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Chinese firm to pick Kenya’s first nuclear power plant location

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By EDWIN MUTAI
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The Indian Ocean, Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana have been identified as top contenders for hosting the first nuclear power plant that Kenya plans to build in the next 8-10 years.

The Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) said it has contracted a Chinese firm- China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC)- determine the most suitable location in an ambitious two-year Site Characterisation study.

NuPEA put the consultation cost at Sh50 million.

The National Assembly’s Energy committee on Tuesday heard that the exercise is expected to cost taxpayers Sh1.5 billion.

“Currently, we have zeroed in at the coast along the Indian Ocean, Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana as the most ideal sites. We have excluded the Rift Valley because we need enough water to cool the plant,” Mr Collins Juma, the NuPEA chief executive said.

Even as the agency plans to set up the nuclear power plant with a 1,000 megawatt (MW) capacity by 2027, the Energy ministry has always argued that the country should only turn to atomic power when it has fully exploited other sources of energy.

Hydropower accounts for 35 percent of Kenya’s electricity generation, with the rest coming from geothermal, wind and diesel powered plants, the ministry says.

Plans to develop a 1,050-megawatt coal-fired plant on the coast, using funding from China, have been delayed by court action from environmental activists.

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NuPEA forecasts its capacity rising to a total 4,000MW by 2033 making nuclear electricity a key component of the country’s energy mix.

“Two years is an ambitious timeline to get coordinates for site characterisation. Characterisation takes long because Turkey, Nigeria and Russia took three years. We should be talking of three years,” Mr Juma told MPs.

He said NuPEA has entered into a Sh50 million consultancy with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) for the characterisation study.

The agency said it has trained 29 Kenyans on nuclear energy, all of whom graduated with Master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from top universities in Korea, China and Russia.

Kenya views nuclear power both as a long-term solution to high fuel costs — incurred during times of drought when diesel generators are used — and an effective way to cut carbon emissions from the power generating sector.

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Agronomist notebook: Here’s how to make your farm caterpillar-free

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ANN MACHARIA

By ANN MACHARIA
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Caterpillars have invaded some parts of Kajiado County, making farmers incur huge losses. During my daily routine, I met Florence, a spinach farmer in Kisaju.

The caterpillars have ravaged her crop to the extent that only the midribs remained in the plants. The spinach leaves are defoliated.

Some crops have what is known as the window effect, making them unattractive to customers. Caterpillar attacks on sukuma wiki and French beans have also been reported in several parts of the county.

The leaves of the French bean plants attacked have irregular holes while the pods have tunnels, with others having irregular shapes.
A farmer whose French beans land has been invaded by the caterpillar suffers for his produce can neither be sold locally nor exported. The most conspicuous symptom of the caterpillar invasion is leaf defoliation.

The caterpillar usually feeds on the lamina, leaving the plant stalk standing. Others leave the leaves with the window effect – gaping holes in the leaves.

At the base of the plant, one can easily notice the caterpillar’s waste products, known as fross. The cocoon is an indication of the presence of the pest.

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One can easily see the moths flying about and shaking the leaves of the affected plants. The caterpillar is the larval stage of moths or butterflies. The farmer needs to be careful when identifying the kind of caterpillar species on his or her land.

They are identified by their worm-like soft bodies. The caterpillar is the most destructive stage of moths and butterflies.

They can ruin crops in a greenhouse or open field. Some attack fruits such as tomatoes. They include the African bollworm.

Young caterpillars start eating on the underside of the leaves. The larger ones can go to the extent of damaging flowers, fruits and young shoots.

SPRAY EARLY IN THE MORNING

The colour of the pest varies, from green to reddish-brown. When the caterpillar is disturbed, it raises its head and curls it under the front part of its body.

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This is a unique behaviour of the caterpillar that assists in its identification. The damage to the crops mostly gets worse with the increase in the size of the caterpillar.

This is why farmers are advised to control it during the early stages of its growth. Caterpillar invasion is severe during rainy seasons. A few others are active during warm conditions.

Moths are nocturnal. This makes it very difficult to control them. Scouting for the caterpillars should be done early in the morning for best results.

One should scout both sides of the leaves in order to control the pest before it gets out of control. Spraying should therefore done early in the morning or late in the evening.

In a small kitchen garden, the farmer can pick the caterpillars by hand and kill them, especially if the invasion is low.

Insecticidal soap controls the caterpillars by suffocating them. To control the caterpillar, farm hygiene should be maintained.

Bushes act as breeding grounds for butterflies and moths and should be cleared. The use of biological products like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) helps control the pest too.

Bt is a bacterium which affects the digestive system of the caterpillar, killing the pest. Bacillus thuringiensis should be applied at the right time since it needs to be consumed by the pest for it to be effective. Neem oil and pyrethrin are also known to control the caterpillar effectively.

Some farmers use home-made chilly sprays to control them. This is cheap, effective and does not have a negative effect on the environment. Some birds feed on caterpillars, helping them control the pest.

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Songs, mattresses ‘improve milk yields’

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IRENE MUGO

By IRENE MUGO
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Music is playing from speakers placed strategically near the ceiling of the cowshed when the Seeds of Gold team arrives at Muhika Mutahi’s home in Mukurweini, Nyeri County. The tunes, Mutahi tells us, make the animals relax, thus increasing milk production.

Dressed in a pair of black trousers, black gumboots and a blue overcoat, Mutahi paces around his zero grazing unit as he takes the team on a tour of his 17-acre farm. Apart from the cows, Mutahi grows macadamia nuts and avocados. He also processes coffee.

Yellow name tags dangle from the animals’ ears. Interestingly, every animal sleeps on a mattress “to make them as comfortable as possible”.

They are separated depending on productivity and age. This makes it easy to tell those that are high yielders, in calf and lactating, Mutahi says.

Mutahi was the the first person to open a private milk processor in Nyeri 29 years ago. The plant has grown over time and its annual turnover is Sh1.2 billion.

He began the venture by forming a self-help group with 25 farmers in 1990. It began with just 31 litres and the objective of the group was to collect milk from local farmers.

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“The first yield from the four cows I started with was just 15 litres of milk,” he said. Mutahi acquired knowledge on dairy farming from his grandfather.

“He used to graze his herds freely in the fields. I decided to do things differently,” he said. His high-grade Friesian cows are a product of artificial insemination.

“AI assures me of quality breeds and improved milk production. It is also the most effective way of servicing my animals,” he said.

Mutahi now has 40 cows that produce 260 litres of milk daily. The herd includes seven heifers and seven lactating cows.

He produces milk throughout the year, a feat he attributes to good farming practices. “For a farmer to maintain high milk yields, he should conserve fodder and avoid relying on rain,” he said.

“Have a proper feeding programme if you do not want to suffer when prices fall.” He feeds his cows on concentrates, hay and silage.

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“With a feeding plan, one maintains constant and consistent production of milk all year round,” he said. Mutahi gives his animals silage twice a day. He also feeds them on dairy supplements and hay at a ratio of 2:2.

The silage at the farm is stored in five trenches, each measuring 12 x 10 x 8 feet. They can store up to 50 tonnes of silage that is mostly made from napier grass or maize stalks and leaves.

“The grass or maize is chopped using a chaff cutter. It is then mixed with molasses and the whole mixture is later compressed,” he said.

It is then put in the concrete trenches and compressed manually or using a tractor. “After every six or eight inches, the workers compress the mixture by stepping on it,” he said.

The trenches are then covered with black polythene. Once they are filled to the brim, they are covered with sackfuls of soil to prevent exposure of the silage to air.

Mutahi has silage that can last this year and is making more from his harvested maize. He has leased eight acres in Kirinyaga to grow maize.

“Silage from maize contains more nutrients and energy than that from napier grass,” he said. “Relying on napier silage once dropped milk production from 250 litres to 180.”

However, farmers should not write off napier in fodder preparation as it can be harvested up to four times a year, compared to two times for maize.

Mutahi dreams of becoming a breeder of pedigree cows, a business that will run concurrently with dairy farming.

Fermented milk, yoghurt and UHT

  1. The plant started by Muhika Mutahi processes 4,000 litres of yoghurt that comes in two flavours – vanilla and strawberry.
  2. It also processes 2, 000 litres of fermented milk while the rest goes into making of ultra heat treated milk. According to Mutahi, the main challenge facing the dairy industry in Kenya is counterfeit feeds.
  3. He says the fake feeds affect milk production. He now manufactures the feeds used on his farm.

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To improve food security, make all fertiliser affordable

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GILBERT ARAP BOR

By GILBERT ARAP BOR
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It is common knowledge that without fertiliser, crops will not do well. Farmers in Kenya use four main types of fertiliser: DAP, CAN, Urea and NPK.

Just as children need healthy diets to flourish, plants require special nutrients to produce high yields. Kenya is in the middle of buying fertiliser for the next season.

Though maize is the primary crop in Kenya, farmers’ demand for fertiliser is not comparable to that of plantation crop owners – coffee, tea, sugarcane.

This is because maize farmers are largely smallholder and tend to use a much lower proportion of the recommended fertiliser quantities. Demand for fertiliser by maize farmers is also influenced by the timing of the planting season.

A majority of farmers will buy the input just before or on the onset of the rains. Unfortunately, that is the period it is very expensive.

Consequently, they do not use enough fertiliser, with many hardly using any. Expensive fertiliser leads to lower use of the manure.

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Because of this, many of the country’s farms don’t produce as much food as they should. So, farm incomes are low as consumer prices remain high.

President Uhuru Kenyatta wants to make sure Kenyans have the food they need by the end of his term in 2022.

The Cabinet approval of commercial growing of Bt cotton on December 19 is important as it signals Mr Kenyatta’s keenness in putting money in farmers’ pockets. Yet no single approach will end all our food security problems.

We must have a robust approach to agriculture that involves access to technology and an improved infrastructure, more financing opportunities and a lot more fertiliser.

I have always used fertiliser on my farm. This includes chemical fertiliser to stimulate my maize and farmyard manure to grow pasture for my dairy animals as well as raise my vegetables. Too many farmers, however, can’t afford fertiliser.

Prices soar for a number of reasons that have little to do with the input itself, such as costly transport, fluctuating exchange rates, and delays at Mombasa port.

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We also suffer from significant markups in the domestic market – almost certainly the result of anti-competitive collusion by a small number of dominant suppliers.

Add it all up and adequate fertiliser is beyond the reach of many an ordinary farmer. The challenges of raising fertiliser use to levels that push up food production are huge, with difficult options.

The government has attempted to end this problem with subsidies. Smallholder farmers have benefited from this programme since 2009.

While this treats the symptoms of the problem rather than their source, at least it offers some help. One positive step would be to loosen the restrictions the government places on the cadmium levels in fertiliser.

Cadmium is an element that occurs in phosphate manure. Too much of it can be harmful to the environment. Kenya’s cadmium standards are insensible. They are among the most rigorous on the planet.

Scientific evidence should be used to set appropriate limits that will protect food safety and still allow the farmers to meet the needs of our growing population.

Keeping them low may be good for the environment, but it limits fertiliser sources, driving the price way above what many farmers can afford. One last call to the government is to speed up procurement and deliveries of fertiliser to farmers.

Dr Bor grows maize, vegetables and keeps dairy cows on a 25-acre farm in Kapseret. He teaches marketing and management at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Kenya Fish Marketing Authority and the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya.

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