluted with water, the chopped maize was being packed by another team of four persons who were rolling a water filled oil drum back and forth over the chopped material (photo). By removing the air and densely packing the silage, the silo was slowing being filled with the chopped maize. A full days work was needed by some twelve to fifteen men and women working together in the field, harvesting the one acre of maize, bringing the cut stems to the work site, chopping, mixing with molasses, transporting and packing. After shoring up the structure with soil packed along the sides, the top of black plastic was placed on top and then covered with a layer of soil. In this manner, the silage would be secure and airtight until later in the summer when forages were scarce due to drought. In this coming September, the silo will be opened and the maize silage used to feed milk cows.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Research on bio gas digesters

Carolyn Dohoo left Ichamara this morning to return to Canada after being here for two weeks to gather preliminary data on a research project which aims to quantify the effects of the bio gas digesters on the health of the 31 farm women who have them on their farms.

Carolyn is an M. Sc. student at Dalhousie University in Community Health and Epidemiology. This research will form the basis of her M. Sc. thesis. Dr. John Van Leeuwen from AVC is one of her supervisors. She will be back in Kenya in June/July again to interview the 31 women along with a control group of women who do not have bio gas digesters.

Most women here cook their food over a three stone stove in a small building which has no chimney. This exposure to smoke every day has a cumulative negative effect on their respiratory system and their eyes. Dr. Kim Critchley, Dean of UPEI School of Nursing, spent a couple of days here also to measure the respiratory health of the women as well as the health of their eyes.

The bio gas digesters use manure from the dairy cows to produce methane which can be used for cooking.

Carolyn found that a few of the systems were not working properly so we contacted the technician who installed them so he could fix the problems and arrange another training day to explain the proper operation of the system. We expect that when Carolyn returns in June, they will all be operating properly.

These bio gas digesters were funded by the Stratford Rotary Club with matching funding by the Canadian International Development Agency.

Park Royal United Church mosquito nets delivered

Today we delivered 168 mosquito nets to the Matuto Primary School here near Ichamara in Kenya.

We had already delivered some nets to this school- which were delivered when we had funds donated by Islanders for mosquito nets.

Park Royal United Church Sunday School has funded all of the nets for this school.

We opened one net and did a little demonstration of how the net is to be hung in their homes over their beds. We explained that the nets kept away mosquitoes while they slept and allowed them to get a better sleep. We also explained that the mosquitoes could bring malaria- so they could avoid getting malaria by sleeping under the net.

Our travel agent had purchased 200 nets for us- and he had bargained with the company to include a geometry set with each net.

The balance of the nets (32) were funded by donors who bought them as Christmas gift and we delivered them to the Standard 8 class at the Muthewathi Primary School. This Standard 8 class all knew that mosquitoes could cause malaria. When we have more funds we will go back there and provide nets to the other students.

Both schools thanked us for the funds recently provided to them by their twinned schools from PEI, the Royalty Rotary Club of Charlottetown and donors at Christmas who provided funds for school books. The twinned schools are Prince Street School and Southern Kings School. The Matuto School said they were installing toilets for the girls and buying some books. The Muthewathi School said they were purchasing text books and repairing school toilets.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thubuku Dairy

Colleen Walton and I arrived back at the Thubuku dairy to teach farmers about dairy cattle raising and
improving milk quality. Thubuku is a small dairy which has had some recent difficulties. In addition to
the country wide drought which swept Kenya their milk collection van broke down and their manage
left the dairy. Farmers Helping Farmers had provided help by purchasing them a new engine for their
van and hiring them a new manager. Otherwise the dairy would have collapsed and all the work done to
date would have been lost.
After the usual delays we head out for the first days teaching along a very bumpy road. We arrive at
the farm and the scene is just what we have learned to expect. There are a few farmers , all men as the
women will arrive later as they finish their chores, wash, change and walk to farm where we are
teaching. No one comes on time because they mostly do not have a watch and also in case we do not
show up it is best to see our van pass their farm before starting out.
My first thought is always the same : What could we possibly offer to a farmer with two small cows in a
shed that has been constructed from trees on the farm and a few sheets of steel ? We start on “cow
comfort” discussing stall size, lounge space and placement of the head rail. Then Colleen talks about the
role of cow sanitation in preventing mastitis, all topics which we have learned at home. Afterwards we
move out of the cow shed and talk about the importance of cutting forage at the correct stage of
maturity and cleaning milking equipment. Colleen finishes by giving a short talk on the importance of
feeding adequate milk to their children. Suddenly it is four hours later and the temperature has risen to
the low 30’s C and there are thirty farmers listening and asking questions. Some explain to our new
friends how our teaching last year has helped their farms. Great endorsements ! After tea, boiled eggs
and bananas we say goodbye and head back down the dirt road.

Later Colleen goes out on the milk collection van to see the pick up process and check the milk quality.
Her presence causes quite a stir as this area has had very few “European “visitors. Finally as darkness
approaches we travel beck to town, tired, dirty and pleased that we had connected with our dairy

Vesey's Seeds make an unusual impact in Kenya

As an added bonus for attending family nutrition seminars held in August 2009, Wakulima dairy farmers were presented with Winter Squash seeds that had been donated by Vesey's Seeds, York, PEI.

While I had images of golden mashed squash this farmer was even more excited by the vast number of large leaves that the plants had produced. She also reported harvesting 3 squash (many more were on the vine). Squash vines surround 3 sides of her home and the leaves are regularly picked to use in 'mokimo'.

Mokimo, or irio, is a mixture of irish potatoes, green bananas, green leaves and maize kernals. The mixture is mashed to make a green 'mashed potato' that I would akin to Kenyan comfort food. Recipes vary between families but up to a kg of leaves can be in a family's daily mokimo; providing Vitamin A to the family (as does the squash itself).

Vitamin A is important for good vision, to prevent 'nightblindness', and for overall good health. Vitamin A is deficient in the average Kenyan's diet as reported by UNICEF 2005. We are hopeful that our nutrition education with a variety of seeds can help alleviate this deficiency with our partner farmers at Wakulima Dairy Ltd.

Colleen Walton
Feb 13, 2010

UPEI Nursing Students Settle In...

Words can not express the feelings we have had over the past week and a half. Overwhelming at times, but yet so very rewarding! We are a group of four nursing students from the University of Prince Edward Island who are in our final few months of the BScN program. We are here on one of our final clinical placements thanks to Farmers Helping Farmers and UPEI's School of Nursing.We have been here for almost 2 weeks now.. each day filled with many learning experiences.
We are residing and practicing at St. Theresa's Missionary Hospital in Kiirua. Here we have been welcomed with open arms by all the Sisters and staff, and could not feel any more welcomed then we do! We are rotating throughout the hospital working on units such as Maternity, Pediatrics, Outpatients, Medical, and CCC(a HIV/Aids treatment program).
On the other 2 days of the week we are participating in a HIV outreach program in different communities and working at a children's home where many children are so fortunatly cared for. On one of our outreach days we were blessed to meet a family who we made a strong connection with. Both the mother and father are HIV positive and have just givin birth to a baby girl. Together, we could not resist helping them in some way. As a group we decided we would purchase a goat for them so they would have milk to feed their new arrival.. we did this with money donated from our nursing class back home!
This week we were also able to put our wellness promotion/illness prevention skills to work. One of the nursing students was able to visit 2 schools and teach over 400 students proper handwashing techniques and the importance of doing so. Farmers Helping Farmers made this possible by installing handwashing stations at each school involved and providing them with soap and water! It is hard to imagine just how much impact this project will have on the health of all these little angels! SOOOO rewarding!

This weekend we will also be conducting an educational session and blood pressure clinic for the Muchui womens group.. we will update on this next week and fill in the details.
See you next week,
James, Katie, Kaela, and Lisa

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Souris Village Feast cookhouse opened at Ndunyu Secondary School

The cookhouse at the Ndunyu Secondary School was officially opened this week. This cookhouse will be used to prepare a noon meal for the students at the school.

It was funded by the funds raised by the Souris Village Feast.

Cooking African vegetables

Cooking African vegetables

Western Kenyans grow and eat traditional green vegetables including amaranthus, nightshade, crotalaria, spider plant, jews mallow and Ethiopian kale. These vegetables grow easily and are quite nutritious.

We arranged two training sessions for the members of the Muchui Womens Group and the Ruuju Wonens Group . Nelly Andisi, the cateress at the KARI Embu Research Station was our resource person. She grew up in Western Kenya.

She purchased all of the vegetables in the market and brought them to the session. Then she cooked them in front of the women, along with tomatoes, onions and cream.

She served each of the women a sample of each vegetable along with ugali (maize porridge).

We gave the women a package of each type of seed along with the vegetable and flower seeds generously donated by Veseys.

Vets in Kenya 2010 Wrap-up

February 11, 2010

So, the last of our exciting adventure is occurring; the packing is going on around me and concerns are expressed with the amount of wood products that we are bringing home. Reflecting on the past three weeks, I think the best experience was finding a strongyle egg on fecal floatation with Rosa, the laboratory technician at the Wakulima Dairy. We spent an afternoon going through how to perform a fecal floatation, but kept finding no eggs on the floatation. We were very frustrated with the whole process. Then we discovered that we were being incredibly smart and using the improper concentration of the floatation solution. Ah the hilariousness of it all. (I do enjoy my science dorkiness, don’t judge). Anyway, the next day we were very excited to find a strongyle egg (a very common parasite egg of cattle) under the microscope. Needless to say, there was much exclamation and hand slapping, all for a ridiculous strongyle egg (Rosa looked on with a smile of enjoyment in our elation, but I do think there was a hint of, these kids are crazy, where is the nearest line of help). The point is, we felt like we had really accomplished something there that afternoon because Rosa had not been identifying parasite eggs correctly. It was such a gift to know that we were able to help, even in a very small, parasitic egg, sort of way.

I would have never dreamed of the experiences that we have had in this country. We’ve met so many wonderful people here and have experienced such beautiful countryside and dewormed so many cattle. It certainly has been a life experience and I know that I will never forget the time I’ve had. My greatest wish is that the people we have interacted with have gained either some knowledge or help with the health of their cows and that their lives are a little easier.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Making compost by Teresa Mellish

In August, we took samples of the soil farmed by the members of the Muchui Womens Group and the Ruuju Womens Group which sent to the Kenya ministry of Agriculture for analysis.. We found that the land was low in organic matter. This has resulted from growing maize year after year.
So Winston and Susan worked with the women to prepare compost piles on their farms. They prepared a fact sheet listing the steps in preparing a compost pile. They listed the materials that could be used to make a compost. They also included the reasons why compost would improve the level of organic matter and how higher organic matter would improve their crop yields in the future. Also it would reduce the need for purchased fertilizer and would hold moisture in the soil better.
They presented a seminar to both groups of women with a large diagram showing the layers of materials to be put in a compost pile.
Then they went out with the group to make a compost pile on one of their farms. The women had already dug a hole and had assembled the materials they have on their farms to make the piles. There were branches for the bottom. They had green material in the form of tithonia leaves. They had dried bean stalks and corn stover. They had ashes, top soil and manure. They also had water.
Susan jumped in the hole and started to lay the branches in the bottom of the hole. Winston forked in bean vines. But it wasn’t long before all of the women were adding materials under their direction and soon the pile was complete. We stuck a long hard wood stick down into the pile so the women can check to see if it is heating up.
In three weeks the compost should be done. The women have dug three pits so they can turn it as it matures.
We went back to see the pile on Thursday and it was already 140 degrees. We’ll check it again later.
We also saw many women digging pits and assembling materials to build their own compost piles.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Farmers Helping Farmers Veterinary Student Blog Week 2

This past week we were joined by three Nairobi veterinary students who are also in their last year of school. We are all working together in the area of Meru with the Thubuku Dairy, as well as the Muchui and Ruuju women’s groups to help them learn about their cows’ health and improve their milk production. It has been a great to work with the Nairobi veterinary students and learn about their school experiences, as well as their personal lives. It doesn’t hurt that they also can help us diagnose some of the foreign animal diseases that they see here in Kenya but we don’t really hear about in Canada. We have been able to see a great variety of cases while here in the Meru region and the people are interested in learning and enjoy the seminars that we teach.

The entire farmers helping farmers team worked together yesterday to survey the Ruuju women’s group about their water tanks, gardens, and farm animals. It was a great time visiting the women and their families at their homes and discussing the benefits of the water tanks, such as a reduced risk of waterborne diseases and reduced amount of time boiling water and fetching water from a river. They also were happy to take pictures with us as long as they could view them after – which they always thought was pretty funny. The children are always excited to see us, especially the older ones; there have been a few days where we are chased in our car by yelling and waving kids – quite the experience!

As the week comes to an end it is hard to believe we have only been in Kenya for 2 weeks with all of things we have seen and learned. We will be heading out on safari in Samburu park this weekend, and then heading back to the Nyeri District to work with the Othaya Dairy again. It will be sad for the week to end as the Nairobi vet students must return to school as they have exams next week, but we can look forward to seeing them again before we leave as we are going to be visiting their vet school just before we fly out next Friday. Stay tuned for updates..