Monday, November 3, 2014

An opportunity or the winner's curse : H&M in Ethiopia

About a year ago, i discussed the emergence of the manufacturing industry in Ethiopia, as a chance to move huge amount of rural population out of agriculture and push for more productive agriculture.
It was a movie that was very biased, towards modern slavery not looking at the opportunities that this new sector can bring to a very poor country. Especially the working conditions offered by Chinese manufacturers were actually quite good compared to other employment opportunities in Ethiopia.

Recently the German TV followed the cloth route for H&M cloth in Bangladesh and unveiled how H&M is working. H&M is also starting operations in Ethiopia because of the very low wage level.

It unveils how H&M never pays taxes, does not care at all about development of the countries their work in nor about their population. As much as manufacturing of cloth is a tremendous opportunity, it is time to look at what type of development it means. Government have the power to let H&M in, and under which conditions... Time for Ethiopia wake up and don't let its people become slaves?

Monday, October 27, 2014

sweet dreams are made of these : sweet shops as major milk consumer

When one follows the milk chain in Bihar, you discover quickly that most of the informal milk chain to urban areas go to sweet shops. I was quite suprised, as in my world milk has to be transformed in yogurt and cheese!

a typical sweet shop

We had a longer discussion with the owner. He get his milk through vendors who pick the milk from the farm. He pays about 34 rupees per liter for the best milk quality. The price is fixed based on the amount of condensed milk that he is able to make from a liter milk. So if a farmer mixes in water to get more milk, then he simply gets a lower price. 

making condensed milk in the back of the shop

In the back of the shop, there is a man with a huge pan, making condensed milk the whole day long. So we were wondering about milk shortages. And indeed, there are some peeks in demand, then he would first try to buy the packaged milk from the cooperative and then use powder milk. Interesting, as the packaged milk might also just be regenerated powder milk. 

The sweets tasted marvelously, whatever milk was used! And we proceeded our trip further.
the sweets 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Unlocking dairy market for landless people

During my last field trip in Bihar, I learned more about how landless people can make a living in rural India. Landless people often own small ruminants (goat and sheep) that they take grazing on field borders and marginal areas. These animals are the sold for meat and bring income to landless families.
a goat, not just making use of field borders
Next to small ruminants, landless people often "lease" dry dairy cows (cows that don't give milk yet). Rich farmers do not make any benefit from a dry dairy cow, so feeding in a zero grazing unit is just costly. They therefore give the cows to landless people to be grazed on marginal areas with the small ruminants. If something happens to the animal during the lease time, the owner bears the risk.

When the cow starts giving milk, then a value for the animal is fixed. The owner pays half of the value to the landless person, or if the landless person can pay half of the animal, then keep it and start making benefits from the milk.

However landless people never have money to pay half a cow, it is always the owner of the cow who gets it back and starts making good money from milk. Would a landless person get access to a dairy cow and be able to sell the milk, then it could be a sustainable pathway out of poverty.
Centre for Promoting Sustainable Livelihood (CPSL) and their RojiRoti program has decided to end this vicious cycle by offering fair micro credits to landless women to keep a dairy cow through paying half of the value to the owner.

It is not commercial micro credit : CPSL works on organizing women around rotating saving and credit organisation allowing landless people to get short term credits for health or immediate needs from each other.

An interesting scheme that seems to unlock poverty traps where landless people are often locked in.

Find out more about this here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Arrest this vendor! or the risks of an informal milk chain

On my recent field trip in India, i have tried to follow the milk routes from the producer to the final custumer. In Gaya town, milk reaches the cities mainly through an informal chain. Vendor on their bikes, get milk from farmers and sell on the street.

A milk vendor in Gaya
We interviewed one of the milk vendor. He told me that he sells different quality of milk. The highest quality goes for 40 rupees. After some discussions, i discovered that he is adding water to his milk. Water he promised me was very clean in his home. He would fix lower prices for the lower quality milk, i.e. the one in which he has mixed water, in such a way that he get the equivalent of 40 rupees per liter of pure milk. So if he would add 1/3 of water the price would go down by 1/3. It made a lot of sense...
the vendor we talked to
The people around me started to become very nervous, shouting at him that he is a thieve and i should arrest him! We let him bike away quickly, and i understood why promoting a formal milk chains in the area is crucial. The packed cooperative milk in other towns is cheaper, comes in a cool chain and is pasteurized...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

From IT to the dairy farm : when young people take up the challenge of agri-business

In India, as most of the developing world, being a farmer is equivalent of being a looser who did not get a well paid job in town. Clearly, being a subsistence farmer, producing his/her own food in a low productive manner is not a very sexy job, nor a fulfilling career. I was told, if you are a farmer in India, you won't get a wife...

Mr Rajbardhan Sharma explaining his vision
In many developing countries, and especially in Bihar, agriculture is at the edge of a transformation.
Young people have left the rural areas, the government has offered schemes to landless people, who usually would be cheap daily laborer, to move out to agricultural work. As a result, rural area suffer of a massive shortage of agricultural laborer. Also as people move to town, land because available for sale or for lease. It might sound dramatic, but is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity for young agri-enterpreneur to start their business and make a bet on increasing scale and mechanization. Being a farmer in this new context, is being a smart entrepreneur who understood that producing food is producing a product that will never become obsolete and that always will have a market. It is about taking the challenge of being the change that everyone is talking about and make money from it. I guess this agri-entrepreneur has nothing to do with the subsistence farmer who does not even deserve a wife...

On my trip to Nalanda, i met one of the very few young people who took up the challenge. Mr Rajbardhan Sharma left his well paid IT job in Banglore a year ago to start a dairy farm with his brother on this parents farm. He was lucky to be able to dispose of about 1.5 hectare of land (which is above the average in the area) and put all his savings into a well developed dairy farm with 2 milking machines.

He is delivering is 230 liters of milk daily through the state milk union. As milk price is fixed and relatively low, he is betting on reducing production costs, increasing in scale to benefit from return to scales and increased productivity. At this stage he is also making money from selling fertilizers produced from his manure.

Today, he still can get almost all the fodder from his fields that he cultivates in the rice-wheat system and some fodder grasses. He believes in an integrated farming system, but as he will increase in scale he will need to rely on the fodder market or get more land. He has not yet put a lot of thoughts about optimizing the cows' diet, to improve milk productivity. But i am sure this will be one of this next steps.
The free range space is in process to be build and can host up to 60 cows

He gets the cows from another state to ensure the good quality of his breeds. As acquiring new cows are not so easy, he is also thinking of becoming a breeder's farm for the region.

We sat there in the cow shed sharing ideas about agriculture and dairy around the world (comparing to a Dutch and Kenyan system), we were going through more or less crazy ideas on how technology and institutional innovation could disrupt the current dairy system and lift more people out of poverty. More than just an interview, we had a real exchange of ideas between social entrepreneurs and I hope that social media will help us to keep doing so! Also the agricultural world has become smaller!

I left the farm with deep respect for this young man who decided to go against all odds into agriculture and proof to his family and friends that far from being a survival job, agri-entrepreneur not only can generate good money, but also contribute positively to a social change that benefits to the people of his country!

Friday, October 10, 2014

When smallholders link themselves to market : the Kaushalya foundation story

One of the first organization I visited during my recent trip in India was Kaushalya Foundation. The first thing that really strikes you when you pass the door of this NGO, is the high amount of women working there, also in leader position.
The ILRI team with the the Kaushalya Foundation team
Kaushalya Foundation supports the creation of social enterprises, mainly trying to enable farmers to link themselves to market. To do so they enable farmers to create the so-called farmer-producer companies for vegetables, a sort of marketing company owned by farmer through which they are making bulk sales to buyers. These farmer-producer companies are separately registered companies. Each farmer-producer company also host business hub. 

The business hub explained with a mock-up
A business hub brings together all types of  services. Through this business hub, high quality seed, livestock feed, advisory services (for example on soil quality or weather forecast) to rural areas which critically lack access to these high quality services. Also theses hub offer training to groups landless women to produce farm input such as treated seeds or fertilizer or natural pesticides. Theses products are then sold through the business hub.

To enable the vegetable value chain, Kaushalya foundation is also behind some innovation. They have developed a low cost green house for vegetables. Also they have revolutionized the sales of vegetables. They have a network of vegetables carts with a new design that keeps vegetables fresh for longer. Their carts sell packaged vegetables at fixed prices, making transaction between sellers and consumer easy and quick.

The vegetable cart
Many of these technologies have been promoted by the government in other states.
Next to all these activities Kaushalya foundation organizes farmer interest groups through which they organize training, field demonstration and advice, including a software that automatically translate results from a soil test into operational advice to manage the fields.

Kaushalya foundation is behind two business hubs in Bihar, namely in Patna and in Nalanda and focus mainly on vegetable production. Nalanda is a place where the milk value chain is not yet very well organized and therefore this farmer producer company could play a key role in organizing farmers not only around vegetable but also livestock production and especially milk.

visiting one of the farmer-producer company

I was very impressed by this farmer-producer concept, and learned one important thing : the success story here is linking the right technology to the right institutions, focusing only one of the two would probably not lead to such an impressive result. A model to export to Africa?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Selecting sites to make science work, some thoughts from Bihar (India)

One of my jobs at ILRI is to support the site selection for our Livestock and Fish program. Some of you might think, this is an easy task, as one just need to take care that we take some different agro-ecological zones into account. However, science has changed over the last years,  we want to do relevant science, science for development : a science that has impact on the poor.
To have impact as a scientist, one needs to do science for people who really need it. But because research is not a development agency, we need to work hand in hand with development partners, but also with the private sector and any other stakeholder on the ground.

Selecting sites in such an environment has become more complex, as not only the agro-ecological diversity is needed for getting relevant scientific output, but also the right set of partners who can help to define what is relevant and can promote the different result back to the farmers and other stakeholders. Involving these partners into our goals means finding common ground where science and development can make sense of each other.

Last week I was visiting Bihar in India to select the sites for livestock and fish dairy value chain. It has been a long process starting with analyzing geographical layers and identify where the poor livestock keepers are. In a second stage stakeholders have defined what other criteria should be considered. For Bihar they have, for example, mentioned the level of agricultural development, the type of livestock breeds, accessibility or social capital. Also the stakeholder have ranked all the district for these criteria.

As a result of this we had a set of 4 promising districts, we visited (or in our jargon groundtruthed) to make a final selection. We met interested and dedicated people on the ground, we have seen agricultural systems, dairy cow and buffalo, rice and banana tree... It has been a long journey full of adventure, lessons learned and great encounters.

In the upcoming weeks, my blog will take you along this journey under the Bihar sites series, sharing with you some of the most impressive stories! I hope you will enjoy the virtual trip!

I would like to thank Vamsi, the ILRI value chain coordinator for India, and all the NGO representatives, governmental representative, farmers, vendors, sweet sellers, directors, drivers and anyone else who crossed our journey for having made this visit such a beautiful and interesting experience. 

All picture in this post are from Avinash from Kaushalya foundation

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Inclusive businesses to lift smallholders out of poverty ?

At the AECF conference, from which i reported last week, i was one of the few lucky people who was given this fantastic book on "is inclusive business for you?", produced by CTA , the technical center for agricultural and rural cooperation.

It is a book that brings together cases studies from different African countries about companies that integrate or go for contract farming. It gives an amazing overview that reveals what is already happening in terms of integration on the African continent.

For me the most fascinating story presented in this book is the one from Novos Horizontes in Mozambique where contract farming was apply to the poultry sector. The particularity of this company is that the contract paid farmers based on the weight gain of the chicken, which is the only variable that a farmer can influence. It seems to be success story.

However, would it work for my chicken farm? where the chicken are not broiler (the chicken kept for meat) but a hybrid that will not gain so much weight, and should be fed on waste to reach the taste for which there might be a premium market and not per se getting too big?

The book really shows you that there is not one unique way to do contract farming. Each example in the book is different, has different products, different contracts has different objectives even within the same sector. It is a nice illustration of the fact that integration is  about setting the incentives right and to find creative solutions that fits the given context.

Get your own copy of the book from  here :

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Be the change you want to see : or how to empower African businesses to succeed

Last week, the annual  African Enterprise Challenge Fund conference took place in Nairobi. It was an amazing conference bringing together social entrepreneurs from the whole continent to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Often those events have a huge registration fee, and i always wonder how social entrepreneurs who use all their small money to make the change they want to see happen spend 600 usd to attend a 2 day luxury event. So when you go to these events, you meet a lot of "wannabe save the world" people, who talk a lot but there is nothing behind.

AECF conference was different, not only i was allowed to participate for free, but even my parking fee was covered (the organizer were extremely generous as interested people could just register and join). People who joined the conference all where running businesses with their ups and downs or were investors in such ventures. For me, with my emerging poultry enterprise, it was mainly a space to learn, to understand new trends, and discover that my philosophy is part of a bigger movement. 

I learnt so many things, from contract framing, to poultry and investment strategy, which cannot fit in one blog post only. So let me start a new series under the label AECF on this blog, and take you through each of the lessons learned in small steps.

For today, the first lesson is about what AECF is. I discovered that this is a fund that allows start-up with disruptive ideas in agribusiness to get funded. It is a fund that does not help poor people with hand outs or any NGO, it just support enterprise who have the potential to bring a change to the poor in a business environment.
The ​​African ​​Enterprise ​​ Challenge ​​Fund ​​(AECF) ​​is ​​a ​​US$250m  ​​challenge ​​fund ​​for ​​agribusiness ​​in ​​Africa, ​​established ​​ in ​​2008. ​​AECF ​​provides ​​support ​​to ​​the ​​private ​​sector ​​for ​​new ​​and ​​ innovative ​​business ​​ideas ​​in ​​agribusiness, ​​rural ​​financial ​ ​services ​​and ​​renewable ​​energy/adaptation ​​to ​​climate ​​change  ​​that ​​will ​​benefit ​​Africa’s ​​small ​​farmers ​​and ​​rural ​​ households.
AECF is supported by ​some ​of ​the ​biggest ​names ​in ​development ​finance ​and ​hosted ​ by ​the ​Alliance ​for ​a ​Green ​Revolution ​in ​Africa ​(AGRA). The aim of AECF is ​to ​encourage ​private ​sector ​companies ​to ​compete ​for ​ investment ​support ​for ​their ​new ​and ​innovative ​business ​ ideas. AECF ​provides ​the ​minimum ​amount ​of ​concessionary ​finance  ​to ​make ​business ​ideas ​happen ​that ​otherwise ​would ​not. 

AECF funds ​innovative ​business ​ideas ​in ​agri-business, ​rural ​ financial ​services, ​renewable ​energy ​and ​technologies ​to ​assist ​ small ​farmers ​to ​adapt ​to ​climate ​change. (Taken from here)

It is a fund in which big donors make finances available for businesses, and it is managed by a committee chaired by Prof. Rudy Rabbinge, who I came already accross during my PhD time at Wageningen University, reminding me how small the world can be.

On Friday night I left the conference with the conviction that AECF is  one of these unique schemes that does things right : helping people to invest into their innovative ideas to lift smallholders out of poverty with their own means and let the market decide what works and what not. Isn't that how aid should be?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is social entrepreneurship a model for agri-business?

No later than yesterday night i had a long debate with the co-founder of Jolly Poultry about what social entrepreneurship is, and what it would mean for an agri-business like us to be a social entrepreneur.

Are we supporting the poor to produce poultry? to consume poultry? what has potential to scale? Where is the entry point? and how do we disrupt the existing system to leverage the poor, the young people and women?

So i found today this video, showing what a social enterprise is :

The video does not say much about farming and agri-business : there are still plenty of opportunities! What do you think are criteria for making our poultry agri-business a social enterprise?

Friday, August 15, 2014

When tomatoes become a luxuary ...

Over the last month, my budget for vegetables suddenly exploded... price in Nairobi for fresh food just dramatically went up, especially tomatoes doubled since i am here (ok there is also a seasonal effect in this price change)... The canteen everyday just serves cabbages as if another vegetable had disappeared from the market... I got so tired...

But I belong to the lucky people who can afford to enter a shop an by more expensive vegetables, even tomatoes. However, this significant price increase is fueling inflation in Kenya, making life for poor people even more difficult.

See the recent article about how food prices are changing the daily life of poor people in Kenya.

If you eat some fresh vegetable of your choice today, remind all those people who probably struggle to just get some sukuma wiki (local cheap cabbage).

Kenya: Phillip Abuya has seen a drastic change in his diet, thanks to soaring tomato prices, in a complex phenomenon that has altered the meal composition for millions of other households across Kenya. Tomatoes have fallen off his shopping list, and have been readily replaced by processed flavouring additives such as Royco and tomato paste. Traditionally considered an essential ingredient in cooking across the country, Abuya says he cannot afford to buy tomatoes at the current prices that are as high as Sh17 apiece. Corner shops in some residential estates are selling three large tomatoes for Sh50, and Sh10 for a medium-sized one. “I have to make do with the artificial additives when I cook,” said the 27-year-old accounting graduate who is yet to find a job. A typical meal he prepares consists of ugali and sukuma wiki. His situation is replicated in most households, especially across Nairobi, at least according to Jeremiah Njeru, who operates a grocery store in Buru Buru.
Read more at:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Engaging young people and women in commercially viable agriculture : a mission impossible?

In the developing world more than 50% of the population are young people (below 30 years). Many of them have a great struggle to find jobs, and entrepreneurship is often seen as one option to reduce youth unemployment. But youth entrepreneurship in not just a magic bullet. Some young people are just not the entrepreneur type, and for those who are access to capital to get a start-up going is pretty difficult.Often, the western world thinks that micro-credit can be a good option for young people to start off a business. Unfortunately, nowadays micro credits with amount between 100 -1000 USD are just not enough to get something going. More high risk capital should be made available, something the Kenyan goverment in looking into right now.

Here is an Aljazeera report that looks into these issues, and interviews some of the most innovative young people in Kenya.

It turns out that i know some of these young people and know about their struggle to get start up capital. The Kenyan government low interest governmental loans for young people gives some hope. However, no one really believes that the Kenyan government will really give out sufficient loans and on merit base.

Making commercially viable agriculture accessible to young people is an interesting option for youth entrepreneurship that Aljazeera does not mention. Jolly Poultry, the chicken farm that i have recently started up, is now looking into getting more young people in poultry farming. Poultry farming is a relative low entry business, meaning in amount of money needed to start up is relatively low. Especially in livestock there are good margins. Jolly Poultry does now offer training to young people and offers them a space to think about their own farm, to choose the right infrastructure, make the right choices fitting their personal situation and needs.

We hope in this way to open the door to poultry farming for some young people and give them are more interesting perspective of life in the Kenyan agricultural sector..

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Following the goat cheese chain in Ouagadougou, when nothing is also a result

In one of my last post i reported from my trip to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to look at the small ruminant value chain of the Livestock and Fish Research Program. After having visited the small ruminant market and having eaten the best goat cheese pizza at the Verdoyant (a restaurant you should not miss would you ever go to Burkina) i decided to investigate where the goat cheese comes from.

During the stakeholder meeting i was co-facilitating on site selection, i got the chance to talk to many people who know the local situation and i was told, that the transformation sector in Burkina Faso has a huge potential for improvement...

Food for thoughts, I decided during my free day to try to understand what they meant and decided to follow the goat cheese from the producer to the end consumer. I heart of a place not far out of Ouagadougou, a place called Capri di Loubmila. I heart it was not only a restaurant but also a farm that produces the goat cheese.

 We arrived, but there was not a single goat, but just huge construction work and some other interesting livestock...

So we ended up calling some one you could help us and some minutes later, Herman showed up on a motor bike. He explained to us that they are rebuilding the hotel and for the time being they have moved the goats and the whole production to another place that would not be accessible by car because of the rain. 

Herman explaining why there were no goat
As adventure and making the impossible happen spirit and taking up new challenges quickly did not seem to be part of the strengths set nor of my driver nor of Herman, i decided that it might be better not not ask to go there, despite of our very good looking 4 wheel drive... 

So i was a little bit disappointed to not see the goats, but delighted to visit another project that tries to link agriculture and tourism. I really hope i will get a chance to stay there once the hotel is finished. It is an attractive site, where one can even learn how to make goat cheese... when the goats will be back. In the mean time i just admired the Karite nut, a tree i had heart about a lot but never seen with my own eyes.
Karite nut tree
Yet, I learnt that capri di Loubmila sells its cheese for 700 franc ( about 1.4 USD) to a local supermarket chain. This is not the farm gate price, but the one they get when the cheese is brought to the redistribution point. The supermarket takes the risk of unsold. As i never give up quickly, i decided to go to the one of these supermarket. And guess what, when i asked for the local goat cheese, they did not have any. Only the expensive imported goat cheese from France. However i learnt that the cheese is sold to the end consumer at 800 francs, so with a margin of 100, which is about 20 cent. So at least for the cheese it seems that the producer gets a fair share!

The plenty of imported goat cheese from France
The French products in average go for 2000 francs so more than double of the local one. I had a quick chat with the responsible for the cheese aisle. He found that he was very happy with the local goat cheese and there is no issue with it, he just could not get more and had sold it all... i am probably just too entrepreneurial to see a lost business opportunity here...

I left the supermarket convinced now that i understood what the stakeholder meant with "the transformation sector has a huge potential for development", i would add "and the retailing sector too", or at least in the coordination of the value chain. I haven't seen anything of what i wanted to see in the whole day, but on this way i learnt a lot, and seeing nothing is definitely a result!

A walk through Ouagadougou's livestock market

It is mid of July in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), it is Ramadan, a spiritual time in a country where 60% of the population is Muslim. Everyone gets prepared for Eid Al-Fitir, the celebration of the end of Ramadan. It means lots of meat and slaughtering animals. I guess it is the best time to walk on the Ouagadougou livestock market, called Sougr-Nooma. 

Entrance to the market "Marche du betail Sougr-Nooma"

The first thing i was explained was about the very high feeding cost in Ouagadougou. Therefore, sellers want to sell quickly. The feed on the livestock on millet they prepare with water and grass that a seller sells just outside the market place.
Millet preparation
The grass seller outside of the market place
Being there with ILRI colleagues, you can't avoid to talk of breeds. But as an economist and gis analyst all these discussion sometimes sound quite chinese... So what i understood is that in Burkina you have 3 breeds of goats and i am afraid i did not follow the discussion about the sheeps.

One is coming from the North and East of the country and is a dwarf. It is very well suited for the harsh in conditions.
A baby dwarf goat
Then there is a very huge breed that is more sensitive. But it is pretty productive and attractive as a it is sold by size.
The very big breed
Then there is a third breed which i unfortunately did not follow the whole story.

My colleague and i, no geneticist, decided to call this one just "le barbu" (the bearded)
Not that i was not listening, but i ended up having a good chat with a seller, and respectable old man. I was first a bit afraid to talk to him, he was obviously Muslim, and i was obviously an uncovered woman. But quickly i discovered the openness of the Islam in this country and had a good chat with him. I discovered that a baby dwarf goat goes for about 30 usd, a dwarf goat between 80 -100 usd, and the giant goats can go up to 400 usd. Now we understand why they all want to have the big breed. At the end of our discussion he wanted to know is there are Mosques in my country and if we could practice Islam. I told him that in my country there is freedom of religion and there were Mosques where he would be welcome to pray. I obviously felt ashamed of the fact that Switzerland has a law in the constitution the explicitly forbids minaret (a type of architecture that could be anyway limited by land use law, unless in industrial zone)  and the general negative connotation of Islam in my country. He was so welcoming to me, i felt that he should feel welcome in my country too, so i did not tell much.
The white goats
On the other side of the market I had a chat with a much younger seller who was selling the white goats. He explained to me that the value of a perfectly white goat can increase the price up to 40 usd, just because of the color during this particular week. Remember it is Ramadan, and you are supposed to make an sacred offering of the animal to God, and completely white is more sacred than one with black dots...
The value of this goat is lower, because of the black dots around its eyes

When you walk out of the market you see the trucks with which the goats and sheep arrive into Ouagadougou. If the animal comes from the pastoralist zone, then it has passed in at least two markets: a collecting market (marche de collecte) and a regroupement market (marche de regroupement) where buyer and seller try to make profit, often at the cost of the pastoratlist who remains poor.
Trucks arriving from the regroupment markets 
The program livestock and fish i am working on will look at this value chain and find way to improve the production of small ruminant for and by the poor in Burkina Faso. I hope that this walk through the market has convinced you that it is a fascinating task!

And a great thanks to my ILRI colleagues who made this visit possible!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Multifunctional farms, in rich countries only?

Lately, I went to visit a poultry farm a bit off Nairobi, to get inspired for my and my friend's poultry project. It was an impressive poultry farm, that was producing improved local chicken, quails, Guinea fowl, parrots, ducks and many others. Next to the amazingly spacious cages fulls of birds, the farm has also an impressive breeding space, with huge incubators and cages to keep chicks warm. An impressive farm, optimizing poultry production.

Guinea fowl
Next to the meat and egg business, the farm sells chicks and fertilized eggs from all the birds they have. What i really learned from them, is that consistency is key to Kenyan market (i.e. being able to always supply). As they cannot consistently sell Guinea fowl meat, they prefer to not sell, but wait until they can reach consistency before entering market : a smart way to not loose the market before one has penetrated it.
A just born chicken, still in the incubator
But what impressed me most about Ben, the farmer/owner of the farm was his vision of a multifunctional farm, just like those amazing farm i was visiting in the Netherlands during my PhD. He is dreaming of a farm where every day school classes are coming to learn about farming. And he already host regularly hosts classes. He wants to show young people that farming is not a second choice in life, it can be a very smart and good business.

one of the several incubators
But he has even bigger dreams, he hopes to have a small conference center and a camping so that people from Nairobi can enjoy not only his good meat but also the tremendously nice landscape he is living in and he co-creates.

The tremendously nice landscape just some kilometer away from Nairobi

Ben reminded me a lot of Jan Huijgen, the farmer who took up the initiative to get some funding to fund my PhD : a man with the vision to reconnect cities to their food. And as i have just learned, this is not just a European vision, it is also emerging in Africa...

Jan Huijgen
 Wanna make your own intercontinental comparison? Find here Jan's blog

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let's walk the talk ! Bringing Kuroiler chicken to the Kenyan market

Recently I have reported from a new chicken breed, Kuroiler,  that can potentially boost the whole Kenyan poultry sector!

Not later as yesterday, KARI the agricultural extension service from Kenya, announced that they are overwhelmed with the demand for improved local chicken, also know as KARI kinyeji chicken. No order will be taken until February.

A friend and myself, have decided to walk the talk and have just invested in an incubator, and in two weeks from now we will be able to supply the market with Kuroiler chicks, the improved local chicken from Uganda, which we believe has even better features than the KARI breed. We hope to reach consistency of supply within the next two months, implying that we will be able to provide the market with about 1000 chicks weekly.

So check out new blog/website and help us to spread the word!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Making geo-information available for smallholders through business

Yesterday, I was invited to Safari park Hotel for a match making event on how to use Geo-information, mainly from satellite images for business purpose in Africa and reach out to the farmers. The meeting brought together NGOs, insurances, banks, farmers' organization, mobile payment companies or research institutions. It was organized by Dutch space office and agri-pro focus.

The meeting will followed by a call for implementing projects in selected countries that will allow to link-up the last mile, i.e. bring the Geo-information to the smallholders in the form of a business idea.

The call will contain some hard core criteria, such as having a Dutch partner, having private sector partners (i.e. having a business model) or using satellite images. However, there are a bunch of other outcome criterias, such as how many smallholders need to reach out is yet unclear. A dialogue between donor and partners has started to come up with smart indicators, and hopefully will be flexible and part of a negotiation.You can find more information about the up-coming call here.

ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) was prominent guest, I was proud to represent and to present in the plenary session. We have been widely recognized for our work on the index based livestock insurances (IBLI).

The insurance uses satellite images to derive NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) and livestock mortality data to create an index. When the index indicates a drought, payments are done to pastoralists regardless the livestock has died or not.

First informal discussion took place with some of the partners to enhance the efficiency and the reach out of the insurance. There is definitely scope to follow-up.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The fridge revolution : or how the fridge is changing the game in value chains

This week end, it was Madaraka day, the day commemorates the day that Kenya attained internal self-rule in 1963, preceding full independence from the United Kingdom. The whole week end was full of opposition rallies and pro-government event in Nairobi. The great occasion stay in a safe area and read. The latest version of the economist has a very good article about the fridge. I was expecting an article showing how life of poor people can change with a fridge. But the article went much further, showing how the whole value chains are changing with the up-coming of fridge. It will not only make food safer, and allow people to get cheaper food, but it will also lead to a completely new food demand.
(Taken from the Economist)
I am working for the value chain program of the CGIAR, we hope to increase livestock and fish products for and by the poor, for example the dairy sector. So somehow we expect the poor to lift themselves out of poverty thanks improved diets and through the sale of livestock products, i.e. the might reach the level where they can afford a fridge. If they do, it might have a deep impact on the value chain we try to improve. Are we running the risk that our work become out-dated or not fitting the context anymore when the poor get richer? or is it just part of a logical pathway to improved chains? I guess these are questions I will keep asking myself continuing my work.

This week end, i understood : the real revolution is not coming from the opposition party, it is it much more silent, it is the upcoming of the fridge!

Monday, May 26, 2014

why traceability can feed the world

Today, i came across an interesting TED talk, showing the traceability in the fish chain is the crucial entry point, in order to produce sufficient fish protein for the world. Jackie Savitz claims that if fisheries were managed correctly across the world (i.e fishermen are accountable and quotas implemented), more caught fish could be produced and feed more people. This can only be reached with traceability She also shows that caught fish is the animal protein that uses least water... watch it yourself :

So far so well, but in the livestock and fish research program, there is the implicit assumption there will not be sufficient caught fishes, and digs deeper into fish farms. Probably the combination of well managed caught fishes and farmed fishes will be contributing to more animal protein for the poor...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Does the new green revolution need GMOs?

A clear yes can be found in the latest economist on the new green revolution. A pretty interesting article based on IRRI information. It contains a very interesting pro-GMO discourse, to which i can to some extend agree up on :  the new green revolution will not be a silver bullet, but it will be a mosaic of context specific solutions. It is true that GMOs could be an answer to some specific contexts, such as marginal areas, for which it makes sense today to do some research to develop these context specific solution. However, concluding from this very true statement that one should introduce the golden rice, a rice enhanced by vitamin A in the Philippines, does not appear logical to me. Indeed, there are today only very few people who lack in vitamin A (unlike some decades ago). The context definition is just outdated. See my post about his issue.

Where i really started laughing is when i read the second article on the new green revolution, that shows that most of the productivity gain in Asia has to do with rental markets of machinery. Indeed, it is economically interesting if you can rent machinery, i.e. you don't need capital, yet you gain a lot of time to do other economic activities as you do not have all this labor requiring work on your farm anymore .
So i am wondering, why don't we first try to set the renting markets right and then check if in the new context there is really a need for GMOs before introducing them? 

Monday, May 5, 2014

The magic chicken or how Kuroilers are about to boost the Kenyan poultry sector

(please check Jolly Poultry if you are interested in getting your own Kuroilers) 
Chicken farming has always been an interesting option for smallholders in Africa to raise some cash and contribute to increase availability of proteins in relatively poor diets. Indeed raising chicken does not take much resources as they can be fed on agricultural waste and therefore barriers to entry are low. Smallholders usually grow endogenous breeds that are very well adapted to local conditions and are resistant to diseases, but productivity is very low. However, locals, both in Kenya and Ethiopia are ready to pay more for local chicken meat, at it seems to taste much better than commercial chicken. (Honestly, the only time i ate endogenous chicken, it was so hard that i almost could not finish it. In Swiss German we call this a "gum eagle" but somehow consumers here prefer it.)

Over the last years, intensive poultry farming has increasingly been taking over the African market. Commercial farming uses improved breeds, namely broilers for meat and layers for the eggs. These improved breeds are very productive. Maturity of a broiler is reached at 5 months and can weigh double than an fully grown endogenous chicken that takes up to 10 months to reach maturity. Also commercial layers can reach up to 300 eggs a year compared with 50 for endogenous chicken. However, these improved breeds are often not an option for smallholders. They need relatively expensive feed, they cannot be fed just on leftovers. They also are very sensitive to illnesses and therefore need expensive medication and vet. Also, they do not match the dual needs (i.e. a chicken for meat and eggs) of smallholders. 
Commercial farming in Kenya (taken from here)
To address the need of smallholders, an improved endogenous chicken, referred to as Kuroiler, has been developed in India, and has recently been introduced at large scale in Uganda. It has the benefits of a endogenous chicken, i.e. illness resistance, ease of feed through agricultural waste, and is dual purpose.  Yet Kuroilers have a much bigger productivity than endogenous chicken, namely give 150 eggs year and can reach 3.5 kg (compared to 2.5 kg of an endogenous chicken) in 6 months (compared to 10 month with endogenous chicken). The only thing i don't know is about the taste. Will it have this funny consistency that Kenyans love so much?
3 weeks Kuroiler chicks
It sounds like a pretty magic chicken that might save Africa :-)! The only turn down of this breed is that it needs vaccines and devorming, but both of them are quite affordable. Also it is smart to feed them on high proteins, i.e. on special chicken feed during the first 3 weeks.
Counting the new arrival of 1 day kuroiler chicks from Uganda
Now you are probably wondering how to get Ugandan chicken in Kenya? My friend went to Uganda to get her starting stock and she will be hatching them herself in the up-coming months. Chicks are sold at 3 weeks. Contact me or her (via the form below) to know when the next batch is ready and to make a reservation so that you can get yours soon!

or check this website